Writer’s Deep Dive: Aiming a Bow

Bows show up a lot in books, from Robin Hood to Katniss Everdeen. Of course, one of the keys to being a good archer is hitting what you’re aiming at. Unfortunately, unless you have shot a traditional bow, most people do not know what that involves. Let’s dive in!

The Basics

There are two schools of thought when it comes to shooting a bow and they are aiming versus instinct shooting. Aiming, as the name implies, involves carefully setting up your shot to hit your target. Instinct shoot involves drawing the bow and loosing it when you feel it is in the right spot to hit the target. Really, there is no right or wrong way if you hit where you want to.

However, we are going to be covering several aiming techniques today. Before I jump in, I want to stress the importance of good form. Your fictional archer needs to be pulling the bow to full draw back to their anchor point, a spot on their face or jaw that they always go to. This repetition makes you a much more consistent shooter. This is a good video to explain anchor points.

Notice how much this archer is touching his face at his anchor point. Photo source.

For all the following aiming methods, it is common to close the eye further away from the arrow and aim with the other. For example, if you are a righthanded shooter, like most archers are, you will be aiming with your right eye. Although there are plenty of archers who keep both eyes open.

If you are shooting at a close to mid-range target, say 10-30 yards (9-27 m), you will line up the tip of your arrow with the spot on the target that you want to hit. This is commonly called “point on” targeting.

If you are at a further distance, you will have to use a technique known as gap shooting. Say you want to hit the bullseye of a target. You would aim at a point above it to account for the amount the arrow will drop in flight. Gap shooting is also used to adjust from left to right to account for wind. For long distance shooting, say 60 yards (55 m), the arrow must be arched. The bow is raised and often the archer overdraws past their face and anchors on their chest.

Raising a bow for a long-distance shot. Photo source.

Facewalking is when an archer changes their anchor point. For example, if they have been anchoring at the corner of their mouth but change to anchor on the back corner of their jaw for a longer shot.

An example of different anchor points. Photo source.

Stringwalking is used by modern recurve shooters to change the trajectory of their shots. It’s rarely utilized by traditional archers because it’s hard on wooden bows. The archer changes the position of their fingers on the string to change their shot.

There is another method that I have not been able to find a name for. A bowstring with two colors is needed and the archer counts the number of twists, moving the arrow nock accordingly.

Whatever method your fictional archer uses, they will likely have to take several shots to dial in the distance, adjusting with each try.

Stringwalking. Photo source.

The Write Angle

Writing about a character carefully lining up a shot can add drama and tension to your story. This is especially true if there are obstacles or difficult weather conditions. Now that you are familiar with the various aiming methods, you can describe your character choosing a technique based on the distance and wind conditions. Being able to describe your character’s aiming adds a level of realism to your novel.

The aiming technique also changes how an arrow will hit. If your archer is “point on,” the arrow will strike at a 90° angle. However, if the shot was arched to cover a longer distance, the arrow will be striking from above at terminal velocity.

It would be interesting to see a fictional archer use facewalking to achieve a particular shot. Or to use gap shooting and describe how they are aiming for a point above their target because of the distance or to one side to account for wind.

It would also be interesting to have your archer miss the first couple of shots and adjust to dial into the target.


I hope this was helpful. Let me know if you have any questions or suggestions by using the Contact Me form on my website or writing a comment. I post every Friday and would be grateful if you would share my content.

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Let’s get writing!

Copyright © 2022 Rebecca Shedd. All rights reserved.

3 Comments on “Writer’s Deep Dive: Aiming a Bow”

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