Barebow: How to Aim?

QandA logoI got an email from Mr Benedick Visser (from Africa?), to wit:

“Thank you for sending me information on Archery. It is so helpful. I used to shoot Compound bows, but I love shooting bare bow. More challenging and fun. But I struggle to aim correctly. Please can you help me with it?”


Hooboy! A controversial question! (I am trying to be funny.) There are some strong feelings about how to aim without using a bow sight in the U.S. Some archers are very traditional and insist that aiming be only done “instinctively.” Others are thoroughly modern and use every part of the bow itself to aim with. I assume you just want to get started.

When I teach beginners, the first question they ask is: “How do I aim?” Our response is “Just look at and focus on the spot you want to hit.” This is a form of “instinctive” aiming. The word “instinctive,” though is a misnomer. We are not talking about an instinct for aiming. This is a thoroughly learned process, learned through the process called “trial and error” or “trial and test.” It is fascinating to those beginners that the desire they have to hit the center of the target will result in them hitting the center of the target if … and it is a big IF … if they are willing to follow instructions and not try to aim. Trying to aim is taking over a process which is subconscious and replacing it with one that is conscious, one you really have no idea how to do, consciously that is. (Almost all beginners try looking down the shaft of the arrow, a technique that works out to maybe five meters or so, but then is defeated by gravity.)

Just wanting your arrows to hit what you are looking at does work, although it takes a great deal of practice over a long period of time. It has the advantage that you can change arrows and even bows and still shoot well. It has the disadvantage of not being the most precise way to shoot a great many arrows from the same position. Anyway, this is Option #1.

If you want to have a system for aiming, most people progress to “shooting off of the point.” The problem of archery is to execute shots consistently with the bow held in a position such that when arrows are loosed, they hit the desired target. Bows need to be held higher for farther targets and lower for near ones. Bows need to be held “off line” to adjust for wind and other factors. The question of aiming is “where do I hold the bow?” The answer (at least in the Western Tradition) was found by a British gentleman of the name Horace Ford in the mid 1800’s. His scores immediately rocketed past anyone else’s and, I am sure, he was accused by some of cheating. He solved the task of where to put the bow in space by lining up a part of the bow (he was shooting English longbows) with some fixed part of the background. It turned out to be very effective to use the arrow point for this purpose (there not being as many parts as our modern bows). So, an archer would watch his arrow point and when a shot hit the gold, he would note where his arrow point was vis-à-vis the background. On his next shot, he would again place his arrow point on that “point of aim” to ensure consistency and success. (Another name for this approach is “Point of Aim” archery.) There are many variations and extensions of this approach but this is the starting point.

Longbow archers were used to looking at their arrow points as a gauge of whether they had fully drawn their bows (the arrow point sitting on the top of the bow hand made a particular shape when drawn “full compass”), so this was not at all a huge departure for some. And, immediately people devised ways to make this more productive. They introduced artificial points of aim. When their POA was not on the target face, they placed an object on the ground to aim with. If their POA was on the target face, they invented the target clock to identify POAs (e.g. 10 O’clock in the Blue).

This technique has been used by target archers from then until now. If you want to know more about the extensions of this technique, key terms for an Internet search are “string walking” and “face walking.”

To get started, shoot comfortably at a large target face up quite close to you (8-10 meters). When you are hitting the center comfortably, notice where your arrow point is with relation to the background (by starting up close, we are trying to make sure it is on the target face). On subsequent shots, line up your arrow point with the point you identified and shoot several arrows. Did your group get smaller (indicating you were more consistent)? Also, if your arrows are still not where you want them (and your POA is on the target), you need only move your POA the same direction and distance you want your arrows to be. So, if your arrows are four cm too far to the right, move your POA four cm to the left and your arrows will also move four cm to the left. This should get you started and learning.

PS You can shoot compound bows Barebow, I still compete this way.


Filed under For All Coaches, Q & A

6 responses to “Barebow: How to Aim?

  1. Mr Benedick Visser

    Thank you mr. Ruis for such a quick response. It help a lot. Also the motivation to shoot a compound bow as a bare bow. Some experienced archers discouraged me of doing so

    Your friend in archery



    • No should be discouraged in archery! No one. Good for you to persevere. Please write again if you need more help.


      On Mon, Oct 20, 2014 at 2:55 PM, A Blog for Archery Coaches wrote:



  2. Hey Steve, I have been teaching barebow for many years now and I teach several different methods for “how to aim” using a barebow.

    The first method I teach to beginner students is aiming off the tip of the arrow (below the target at close range), but also using the shaft of the arrow as left/right guide. To my students, I call this the Traditional Method of Aiming. This method requires the archer to be able to see objects – the tinier the details the better – below the target at close range and above the target at long range. Without those details the archer is basically just guessing. I should note that this method of aiming is so accurate that myself and my more experienced students have been splitting their own arrows.

    As part of the first method I also teach the “Old Archer’s Rule of Thumb” trick wherein you calculate the distance below or above the target using the wrinkles on your thumb. This is similar to how painters calculate size when painting landscapes, portraits, etc from real life. It is not super accurate, but it allows the archer to estimate the distance below the target they need to aim based on experience instead of merely guessing. Thus their first shot should at least hit the larger target and following shots can be adjusted accordingly for increased accuracy.

    The second method I teach to more experienced students who have very good form is “Gap Shooting”, wherein you aim off the side of the bow and calculate the visual gap between the bow and the target. To speed up the understanding of students using this method I use a Sharpee to put a series of vertical dots on the side of the bow ( -=-=-=-=-=-=- ) to give them a better idea of what height off the side of the bow they need to be aiming. If you are curious about this ‘cheat sheet’ of dots I can send a photo to better illustrate what I am talking about. The dots are unnecessary for gap shooting, but they help the student get a clearer idea of the height they need to be aiming when Gap Shooting. I have determined over the years that Gap Shooting is more useful when shooting at moving targets, shooting while the archer is in motion, and shooting in darkness/foggy conditions.

    The third method of aiming * Instinctive * cannot really be taught to anyone because it is based more experience and guesswork than anything a person can teach. Instinctive is largely a misnomer, but basically it means shooting without aiming – and shooting with no fixed anchor point. The archer simply pulls back, doesn’t really aim, doesn’t anchor, and shoots. It is really only remotely accurate at very close ranges (point blank / 30 feet or less), however it is useful for shooting around obstacles, shooting in a hurry. For long distance shooting, shooting at moving targets, etc then instinctive shooting is pretty useless.

    I strongly discourage facewalking and stringwalking in my lessons – I find they simply confuse students and it is easier for new archers to grasp easier to understand concepts then to confuse them with multiple new anchor points / etc. More experienced archers may wish to experiment with facewalking – although I will point out that in my experiments I have gone as low as my bellybutton as an anchor point (quite literally shooting from the hip) and have determined it is not very accurate because it makes it too difficult to aim. Thus I don’t recommend “facewalking” any lower than the solar plexus point of your chest.


    • Facewalking does *not *involve anchoring off of the face, hence the name. If you use multiple anchors, the traditional high and low anchors for example, you are facewalking. To carry the method farther is to find multiple anchors … on the face … to be used at various distances. We find string walking very easy to teach. we start up close to the target and ask them to aim by putting their point dead center in the target (they’ve already been taught “aiming off the point”). Their arrow invariable hits high. We then have them ready to shoot another arrow and we move their string grip down 2″ then have them shoot again. It invariably hits lower, which means closer to the center. Then we have them play with it. we follow the play period with instructions on how to “take a crawl” more precisely and consistently.


      On Thu, Oct 23, 2014 at 10:12 AM, A Blog for Archery Coaches wrote:



  3. Kunzang

    While aiming with arrow head should we have to look at our bow string also


    • In modern traditional, being aware of one’s “string picture” is part of the shot. Many of the traditional archers do not mention this as they basically just practiced until it was almost automatic (and had a lower expectation for accuracy). Even some modern traditional archers don’t worry about their string picture. A friend of mine won a World Field Archery gold medal that way.

      As in all other things, explore this for yourself and see if it makes a difference. I can move the arrow across most a 80 cm face at 30 m by adjusting my string picture, so for me, it is quite important. So, play with this. Try shots using substantially different string pictures to see if there is an effect … for you.


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