Another Barebow Question! (This Time: Draw Length Control)

Here’s the question:

I have switched back to Barebow shooting from Olympic style. I also switched to a three fingers under (3FU) string grip. I am having some difficulty in determining how far to draw back and how high. I am trying to eliminate string slap to my face. I haven’t come across anyone yet who can help me but of course I have just started on this endeavour.”

* * *

Wonderful question. Barebow, in this case it is Recurve Barebow, is so much simpler than other styles, which is why it is so hard! Compared to Olympic Recurve, you don’t have help from a clicker or long rod stabilizers, or side rods, or bow sights. The clicker is what the Olympians use to give them excellent draw length control. In Barebow, we don’t get one … but that doesn’t mean you can’t use one in practice!

Draw length control is critical in Barebow. This is because we are “shooting off of the point,” that is using the arrow point to aim with. Starting from the fact that the arrow is anchored under our aiming eye (critical for windage control) and slants upward to the point which we sight across to our point of aim (POA), if we underdraw the bow, the arrow will protrude outward from the rest more (outward and upward), resulting in us lowering our bow to get it onto our sight line to the POA. But short drawing weakens the bow making our arrows hit lower, and so does lowering the bow! In the reverse situation, overdrawing the bow, causes the arrow to protrude outward from the rest less (less forward means downward also), resulting in us raising our bow to get it onto our sight line to the POA. Double whammy again. Both of these things cause the arrows to fly high.

Conclusion: Barebow is particularly sensitive to draw length.

Now, is this a problem. But your targets can answer that question. If your groups are round, your draw length is well controlled. If it were a problem you would have extra high and low impact points, making your groups elongated up-down.

What if that is what I have?

So, you need to get your draw length under control. There are two factors: full draw position and practice. The standard descriptions of full draw position describe an archer very, very close to the end of the range of motion of what we call “the draw.” Any time you get near the end of the range of motion of any of your body parts you will feel muscles tensing. (Open you arm as far as it will go, push it a little. Feel any thing? Turn your head as far to the right as it will go. Feel any muscle tension? That.) The tension you feel when you are at the end of “the draw” motion, we call “back tension.” The existence of the muscle tension you feel in your upper mid back tells you two things: a) you are using the right muscles, and b) you are near the end of the range of motion. If you don’t feel that tension, then at least one of the two is missing.

So, believe it or not, a clicker installed on your bow … for practice … can help you with both of these things.

With OR archers we do something called a Clicker Check. We ask you to draw through your clicker, but instead of loosing the shot we ask you to keep expanding with your best possible form and then let down. What coach is looking for is how far you can get past the rear edge of your clicker. What we want to see is about a quarter inch (5-7 mm) past. (The last archer I tested was at two inches past, nowhere near full draw.) We do not want to be all the way to the farthest extent of the range of motion in the draw but really close. (We need to allow for day-to-day differences in your energy level.)

So, installing a clicker temporarily allows you to check whether your full draw position is a good one. Then, practice shooting with the clicker focusing on the feel in your back. That feel is something you are going to focus on while shooting. (I recommend you pause 2-3 seconds after the clicker clicks (all the time feeling the feel) so as to not create a dependence of the clicker when shooting Barebow.)

Last, there is something the old guys have to contribute and by ‘old” I mean at least five centuries. In olden days, arrows were draw to the back of the longbow/composite bow, whatever, as a matter of course. It was noticed that the arrow point/pile had a distinctive shape (or feel) when in the full draw position. In medieval times and later with the use of target points, the shape of the “head” was likened to a full moon sitting on the horizon. In any case, when you are at full draw, you are looking at your arrow head in any case as it is your bow sight. When you are shooting well, shoot arrows while focused on the appearance the arrow head makes sitting on your arrow rest. Looking for this shape, once part of your shooting routine will add some credence to the “back tension feeling” telling you that you are at full draw. (This is not as sensitive as in the old days when we “shot off of the knuckle.” The arrow made a dent in the flesh of your hand and the “full moon shape” had a natural horizon. Elevated arrow rests make this less definitive (IMHO, of course).

Getting symmetrical arrow groups tells you when you have it down.

Getting small, symmetrical groups is another task.

Hope this helps!

Oh, and if you are getting string rubs on your face, either you are drawing too deep along your face or you are not turning your head far enough. The draw can go back no farther than the “corner” of the chin in this style although I have seen a recent appeal to a much, much longer draw which I cannot recommend as I have no experience with it nor do I know anyone who does. My experience is that deep draws that cause “chin rubs” are generally caused by the bow shoulder, not by not getting your draw shoulder around far enough. If your bow arm isn’t at 180° to your chest at the shoulder (that is in the same plane), there is no way your rear shoulder can compensate.

As to how high to anchor, having more than one anchor is common in Barebow but many try mightily to use only one. If you are shooting long distances, then the low anchor is recommended. If shorter as in Field Archery under WA, then a higher anchor is probably wise.

As I said, I hope this helps!











Filed under For All Coaches

13 responses to “Another Barebow Question! (This Time: Draw Length Control)

  1. Hi Steve I normally start all my beginners off shooting bare bow. I think it is a skill that quickly teaches the archer proper technical form with the distraction of a sight. I teach them a deep hook (No finger nails visible) and then put the forefinger tight in to the corner of their mouth, the string sits on the draw side tip of the nose. Mostly the third finger sits against the jawbone. I find once they get used to the feel and using the arrow point to aim they get a good consistent draw length. Getting in to consistent alignment is just as important for barebow archers.
    Good thoughts on the subject.


    • Our beginner curriculum always starts with Recurve Barebow. They are lightweight, light drawing bows and basic form and execution can be taught. Later we offer other bows to shoot, etc. A dividing line occurs between when a young archer moves from borrowed program equipment to their own equipment. Once they have their own equipment, you can adjust it to give them better feedback, which accelerate their learning. I can’t imagine doing it any other way.

      On Mon, Jul 16, 2018 at 5:16 PM, A Blog for Archery Coaches wrote:


      Liked by 1 person

  2. Very good information from everyone. I’m enjoying reading all the posts and comments.
    For my experience in barebow there is a difference in target shooting or hunting style of shooting. In target the bow can be held vertical and the anchor can be the the string against the chin and nose. For hunting this is impractical and the bow is canted changing how we line up over the arrow. This is where it gets complicated.
    I struggled with finding that perfect combination of my eye to the arrow tip to the target for a very long time.
    What finally worked for me was three under and my index finger in the corner of my mouth- and focusing on bullseye with head upright and pulling the arrow firmly to anchor – then slightly adjusting my eye down the shaft of the arrow.
    Getting the nock closer to a spot directly under my pupil was critical for consistency plus all the things mentioned in this article.


    • When canting the bow (something Barebow archers can do with no penalty) the critical aspect is that the nock of the arrow must be directly under your aiming eye. This results in the arrow pointing anywhere you are looking if you move the point there (and the arrow and aiming eye are in the same vertical plane and your windage aiming is taken care of). The same requirement exists for OR archers but they cannot cant their bows.

      To check whether you are meeting this requirement, draw while looking directly into a mirror. Is the nock directly down from the pupil of your aiming eye? If not, you need to adjust your anchor position until it is.

      For examples of how this looks Google closeups photos of Byron Ferguson at full draw, such as on the cover of “Become the Arrow.”

      Liked by 1 person

  3. “I think it is a skill that quickly teaches the archer proper technical form with the distraction of a sight. ” this should have read “without the distraction of a sight “


  4. George Zimmerman

    Steve, can you explain the effect of 3fu on the tillering of the recurve bow? I have heard that when you order a bow made the you have to tell the Boyer what style of grip you use.


    • Yes, absolutely. Where you place your fingers on the string determines the effective length of the two limbs. With split finger, typical tiller is like one quarter inch positive. 3FU is closer to zero as the fingers are very close to the center of the bow string. But, of course, every bow is different. and should be tested. No two limbs are identical. Some argue that with modern bows, the limbs are so close alike, that you can set the tiller to zero and adjust for the string grip by setting the nocking point position (which you are going to do anyway) and you give up nothing. With a handcraft bow, especially a self bow, the bowyer is going to tiller the bow by shaving the limbs, so you need to tell them what string grip you are using.

      On Sat, Jul 21, 2018 at 1:39 PM, A Blog for Archery Coaches wrote:


      Liked by 1 person

  5. Stephen Williams

    “I haven’t come across anyone yet…”

    *sigh* It is so hard to find archery coaches that understand barebow. I know archers who have switched from barebow to recurve because that’s all they can find in high-performance coaching. Thank you for being a voice to help legitimize the style.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Barebow Recurve is a lot more popular around the world than it is in the U.S. I place some of that in the legality of bowhunting here. Bowhunters favor compound bows to make their hunts easier and so a large percentage of the practitioners of archery use and buy compound bows, which drives the market to some extent.

      I came to Barebow through the compound world, but then … I am an “archery enthusiast.” In our youth programs we teach recurve first (because they are lighter in weight) and Barebow first (because it is simpler). If a kid stops at any point, they will be able to shoot a basic bow without any gewgaws. After they have demonstrated a basic grasp of Barebow we offer them accessories to explore (offer, not require). we like to point out the fun of all bows (compound, recurve, trad, modern, even crossbows) and the fun of learning a new style. A foundation in Barebow Recurve prepares one for all of the others.

      Thank you for the kind words. Nice to hear some of this helps!


  6. Tony Gedalovitch

    The one thing that has not been mentioned with regard to the anchor point and draw length is creep. With out a clicker the natural thing to do is stop drawing when you reach your anchor, the problem with this is that as soon as you stop going backwards the string will start to creep forwards as the muscle weakening (even when just holding at full draw). I find the solution is to not stop drawing, as I approach my anchor point I slow down to the point that my draw stops but I am still slowly increasing pressure on the string (as my muscles fatigue they weaken so I have to put more effort in just to hold position), this “continuous” draw can then lead to a natural release and follow through.


    • Too many people associate the draw only with increasing the distance between bowstring and bow. At the point we are discussing, that separation is fairly complete. The key, as you mention, is to keep the draw motion going, but at this point in time the draw elbow is moving sideways, not back and away from the bow. This is caused by back muscles moving the shoulder joints around and the bunching of those muscles is what gives us the feeling of back (muscle) tension. So, the anchor needs to be accompanied by a feeling of increased, even uncomfortable, back tension through the loose of the string. This creates a scenario in which the draw length is relatively constant, and free from creep or collapse, at full draw.

      Good point!


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