One of the things archers of all experience levels struggle with is finding their anchor position. We have seen very experienced archers move their heads inches to get a shot off, all the while keeping their hand on their face as if glued. We have had beginners fail to get off their first shot because they couldn’t allow their hand to be close to their face/eyes while there was something in it. Finding an anchor position is neither easy nor obvious.
A fairly prominent archery coach objected to the word “anchor” because it implied a static situation. Apparently this gentleman was not at all familiar with anchors. The word comes from the device used on a ship or boat for a temporary anchorage (there’s that word again). How a little thing like an anchor could hold a boat, which outweighs it many, many times over, still is beyond me. Boats drag their anchors all of the time, so the objection is silly. Even so you will find people who will not use the word. We do.
The whole purpose of the anchor position is to bring the bow string back to a consistent position. Many parts of the body have been used for this purpose. Archers have pulled to their ears, to the side of their head next to their eye, to their nose, to their chin (and out in front of the chin), to the side of their face (several positions) and to their chests (several positions. One enterprising Victorian gentleman sewed a button on his waistcoat to draw his bow to (for long distance shooting).
Any anchor position needs to allow for the string to become tangent to the archer’s line of sight (recurve and longbow) or on the line of sight (compound with peep sight). If the bowstring is on or very close to the line of sight, the brain’s hard-wired pointing abilities form the foundation for accurate aiming. If the string is at all off from that line, the brain is guessing as to aiming. This is the equivalent of shooting a pistol “from the hip” rather than using the sights.
What Do We Want from Our Anchor Position?
Anchor positions need to be stable, secure, and repeatable while meeting the necessity of bringing the bowstring to a position tangent with the archer’s line of sight (recurve and longbow) or on the line of sight (compound with peep sight). In general, the string hand must be pressed up against a part of the archer’s anatomy fairly firmly.
The First Anchor Position
Archers are usually introduced to anchor positions with a “side of the face” anchor: in this anchor the tip of the top string finger becomes tucked into the corner of the archer’s mouth while the rest of the top finger wraps around the archer’s cheekbone. Archers are taught this way because, we are told, “this anchor is simplest.” This is not so. The anchor described is best for new archers because it brings the arrow to one of a very few reproducible spots just under the archer’s aiming eye (see the youth in the rear ground of the cover photo for an example of how not to do it).
This is desirable because beginners shoot at targets very close in, often 5-10 meters/yards. If a lower anchor was recommended it would conflict with the archer’s innate sense of aiming and the arrows will fly over the top of the target butts. All anchors are somewhat difficult to learn, this one is used because of its practical advantages, not because it is simpler.
Evidence for this can be seen in competitive barebow recurve archers. At shorter distances they shoot with some sort of high anchor (often more than one). At longer distances they shoot using a low anchor. The “this anchor is simplest” reason was probably made up by someone who didn’t have a good answer to the question of “Why?”
Beginners tend to float this anchor; “floating” being hovering the string hand with little to no firm contact with the head. This stems from an innate discomfort in having something that close to your eye and you not looking at it. The first task is to acquire a firm, solid anchor position by pressing the string hand against the face.
More expert archers go to the extreme of hooking the fingernail of their top finger on a particular tooth. All of this is to either give, or give the sense of, having a firm repeatable anchor position.
The Second Anchor Position
The second anchor position most student’s learn is the “under chin” or “low” anchor, also called the “Olympic” anchor. In this anchor the string is drawn to the outside corner of the archer’s chin and then the string hand is brought upward, pressing firmly into the flesh under the jaw bone. This has the added advantage of bringing the string into a position near the tip of the archer’s nose, so positioning the head so the string touches the archer’s nose creates a second contact point which provides a check on having a consistent head position. The archer’s head must be slightly more “chin up” than when using a side of the face anchor because when the string is loosed, the string fingers must be flipped away by the leaving string. If the chin is too low, the finger tips ride the jaw line downward before they get out of the way; they also tend to take the string with them, making for greater vertical dispersion of the arrows.
This anchor is considerably lower than the side of the face anchors, consequently it is preferred for shooting long distances, such as are encountered in the Olympic Games.
Student’s generally are transitioned from a side anchor to this anchor when they need to “make distance,” that is shoot at a significantly farther distance than they have previously.
Many people point to the fact that Korean archers start with the low anchor and use it exclusively, giving that as a reason we should, too. But Korean archers are training for one and only one purpose and that is to compete and win at the Olympic Games, so they are training solely for long distance shooting. In this country, very, very few beginning archers are in serious training. They are mostly shooting for fun. Since hitting the target is more fun than not hitting the target, we recommend they start with a high anchor and only change from it when there is a need.
Why Not Just Stick With One Anchor? This seems to be a good strategy. Olympic Recurve archers use their low anchors outdoors and indoors, but they have a bow sight to position their bows. Part of the problem comes outdoors when shooting longer distances. If the back end of the arrow ends in the same place for all distances, the only adjustment that can be made is with the bow itself. With a high anchor used at long distances, the bow has to be held so high that keeping control of one’s form becomes difficult if not impossible. One loses a sightline to the target, too.
By lowering the rear end of the arrow (the distance equivalent to the distance from the corner of the archer’s mouth to the bottom of the jaw) the bow can be held much closer to being level, where it is much easier to maintain good T-Form and have a good sight line to the target.
If the low anchor is used indoors without the assistance of a bow sight, archers report that they felt like they were aiming too low even while shooting arrows over the tops of their targets. In other words, it is a position that would take a great deal of getting used to. Also, if archers are using a point of aim technique, their point of aim is likely to be on the ground/floor, where no consistent marks can be found. Using the high anchor at the start of lessons provides points of aim that are on the target butt and often on the target itself, simplifying the learning and using of that technique.
Exploring New Anchors
When any of your archers decides to explore a new anchor, there will be some struggle. Anything new will be awkward and clumsy at first. We recommend you start them blank bale (the target face is not supplying feedback on their new anchor position) with a low draw weight bow (we like 10#), and always respecting the First Law of Archery Practice: You may only give feedback on the thing being practiced. Any shot with a good new anchor is, by definition, a “good shot.” Whether the arrow hits any particular point is irrelevant to learning the new anchor position. Use of a target gives mixed messages. You tell your student “good shot” because their new anchor position was done well and the target (which no archer can ignore) says “bad shot.” This does not create a good learning environment and which is why we take the target face off the butt.