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20-Step Guide on How To Shoot A Compound Bow (First Shot Set-Up to Common Mistakes)

archer shooting a compound bowWalking out of the store carrying your new compound bow is an exciting feeling. It is the beginning of a fun, yet very technical adventure. Whether you bought your bow for recreational shooting or hunting, many people strive to hit the bullseye every time. That takes consistency. 

The more you shoot, the more you realize how many variables and parts of a compound bow need to be fine-tuned in order to achieve consistent results. In this article, we will discuss in detail how to become a great archer. Stay tuned! 


Before Shooting: After the Purchase

Archery ShoppeWe recommend buying your bow from a pro shop. However, if you purchase a bow from your buddy, you should then take it to a pro shop. They will set everything up for you professionally, so you don’t have to worry about calibrating something incorrectly. 

This set up includes attaching the rest, installing your D-loop, installing your peep sight, attaching your bow sights, and dialing it in. The main things you need to adjust on your own are the sights, so make sure you know how to do that before you leave the store.    


1. Poundage 

You can also adjust poundage. This refers to how difficult it is to pull your bow back into a full draw. If you purchased your bow for hunting, be sure to check your state’s regulations. Some states require a minimum poundage be set in order to hunt game. 

Each bow has an adjustable weight range. After you have been shooting for a while, you will build strength and should be able to “up” your poundage. The higher the poundage, the harder it will be to pull your bow back to a full draw. However, your arrow flies flatter and further. 


2. Release 

hand with releaseFully fine-tuning your bow and your skills takes a lot of shots, time, and patience. The good news is that the more you shoot, the more you will find constancy as well as eliminate the variables that alter your shots.  

One of the best ways to gain a higher level of consistency is to use a good archery release. A release is a device that Velcro’s or buckles around your wrist and has metal jaws that close around the D-loop on your bowstring. Attached to the release is a trigger that opens the jaws and fires your string the same every single time.  


3. Set Up Safety 

Once you take your bow outside, make sure that there is nothing important around you that might be hit with a stray shot. This is basic bow safety. If the D-loop breaks, the arrow will sail high or far off in either direction. You don’t want to take a chance on injuring yourself or others. 

To encourage safety, make sure you have a good target and a place you want to strike with your bow. We recommend setting up hay bales or something similar behind the target. Just make sure they are larger than the target. These will help stop or slow down any stray shots. 


7 Steps To First Shot Set Up 

arrow on string


1. Knock Your Arrow 

The most important part of the first shot set up is to nock an arrow. You never ever want to dry fire your bow. This means pulling back into a full draw and releasing the string without an arrow. Many bows will break the first time you dry fire so always nock an arrow if you are going to pull your bow to a full draw. 


2. Find 2 Points of Contact 

The arrow itself needs to be touching in two spots. The tip of the arrow sits on the rest, and the nock clips onto the string of your bow in the gap between the D-loop knots. Put the release on your dominant wrist and stand 10 yards from your target.  


3. Pull into a Full Draw 

compound bow at full drawNow, clamp your release around the D-loop and pull into a full draw. The arm holding the bow will push out into a locked elbow and your dominant hand will pull back to your cheek. Take care not to clamp the spring. 

In this position, you will notice the bow has a “valley”. At first, it will be hard to pull back. Fortunately, it becomes a lot easier to hold once you reach full draw. This is one of the greatest benefits of owning a compound bow.  


4. Find Your Anchor 

The next step is to place your hand with the release on your cheek or jaw, which creates an anchor/kisser point. The string will typically touch the tip of your nose giving you another anchor point. Move your hand around until you can see out of your peep sight and then press it against your face. 


5. Adjust for the Peep Sights 

peep sight view
View through a peep sight.

At this point, your eye needs to be able to look through the peep sight. The peep sight is a small hole in your string, and you will be able to see the whole sight in the center of it. It’s not always easy to find, so this may take some adjusting. Feel free to move your anchor points until you can see through it.  


6. Pull the Trigger 

Once you can see your sights in the center, place the top pin on your target and pull the release trigger. Hold your finish even after the arrow has hit the target, because dropping your arm will cause the arrow to veer off the wrong way. 


7. Readjust Your Pin 

pin sight and arrow in restIf you hit right on, then move back to 20 yards. If not, then re-adjust your pin. An arrow higher than your bullseye means you need to move your pin up. This is called “follow your arrow”. Even though it seems like cheating, it’s not. 

The same goes for when your arrow is lower than your pin. If you have shot low, then you need to lower your pin. This also applies to arrows that end up to the right or left. You want that top pin to be precisely on at 20 yards. The next goal is to move back so the next pin is consistent at 30 yards. Continue moving back 10 yards at a time until your last pin is used.  


10 Main Causes of Inconsistencies 

Dialing in the bow, hitting the bullseye, and finding consistency are processes that take even the best hunters years to achieve. Even the best shooters sometimes still find variables that cause their shots to be inconsistent. When this happens, we recommend going back through this list to find any variables or bad habits you may have picked up along the way. 


1. Fatigue 

Bow hunter restingThe first reason your shot could be inconsistent is fatigue. Even after as little as 5 shots your arms or body may get tired even if you don’t realize it. This leads to compensating, rushing shots, and holding shots for too long. We have found that holding a shot too long causes greater inconsistency than pulling off a quick shot. 


2. Unreasonable Goals 

One of the hardest things to accept is what is considered a great shot and what isn’t. This solely depends on how far away from your target you are. If your target has a bottle cap lid you were shooting at 10 yards, you should be within an inch of your bullseye in any direction. 20 yards would be about 2 inches surrounding the lid, 50 yards within 5 inches, and 80 yards in 8 inches surrounding the lid. 

To help you gauge the spread of your shots, we recommend using a paper cup stuck to the target for 20 and 30 yards, a paper bowl for 50 yards, and a paper plate for 80 yards. Also the saying “aim small miss small” is true. That’s why we recommend drawing a dot for aim. 


3. Dropping Your Arm 

correct position after shooting
Correct position after shooting an arrow.

After a person takes a shot, it is common to see them drop their arm so they can see where the arrow is going. This is a bad habit, and why it is so important to hold your finish. Even after 20 years of archery shooting we still find it difficult to resist dropping the arm. 


4. Flinching 

Flinching is a huge issue for even the most experienced hunters and shooters. This occurs when you jerk just as you pull the trigger. Luckily, the more you shoot the less often you will flinch. One way to help with this is slowly squeezing the trigger instead of pulling it quickly.  

Another is to get at 20 yards and have someone else pull your trigger once you have it lined up, but not tell before they do. When it comes as a surprise, you are unable to flinch although it is still a bit scary. After a few of these shots, you won’t flinch as much.  


5. Cheap or Poorly Designed Bow 

broken compound bow limbAnother common problem is having a poorly designed bow. The biggest issue with many cheap bows is the lack of a backstop. A backstop is the point where you cannot pull your bow back any further. If there is no backstop to pull against, your consistency level will plummet. 


6. Peep Sight and Sights Not Lined Up and Level 

The next common problem is not lining up your peep sight with your sights just right. You want your sights to be perfectly centered in your peep sight. If it is off at all, it will be inconsistent. In addition, many sights come with a leveler bubble. It is very important to make sure this is level each time you shoot. Even if there is just a slight angle, your aim will be off.  

Learn now: How to sight in your compound bow


7. Moving Your Face to Fit 

archer aimingAnother potential issue is moving your face to fit the anchor points instead of placing it just right to begin with. This is a big issue for beginners. They tend to place their hand on their cheek and then move their face into the anchor points. Instead, get your face in position before you set your hand onto your cheek. Practice this motion as much as necessary. 


8. Gripping Your Bow too Tight 

Gripping your bow too tight can actually cause a lot of inconsistency. After you pull to a full draw, slightly open and relax your fingers. They should not be holding onto the bow. If they are, it can cause a torque in the bow which will cause a problem for you. 


9. Problem with Your Bow 

If you have been shooting for a while and still cannot figure out why you are inconsistent, feel free to take it to a pro shop and have them look it over. Sometimes the inconsistencies are caused by the bow itself. Many times, it is something as simple to fix as a torque issue. Nothing the pro shop can’t handle! 


10. Other Basic Problems hunter holding compound bow

  • Using the wrong yardage 
  • Using the wrong pin for your yardage  
  • Loose pins and sights between adjustments 
  • Mismatched arrows or different weighted arrows 
  • Torn fletching on the arrow   
  • Dirt or debris on the arrow   
  • Lack of practice 


Warning: Always Check Arrows For Damage To Avoid Serious Injuries!

One last tip is that the modern-day carbon arrows easily get hairline fractures. These can end up shattering during a shot. We have seen way too many photos of slivers of carbon fibers embedded in people’s arms and wrists not to warn you about this.  

To protect yourself, it is very important to flex test each arrow after you shoot. Especially if you miss the target. This is done by holding each end of the arrow and bringing it up by your ear as you bend it. If you hear cracking sounds then it needs to be inspected further, and more than likely thrown out. Never shoot a damaged arrow! 

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Chris Waters was born and raised in a small town in west Arizona of around 5,000 people. At a very young age, he was introduced to hunting by his father. He has hunted everything from muzzleloader to archery, including deer, elk, antelope, ducks and more. He loves every minute of being outdoors. Chris would prefer to kill a smaller deer or elk with his family right next to him, than hire a guide and kill a Boone and Crocket animal. Every spring Chris and his wife Janell toss their two kids on their backs and hike the hills looking for deer and elk antlers. Chris also loves to fish and has been to Alaska where he was able to catch halibut and king salmon. Chris has a Bachelors of Science in Management from Western International University and he is an avid golfer with a few trophies on his shelf. On nice days he enjoys flying over his small town and the country he hunts in his powered paraglider. He is self published author. He is laid back and even with limited experience, he prefers to do all his own repairs, from fixing his own vehicles, to home projects allowing him to better his knowledge in everything he does.


  1. Hey on #4 pull into a full draw. Your elbow should not be fully extended and locked otherwise when you release the string will bit you. Your elbow should be slightly relaxed and your palm rotated as to miss the string.


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