All Good Bow Shots Start with Proper Hand Position

By PJ ReillyMarch 17, 2014

LAST UPDATED: May 1st, 2015

“I can’t get my bow to paper tune. I keep getting the same tear no matter what I do.” If I’ve heard those words once, I’ve heard them 1,000 times. In one of my professional capacities, I work as a bow technician at Lancaster Archery Supply. We set up and sell new bows and help customers with any issues they might be having with their archery gear. When a bowhunter comes to us complaining that they can’t get their bow to paper tune, the first thing we check is to make sure the rest is centered. The second thing we look at is how the bow is gripped at the shot. Invariably, if the rest isn’t the problem, it’s usually improper hand position on the grip. All good bow shots start with proper hand position.

Hand Position Made in V

To begin understanding proper hand position on your bow, extend your bow arm and spread your fingers so you make a V with your forefinger and your thumb

Understandably, a lot of bowhunters grab a bow’s grip like it’s a pistol. It looks like something that we should hold like a pistol, so we do. That is, however, a terrible way to hold your bow. With a pistol grip on your bow, it’s very easy to torque the bow. That is, with just a slight tightening of the muscles in your wrist, you can twist the bow left or right at the shot. Hand torque leads to inconsistent accuracy, and will keep you from shooting that perfect bullet hole when you’re paper tuning.

Proper Hand Position From Rear

This is a view of proper hand position from the rear. Notice how the knuckles sit at a 45-degree angle

Grip your bow like it’s a pistol and look at your knuckles. They’re perfectly vertical. With proper hand position, your knuckles should be slanted at a 45-degree angle away from the bow. At that angle, your pinky and ring finger can’t even touch the handle, let alone wrap around it like they do a pistol grip. To learn the proper bow grip, extend your bow arm out in front and turn your hand so you palm is facing dead away from you. Spread you fingers to make a V, with your thumb forming one leg and your four other fingers making the opposing leg. Place the bow handle in the middle of that V. What you’ll notice is the grip will sit more on the meaty part of your thumb, than in the middle of your palm, as it does with a pistol grip. That’s a neutral spot where your bow can balance comfortably as soon as you start to pull the bowstring.

A Pistol Grip From Rear

This is what a pistol grip looks like from the rear. Notice how the knuckles are vertical

When you come to full draw, relax the fingers on your gripping hand. Just let them fall where they are. If you tighten them, you’re likely flexing muscles on the inside of your forearm, which could cause torque. Don’t worry about your bow jumping out of your hand. Your brain will cause you to catch the bow after the shot. A wrist sling provides insurance the bow won’t hit the ground. And if you absolutely just don’t feel comfortable, you can press the tip of your index finger on the front of the bow’s riser. Simply pressing there with only your fingertip won’t cause torque.

Front View of Hand Position

This is a front view of proper hand position. Notice how the pinky can’t even reach to bow grip and the fingers are relaxed

When you release an arrow – freeze. Don’t try to look around your bow to see where the arrow went. That’s a sure-fire way to pull or push the bow, which is likely to affect arrow flight. If anything, try to watch your arrow through your peep. That will keep your shooting position locked for sure until after the arrow is gone. Longtime bowhunters who have been shooting with a pistol grip for years will likely have a hard time growing accustomed to proper hand position. We see that at the archery shop all the time. It just doesn’t feel comfortable when compared to what they’re used to. Fight through the discomfort. You’ve probably been torquing your bow for years without realizing it. That’s a likely explanation for those occasional “fliers” you shoot on the practice range.

Front View of Pistol Grip Position

This is a front view of a pistol grip. Notice how the knuckles are white. It’s very easy to torque the bow with this grip

One way to force yourself into the correct hand position is to fold your pinky, ring and middle fingers on your bow hand so they touch your palm. You can’t put the bow there then, or you’ll crush those fingers. All you will have to hold the bow are your thumb and forefinger, and the only open spot for the grip to sit will be on the meaty part of your thumb. If it helps you get through the learning process, lower your bow’s draw weight. Your new grip might not feel so awkward if you’re not pulling as much weight back.

Proper Handling of Bow

With proper hand position, you should find it easy to paper tune your bow, assuming the rest and nocking point are properly set

Shoot with the proper grip and you’ll only ever need an armguard when you wear a jacket with a super bulky sleeve. Correct hand position turns your elbow out, which draws the inside of your forearm away from the bowstring. And don’t worry. Shoot with proper hand position enough times and, pretty soon, it will feel “right” to you – just like the pistol grip did. See if that doesn’t fix your tuning problems, and don’t be surprised if you start busting more nocks.

PJ Reilly
P.J. Reilly is an avid archer and bowhunter disguised as an outdoor writer. P.J. lives in a swamp in southeast Pennsylvania, where he watches deer and tries to avoid poison ivy.
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