By P.J. Reilly
When building a house, the most important part of the project is making sure the foundation is level and straight. If the foundation is off, everything you put on top also is going to be askew, and that can lead to a lifetime of problems.
The way you grip your bow is the foundation of a good shot. If your hand isn’t situated properly, it's going to have a ripple effect that could cause you to miss the buck of a lifetime or, even worse, to wound it.
The most common problem created by poor hand position on the grip is bow torque, says Rob Kaufhold. Kaufhold is a former U.S. Olympic Team archer, current coach to archers at all levels of the game and owner of Lancaster Archery Supply in Pennsylvania.
“The most common cause of shots left of center for right-handed shooters and right of center for left-handed shooters is bow torque,” Kaufhold said. “And if you’re torquing the bow, it’s because your hand isn’t positioned correctly on the grip.”
Hand torque occurs when you exert pressure on the bow’s riser at the grip. That pressure twists the bow when you release the string, which causes the arrow to hit left or right of center.
“If you don’t eliminate hand torque, you’re never going to be 100 percent confident in your shooting, because you’re constantly going to kick arrows to the left or right,” Kaufhold said.
Proper Hand Position
Kaufhold likes to tell his students to hold out their bow arm and make the letter V with their index finger and thumb.
“Don’t make an L,” he said. “It has to be a V.”
The bow should sit in that V, with the lifeline on a right-handed shooter’s palm lined up with the left edge of the bow grip. It’s vice versa for lefties.
“Think of the area of your palm inside the lifeline like it’s the meaty part of a drumstick on a chicken,” he said. “You want the bow to sit in the middle of that drumstick.”
Low in that meaty area is a pressure point martial artists are quite familiar with. You can find it easily by poking your finger around until you hit a spot that is extremely tender.
“It’s in what I call the heel of your palm,” Kaufhold said. “It’s a lot lower than most people think.”
Your bow grip should rest right on top of that spot.
“It’s a neutral point of your hand,” Kaufhold said. “That means if the bow is sitting on top of it, you’re not going to be able to torque it. Don’t put the grip in the webbing between your thumb and index finger. That’s a common mistake.”
All of your fingers should be relaxed when the bow is sitting on the heel of your palm. Never wrap them around the bow and squeeze.
If your hand is in the right position, you should be able to bend your elbow so that your forearm comes across your chest. If your elbow bends straight up, then your bow hand is tilted like you are gripping a handgun, which is incorrect.
Bowhunters commonly grip their bow like it’s a pistol, Kaufhold said. When they do, they torque the bow, and the bowstring usually whacks them in the forearm.
“If you have the pistol grip, the bottom of your elbow sticks out into the path of the bowstring,” he said. “Rotate your hand so you make the V with your index finger and thumb and you’ll notice that your elbow rotates out of the way and you gain a good two inches of string clearance.
“One hundred percent of the time when the string hits a shooter’s forearm, improper hand position is at least part of the problem,” Kaufhold said.
Proper hand placement for right-handed shooters leads to the index finger knuckle resting against the bow shelf, while the pinky knuckle is several inches to the left and slightly lower. To achieve this position, you might have to loosen your wrist strap.
“Since a lot of shooters grip the bow like it’s a handgun, their slings are a lot tighter than they need to be to get their hand in the correct position,” Kaufhold said. “Loosen that sling so you can rotate your pinky knuckle away from the riser.”
A simple check to determine if your hand position is correct is to sight in all of your pins, then hold the bow in your hand and look at the string from behind. Make sure the string aligns perfectly with the center of your rest. For right-handed shooters, all of your pins should sit just on the left edge of the bowstring. If they stick far out to the left, you’re probably torquing your bow when you shoot.
Not all bow grips are created equal. In fact, bows made just 10 years ago had grips that were flat-out wrong for promoting proper hand alignment.
“A lot of pro target archers took the stock grips off their bows and just taped the riser with tennis racquet tape,” Kaufhold said.
Traditional grips have a large rounded heel that forces your hand forward so the webbing between your thumb and index finger are pushed into the lip under the back of the shelf. Some bows made today still cling to that style.
Kaufhold said a proper grip is one that’s skinny, with noticeable corners on each side and a low heel — one that doesn’t extend too far out from the riser.
“The hard corners are important so you know where the edges are,” he said. “Otherwise, your hand will have a tendency to roll off one side or the other.”
Torque usually comes when a shooter puts “too much hand into the bow,” Kaufhold said. That’s when (for right handed-shooters) the sweet spot slides to the right side of the grip. At the shot, your hand will coax the bow to torque left. And where the bow goes, your arrow goes.
If your bow doesn’t have a suitable grip, don’t worry. There are plenty of after-market grips available. Mathews, for example, offers its Focus Grip as an add-on feature. The Focus Grip is designed to encourage perfect form and has the exact characteristics recommended by Kaufhold.
A bow stabilizer’s primary functions are to dampen vibration and to steady your bow arm while you’re aiming. But the right stabilizer also combats torque. A light bow with a short, light stabilizer is very easy to torque. Use a stabilizer with a long rod and put all the weight at the very end of that rod.
“Having the weight at the end of the stabilizer, 12 inches or so off the end of the riser, will make it harder to torque the bow,” Kaufhold said.
A greater amount of pressure would be needed to twist that weight left or right. Think about holding a dust broom in your hand versus a floor broom. It’s much more difficult to move that floor broom side to side than the dust broom. Target archers are well aware of this, which is one of the reasons they shoot 36-inch end-weighted stabilizers.
“Even if they did torque the bow, they’d be able to see it, because a stabilizer that long is going to move several inches at the shot,” Kaufhold said.
How long should your stabilizer be? Well, that’s a matter of preference. But start with one that extends past the limb pockets. With some of today’s bows that have radically recessed hand grips — the Mathews Z7 is a perfect example — that might mean you need a stabilizer at least 8 inches long. I hunt with a 12-inch stabilizer that has a 14-ounce weight screwed into the tip.
Perfect practice produces perfect form. The way to eliminate hand torque is to shoot with perfect hand positioning over and over to develop muscle memory. Eventually, anything other than correct form will feel wrong. Even if you grab the bow quickly off the hook behind your stand, or you're wearing gloves on a chilly morning, your hand automatically will find the right spot.
“If you’re used to shooting that way all the time, your hand is going to be perfect, or at least not too far off perfect,” Kaufhold said.
Not everybody lives down the road from an archery coach like I do, but that doesn't mean help isn't available. Many pro shops have knowledgeable shooters who are more than willing to take a look at your form and give advice.
There are also several products available to help with shooting form.
The Death Grip from Van Handle Archery Products (www.vanhandle.com) is a replacement grip that rotates on its axis, thus eliminating hand torque. With a Death Grip, once you put tension on the bow string, your bow won't torque no matter how much you move your hand.
The Bow Coach from Buckeye Cam (www.buckeyecam.com) is an electronic shooting aid that attaches at the sight screws of your riser. The Bow Coach gives feedback after each shot and tells you if you're torquing your bow or adversely moving the bow in any way.
The True Shot Coach from Neet Manufacturing (www.dontchokearchery.com and www.lancasterarchery.com) is a pad that attaches to the first three fingers of your bow hand. While you’re wearing the True Shot Coach, the bow is forced to the proper spot in your hand.
Another training aid is using a common laser pointer. Tape it to your riser and aim it down range. Take note of where it hits the target (it doesn’t have to point directly at the bullseye) and watch the dot. Even with perfect hand position, the dot will dance a bit as you aim.
When you shoot, the dot should stay in the general area where it was dancing before you released the string. If you’re torquing the bow, however, the dot will jump wildly to the left (for right-handed shooters).
“At 20 yards, it might move a foot or more,” Kaufhold said.
As you’re honing your shooting form this summer in preparation for the coming hunting season, don’t get torqued by hand torque. Work on positioning your hand properly and you'll soon find yourself busting arrows. When that starts happening, you know the deer are in trouble.