One evening I was at an archery club when a local coach asked me to work with one of his up and coming adult barebow shooters. We’ll call her Janet. He pointed her out and commented on certain elements of her form that were excellent, yet her accuracy at twenty yards was quite inconsistent. After a few moments of watching her shoot, I walked over, introduced myself, and asked her one simple question, “Where’s your anchor point?”
Janet looked confused, and with her thick shooting glove pointed roughly to the side of her face. I asked her for specifics, and she had none. She was just holding her string hand up to her cheek and shooting. This was a problem. An archer can perform every other part of their shot flawlessly, but without a solid anchor it’s impossible to have repeatable accuracy.
Anchor points are so basic we often overlook their importance when teaching new archers. How many times have you heard, “Just put your finger in the corner of your mouth”? That may be true to an extent, but a solid anchor point requires much more. After I explained to Janet what constitutes a good anchor, she corrected her problem with excellent results. As you read the rest of this article, consider your own anchor point and see if it has room for improvement.
The problem with “finger in the corner of the mouth” is it’s what we call a soft tissue anchor, which isn’t much of an anchor at all. Touch your finger to the corner of your mouth and move it in a circle. Do you see the problem? Soft tissue, like the corner of your mouth, can easily move.
What we want is a hard anchor, bone on bone. With respect to the side of our face, the bone structure we should most try to use is at or above our upper jaw. The lower jaw can move relative to our dominant, aiming eye, but the bone structure at or above our upper jaw does not. While it’s true that Olympic archers anchor on their lower jaw, what they actually do is somewhat clench their teeth and pull the top of the string hand tight to the bottom of their jaw. This is a lot different than the side-of-the-face anchor we traditional archers employ.
The primary anchor—as opposed to the secondary anchors we’ll discuss in a moment—should ideally involve the tip of one of the fingers touching the arrow nock. Since the entire purpose of an anchor point is to hold the rear of the arrow in the exact same location relative to the dominant eye for every shot, anchoring with the tip of a finger touching the rear of that arrow makes sense. For split finger shooters, either the index or middle finger would be ideal. For archers who shoot three fingers under, the index finger should be your first choice. If that’s not feasible or comfortable, use your middle finger instead.
Since most traditional bowhunters want to anchor in the corner of their mouths, I suggest taking it one step further and using a tooth on your upper jaw. For most folks, the eye-tooth will line up with the corner of the mouth. But simply anchoring on a tooth isn’t specific enough. Are you anchoring at the top or bottom of the tooth? Are you touching the back, middle or front of that area? The more specific you can get, the better.
Once you have your primary anchor established—a fingertip on firm bone structure—you may think you’re done. In reality, you’re only partway there. A one dimensional anchor point, like a fingertip on a tooth, will still allow your head to move up and down, side to side. At this point you want to establish additional points of contact to ensure a solid, consistent head position. The possibilities for these secondary anchor points are endless.
Draw your bow and engage your primary anchor (i.e. middle finger at the bottom rear of the eye tooth). Set your hand firmly into the side of your face and notice all the additional points of contact between your string hand and face. Some of them may be bone on bone as well. Make note of them and replicate those additional points of contact every time you reach anchor. The more solid points of contact you can replicate, the more consistent your anchor and head position will become.
If a person is using their index finger on a tooth at the corner of their mouth, I suggest they see if they can also anchor the knuckle at the base of their thumb to the back of their jawbone and the knuckle at the base of their index finger to the bottom of their cheekbone. For people who anchor with the middle finger relative to the corner of the mouth, the relaxed thumb will usually lie somewhere on the side of the lower jaw, and the knuckle at the base of the index finger will land somewhere on the side or rear of the cheekbone.
Some folks also like to find a point of contact with either the string or the arrow fletching to assure a consistent vertical head position. Over the last several years touching one’s nose to the back of a feather has become a very popular method to try to eliminate up and down inconsistencies in head position. Some folks use the feather touching their nose as a trigger to release the string, which is an entirely different discussion unto itself.
Other people secure their vertical head position by touching the bowstring to a certain spot on their eyebrow. By doing this they assure their head isn’t too high or low. It doesn’t take much movement in head position to throw your shot off the mark. If your head is too high, your shot will go high. Hold your head too low and you’ll shoot low.
Going further, the position of the bowstring in your peripheral vision can be helpful for keeping your head in the correct left to right position. This is what is commonly referred to as “string blur,” since the bowstring resembles a thin blurry line as you look past it. This works best for those of us who shoot with little to no cant. The most common way to employ this method is by lining up the string with some part of the bow, like the inside edge of the sight window. When I hold my bow vertically—which is the majority of the time—I aim with the tip of my arrow barely visible on the left side of my bowstring. My string blur becomes having the string just to the right of the arrow tip.
Of course, the use of string blur is primarily for those who shoot with a conscious aiming system. Since instinctive aimers block out everything in their peripheral vision and only concentrate on the spot they wish to hit, the bowstring isn’t noticeable to them. Paying attention to it would likely distract from their concentration on the intended target.
If you are a conscious aimer who shoots with a moderate or severe degree of cant, string blur may be useless to you. Instead, pay attention not only to the tip of the arrow, but how the sides of the shaft appear in your peripheral vision. Do they converge evenly toward the tip like an isosceles triangle, or does one side appear more angled than the other? Checking this in your peripheral vision will help you avoid left or right misses due to inconsistent head position.
All these secondary anchors and visual references may seem a bit cumbersome at first. But give them time and they will feel as comfortable as the one-dimensional anchor you may be using now. I have five points of reference when it comes to my anchor and head position, and when I hunt I don’t even have to think about it anymore. It happens naturally. The only difference is now I’m a lot more accurate than I was years ago when my anchor point consisted of just my middle finger in the corner of my mouth.
Our equipment may be simple, but shooting it with a high degree of accuracy is not. While there is a lot of discussion these days on various aiming systems, those topics only cover where the front of the arrow is pointing. Having the rear of the arrow in a consistent position relative to your dominant eye is just as important, and we do that by developing a rock solid anchor and consistent head position. If we only focus on the front of the arrow and ignore the rear, we’re missing half the equation. Give your anchor point some serious thought, develop it further to include multiple reference points, and I’ll bet your accuracy improves as a result.