Shooting Barebow

Shooting Barebow
Jayjohn demonstrates string walking. Note that his fingers are well beneath the arrow but his anchor point remains the same.

Shooting barebow means shooting a bow that has no sights. This technique is used mainly by recurve and longbow enthusiasts, but it can be done with compound bows as well. Many archers think that shooting barebow and shooting instinctively are the same thing. In truth, they are not. Shooting instinctively is one of three primary barebow aiming methods. The other two are gap shooting and string walking. Which aiming method should you use for barebow shooting? Ohioan Curtiss Jayjohn suggests that you experiment with all three of the methods and then use the one that works best for you.

Jayjohn is an expert recurve shooter, especially on live game. He can pick off bottle caps tossed into the air and zap 2-inch-thick Styrofoam targets tossed sideways like a Frisbee. After trying different sighting methods, you might combine elements of two styles, as Jayjohn does. He shoots instinctively out to about 30 yards and switches to gap shooting at longer ranges. However, he rarely shoots at game farther than 25 yards.


So much has been written about instinctive shooting that it has become the Holy Grail for many barebow enthusiasts. True instinctive shooters focus only on the target and pay no attention to the arrow in the sight picture. Newcomers are told to "burn a hole" in the target and let the arrow fly. The result for most newcomers following that advice is inconsistency and frustration.

I believe many of those who claim to be instinctive shooters subconsciously see the blurred arrow in their peripheral vision and use it to aim. Legendary archer Howard Hill consciously did this and called it "split vision" sighting. It is a cross between instinctive shooting and gap shooting.

"A true instinctive shooter has learned from hundreds of hours of practice where his arrow will fly and land at a given distance," Jayjohn says. "I compare it to shooting a basketball. Some days you can't seem to miss; other days you're on the bench."

Jayjohn draws the string with three fingers placed directly beneath the arrow, called shooting "three under." Most instinctive archers prefer to shoot "split finger," which is placing the index finger above the arrow's nock and two fingers below the nock.

"I focus all my energy on the smallest part of the target I can see, and then I draw and release the arrow without thought," Jayjohn says. "I usually hit within inches of the target out to 20 yards. Beyond that, my consistency with instinctive shooting diminishes."


To gap shoot, you draw the bow to your anchor point and hold the tip of the arrow at a specific distance (gap) beneath the target. The tip of the arrow is in sharp focus, and the target is blurred. This is the opposite of instinctive shooting.

Gap shooting can be done with a split finger release, but it is much easier three under.

The gap between the target and the arrow is smaller with three under. This makes it easier to adjust at whitetail hunting ranges, which typically are 25 yards or less.

The size of the gap depends on the distance to the target, how far your arrow extends past the arrow rest, and the trajectory of the arrow. Say, for example, that your arrow hits the mark at 20 yards when you hold the tip of the arrow 2 inches under the target. The gap would need to be greater than 2 inches at shorter ranges, and less than 2 inches for targets beyond 20 yards.

The range at which the arrow hits the mark when held dead on the target is called "point on." This can vary from 30 to 60 yards or more depending on your bow, arrows and shooting form. To shoot beyond point on, you must hold the arrow above the target.


String walking is the least popular of the three primary aiming methods, but it works well for some people. You focus on the tip of the arrow and place it dead on the target at all ranges. Instead of using a gap, you change your finger placement on the string to compensate for the distance.

A good place to start would be at your point-on distance with a three-under hold just beneath the arrow. Let's say that this is 35 yards. To hit the mark at 25 yards, you would need to place your fingers farther beneath the nock, maybe 1/2 inch or more. A hold that is 1 inch beneath the nock might be on target at 15 yards, and so on. This is a slower process than either instinctive or gap shooting because you must estimate the range and then determine where to grasp the string before you can draw and shoot.

An alternative to string walking is to use different anchor points. You anchor high on your face to be point on at close ranges and progressively lower to be point on at longer and longer ranges.

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