How To Shoot An English Longbow: A Beginner’s Guide

by | Nov 6, 2022

Whenever you see bowmen handling an English Longbow, the first thing that comes to mind is, how on earth do they manage to shoot such a heavy bow? The second thing is, how can a beginner learn how to shoot an English Longbow?

In medieval times a full-sized Longbow was around 170lb, and archers would have been practising with lighter bows from the age of seven or eight until they built up the strength in order to be able to handle the heavier bows.

So how does a beginner shoot the English Longbow, and what chance do we have today of heaving those heavy draw weights?

Shooting an English Longbow is a full-body endeavour, from the ground up. You’re setting your feet wide, then nocking the arrow and inclining your body forward. Your bow hand pushes into the bow as you pull back with the string hand drawing your elbow up and back to bring the bow into full draw. Then, as soon as you reach your anchor point, you release the arrow.

Everybody has to start somewhere, so those heavy draw weights will have to wait while you test those muscles out on a lighter bow. In Longbow terms, lighter still means a draw weight of around 70lbs. 70lbs is the minimum weight for a modern classification of a War Bow.

How Does A Beginner Learn How To Shoot An English Longbow?

Shooting an English Longbow may seem simple enough to the untrained eye. The bowman pulls back on the string, raises the bow and releases the arrow. Simple, right?

While it may look easy, shooting an English Longbow is anything but. In fact, it has been widely regarded as the hardest bow to shoot.

If you’re used to shooting your 40lb Recurve bow, you’ll be in for a rude awakening when you get your hands on a 70lb Longbow for the first time.

The same principles of drawing the bow apply; chest expansion, back tension, anchor and release. But it’s how you physically get through it with a longbow, that makes everything so different.

You can compare drawing a Longbow to doing a complex compound movement like a deadlift or a squat in the gym.

In the same way, a deadlift or a squat is not just a lower body exercise, it involves your core muscles, your lower back, your lats, traps and arms, pulling a heavy longbow also requires your lower back, chest, arms, shoulders and core muscles to work in unison.

The amount of weight you’re pulling requires your body to recruit as many muscles as it can to lift it.

How To Draw A Longbow

*The following steps are for a right-handed archer learning how to shoot an English Longbow.

1. A Wide, Stable Base

Due to the sheer weight of the longbow, simply pulling back on the string is not going to be enough.

You need to create a wide, stable base from the ground up. With your body turned side-on to the target like you normally would, set your feet a little wider than shoulder-width apart.

2. Nock the Arrow

Once the arrow is on the string, start to fix your eyes on where you want the arrow to go.

Bend your front knee slightly to generate some tension in your front leg. Then incline your body forward from the waist with the bow in your bow hand and three fingers of the str

3. Push and Pull

With that drawing motion, you’re pushing with the bow hand as much as you are pulling with your draw hand. This action activates the chest and back muscles simultaneously to produce enough strength to get the bow back to the anchor point at the corner of the mouth.

Rather than pulling straight back across your chest, you’re drawing your elbow up and across the front of your body, and rolling the shoulder back to fully expand the chest, and create tension in the upper back.

4. Let it Go

In modern archery, bringing the bowstring back to the anchor point is a moment of pause and concentration; checking the sight picture, and breath control. But if you’ve ever watched a master Longbowman shoot an arrow (check out the video above) something entirely different is going on.

Aiming is not a primary factor in Longbow shooting. And one of the major factors why that is the case is that the draw weight is simply too heavy to hold at anchor for any length of time.

In medieval times shooting was instinctive. Bowmen were generally facing a wall of approaching horsemen, so getting off as many arrows in the direction of the enemy was their only goal.

With the left side of your body in line with the centre of the target, you draw the bow back to anchor and release.

How To Set Up Your Longbow For The Perfect Shot

Shooting a Longbow is one thing, but if you haven’t prepared your bow in the right way, then you won’t be troubling the sides of any barns any time soon.

The importance of setting up your Longbow the right way will improve your shooting and give you more consistently good shots.

1. How to String and Unstring a Longbow

Push and Pull Method -The most common method is the ‘Push-Pull’ method. This involves taking the bow in the centre with the right hand and placing the bottom nock firmly against the inside of your right foot. The bowstring should be attached to the bow at the bottom.

Place your left hand on the upper part of the bow with the back of the bow facing you. Now pull with your right hand and push with your left.

As the bow bends away from you, slide the loop of the string up and onto the string groove at the top of the bow, then gently release the tension. The bow should now be strung.

Bracing Cord – The second method, and one that is probably safer for the bow as the pressure is more evenly distributed over the limbs, is to use a bracing cord or bow stringer.

To do this, you take one end of the looped nylon bracing cord and slip it over the top nock of the bow. Same thing with the other end.

Then you hold the centre of the bow in your right hand and place your foot on the bracing cord against the floor.

Then pull up on the bow to bend it. You should now be able to use the left hand to gently slide the string up onto the nock on the left side of the bow.

Untstringing the Longbow

To unstring the Longbow, you can just reverse both of the above methods, making sure to take your time and not rush the procedure.

2. How to Measure the Brace Height on a Longbow

The brace height of a bow is the measurement between the string and the inside of the handle.

Most Longbow makers will suggest a bracing height of 6.5 inches.

Fistmele – In medieval times bow makers used to use the fistmele to measure brace height, which is still a good way to measure.

You make a thumbs-up sign with your right hand then place the base of your right hand on the belly of the bow. The tip of your thumb is the brace height for the Longbow.

Brace Height Gauge – a more accurate way to measure brace height is with a brace height gauge. This is a T-shaped measuring tool that can be clipped to the bowstring by its crossbar.

The length of the gauge can be marked from 0-12, which makes it easy to take your measurement.

How to Shoot and English Longbow

3. How to Change The Brace Height on a Longbow

To alter the brace height on the Longbow, you’ll first need to unstring the bow.

Once the string is off, you can add a few twists to either shorten or lengthen the string depending on whether you need more or less height.

To check you have the right height, just re-string the bow and measure again.

4. How to Add a Nocking Point to a Longbow

Adding a nocking point to the bowstring ensures that the arrow is placed on the string in the exact same position every time, otherwise, the elevation of the arrow is going to be different.

You can use the brace height gauge to measure where you put the nocking point by marking a point on the gauge with tape. A generally good place to mark is about one-quarter inch from the top of the bow’s handle.

Mark Your Nocking Point – A great way to mark the nocking point is to use dental floss.

You’re going to mark two places. Above and below where the arrow will sit.

Start with the one below where the arrow will go.

Wind a long strip of the dental floss down and around the string, going back up and over it to build up two or three layers of floss before securing it in place.

If you’re interested in learning how to make your own Longbow arrows, you might like to read this article.

After you have about a quarter of an inch of width, you can finish off by tying the dental floss similar to how you would tie off a serving. Clip any excess off with a pair of scissors.

To set the second one, nock an arrow onto the string. This gives you the exact spot to place the second lot of dental floss.

Repeat the above process only this time, wind the floss up and away from the arrow.

5. Nock Fit

Check the Fit of the Arrow Nock – Once you’ve set your nocking point, you need to check to see if your arrow nock fits correctly onto the string.

To do this nock an arrow, and let it hang from the string. A correctly fitted arrow should drop if you tap the string with your index finger.

If the arrow doesn’t drop, you’ll need to widen the nock slightly to give it a better fit.

The easiest way to adjust the fit of the nock on the string is to warm the nock up in some hot water to soften the plastic. After soaking the nock for a few seconds you should be able to open the plastic up by using something like the edge of a spoon or a knife.

Then fit the arrow back onto the string to see if the nock needs further adjustment.

6. How to Set the Right Draw Length for a Longbow

Before you order any arrows for Longbow, it’s important to know your draw length so that the spine of the arrow shafts can be correctly selected for your bow.

The easiest way to do that is with a measuring arrow. You can either purchase one with imprinted marks on the shaft, or you can mark off one of your own.

Measure Draw Weight Using a Measuring Arrow – place the arrow on the string as you would any other arrow, and then with a friend standing by to take the measurement, which will be just at the back of the bow, draw the bow back.

That number will be your draw length.

Measuring Draw Length Without a Measuring Arrow – If you don’t have a measuring arrow, you can use a regular arrow instead.

Have your friend stand by again, with a marker pen. When you draw the arrow back, your friend can measure the arrow. Your draw length is measured between the point on the far side of the bow at full draw to the point at the bottom of the nock slot.


There are many elements that go into learning how to shoot an English Longbow. From the correct set-up to the art of drawing the bow itself. But once you have mastered the lighter bows with the correct technique, you can quickly move up in draw weight to challenge yourself with the heavier modern war bows.

A lot of success with Longbow shooting can come from instinct, but like any form of archery, practice is the key element.

Shooting with a Longbow will probably be the most you’ll ever have with archery as it strips it all down to its bare bones. After all, it’s just a stick and a piece of string!