Proper Grip of a Hill Bow

An Update on Thoughts About the Hill Grip

Below is some material on the grip to be used with the Hill bow... actually, any straight gripped longbow. There is a lot of discussion of this, and I keep trying to find a way to present it better... always recognizing that the same grip isn't necessarily going to work best for everyone. Hands differ, form differs and bows differ... especially if you get into locator and/or hybrid grips. That said, I have to add that as best I can study old pictures, I'm not even sure Howard used the grip that is most commonly preferred and taught today. Anyway, the subject came up again on an archery site, and I decided to take another crack at it. Here is what I sent in response to the question:


>>>" I never shoot at game at 30 yards, but I do like shoot at longer distances with a judo tipped arrow.
With my recurve I can shoot at up to 50 yards and be close to my target. I am usually just high or low, but in line with the target.
The problem I have with the longbow at longer distances is I think with the heel down grip. With my longbow if I shoot at a target beyond 30 yards I might hit left, right, high or low.
Are longbows harder to shoot at greater distances than a recurve?<<<


As with any attempt to describe something physical in words, it's difficult to be sure. However, my first guess would be that the problem might lie in grip placement. If the riser is too far into the hand, as opposed to being kind of "balanced" on the fleshy muscle between the crease of the palm and the thumb.

Study the picture above. If your bow placement is at or too close too the left paper strip, by the thumb, you're going to end up with a very sore thunb joint over time. If to far into the hand, by the right strip, a possibly unstable (side to side) bow. I go for the dot. That's going to vary a bit for the size of your hand and such, but this is what is working for me.
I make this the concentration point of the early part of my draw. As I face the target and set the arrow, I start to raise the bow, slowly (I'm not a snap shooter). By the time I'm halfway drawn, I have mentally made sure the bow is right on that pad...then I forget that and try to concentrate on reaching my three anchor points. That's still my biggest problem... I don't snap shoot in the traditional sense, but I tend to release too soon... before hitting my points. So, I'm not perfect... just a work in progress.
I do know that at Bob Wesley's longbow school, he demonstrated that if you have the bow too far into your hand, he could easily take hold of it and twist it, but if you had the grip right, it was harder to do.
Other things to look at might be: at the longer distances are you holding your head differently to look at the further target? If so, it could be affecting your anchor point. Or, is your arrow matching as good as it can be? Perhaps they're stabilized well enough to be good at the short distances but not longer? Just thoughts.
I should add, in the interest of truth in advertising, that I don't shoot beyond 30 yards... still not good enough to satisfy myself at that distance, let alone further... maybe someday...
Dick in Seattle

I had this narrative and picture vetted by Tom Ireland, who went to Bob's school with me, and he feels I've gotten it OK.

Now... just so I don't provide any absolute answers and keep you confused, here are some pictures of Howard gripping bows:








In none of those pictures does it look to me like Howard is using the grip we all hear about today. It looks to me like Howard had the bow more into the hand, as feels natural and rsults in a lower wrist/higher heel pressure grip. So, pay your money and take your choice. Try everything and see what works. The heel pressure seems to be key and can be provided either way. I'm shootng as Bob showed us, and it's working well for me. I do suspect that the bow's grip shape is important, and have come to accept that the straight grip is the tradtional one, and probably for a good reason.


Bob emphasized that the grip he taught, on the flesh pad at the base of the thumb, does a good job of aligning the hand bones and wrist bones, providing a solid line to aborb the pressure. Here again, you have to deal with the hand you're dealt... pun intended...




One of the most common complaints regarding Hill bows, or the "Traditional American Flat Bow" in general, is hand shock. Many things can contribute to hand shock, but with this style of bow, the most common is improper grip. Many folks come to a Hill bow from years of shooting recurves. The two grips are entirely different, and trying to use a recurve style grip simply won't work on a Hill bow. A recurve is usually nestled into the thumb joint with the wrist straight. This grip shifts the hand to the left (for right handed shooters), staightening the arm and putting the force in line with the long forearm bone. The balance of force is on the joint and arm bone, and a loose grip is both common and advised. With a Hill-stle bow, this grip will not work, and can cause hand shock and difficulty in controlling the bow. The appropriate grip for this style of longbow, which usually has a straight riser or one that has very limited shaping to it, is a grip that places the force on the heel of the hand, below the thumb joint. The arm is slightly bent at the elbow. The grip is defintely firm throughout the hand, but not clenched. This transfer of the force in the grip helps to control the bow and insures that it flexes appropriately for the design. The slight flexing of the elbow absorbs shock and, incidentally, reduces the need for an arm brace. Some longbow shooters do not use a brace unless they are wearing loose clothing.

The Hill bow grip has been described many times, but it seems as if it is rather like learning to skate or ride a bike... the feel can't be transferred in words. A discussion of this came up on the Hill Fans bow site and I decided to try a visual presentation. I have asked participants to have someone photograph their grip at full draw, so that we can show some pix here for people to relate to. We just started this project, and at this point, the only pix are of my own grip.

Grip Pix and Thoughts


Dick Wightman


Shot from over right shoulder... This is a first attempt and with my wife, who is not familiar with the camera, doing the shooting. Man, I had to hold that bow at full draw for a long time to get this shot! Anyway, after processing, I can see that a second shot from over the left shoulder would show the elbow bend better. Hopefully, we'll get a good shot of that, too. In fact, my elbow is very slightly bent, and I am shooting in a sweater with no brace, but experienced no string blow on the arm. The bow is in the thumb joint, but the wrist is low and the pressure is on the heel of my hand.



Here is a second shot, closer up. If you drew a center line on the bow, you can see that it would place the heel of my hand very slightly to the right, but be well to the left of the long arm bone.

Can't help bragging just a bit... it was raining like heck outside, so I had to shoot kneeling inside the garage... about 8 to 9 yards. I took three shots (third one Ann didn't get focused), and all three arrows touched! I don't do that much...


The Hill grip has been most often described as "like picking up a suitcase". However, there is usually some further mention of the thumb joint, and I ended up thinking that the bow was supposed to be nestled behind the first thumb knuckle. This feels extremely uncomfortable to me, and I just can't control the bow with it in that position. In these photos, my thumb knuckle is clearly beside the right edge of the grip, but not as much so as if I were using a recurve grip, straightening the wrist and moving the pressure from the heel of my hand to the long arm bone.

Other folks may shoot with the bow turned more toward the thumb. I won't know till I get more photos, but this is how I shoot my Hills, and what is comfortable for me. I have never experienced hand shock on any of the nearly twenty Hill bows I have owned and shot. Acually, the worst hand shock I ever had was on a hybrid reflex/deflex longbow... i.e. an RD bow with a recurve grip. Darned thing was so shocky it jumped out of my hands.

Hopefully, I will soon get some more hand/elbow pix of people actually shooting Hills. Who knows, I may learn that I'm still not doing it right... but so far, this is the best approach I've found, and works well enough for me to enjoy the shooting.


Return of the Grip Pix, or Grip Pix II

Doug McCoy:


Dick here is a pic for ya... Using a 66" Big Five - 60 lb. @ 27 inch. draw - notice my draw is not full - got really tired cause my wife took so long to shoot the picture.


I can relate to the picture taking time. Getting these shots, especially for a non-archer not familiar with the camera, isn't as easy as it sounds! Note Doug's bent elbow. Neither Tom (below) nor I seem to bend as much. In the pix, both my arm and Tom's appear straight, but I know that my elbow is not locked and I feel a slight bend to it. I suspect this is tricky to catch in a photo unless you do a second shot from above.


And The Son of Grip Pix, or Grip Pix III

(Yes, I spent a lot of time at Saturday matinees as a kid...)



Tom Ireland

(I suppose in this era of litigation, I should add a disclaimer: Do not try to duplicate this grip exactly unless, like Tom, you are left handed... )




Hi Dick,
Here are pics of my grip...I have no idea if they are correct or not but it's the way I hold the bow that feels
the most natural.   Taking self-timer pics ain't easy...these are the best two of a half dozen or more.
I call it a hammer grip....the same way one would grip a hammer.  When I grip a suitcase, the weight actually
hangs in my fingers, so the nomenclature "suitcase grip" doesn't click. 
To shift my thumb more to the left, which would put more meat on the belly side of the handle, requires cocking my wrist, which feels uncomfortable and places my arm to close too the string.
Tom Ireland
Hagerstown, MD

I second Tom's comment re the effect of shifting the thumb more to the side. For me, too, it puts a bend in the wrist and angles the bow in relation to the shot line... seems completely unnatural.

What is the "Heel" of the Hand?

Here's an interesting bit of thought... we talk about the heel of the hand, and "heeling" the bow. I don't know exactly why the thought occurred to me, but I did come up with one more "thought" on this. Might help explain some of the common confusion. I grew up with a certain understanding of "heel of the hand". Just for kicks, I asked Ann and Brent, without explaining why, to point out the heel of their hands. To me, the heel of the hand has always been the fleshy area just back of and below the thumb, but at the top of the whole hand surface. Ann considered the fleshy part of the bottom of the hand surface the "heel", and Brent felt it was both... the whole back end of the hand surface.

So, the question comes up... how much of the back edge of the hand do you keep in contact with the bow. Obviously, it is going to make a difference in the degree of "tiller" you are pulling from the bottom limb.

If yoiu had asked me I would have said I was "heeling" the bow on that upper fleshy pad, just under and behind the ghumb. However, when I look at my picture, I can see that the lower pad is clearly hard into the bow, and that the "line" of the bow does fisect the whole wrist connection. This is apparent also in Tom's second picture. Later today, I'm going to experiment a bit with trying to be aware of the whole pressure of the bow in my hand. Might take some more pix, too. Sure hope this ends up helping some folks. I know I'm finding it informative.



Still More Grip Pix

Dave Thomas

Dave Thomas sent a very interesting (to me) set of pix because his grip varies a little. It appears (again, to me) that he has his hand a bit more to 1 o'clock as relates to the wrist than the other pix, which show a line more nearly central to the wrist. This results in less of the lower or bottom pad of the hand being engaged. Michael Cawelti, who has been to the Whispering Pines shooting school and learned from Bob Wesley, commented on seeing Dave's pictures, "Dave, I think you've got it! Great placement on the bow, as i have been shown. Cheers, Michael Cawelti". this is actually more like what I thought I was doing, till I saw my own pictures.











Dave points out that his little finger is not part of the grip.




Another Pic



Pete sent this pic in some time ago, when I first had the idea for this project. Note that he has the bow center a little more toward the first, or main, thumb joint and has the least lower hand pad engagement of the photos.




A Comparison of Heel Pad Engagement














Regarding these pictures: A very special thanks to the Howard Hill Shooters list members who contributed. Remember, it's what works for you. I think the point to be drawn here is to experiment with just how much of the bottom hand pad you engage with the bow and find what works for you. Again, I emphasize that nothing is probably absolutely right for absolutely wrong for all people. We vary. I suspect if I were to lay my palm on Howard Hill's, my finger tips would barely reach his first knuckle! That kind of difference has got to have some effect. The width of your hand also has to affect things. The purpose of this photo study is to show visuals for you to sort out in your mind and then try. I hope it helps. I know that I have thought a lot more about the whole thing, and more deeply, as I put this page together. I plan to experiment with a little less bottom of the hand engagement, though with my small hand, I suspect I ended up shooting the way I do because I needed that hand width on the bow. If I learn otherwise, I'll report back here.



I had the idea for this project some time ago, but it was one of those things that needed a "round tuit"... I got it started and it just sort of sat there. A recent thread regarding shooting Hills vs. shooting recurves provided the impetus to really move on it. One of the things about that thread that struck me was a query along the lines of "Why on earth would you want to shoot a bow that required all this study? Why not shoot a recurve, it's easier." I doubt that that question will ever be answered to everyone's, or even just to the questioner's, satisfaction. You either like a bow this tradtional or you don't. Anyway, here is the answer I provided for that thread:

"We all approach shooting bows from our own background and personal preferences/reactions. In my case, nostagia and a gut reaction to simplicity are big factors. I like simple things and the idea of being traditional with the most modern bow I can find doesn't ring my chimes. I'm a fly fisherman and a ham radio operator who collects and uses traditional straight telegraph keys. I sew a lot and I use the old treadle sewing machines. I began shooting muzzle loaders 50 year ago, when it was virtually unheard of. So, to me, the Hill bows are very sympatico. Of course, everything gets tempered. If I took this all the way back, I'd be shooting an English longbow, but the Hills, or flatbows, are where I settled. I know that there are, or may be, bows that are easier to shoot, but that's part of the appeal or challenge. I'm not competing with anyone but myself, so I just keep trying to shoot them better. I really doubt that there is any more explanation than that for most folks who like the Hills, or, for that matter, for whatever bows anyone shoots. Some like to push the envelope of developement and keep trying the equipment out. Others find something they enjoy and say, "Hey, I like this and I'm going to stick with it." The nice thing is that everyone is right."

Dick in Seattle