This article is mainly for newbies, but also for those just interested in basic trad archery tackle criteria and selection. The focus is on barebow archery as used for traditional bowhunting, with longbows and recurves. The best thing a budding archer/bowhunter can do is to seek help from a qualified mentor or coach who is well versed in the traditional side of archery and bowhunting. One-on-one assistance will insure acquiring the right tackle, the right setting of your gear, and learning fundamental *traditional* archery form as it applies to hunting. Doing so can save enormous amounts of time and money. Seek out help via local archery clubs, archery events, and traditional archery shops.
In a hurry? Here are the key important points ...
1. Identify your dominant eye.
2. Seek a knowledgeable traditional archer/bowhunter to help with your gear selection, setup and learning how to shoot.
3. Traditional bowhunting starts with having consistent accuracy at realistic hunting distances, utilizing razor sharp cut-on-contact broadheads.
4. Read all of the text below.
5. Have fun!
The very first thing to learn is which of your eyes is the dominant one - the one eye that focuses directly and clearly on an object. Hold a hand about a foot in front of your face, make the "OK" sign circle by touching thumb and forefinger, use both eyes to center a distant object within that circle, close your left eye - if the object is still within the circle, you're right eye dominant; vice versa if the left eye centers the object. If you're right handed and right eye dominant, or left handed and left eye dominant, no problem. Generally, right eye dominant people should enter shooting sports as right-handed participants. Left eye dominant people should participate as lefties. Exceptions can be made to this general rule, but most of these exceptions have to do with physical adversities.
If you are a budding new trad archer/bowhunter, you will undoubtedly have many things to learn. Covered below are all the gear/tackle basics. There is much more. However, it is strongly suggested to avoid anything that will only complicate your learning curve. Stick to the items listed below and do try to seek local one-on-one personal assistance with choosing a stick bow, finding the right arrows for your bow, and learning proper archery form.
Bows and arrows are lethal weapons. Even minisucle light draw weight kid's bows can launch tiny arrows that have the potential to kill humans, let alone critters. Use common sense. Here's a link to a good LIST of archery safety concerns. Please read it.
We should all strive to employ a trad hunting stick bow that has a holding draw weight we can manage. That is, a comfortable holding weight that allows for consistency, which leads to accuracy, which leads to accurate shots and quickly killed game. This is a cornerstone of trad bowhunting, and there are no exceptions. Minimum bow draw weight will be dictated by the bowhunting laws in the area(s) you'll hunt, and the type of game you will hunt. However, you may quickly find that a hunting weight stick bow for medium game such as deer or hogs is too much to control, and if so, a much lower weight starter bow will absolutely be required. You simply can not learn the basics of good archery form if the bow has too much holding weight that can't be controlled. Please read that again - this is very important!
Longbow or recurve? Doesn't matter. Pick one that makes you happiest.
What is the difference between a recurve and a longbow? Here's the general consensus - if only the bowstring loops touch the limb nocks, it's a longbow - anything else is a recurve.
Recurves are very efficient stick bows that typically promote faster arrow speeds than longbows. Well then, why bother with longbows, isn't faster better? Not at all necessarily, because speed alone doesn't kill - consistent accurately placed sticks with very sharp points do.
There are essentially two types of longbows - straight and hybrid.
"Straight" longbows have limbs that are basically straight or perhaps with a bit of overall tapered reflex ("back set") or string follow ("belly set"). These are "classic" longbows that form a "D" shape when braced. Think: English longbow (ELB), American flat longbow (AFL), Howard Hill longbow.
"Hybrid" longbows have both reflexed limb ends and deflexed risers. This improves the overall efficiency of the bow, for faster arrow speeds, while still imparting a large measure of bow "stability" during the shot. Mild r/d hybrid longbows typically have that "D" braced classic longbow limb look when braced. Aggressive r/d hybrid longbows will typically show some reflex near the limb tips when braced, and allow even faster arrow speeds. The milder r/d longbows are typically somewhat more stable than the more aggressive variety (aggressive hybrids are closer in performance and aesthetics to recurves - and some will outperform recurves in the speed category).
Stick bows have a number of measured qualities, such as "stability" during and after the shot, "energy/speed" imparted to the arrow via the limbs, "noise" created during the shot, and "hand shock" after the arrow clears the riser.
Stability - the ability of the bow to remain as neutral as possible in the bow hand after the string is released.
Energy/speed - how much energy is imparted to the arrow as transmitted via the bowstring and bow limbs.
Noise - the decibel noise level after the string is released and as the arrow clears the riser; recurves typically have limb "slap", since the bowstring makes contact with the reflexed ends of the limbs, longbows don't have that issue.
Hand shock - any amount of energy that is not transmitted to the arrow is absorbed by the bow limbs and riser, and is transmitted to the bow hand.
No matter what type of stick bow you choose,
be very careful choosing the holding weight!
Bow limb images, braced and unbraced.
American Flat Longbow ("Howard Hill style") ...
Hybrid mild r/d longbow ...
Hybrid aggressive r/d longbow ...
Bow Length. A proper length hunting stick bow for a specific archer is dependent on some basic criteria - your draw length, the type of stick bow, and perhaps special bowyer design parameters. In almost all instances, longer stick bows will be more stable, forgiving and easier to shoot. Longer may not be the best choice if hunting from tree stands or blinds. Choose wisely!
Here are some guidelines for typical recurve bows ...
As you've already learned, longbows are typically divided into three types - here are some guidelines for typical "straight" AFL's (American Flat Longbows - i.e. "Howard Hill") ...
... and here are some guidelines for typical "hybrid mild r/d" longbows ...
... and finally, some guidelines for typical "hybrid aggressive r/d" longbows ...
Please Note: There are other, special design short length stick bows that will allow for much longer draw lengths than shown above! Some stick bow lengths safely allow for slightly longer draw lengths but may not be as smooth on the draw as if used with a longer bow length.
As an example of an extreme hybrid aggressive r/d longbow, below is the 54" length TimberGhost TD that was used by Curt Cabrera to win the coveted Overall Champion at the grueling 2013 Muzzy Shoot ... Curt has a 29" draw length!
Bow holding weight is based on your draw length. For a newbie, trad bow draw length can be tricky if not elusive. Changing your draw length changes the bow holding weight! Know your trad bow draw length! Seek one-on-one help from local, knowledgeable folks - there is no substitute for this! Try before you buy is always best, but not something one can do all the time (and one reason why there's a good turnover of used stick bows for sale). You NEED a *reasonably* light holding weight for your first bow, perhaps only 35 to 45 pounds for a man, and 25 to 35 pounds for a woman. This will make learning correct form much easier. If this first bow is a three piece take down, getting a new set of heavier limbs will be less expensive than buying an entire new stick bow. If you wish to hunt with your first trad bow, it will need to meet the minimum legal holding weight/cast requirements for your hunt venue location. To shoot well, and/or to hunt, or both? Again, if you are not in control of your bow's holding weight at your draw length, you are "over bowed" and you will compromise your archery shooting/hunting.
Be realistic and wise when it comes to selecting your trad bow's holding weight!
Draw length is technically the distance between the arrow's nock groove and the forward most inside of the handle grip, then add an additional 1-3/4". If at full draw this distance measures 26-1/4", adding 1-3/4" yields a 28" draw length. This is a cumbersome way of determining an archer's draw length. Let's make it easier and just as accurate. Your draw is measured from the depth of the arrow's nock to the front of the bow's arrow shelf. You can check draw length with a long arrow or dowel (that has a notch in one end to simulate the arrow nock) - mark the arrow/dowel in 1/2" increments from the nock's notch, starting at 25" and ending at 30". place a clothespin at the 25" mark, place the arrow/dowel on the bowstring and draw back - the clothespin will move forward and will stop when you reach your draw length. Note the distance. Add 1/2" or more to this distance for your real hunting arrow's length (to allow for a broadhead). Take note that as a trad newbie, your form will change, and most likely so will your draw length!
Stick bows are marked with a holding weight, i.e. - 43# @ 28" (or typically labelled 43@28) - this means the bow will hold at 43# when pulled back 28". For each inch of draw more or less, add or subtract 3#. Be aware that the labeled weights on bows may be off by as much as +/- 1 to 5 pounds - or more! The ONLY way to know what weight you are holding at FULL DRAW is to use a GOOD and TESTED bow scale. Anything else is a crap shoot!
REPEAT: If you start off with more holding weight than your untrained muscles can handle, you will be weight lifting and not shooting archery. "Overbowing" (attempting to use a bow that is more draw weight than you can effectively handle) is a quick way to poor accuracy, learning bad form habits that will plague you a long time if not forever, disappointment, frustration, and maybe even physical hurt.
If you are a compound archer starting off in trad archery, be aware of two important things - (1) your draw length may shorten, particularly if you're going from a release aid to fingers, and (2) the holding weight of a compound can be between 10% and 90% of the compound's rated weight at your draw length and you must take that into serious consideration! If your current compound is rated at 65#, you could easily be holding less than 15# at full draw, and if that is the case you may have difficulty holding even a 45# stick bow at anchor! You should be able to hold your stick bow at full draw for at least a few seconds without serious shaking! Try before you buy!
As discussed above, bow length should be based on your draw length and the design of the bow. There are some special, really short length bows that are designed for longer draw lengths, if a short bow is a requirement. For the most part, there are bowyer recommendations for bow length. If you're up in the air (a tree stand) or dealing with lots of thick bush (ground blind or stalking), shorter might just be better for you. In the long run, there is at least a fair amount of subjectivity to bow length. When in doubt, always go longer.
A one piece or take down bow? The real consideration for a take down bow is travel, and air travel in particular. T/D bows just make the bow hauling much easier for flying out to a hunting venue. However, the cost of a take down can be considerably more than a one piece.
Take down two piece or three piece? Geez, more stuff to consider! There might typically be more inherent mass weight with a three piece, and they have their own aesthetic "look", particularly with a three piece longbow. Most two piece bows really do look like one piece once they're connected - a much more pleasing aesthetic look, but a tad more weight than a one piece, yet less weight than a three piece. Some folks like the added mass weight of a T/D bow, others like 'em lighter. More subjective stuff.
What trad bow? The quick, good answer is one of recent manufacture. Older stick bows from the 50's to 70's (and some even up to the 90's) can have issues, as can any used bow. Most of these older bows will not be safe with modern HMPE bowstring fiber. For the first time trad archer/bowhunter, avoid self, board and composite wood bows - they require more care than a composite wood/glass stick bow. Confused? That can be understandable. Seek knowledgeable help. Trad archery clubs are best, as well as online advice from trad forums such as TradGang.com
OK, you've got yourself a nice WhizBang stick bow, it feels comfortable to draw, you can hold it at full draw for a few seconds without shaking (well, not shaking too much - a little is fine and something you should be able to correct as your muscles become conditioned) ....
Now, learn how to shoot. Again, seek local assistance, or better yet an archery coach, and one that is well versed in traditional archery - there is no substitute for this as well. Whether you employ split finger, or a three fingers under the nock string grip, that's your subjective choice. Shooting a stick bow essentially means nocking an arrow, gripping the string/arrow, drawing the arrow to your draw length, holding at full draw (this "holding" can be for a split second, or seconds), aiming at the target (or game), releasing the arrow and "following through". What was not included in the previous sentence is "stance" - how your body aligns with the target. Target archers have the luxury of a fixed stance, which is typically both feet in line with the target. Bowhunters learn to shoot accurately from many body positions, from standing, to kneeling, to sitting, to lying down. You MUST learn and acquire consistent accuracy at reasonable hunting distances, and shooting in positions other than the "target archery stance". For most trad bowhunters, this means hitting a 9" paper plate at 15 yards, at the least.
Aiming an archery bow means using some form of sighting, and there are three basic types - hard sight, soft sight and instinctive. "Hard sight" means using a moveable sighting device attached directly to the bow. This is fine for target archery and known target distances but nearly useless for traditional bowhunting with unknown target distances. "Soft sight" means any aiming methodology that employs aligning some part of the arrow or bow as a reference to the target. Using the arrow point as distance reference to the target (gap aiming) or placing the arrow point on a fixed object (point of aim) are two soft sight aiming methods. "Instinctive" means looking only at the target and disregarding both the arrow and the bow - this is analogous to throwing a baseball or football or dart. This is by far the most used aiming method for traditional bowhunters.
"Subjective Choice" - this can only best be based on experience. Do not "think" something is "best" for you - go out and try it, if at all possible. This subjectivity applies to both archery tackle and shooting form/style.
Pulling back a bowstring, even one on a light draw weight bow, will hurt your string drawing fingers sooner than later. The principle form of finger protection is a leather glove or tab. Subjectivity rules here - try both styles of finger protection and employ the one that feels best to you. Typically, gloves will have less "string feel" imparted to the fingers, particularly if the glove is a made from thick and/or stiff leather. Thinner gloves made with very supple leather have really good string feel, and typically sport a much higher price tag. Even a cheap leather tab will typically have good string feel, and perhaps a better perceived "connection" to the string. Choose whatever feels and works best for you.
Modern stick bows are almost always crafted to use modern low stretch, low creep string fibers. The High Modulus PolyEthylene (HMPE) fibers (Fast Flight, DynaFlight, 450+, etc) have fiber trade names such as Dyneema, Vectran and Spectra. Older bows aren't built to handle HMPE string fibers and should only use bowstrings made from Dacron fiber. Make sure that the brace height of the bow falls within the range dictated by the bow's manufacturer. It doesn't matter at all if the bowstring type is Flemish or endless.
It's more in a newbie's favor to use a modern stick bow since that will allow the use of modern string fibers. As mentioned, HMPE strings are more consistent and stable and that means both better accuracy and less to blame on your equipment when accuracy and form issues arise. Almost all older, vintage type bows are not safe to use modern low stretch/creep string fibers - stick with Dacron (polyester) for those older bows.
THE BOWSTRING NOCK POINT
Use a bowstring square or a sheet of folded newspaper to find where the bow's arrow shelf lines up with the string at 90 degrees. Roughly 3/8" to 3/4" above that is a decent starting point for the arrow's nocking point (arrows nock under that nocking point). Adjust the nocking point up or down until there is no up/down ("porpoising") of the arrow in flight as it leaves the bow. Use a metal nock point for ease of adjusting purposes. Later on, replacing that metal nock point with a tied-on and glued thread nock point will make for a tad faster string, and one that's less likely to chew up your shooting glove or tab.
Of all archery tackle, the arrow is absolutely most important - certainly far more important than the bow. Whatever your holding draw weight, you want an arrow that will fly well out of your bow. Arrows that don't fly straight and true are less efficient and less accurate than ones that do fly well. Efficient arrows with sharp cut-on-contact broadheads that fly true to the spot on an animal will kill that game faster than any other type of arrow criteria. Read that again.
Matching an arrow to a given bow and archer is a task not for this article. Arrow shaft materials are wood, aluminum, fiberglass and carbon. It's recommended to at least initially stay away from wood arrows - they will be too inconsistent, are affected by the environment, and require constant attention to straightening - not to mention they are just not as durable as man made material arrow shafting. Use either aluminum or carbon arrows. Aluminum arrows will be the easiest to tweak for matching to a given bow. However, carbon shaft arrows are the most durable and consistent, and can be fairly easy to match to a bow (see note below), and offer the greatest range of weight and spine for any given shaft size. Yes, there are LOTS of folks that would argue differently - but day in and day out, carbon shafting has more than proved itself for bowhunting. An extremely important aspect of carbon arrows is shot after shot consistency in terms of shaft straightness - no other shaft can compare in that quality. This is a very important factor for a newbie archer - the more consistent your arrows and other tackle, the more you'll know where the blame goes when you have accuracy issues. Note that whatever your draw length, the arrow needs to be at least 1/2" longer, but can be 2" or more longer if need be.
Note - when it comes to carbon arrow shafts, do not rely on manufacturer's "spine charts". Carbon shafting is just different than aluminum and wood, when it comes to stiffness ('spine') and their static spine is quite different than their dynamic spine. Going lower in carbon shaft spine is almost always better than the chart recommendations. There's a reason why carbon shaft spine ratings are very broad for any given carbon shaft (i.e. - 35#-55# spine rating for one shaft type).
Getting an arrow to fly well out of a bow begins with choosing a completed arrow that's as closely matched to both the bow and archer as possible. Newbie archer/bowhunters should always seek knowledgeable help in arrow selection. This is extremely important. Attempting to excel in archery/bowhunting with less than optimum flying arrows is a sure way to fail, or at least make your journey unnecessarily hard - and expensive. Please read that again.
For traditional bowhunting, choose a twin, triple or four blade cut-on-contact broadhead. Lots of popular brands and models. If they're super sharp, they'll kill well if you do your job. Lots of info abounds on broadhead sharpening and attachment methods. Screw-in or glue-on? With carbon or aluminium arrows, glue-on broadheads allow point weight adjusting by using different point adapter weights, thus adjusting the overall point weight, which allows tweaking the arrow's spine (stiffness), GPP (Grains Per Pound - divide the arrow's weight in grains by the bow's holding weight) and FOC (Front Of Center - the precise balance point of the completed arrow).
Once an archer can consistently make accurate arrow shot placements at realistic hunting distances, the payload delivered must be a razor sharp cut-on-contact broadhead. Arrows lethally kill critters via blood loss. A really sharp broadhead arrow in a critter's vitals promotes maximum bleeding and a quick, ethically humane animal death. Getting a broadhead *sharp* means raising a burr on the blade edges, then very lightly removing that burr to reveal the razor's shaving edge. At the very least, to do this properly (raise the burr) requires a good mill bastard file, setting a good blade angle, and some practice. Much can be found on the web about hand sharpening broadheads and knives, including the "How To - Resources" forum at www.TradGang.com.
There are a number of sharpening tools that can take the blade angle setting guesswork out of the sharpening equation. A highly recommended twin blade (and four blade) sharpening tool is the KME Knife Sharpener, which will sharpen both twin and four blade broadheads with the same precision it will sharpen knives. Really sharp knives are another requirement for dressing out your kill, so the KME affords double duty for one price tag.
Tri blade broadheads are best sharpened on a 12" flat mill bastard file. Lie the head flat down on the file, with the point of the head facing the handle of the file, and push. Be aggressive, particularly if the blades are not dead straight - make them straight. To hasten this process, a 120 grit sanding station or belt sander can be used to both flatten the blades and lightly remove the needle point found on most 3 blade broadheads - lift up the rear of the head and slightly "pyramid" the tip. Whether sander or file, rotate the blades to make uniform passes. When your fingers can feel the burr forming, make a few more passes. Then very lightly swirl off the burrs with a fine oil stone or diamond stone - use no pressure, allow the stone to do the work.
The most important tip for sharpening any type of blade is this: 90% of sharpening anything is accomplished at the coarsest stage, be that a file, belt sander or your coarsest stone. If we don't get the blade sharp (and I mean VERY sharp) right at stage one, then moving on to finer grits will only polish the bevels and it will not get the blade any sharper. (translation - your coarsest file or stone is your best friend).
Whether two or three blades, the results should be a razor sharp broadhead or knife that's capable of shaving hair.
Feathered fletches say "traditional archery" and are the easiest, most forgiving, and perhaps the most efficient to use. The feather's "wing" (left or right), doesn't matter as long as the feathers/fletches used for each arrow are of the same wing. For a hunting arrow that pushes a broadhead, a large 5" fletch is recommended, aligned with as much offset or helical as possible, in either 3 or 4 fletch configuration. How they're stuck on (glue or tape), is also just personal subjective stuff as all will work one way or another.
Practice does make perfect. Roving is great practice for bowhunting. Use judo points and take shots at varied objects (tree stumps, bushes, cow pies, grass clumps) at varied distances and angles. The only game better than roving is BOW HUNTING!
Above all, have fun!
Please feel free to email me for further assistance ...