Traditional Archery: Stick and String

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A friendly reminder to focus on what might be a traditional archer's biggest weakness.

Test Driving Arrows

Once you have test driven many types of traditional bows, you should make sure you find one that you’re comfortable with. A good reputable bowyer will not sell you a bow unless you’re comfortable with it-- it’s just good business.

At this point, arrow selection is wide open. Wooden arrows are romantic and make a natural noise in the woods when accidently bumped however: consistency, weight and flight can be different with each arrow because of the nature of the material. Aluminum and carbon arrows are much more consistent: carbons are obviously more durable but aluminums are less expensive. No matter the choice, the arrow needs to be fletched with feathers. Vanes are great in foul weather but may be hard to tune when shooting off the shelf.

Once you’re comfortable with choice of arrow, make sure the spine is correct for your draw weight and length. You can test this by purchasing arrows in the approximate weight range and fine tuning from there. Keep the arrow at full length and just shoot. If your nocks continue to end up to the left of the target, the spine of the arrow is too weak. Just the opposite is true if the arrow nock is consistently right; the spine is too stiff. Adding weight to the tip can lessen the spine of the arrow. Shortening the arrow can strengthen or stiffen the spine. This is true for right handed shooters, the opposite is true for lefties.

The correct arrow is really important because traditional bows vary widely from 1/8” from center to actual centershot risers, so arrow recovery after release is real important. If the arrow is hitting the target nock high, then you need to lower the string nock. If the arrow is hitting the target with the nock low, you will need to heighten the string nock. It is important to err on the nock high side rather than nock low. Also keep in mind when paper tuning if the nock on the arrow is hitting high the arrow may be bouncing off the shelf.

shooting split finger
A traditional archer shooting split finger with a tab.  Again straight up form, elbows an extension of the arrow as she is pullling through the shot using back tension.

Shooting a heavy grained arrow is recommended by most traditional archers. The more flying mass the arrow has, the better the “slug” factor for penetration. After all the calculations, arguments, and experiments most traditional archers will tell you to not use an arrow of less than 500 grains for hunting purposes. In fact closer to 600 would be the preferred weight.

Finding the correct tips and broadheads are important for arrow flight also. Depending on your shooting distance or comfort, you should test out the several different types of broadheads that are on the market. However, no matter the bow, arrow, broad head, or other accessories, shot placement is what will put animals on the ground. Any broad head, as long as it is sharp, will do its job if placed correctly. However broadheads with cutting tips slice through muscle, hide and organs with less resistance than those with pyramid style points. There are some that can handle a shoulder hit better than others. Asking fellow traditional archers what broadhead they recommend may help with your decision.

Shooting Form For Recurve Bows

Shooting form is one of those clubhouse topics for which there is not a definite answer. Whatever you choose, if it works, don’t fix it; however keep it consistent. Chances are if you are an archer you already have a routine or a set of steps you go through while shooting your other bows or guns. There are a lot of good books and instructors with some great advice. But it all comes down to what makes you comfortable and what your purpose is for shooting a bow: hunting, paper targets, 3D animals, etc.

recurve bow
Here is a young traditional archer at a state championships shooting 3 under with fingers.  Straight up, elbow in line.

The first thing to consider is grabbing the bow. Some of the best advice Iis the bow needs to be comfortable in your grip without having to torque it, all the while making sure your hand has as little contact with the handle as possible. Experts say the more contact, the more room for human error. The next item to consider is the string: split finger or three under? Those that use three fingers underis that  this is it allows your shooting window to be a little more open, and it also helps you from preventing pinching the string. I have a longer draw, so the string angle is a little more extreme-- preventing pinching the better the release. The next thing to consider may be whether to use a finger tab or a glove. Whatever feels the best, go with it. There is no scientific evidence proving one is better than the other.

The traditional stance is very similar to that of the compound bow stance. Try to keep your bow as straight up and down as possible while relaxing the bow hand and pulling the string back to your anchor. This is where the vice comes in: keeping the consistent anchor. This might be your biggest struggle while attempting to tackle traditional archery. Whether it’s the let-off from the compound or your mind not allowing you to overcome an automatic process, you will have to work for a long time to find and hold your anchor. You also need to use your back tension muscles to be able to pull through the shot after reaching that elusive anchor point.

If you have the opportunity to watch 20 traditional archers, you might see 19 different shooting forms. Does this matter? What does matter is that all 20 are enjoying shooting their traditional archery equipment. That is what brings and keeps people attracted to this sport: the great attitudes of traditional archers. The fun and camaraderie tends to be the priority of most traditional archers. The simplistic complexity is what lures most archers in. How can something that looks so simple be so challenging? Grab your bow and find out.

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