Selection of bows

Target panic and how knowing our bows can help

In the previous post on overcoming target panic I talked about building confidence and how knowing your arrows can help give you confidence. In this post lets look at the second side of the archers triangle the launcher of those projectiles, our bows.
archers triangle graphic

The archers triangle

Our bows come in all shapes and sizes. They can be a hand crafted traditional English longbows or the latest high tech compound from Bowtech. Yet they all share one or two key facts. They are all designed to perform one function, to launch a projectile effectively and hopefully deliver said projectile to the target. They all require correct setting up and maintenance at varying levels of complexity to ensure they perform this task. Just to be clear though I’m not going to go into detail about tuning bows in this post, that’s for another time. What I am will do is give you some points to consider,
So I want to start by pondering a couple of questions.
Does your bow perform exactly the same each time you use it? I’m not talking about how well you shoot it but how well it performs. Hopefully it does, but what if it doesn’t. If we take this question further and look at one element of set up as an example, the brace height.
How often do you check your bows brace height? Each shooting session, once in a while?
For traditional bows or take down recurves the question can be Is the brace height the same each time you string it? Its very easy to drop the string and loses a few twists. Alternatively if it is a new string it could stretch slightly as it beds in.
Without knowing the bow is performing consistently how can you have confidence in its behaviour and its delivery of the arrow to the target.
Definition of brace height the brace height of a bow is the gap from the string (nocking point) to the riser. The actual brace height of different bows vary, but all manufacturers will provide an upper and lower limit. Normally for a recurve this will range from about 7 1/2 inches to 8 3/4 inches.

One tip I will share is using your arrows cresting to help you check the brace height of your bow, as shown in this photo. The black banding is set at the ideal brace height for the bow as it lines up with the white band you can see.

Sharons bow and arrow set up

Sharon’s bow and arrow set up

Tune don’t Twiddle

I would always suggest you spend some time and ensure the bow is set and working at its best, tweaking brace height, nocking point etc. until you reached the optimum. Once it’s tuned and working well stop. Yes, stop. Focus on learning to shoot that bow. If you are constantly altering elements of your bows set up, say the brace height or nocking point, then you will have an ever changing platform on which to try and learn to shoot. This twiddling or constant changing will not help you develop confidence in being able to shot the bow.
Top tip – If you have something that works please don’t be tempted to twiddle or tweak it, especially in the run up to a champs or competition. You might think it will help and get you those extra few points, but the flip side is it could cause all your training to be for nought if it has a negative effect on your setup.
I’ve seen lots of archers spending a fortune on kit, along with hours of time chasing the idea that a slightly different spinning of arrow shafts or couple of extra twists in the string will make the difference. When in reality they already have something that works really well and changing means quite often they lose confidence in their kit. As well as points on the score card.
“Learn to shoot with the bow you have” was something my old coach always said. Know that it works and your arrows work and this will give you confidence.
I tend to record what works well for each of my bows. This means I have a record of string length, brace height, plunger set up, etc. for all my bows and over the years I have found photographing the brace height and nocking point particularly useful. I have found this makes it much easier when setting up a new string. It provides visual guidance something that makes your life much easier. I tend to bring the image up on my tablet screen so it’s large enough to see easily.
Bracing on bow

Bracing on bow

Using your phone camera is one piece of advice I will offer as it can not only help with set up, but also monitoring any possible problems i.e. how much has the string stretched or worn over the space of a few sessions.
Bows like arrows are susceptible to damage, this can be via accident such as dropping it or through ignorance in improper usage.
dmaged riser

Damaged riser

Again your camera phone can help here for documenting wear and tear on your bow. I’ve know archers to use their phone cameras to photograph the limb bolts after marking them to see if they undo over time. Other forms of damage can occur from incorrect usage such as dry firing.

Dangers of dry firing

What is a dry fire? It’s when you draw back a bow without an arrow loaded on the string and release the string.
Why is this a problem?
All the energy that would normally be transferred to the arrow from the bow has nowhere to go other than back into the bow. This is never good and has seen bow risers break, limbs delaminate or even snap. There are a few YouTube videos on what happens and archery360 has produced a good one.
In short NEVER ever dry fire a bow.

Arrow weights V bow damage

While talking about bow dry fires I want to mention arrow weights. Be mindful of how light your arrows are. Some manufacturers recommend a minimum arrow weight for their bows as a safe guard against potential damage or failure. Shooting an arrow that is too light can be akin to a series of mini dry fires and over time can lead to damage to the bow. So check if the manufacturer’s have a minimum arrow weight.
String maintenance – It sounds like a simple thing to remember but I am always amazed at how few people actually maintain their bow strings. Whether this be waxing it on a regular basis or just checking for any fraying or damage to the serving. If you shoot a compound bow with a d-loop, please keep an eye on these. I’ve seen an archer at full draw have their D-loop snap. The arrow went flying off some 50 yards. Our coaching equipment is regularly checked as we’ve noticed wear and tear on the serving loops from them being fitted and removed constantly.
Please don’t over bow yourselves. I know I have said this so many times before but it’s really important. A well set up bow with well matched arrows often negates the need for heavier draw weights. One final point for you to ponder I’ve written previously about the benefits of having and using a light poundage bow when working on form or recovering from injury etc. So much as it might be tempting to exchange or sell the lighter poundage limbs you might want to hang onto them just in case.
Personal insight
This process of arrow and bow set up certainly gave me confidence when I started. Knowing the quality of the arrows and the bow I was shooting, and they were working correctly together meant there were less things for me to worry about.
Both of these elements are pretty easy to tune given time. The fare harder part is the archer, as unlike the bow and arrow, the archer has a mind of their own. The thing is once you know your kits right, you will inevitability grow in confidence as your bow delivers your arrows with more consistently at short, medium or long distance.
So lets start looking at building confidence in the third and final element, the archer.
Thanks for reading.
sharon - old bow

What kind of bow should I buy?

Okay so this is the second part of me offering some advice on buying equipment. If you missed the first part you can read it here. So now I am going to focus on the all important first bow and arrows.
Just to be clear I’m not sponsored by any archery shop or manufacturer. If I mention manufacturers or shops, its based on my experiences with them and their products. In short I don’t get any incentives or kickbacks to promote products on this site.

What kind of bow should I buy?

Buy one that feels right and comfortable. Just to be clear I’m not going to tell you to go out and buy “x” or manufacturer “y” as the choice should be yours based on your feelings. All I will do is give you some points to think about. Hopefully it will help and might cover topics you hadn’t considered.
By now you have hopefully had the chance to try a few different types of bows at your club. Ideally these should have been various draw weights and maybe different styles. Some you will have loved, others you may have hated. This might well influence your choice when it comes to buying a bow as you will probably have an idea of the draw weight you find comfortable and what feels right or comfortable when you draw it.
I tend to always recommend a simple 3 piece take down recurve to start with. This is based on personal experience. My first bow was a Samick Polaris, which was a three part take down of around 30lb draw weight. After a few months I bought some new limbs and this upped it to a 37lbs draw weight. This bow came with a wooden riser and limbs, though there are metal risers available at slightly more cost. I preferred the feel of the wooden ones.
So why this bow?
  • Relative cheap at about £60
  • I was familiar with the style as they were nearly identical to the ones I had been borrowing at the club.
  • It was easy to maintain.
  • It was a draw weight I was comfortable with.
  • I wasn’t needing one for hunting just for field archery. A simple recurve can work for target or field.
  • I could shoot it instinctively with wooden or metal arrows for HT BB (sorry Hunting Tackle or Bare bow) under the NFAS society or I could add sights.
  • Lots of people have experience of this type of bow so lots of advice out there.
  • Good to gain confidence with and return to potentially if I needed to.
These types of bows are relatively cheap (£55-£75 depending on where you get them), so if they don’t stick with the hobby it’s not such a huge investment. Also you might be able to pick one up from club member who has progressed.
The advantage of a takedown is the limbs can be upgraded to heavier poundage as archer develop their strength and skill (as I said I did this after a few months myself). Some shops giving a discount if you trade your old limbs in. It is worth noting that not all limbs fit all bows, something I will cover in more detail later.
Another advantage is a basic beginners recurve doesn’t require as much expert maintenance as a longbow, crossbow, compound or performance recurve, whilst still offering the archer a bow that works well. They can also last if you look after them. Sharon still has her first bow, which we use occasionally for coaching and its over 10 years old.
sharon - old bow

Sharon – shooting her first bow

What to think about

Hand grip – Bows risers will have different size hand grips, some you will like others you won’t. Some are quite thin or slender, allowing your fingers to wrap round the bow grip, others are wider so are more suited to longer fingers. So consider this if you have small or large hands. Some archers like a plastic or rubber grip on the riser, others prefer the feel of wood (I’m a wood fan. Which is why I like the wooden grip on my Samic Vision which for hose that don’t know is metal riser ).
I know many archers who retreat indoors over winter but archery can be a year round activity . so remember in winter months you may be wearing gloves, so you need to find a grip that feels right in your hand.
Draw weight – don’t overdo things at this stage and over-bow yourself. In fact don’t overdo things at any stage. Go for something that is comfortable to draw and shoot for an entire day. You can easily pick up some new limbs a few months down the line of a heavier draw weight.
Definition – Over-bowing this is when an archer has a bow of too high a draw weight for them to be able to draw it without struggling. It can result in personal injury or developing bad habits.
Partly due to our sedentary life style these days, i.e. too much tv and not enough exercise, many of the muscles you need to use in archery are under developed, so over bowing is a serious problem. In junior archers it can have a negative effect as their bones are still growing and developing.
Also remember you might take a break from archery for a couple of weeks due to work commitments, holidays etc and it doesn’t take long to lose muscle tone. So it is good to go back to a lighter if you develop bad habits or have an injury. I had a car accident a few years back and went back to light recurve to rebuild strength.
Me shooting recurve

Taken on a very wet shoot

Risers – Metal risers are heavier than wood, carbon are lighter than both. Problem is carbon risers are very expensive (several hundred pounds for riser alone) and not ideal for a beginner. Give some thought to the physical weight of the bow once assembled not just the draw weight. If it is too heavy for you to be able to hold at arm length then you are not going to be to stable.
Just to complicate things more, risers also come in different sizes and can be combined with different limb lengths to make bows of varying lengths.
So this means you can have a 68 inch long bow comprising of
Short riser and long limbs.
Medium riser and medium limbs.
Long riser and short limbs.
Off an arrow rest or the shelf – this will depend on the bow and riser. Some are designed to be shot off the shelf others are designed to use an arrow rest.
For a first bow I think you really want to shoot off an arrow rest. Don’t go for expensive one. Plastic Hoyt super rest works fine (in fact Sharon uses one on her competition bow.)

Whats good to know?

Draw length is very important; in fact it’s vital as this will possibly restrict your choice of bows. So when you get to the shop have it measured. Most people after they have been shooting a while will find it has changed, lengthening slightly as you start to draw on your back muscles and they develop.
If you have a long draw over 29 inch then short bows (60 inch or less) may not feel as comfortable to draw. So you will probably be looking at a bow length of 68-70 inches.
This seems a good point to mention Bow length and stacking (stacking is the feeling of increased resistance in the smooth draw past a certain point)
Short bows tend to work for people with shorter draw lengths, Sharon loves small bows but her draw is only 25 1/2 inches. Whilst she is shooting a 66 inch flatbow currently she also likes shooting shorter bows. One is a custom made Blackbrook bow by Andy Soars. This comes in at 38lbs at 26 inches. Though the norm is to have bows rated at 28” draw, shorter bows often have a 26” rating too.
If I were to try to draw Sharon’s, the thing I notice is when I go past 26 inches. Don’t get me wrong it is a lovely bow to shoot but I can feel the difference as it starts to go past 26” because it has been designed and built for the best performance at 26”. She has another short bow, a Rebel at 54 inches rated 40lbs at 26 inches and 45lbs at 28 inches. She nicknamed this the Bitch as if you get anything wrong it punishes you. I think its a great name as I find it a bitch to draw to 28 inches.
Personal insight – As I have said my draw is 28 inches and all my bows are set up so I can draw smoothly up to my full draw, with an even increase in draw weight. I prefer the feel of a longer bow to draw so most of mine are 68 inches plus. If you have a long draw length then go for a longer bow 68 inches plus.
Never draw a bow that has been designed for another archer without their permission. You may find it has not been designed for lour draw length.

Bow draw weight

I was lucky enough to be shown the specifications that the scouting organisation in the UK use which provides some good guidance on potential draw weights for different age ranges. Its a pretty good starting point, though I have to stress these are only guide lines.
Age Range Maximum bow weight at start of course Maximum draw weight by end of the course
Up to 12 yrs old 14 lbs 16 lbs
13-14 16 lbs 18 lbs
15-16 18 lbs 22 lbs
17-18 20 lbs 24 lbs
19+ 20 lbs 24 lbs

I tend to see most adult archers buy something round the 24lb to 32lb draw weight when they start. This will vary greatly on the individual and how much they have developed muscle strength and form. This may sound a bit sexist but ladies usually go for a slightly lighter draw weight bow of between 20 lbs and 26 lbs.

Budget – try and set yourself a budget you can afford and stick to it. It is very easy to spend more. After all the bows only one part you still need arrows., bow case and bits and pieces. This can be another downside of eBay and getting caught up in the excitement of bidding.
Club restrictions – may sound strange but some clubs, may have their own restrictions on the types of bows or arrows allowed. Some clubs are focused on one style of bow e.g. longbow only.

ILF or not?

Where takedown bows are concerned there are two types of riser and limbs ILF and bolt through.

Limb pocket and bolt

Limb pocket and bolt not ILF

Bolt on limbs are generally inexpensive and work okay. I have several bows that use this technique to secure the limbs to the risers. The down side is there is not standard associated with these, meaning manufacturers can be slightly different in limb pocket size or limb width. This in turn means you can’t always swap limbs from one bow to another if the bows are different manufacturers.


ILF limb pocket on riser,

What is ILF?

ILF stands for international limb fit which is an industry standard. This means you can use any ILF limb with any ILF riser, which dramatically increases your selection available for you. In the past ILF risers have been more expensive but market forces are now pushing the price down and you can pick up some inexpensive ILF risers and limbs.


Between manufacturers limbs will feel different even if they are the same draw weight, and will release energy differently depending on what they are made from. I’ve shot 32lb limbs that have been faster and more efficient than 40lb limbs.

Underside of ILF limb showing pin that slides into riser

Underside of ILF limb showing pin that slides into riser


Don’t go for the first ones offered try a couple of different lengths and weights. You may find you go back to the first ones you tried but make sure you take the opportunity to try different ones.
Don’t go for heavy draw weight limbs initially, you can always upgrade later.

Also get the limbs and bow weight checked when you buy it. Just because the limbs say 28lbs doesn’t mean they are 28lbs with that riser, so its worth checking (A few years back I bought a Solo flatbow, rated and marked up at 40lbs at 28 inches, when I actually got it weighed it came in at 46lbs at 28 inches!!)

ILF limb in riser

ILF limb in riser

Where should I buy my first bow from?

  • NOT eBay – there is nothing wrong with eBay before anyone says anything. I simple would not advise anyone to buy their first bow off it, as you don’t know the history or condition of the bow. All you have to go on are a few pictures and a description, that can sometimes be less than accurate.
  • Try before you buy – this is really, really important. Take the time and try bows of different draw weights, bow lengths and different manufacturers. You will find that some limbs will feel harder to draw than others, whilst some will feel smoother or shoot faster even though on paper they may be the same draw weight.
  • Visit local shop – There are a number of archery shops doted round the country (Quicks, Merlin, Wales Archery, Bow Sports, etc) and all quality ones will give you the opportunity to try first and spend time with you.
Me shooting my Samick Vision 1

Me shooting my Samick Vision 1 in the rain

Personal insight – My first bow was bought from Quicks Archery and they were very helpful, spending time explaining everything. When I went to but my second recurve, this time from Merlin archery, I had a better idea of what I wanted and they too very willing to spend the time going over options. I recall trying several different limbs until finding ones that felt right.

If possible take an experienced person with you when looking to buy one ideally your coach or fellow club member. If I’m free I try and go with my students when they buy their first bow.


Couple of final points.

No that is not meant to be a pun as I was about to talk about arrows.

Arrows – for arrows I tend to recommend aluminium arrows for a beginner, they are durable and cheap. Easton Neos Beginners Alloy Arrow work well and come in variety of lengths and spines. I’ve used some Mybo cadets but haven’t been a fan of these as I haven’t found them as durable.

Easton Jazz

Easton Jazz

I tend to recommend avoiding carbon arrows at this stage even though you can get them for less than aluminium arrows . My reasoning is pretty simple. I have found some of the cheaper carbon arrows tend not to be as durable if they catch the side of a target or branch. This can result in a damaged arrow and carbon splinters are not nice or always easy to remove. you need to also consider if your club has any specific rules, as some clubs don’t allow archers to use carbon for a variety of reasons. They might be on a shared sport facility and not want to run the risk of carbon splinters.

The other main reason is carbon arrows tend to be a lot harder to find in the undergrowth with a metal detector as only the points and inserts for the nocks are metal. Sorry guys and girls, you will be looking for arrows when you first start, so don’t read this as me having a pop at your ability.

When it comes to arrow length, they should be longer than your draw length by normally a couple of inches. This allows for you overdrawing the arrow by accident and the arrow not coming off your arrow rest.

So having said I recommend aluminium arrows, my first arrows were wooden arrows and within a few months I had started making my own. This was a great move as it meant I learnt the skills to refletch any that lots fletchings, fit points / piles, etc.

Why did I go for wooden arrows? Simple I liked them, they felt more natural and appealing. Also I had broken a few and my coach ran a session on how to making wooden arrows which I really enjoyed.

You aren’t alone

Ask for advice from the archery community, your club members and of course your coach. After all they have a vested interest in you doing well. People will have had experience of bows, shops etc so its worth talking to others in your club. I tend to offer to go with any new student when they go to buy a bow.

I’ll try to put one last posting on what to consider after you have got your bow, maintenance or bow and string, bracing height and something on arrows.

As always, thanks for reading.