Modern technology has made it easier than ever to be a successful archer. Tools such as compound bows with high let-offs, electronic rangefinders, magnified fiber-optic bow sights, fall-away arrow rests and many other advances have changed our sport forever.
But along the way, we have also lost something — the basic simplicity of archery that attracted many people to the sport in the first place.
Over the last decade or so, this has led to a resurgence in the popularity of traditional archery. It’s archery in its simplest form: A stick and a string.
Using a recurve or long bow and shooting purely by instinct, without the aid of a sight or rangefinder, the traditional archer can become surprisingly accurate with both time and practice.
Where to begin?
Although traditional archery is simple as far as less gear, it still requires being properly fitted and setup to perform at your best. . Go to an archery pro shop, preferably one that is familiar with traditional archery, and get setup with the best bow and arrows for you. Draw weight is very important here; unlike compound bows, traditional bows do not have any let-off, and the draw weight steadily increases as the bow is drawn back. For this reason, most archers typically shoot bows 15 to 20 pounds lighter in draw weight when switching from a compound bow. I have seen too many people mistakenly order too heavy a draw weight, and they struggle terribly and don’t enjoy shooting as much.
Choosing the proper-length bow is also important. Longer bows tend to be easier to point and don’t “stack” the weight at the back of the draw as much, but they are much less maneuverable if you will be hunting. They also have less finger pinch when drawn, making a clean release of the arrow easier. While shorter bows are easier to transport and more maneuverable in the field, they are more critical when it comes to the shot. In a recurve, I find a happy medium of 58 to 60 inches long to be the best for a majority of archers.
Recurves are also available in single-piece and takedown models, with each having its pros and cons. The single- piece wooden recurve is much more nostalgic and simple, but is usually much more expensive. It is also harder to transport, and if a limb is warped or cracked, the whole bow is lost. Takedown bows offer the advantages of easier transport, the ability to replace damaged limbs at a lower cost and the ability to change draw weight by simply purchasing heavier limbs. The disadvantages are they’re heavier and have more parts.
Arrows are important, too, and a good pro shop will help you select the best ones for your setup. These days, most manufacturers offer carbon arrows that look like wooden arrows and are fletched with feathers. They are superior in straightness and strength to wooden ones, and are also safer and more reasonably priced. It is best to try a few arrows before investing in a full dozen if possible, as arrow selection is less of an exact science when it comes to traditional bows.
Will your bow sing in tune?
Tuning of traditional bows is an art as well. There are three primary considerations.
First is brace height — the distance from the string to the back of the grip. Most longbows should be braced at around 7 inches, while recurves typically require between 7 and 9 inches of brace height. You can adjust the brace height of your bow by adding or removing twists from the string. Add twists to increase the brace, and remove them to decrease. Nocking point is next, and one-half inch above the bows shelf is a good starting point. Lastly is arrow spine, which is something of a trial and error process. Trust your instincts.
This is archery in its simplest and purest form. Rather than using a rangefinder to range the target and then a bow sight to aim, a traditional archer uses instinct to point the bow.
The easiest and best explanation I can give for “instinctive shooting” is the analogy of learning to throw a ball. The first time you threw it, maybe it didn’t go where you intended. But your brain immediately began to subconsciously calculate the adjustments needed, and after a little practice, you were able to throw the ball with a fair degree of accuracy. There was no conscious thought of the distance to your target or aiming, you just naturally compensated by adjusting the angle and/or power with which you threw.
Since a bow launches each arrow at the same velocity when shot with proper form, the archer adjusts the angle to hit their target at varying distances. With the exception of a few “naturals,” this form and instinctive shooting require both practice and dedication to achieve any degree of accuracy.
There is nothing quite like the feeling of becoming proficient with a traditional bow. The simplicity of a stick and string without the heavy and cumbersome accessories is nostalgic and a joy to carry into the woods or onto a range.
While not for everyone, many people are rediscovering this neglected part of our sport and enjoying it more than ever. There is something about the flight of an arrow that you shot without sights that is hard to explain, but extremely rewarding. Pick up a traditional bow and discover it for yourself.