After your students have learned the basics of shooting arrows from a bow we recommend that they get their own equipment. Now if your students are young, the thought of getting their own bows and arrows can be intoxicating, but recently we have encountered a great many adult beginners and, possibly because they are paying their own bills, they are, shall we say, less enthusiastic about spending a couple of hundred dollars on archery gear. In this post I will explore this recommendation and your role in helping them with the transition.
Common Sense Concerns
Regarding the cost of the equipment, we recommend that beginners buy less expensive “beginner level” equipment and not just because it is less expensive. More expensive equipment can be more difficult to shoot and is better left to those more expert. We also recommend “beginner level” equipment to beginners because their archery form is not yet settled. As they practice and learn, their draw length changes, the amount of draw force (i.e. draw weight) they can handle changes, and sometimes their taste changes. Possibly they thought shooting a recurve bow would be nice, but they changed their mind when they had the opportunity to try a particular brand of compound bow. Many of our recent Olympic teams have consisted of archers who started with compound bows but switched to recurve bows because the Olympics doesn’t allow compound bows.
Spending substantial funds on archery equipment that will need to be changed in a short amount of time is not a wise use of your student’s money. Also, they may not have fully committed to archery as an avocation and that equipment may end up sitting on shelf in their garage (next to the hockey skates, the …). These are pragmatic concerns but there are others concern how you learn to shoot and shoot well.
An even more compelling case to have one’s own gear is that equipment borrowed or rented is rarely sized well for them. Archery class bows are generally of lower draw weight and of middling sizes. Arrows are chosen to fit so much as for safety and durability, that is they are extra long and tend to be heavier than properly fitted arrows.
So, why does archery equipment have to be fitted? Basically arrows and bows and archers have to suit one another. A bow that has too much or too little draw weight is harder to shoot. A bow that is too short, too long, or too heavy is more difficult to shoot. So, a bow must be found that is in a range of sizes and draw weights your archer can handle successfully and then arrows that match have to be selected.
The arrows are critical. If the arrows are too stiff they will tend to fly off the bow to the left (for a right-handed archer). If they are not stiff enough (we say they are “too weak”) they will fly off to the right (again for a right-handed archery; reverse “left” and “right” if they are left-handed). The reason for this is that a bowstring released off of fingers slides off of those fingers forward and sideways. The arrow is therefore getting a force applied down the shaft but onto the outer half. Since the front of the arrow weighs more than any other equal length segment of the shaft, it resists movement more than the rest of the shaft so the result is the shaft bends, first into the bow and then away from it. (It continues to flex back and forth for many yards of its flight!) If the bend is not enough the arrow will shoot out away from the bow (to the left for a right-handed archer). If the bend is too much the arrow will bend around the bow and shoot off to the right (for a right-handed archer).
Now here is the key point: arrows can be adjusted so that their response to being shot is “just right.” But your students must buy arrows that have characteristics that are very close to the right ones because the amount of adjustment is quite small. Buy the wrong arrows and they are flat out of luck; they will not shoot well This is why we certify AER Archery Instructors as Bowfitters (and, well, Arrowfitters). We are working to get much of this training available online. Check our website for details.
Tuning In a Bow
A simple way to “tune in” a bow so the arrows are positioned “just right” is called the bare shaft test (also called the bare shaft planing test). This is done by taking one (better: two) of their arrows and stripping off the vanes or feathers; they can be “refletched” later. If they don’t want you to do this to their brand new arrows, they can approximate this by taking a short piece of transparent tape and wrapping it around the vanes of one or two of their arrows, flatting the vanes down, reducing their effect.) The idea is to remove the error correcting ability of the vanes.
To perform the test, first have your archer shoot until they get warm. Then, shooting at a relatively close target, like 10 yards/meters, have them shoot three fletched arrows and one (better: two) bare shafts. If the fletched shafts don’t make a nice group, it is a “do over;” they must shoot them all again. The advantage of shooting two bare shafts is if they don’t “group,” then they were not shot the same and the test must be repeated because you can’t tell whether either of them was shot well.
When they get the three fletched shafts to group and the two bare shafts to group, you can then interpret the test. Here is what you can learn from a bare shaft test (all for a right-handed archer, reverse “left” and “right” if they are left-handed):
• If the bare shafts strike the target above the fletched group, the nocking point is too low.
• If the bare shafts strike the target below the fletched group, the nocking point is too high.
• If the bare shafts strike the target to the left of the fletched group, the arrow rest is too far from the bow.
• If the bare shafts strike the target to the right of the fletched group, the arrow rest is too close to the bow.
• If the bare shafts strike the target anywhere else except as part of the fletched group, a combination of adjustments is needed.
The left and right bare shaft indications are reversed if you are left-handed. And the farther out the bare shafts are, the bigger the problem. When both are right, the bare shafts and fletched shafts make one group.
Making Corrections—Nocking Point Location
As a general rule, adjust the nocking point first. When the nocking point location is correct the bare shafts in a repeated test will land at the same level (up and down) on the target.
If the arrow rest needs moving, if they took our recommendation and installed a screw-in arrow rest, the “in-out” position of the rest can be changed by loosening the lock nut and either screwing the rest in closer to the bow or screwing it out farther away from the bow. If they don’t have such a rest, you may have to improvise. If a “stick-on rest is being used, you can move it farther from the bow by using additional layers of double stick foam tape, for example. When the arrow rest is in the correct position the bare shafts in a repeated test will land in the same plane (left and right) on the target.
It is strongly recommended that while your students are learning to shoot their bow, that they use an inexpensive plastic screw-in arrow rest. If they want shoot with a metal arrow rest and cushion plunger, they may, but they are 20-30 times more expensive than the quite adequate screw-in arrow rest and far more complicated to adjust. Centershot adjustments are made by loosening the lock nut on the outside of the bow and screwing the rest closer in or farther out and retightening the nut.
The basic rule when making changes: make them large (at first). If you are sneaking up an a big problem with itty bitty changes, you are going to be at it a long time. If their rest is too far in, make a big change and then it is too far out. Good! You now have outside limits for your adjustments. Split the difference between those two settings, then between that one and one of the others until you get what you want. So, when adding or removing “turns” to your arrow rest, start with four or five turns, later you can try, two, or even one turn at a time. But, start with a big change and retest. If there is no effect from the change, maybe that’s the wrong “fix.” If these changes don’t work, then it is likely the arrows are in need of adjustment or replacement.
Tuning Their Arrows
If you make centershot changes and the arrows don’t test any better or get worse when a change is made that should make it better, it is possible that the arrows spine is incorrect. The spine of an arrow is a gauge of its resilience when being flexed, some people say it is a measure of the arrow’s stiffness.
Warning—You should not perform these procedures unless your student’s draw length is settled. To test this, as them to draw their bow and examine their full draw position. If they have a close approximation of good T Form, have them let down and rest for 15-20 seconds. Have them draw to full draw again, but this time you are going to use a marking pen to put a dot on the arrow shaft where it lines up with the arrow rest hole. Do this at least two more times. Then examine the three, or more, marks. If they are over an inch apart at their farthest, maybe the student should practice some more before you attempt this. If the range of dots is well less than an inch, you are good to go.
Making Corrections—Arrow Spine
In making changes in arrow spine, you again need to consider their equipment carefully.
• If their bare shafts hit to the right of the fletched arrows (right-handed archer), even when the arrow rest is adjusted quite far from the bow, it is likely that the arrows are too weak (spine is too high).
• If their bare shafts hit to the left of the fletched arrows (right-handed archer), even when the arrow rest is adjusted quite far into the bow, it is likely that the arrows are too stiff (spine is too low).
Stiffening Arrows If they need a stiffer arrow, you are in luck: arrows are easier to stiffen than to weaken. The simple things you can do to stiffen arrows (in order of the effect) are:
1. Cut them shorter (a big effect).
2. Use lighter arrow points (a smaller effect).
If these don’t work, they may have to buy new arrows. (Buying new arrows isn’t uncommon for beginners, because as they change draw weight, they need stiffer arrows to handle the increased forces.)
The rule on cutting arrows is a little at a time, so cut a half an inch off of a small set of arrows (include the bare shafts) and retest. If you cut them too short, they can only be given away as they will be of no further use. Also, too short arrows are a safety hazard! Another text should tell how great an effect was made. Maybe another half inch cut is needed, or even a quarter inch. If the effect was in the right direction but small, maybe a larger cut is needed.
Weakening Arrows Weakening arrows is harder because there is no opposite to “cut them shorter.” Making them longer will certainly weaken them but you would have to be a magician to do it! Here are some basic things you can do to weaken your arrows:
1. Use heavier arrow points (a small effect).
2. Switch to feathers or Mylar vanes from plastic vanes (lighter vanes weaken arrows—a smaller effect).
Making Corrections—Draw Weight/Arrow Spine
One of the options you have with modern recurve bows (and even more so with compound bows) is that the draw weight can be easily adjusted over a small range of values. An alternative to adjusting the spine of their arrows, which requires tools and knowledge and time, is to use their bow’s draw weight adjustments to make the changes. Here is how it is done:
• If their arrows are too weak (low spine), lower the draw weight.
• If their arrows are too stiff (high spine), raise the draw weight.
This is done simply by turning the limb bolts of the unbraced bow inward (to raise the draw weight) or outward (to lower the draw weight) and retesting. Read the bow manufacturer’s instructions to find out exactly how to do this.
If this adjustment has an effect but after changing things as much as is possible it is not enough to fully tune the bow, changing the draw weight farther involves acquiring new limbs. Moving down in draw weight is not generally a good idea because it costs them performance. Moving up in draw weight can also be a problem because, if you increase the draw weight more than just a little at a time, it can seriously distort your archer’s form. The rule of thumb is to change an archer’s draw weight (upwards) only a little at a time (two pounds maximum). If they were planning to go to higher drawing limbs, this may be a good time to do it. The general approach is to see if you can borrow a pair of higher drawing limbs to test. If the change to more draw weight has no effect (you made the limb change and retested and no improvement) then this is probably not the solution to the problem. If the change does make things better, they should return the borrowed limbs and acquire their own, then acclimate themselves to their new, higher draw weight. Your coach can assist you in this.
Generally, new arrows are less expensive than new limbs, but they can get bargains from other archers who have grown out of their equipment.
A Caveat: Beware Unsolicited Advice
If your archer talks to a more experienced archer about what they are doing, they may well receive some advice that typically sounds like this: Ideally, you want your bare shafts to land a little low and left of the fletched group (for a right-handed archer, reverse left and right if you are left-handed). They are not wrong. For many archers, having bare shafts land a little “low and left” means that their nocking point is a tad high and their arrow a tad stiff. Both of these create a bow-arrow setup that is somewhat more forgiving of slight execution arrows by the archer. But. . . .
But . . . your beginner doesn’t shoot that well yet. And they may go crazy trying to get their arrows to behave that way. For right now having their bare shafts and fletched shafts landing in roughly the same group is the goal. They can worry about fine tuning later.
A great many expert archers keep a couple of bare shafts available at all times as they can help diagnose equipment malfunctions. But if your students are on a tight budget, they can use the tape trick, or get their bare shafts refletched so they have the maximum number of arrows to shoot.
Properly fitted and tuned equipment is a joy to shoot. And if your archers have such and an arrow doesn’t land well, it is highly probably due to something they did and not due to their equipment, so they get cleaner feedback from their shots, an absolute must if they want to progress.