I have decided to post here more frequently. I was hoping those of you following would send in your questions but that hasn’t taken off yet, so I will plow on using my own compass as a guide.
Lately I have been thinking a lot about training traditional archers. I have one student on my college team who got so excited when I let him try a longbow that he ran out and bought one. Happy archer, that; he found his bliss!
Generally, traditional archers shoot longbows or one-piece recurves but may shoot “takedown” bows as they are often used by hunters. (Takedown bows break down into two or three parts.)
Recurve or Longbow?
This is a matter of taste. Recurve bows shoot a little more smoothly and have less “hand shock” (vibration transferred from the bow into the bow hand). Some longbows come with a shelf (see photos) others require you to “shoot off your knuckle,” that is use your hand as an arrow rest. Almost all traditional recurves have an arrow shelf. If the shelf is rounded, it is designed to be shot with the arrow resting on it (usually a soft piece of leather or fur provides the resting place). If the shelf is flat, some kind of arrow rest is needed (often these are just plastic stick-on rests).
Both types of bows come in various lengths. The shorter versions are generally used by hunters (less likely to catch on brush or tree branches or bang against a stand) and longer versions for target archers (less pinch of the draw fingers by the bowstring, smoother draw), In general, target archers prefer longbows to be about as tall as they are, while recurve people think a strung recurve bow, stood on one’s shoe top, should have it’s top limb tip reach between the chin and nose.
Archers who have been shooting compound bows often make the mistake of getting a traditional bow of the same draw weight as their compound bow, e.g. “If I can handle a 40# compound, I should get a 40# longbow.” Ahhhn, wrong! A #40 compound bow with 65% letoff has a draw weight at full draw of 14#. The longbow has a draw weight of 40# at full draw (assuming a 28˝ draw length)! (This is the definition of heavy lifting!) Also realize that recurves and longbows get harder to pull the farther back you pull them (from brace!). The listed draw weight of a recurve or longbow is the weight or pull force at 28˝ of draw (for adults, typically 24˝ of draw for youth bows, and many traditional bowyers list their draw weights at the design draw length (as they are often made to order) such as 42#@26˝ of draw). If your draw length is different from this, the actual draw weight will be different. Typically 1-2# of draw is lost for every 1˝ short of 28˝ the bow is drawn and 1-2# of draw is gained for every 1˝ past 28˝ the bow is drawn (this is the rule of thumb for the relatively light drawing bows used by beginners; heavier bows can go up/down 3# per inch, for example).
As a general rule, a compound archer should look at a longbow that is 10-15# lighter than his/her compound. Recurve archers can get traditional recurves or longbows anywhere near their normal draw weight and they will be fine.
Realize that if you buy a longbow or one piece recurve, if you get the wrong draw weight, you will have to buy another bow, a whole new one! There are no limb swaps or limb bolts to crank up or down. So, be cautious when you buy and, if possible, always “try before you buy.”
Arrows: Wood or. . . ?
Many traditional archers use wood arrows. Beginners should not. The reason is that they break easily. I recommend that you start with inexpensive aluminum arrows and after you gain control of your new bow, then try wood arrows. (They are fun to make from parts, by the way.)
The markings regarding the stiffness of wood arrows is different from aluminum and carbon arrows. With aluminum and carbon arrows, the arrow’s “spine” is usually listed (a number like 720 or 480). This number is simply the number of thousandths of an inch an arrow shaft sags when a two pound weight is hung on its middle. A “spine” of 520 means the shaft sagged 0.520˝ when it was supported at both ends horizontally with a two pound weight hung in the middle.
Wood arrows are more likely to list the spine as something like 35-40# which is a reference to the draw weight range the arrows were designed for. This is tricky though, as you can’t just match your bow’s draw weight to the wood arrow’s rating. The reason is that when the arrow’s are cut, they become stiffer. If you have a very short or very long draw length, you have to adjust things. My longbow is 30# @ 28˝ but I buy 35-40# arrow shafts because my draw length is 31˝ which means I don’t cut the arrows at all! There are charts to help you with this process. Send me an email if you can’t find one.
There are even traditional bows designed to be shot from horseback! (Yes, a galloping horse!)