Going Trad

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.

Modern Longbow

A Modern Longbow

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.)

Trad Recurve

A One-Piece Recurve Bow

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).

How Long?
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.

Longbow Shelf

This longbow has an arrow shelf, note the leather pad installed.

How Stout?  
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.)

Wooden arrows . . . you may need a lot of them as they do break easily.

Wooden arrows . . . you may need a lot of them as they do break easily.

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!)



Filed under For All Coaches

7 responses to “Going Trad

  1. Pingback: Making the Switch: Compound to Olympic Recurve — by Steve Ruis « Missing Marble

  2. Thank you for posting. I made the switch from compound to traditional this year. It has been challenging, but VERY rewarding.

  3. I’m mostly a traditional archer (altho I’m getting more and more into recurve) and I find this post very informative for beginners, especially considering draw weights and the recoil or “hand shock” as you called it. The latter can be a nasty surprise to anyone not expecting it. While the archer develops a good grip for it, its a good idea to use a bow sling if they were used to recurves before.

    One thing I don’t agree with is the fragileness of wooden arrows: It really depends on the quality. The ones that are made of good solid wood and are rather thick will definitely last quite long. When I was a beginner I shot them against all kinds of sh*t and I still have most of my first arrows. I find carbon arrows fracture much more often. Aluminium is a good alternative, just watch out against bending.

    Another thing to watch out for when switching to trad is the issue of shooting over your finger instead of an arrow rest. Take some precautionary measures such as putting a bandaid on your index finger so the arrow does not cut it in case of a small grip mistake.

    Sorry for the essay 😛 but thank you for having such an informative and inspiring blog 😀

    • Some good points, I recommend that beginners stay away from wooden arrows because of a number of reasons. One is they are hard to acquire. Most archery shops only stock cheap “program” quality wooden arrows. They are also harder to maintain, etc.

      Most serious trad archers make their own.

      I recommend aluminum arrows for beginning trad archers because they give good feedback. Getting a set of matched wooden arrows is expensive and difficult. Bit even cheap aluminums can be had which are quite regular and also quite available. I am not so much worried about breakage but whether the arrows give good feedback to the archer.

      Compound archers can use wooden arrows to good effect even if they were taught their bows were “too powerful for wood arrows” or some other such nonsense. Compound bows are easier on arrows than recurves and longbows of the same draw weight.

      On Mon, Dec 8, 2014 at 3:49 PM, A Blog for Archery Coaches wrote:


      • good point, wooden arrows can differ quite a bit.

        hmm, here in Europe (good) wooden arrows are just as “aquireable” as any other, and are sold in regular archery shops too…

      • Traditional archery is much more popular in Europe than in the U.S. (sadly) but a great many of the new archers here are favoring trad, something I hope will expand the range of products available to beginners (the choices in low draw weight longbows and one-piece recurve bows are very slim here).

        But then, you did invent the sport!


        On Tue, Dec 9, 2014 at 5:36 AM, A Blog for Archery Coaches wrote:


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