If you are following the AER Curriculum or not students will get interested in stabilizers at some point. Either a student joins the class who already has one, or a student sees a YouTube video, or. . . . or your student reaches that point in Stage 2 of the AER compound or Olympic recurve curricula.
What you can do to help is the topic of this article.
What Stabilizers Do
In archery, a stabilizer is anything that makes it easier to hold your bow steady while at full draw. Most non-traditional bows come with a hole in the “back” of your bow to allow a stabilizer to be fit. The holes are the same size with the same threads no matter where the bow as made, so you can install just about any stabilizer you get your hands on.
Typically stabilizers are either “short” or “long.” Bowhunters prefer short stabilizers because they are less likely to get tangled up in brush or a tree stand. Consequently all of the shooting styles that are based on hunting require that you use a “short” stabilizer (NFAA styles: BH, BHFS, BHFSL). The last we checked this meant under 11˝ in length (measured from the surface of the bow). Short stabilizers can be really short ~3˝ up to the max, just less than 11˝. Long stabilizers may be any length you want and people have tried stabilizers that have been ridiculously long, but most are somewhere between 24˝ and 36˝ long.
All the stabilizer does is spread out the weight of your bow. The more spread out the weight of the bow is, the harder it is to move, which means once the bow is in position at full draw, it will resist the forces trying to move it during the shot. (Think about it—aiming is putting the bow into a position which will cause the arrow to go where you want. Any movement after that is moving the bow where you don’t want it to be.)
If you hold a broom by the middle of its handle, you will find it easy to hold and move around. But if you hold it by one end, you will find it much harder to move in two important directions: left-right and up-down. (Try it.) It is still easy to move the broom back and forth along the line of the broom handle, though. If you were to think of a broom being attached to your bow (sticking straight out) it would make it harder to swing the bow left or right or up and down. You would still be able to push the bow in and out toward the target, but that doesn’t create much a problem when shooting arrows—swinging the bow left and right or up and down does. There is also one other thing you can do easily with the broom attached and that is to rotate the bow around the shaft of the broom handle. (If you think the idea of the broom on a bow is crazy we know an archer who used a golf club for his stabilizer!)
Let’s get rid of the broom (but remember what you’ve learned from it). One of the ways to reduce the ability to rotate the bow around the stabilizer is to add what are called “side rods.” Archers typically use a “V block” which is inserted between the long stabilizer and the bow. A V block has two threaded holes in it to attach shorter stabilizer rods on both sides of the bow (see photos below). This is the typical stabilization setup used by Olympic Recurve archers.
If you look closely, many compound archers who use side rods use only one rod. This is because the bowsights used on compound bows are significantly heavier than the bowsights used on recurve bows. The one side rod is used to balance the extra weight on the other side of the bow caused by the bow sight.
And most people shoot for quite a while with just a “long rod” before they then try side rods, so you don’t need the whole setup all at once. And do realize that there is a large number of gewgaws you can screw into your stabilizers: weights for the shaft, weights for the tip, vibration dampeners (Doinkers!), etc. These are used to adjust the weight distribution of your bow or too absorb vibrations left over after the shot (so that you don’t). (If you don’t think vibrations can make you tired, talk to a jackhammer operator sometime.)
Helping Them to Learn to Shoot with a Stabilizer
We recommend that when a student decides to try a stabilizer, that they borrow one. We have a half dozen “loaners” that we let our students use, but you may not have stabilizers for them to try, so they will have to borrow one from another student. Remind that they are not obligated to lend any piece of archery gear, so the person they ask may say no and that’s fair.
If their “style” requires a short stabilizer, then they may be stuck with a short one, but urge them to go ahead and try short and long stabilizers. If they really like what a long one does for them, they might want to switch styles!
Start by having them carefully screw the stabilizer into the hole designed for it. This must be done carefully because a number of things can go wrong. If the bow is brand new, there may be construction debris in the hole (metal shavings, paint, etc.). This may cause you to “cross thread” the stabilizer, which is to get the screw threads misaligned. If you force this, it can mess up the threads on both the stabilizer and the bow, which can be an expensive repair. If they encounter a great deal of resistance, we suggest they ask you for help. If the bow is old, a previous user may have cross threaded the hole and not told anyone. We carry a tap wrench and tap the same size as the stabilizer hole so we can “chase the threads” that is run the tap in and out and it will clear up the threads if dirty or only slight damaged (see photo). We don’t recommend doing this unless you are familiar with tap wrenches.
In all likelihood, the stabilizer will screw in easily.
We then recommend you have the student(s) take some shots at short range into a blank target bale. The bow will feel different. For example, bare bows generally rock with the top limb toward the archer during the followthrough. With a long enough stabilizer the bow will rock top limb away from the archer. Because of these effects, if you haven’t introduced a shooting sling of some kind, now would be good. You can find the specifics in the AER Recreation Archery Curriculum Coach’s Guide.
Also because of these effects, they will find that all of their previously determined points of aim or sight markings will now be different (not hugely so, but different). Don’t have them “sight in” again because they may be switching to another stabilizer to try or they may decide they don’t want to shoot with one at all and they will be right back where they were. When they have decided on what kind they want and have acquired their own, then they will need to “sight in” again.
Acquiring a Stabilizer
When they have some idea of what they want they will need help in finding the one they want. If you have a well-equipped pro shop in town, you can just send them there. If you don’t, we use catalogs to give them an idea of what they want at what price and then send them off, probably to the Internet, because big box sporting good stores are unlikely to have much in the way of stabilizers to choose from (short stabilizers are way more likely to be found than long).
While stabilizers help them hold their bows steadier while shooting they also add weight to their bow, so if their bow is already a little heavy (this is typically true for most beginning youths shooting compound bows) they will need to find a very light stabilizer.