Beginners often start archery without using either a tab or a glove and this is fine because if their bow’s draw weight is quite low, which it should be, the pressure on the fingers is quite low, so the chance of harm to the archer is also quite low. Our rule of thumb for beginners is we will give out a tab if an archer complains of finger soreness (or they just want one).
To be clear, the reason to use “finger protection,” that is tabs or shooting gloves, is not just to protect the fingers from the pressure of the bowstring. It also provides a slicker surface for the string to slide off of and helps the fingers act together, in concert, when coming off of the string.
We strongly recommend tabs for beginners rather than shooting gloves because the fingers of a shooting glove are not tied together and can act independently. Having the string fingers linked helps them come of the string as a unit, as I say “as a chord and not an arpeggio.” This doesn’t mean they can’t use a glove if they have one, it just means that they may encounter less success with one. Since the bows beginners use are light-drawing, there is little tension on the string, which means the string fingers can distort the shape of the string quite easily. This is a source of inaccuracy. If the string fingers act together, rather than as three separate fingers, this “sting torque” is minimized.
Good archery tabs have a fairly sturdy and stiff body that assists in keeping one’s fingers together while on the string. Simple tabs are often just one thickness of leather (or, ew, synthetic leather) and don’t perform this function well at all. Traditional archers often prefer such a tab, but they have practiced long and hard to make sure it does not handicap them.
Olympic Recurve archers often use a tab with a metal plate for a body, which shows you how important they think that stiffness is. We recommend the Wilson Brothers Black Widow Tab for a number of reasons. It comes in a wide variety of sizes (XS, S, M, L, XL) to fit archers hands. (A tab that is too small or too large is more trouble than it is worth.) It is adjustable (it has a Velcro band that fits one’s middle finger) and it is inexpensive, costing typically about $10. Fancy tabs run from $30-75.
Tabs need to be broken in and if you or your archers are really competitive, we recommend you buy two and alternate their use. In this manner, if you lose your tab, you have a spare. Or if you are shooting in the rain, you can switch to a dry tab after a while. If your “back up tab” is not broken it, it will perform quite differently from its broken in predecessor, which is why we suggest you alternate using the two. Each will have about the same amount of wear.
Tabs can also be adjusted by trimming away excess material with scissors or a very sharp knife. If your hand is “between sizes” but the next larger size and trim it down.