Barebow Arrow Considerations

There is an upsurge in interest in Barebow, both Recurve and Compound. (Yeah!) This is accompanied by increased levels of confusion regarding the role the arrow plays in the ability to shoot consistently.

Since there are many Barebow aiming variations (gap shooting, “instinctive” shooting, string walking, face walking, etc.) I am going to hop over these variations (all of which create tuning issues) and move to the heart of the matter: aiming off of the point.

Aiming Off of the Point
Using the arrow point as an aiming support brings many advantages and a few disadvantages. One disadvantage is it makes draw length even more crucial. For example, consider that the nock end of the arrow is below the aiming eye and the sightline. The line of sight being even with the arrow point means that the arrow is slanting upward (as it is with other styles, of course). Now, if you draw your bow a bit too far, the arrow slides back and downward lowering the arrow point, causing you to raise your bow up to get the point back to the sightline. Drawing your bow a bit long results in high arrow hit points in that you’ve made the bow a tad stronger, but raising the bow also contributes to high arrow hit points, so this “positive feedback” results in larger errors. Similarly, a short drawn bow, results in the arrow sticking out and up farther, which results in you lowering the bow, another double whammy! (This effect is prominent for longbow and recurve archers, less so for compound archers.)

Aiming off of the point makes draw length control particularly crucial. On the plus side it provides amplified feedback in that regard and so may contribute to better draw length control. There are many other aspects of aiming off the point we leave to your further investigation.

The Effect of Arrow Length
The effects of variations in draw length can be made permanent by choosing a shorter or longer arrow. A longer arrow will result in a lower hold of the bow. A shorter arrow will result in a higher hold. So, for indoor targets, a longer arrow can be an advantage. Indoors, the distances are so short that most bows are over-powered. This results in points of aim (POA) being very low, off of the target face and maybe on the floor where there are few visual clues as to where the POA is. We would like to have a POA on the target face as a face provides many visual cues as to the POA’s location (e.g. a POA at 12 o’clock in the 5-ring). So, for indoors, most people favor a longer arrow. This cause the hold to be lower and the POA higher. Since the length of the arrow is one of the largest aspects affecting the tune, a stiffer shaft has to be chosen to compensate for the extra length.

Outdoors, the distances are much larger, and bows tend to be under-powered. Here a shorter shaft provides a higher hold, a lower POA, and more cast, but we need a weaker shaft so we can cut it as short as we can.

We accept as a given that one’s form will be more consistent when the arrow is near level than when the bow is held with the arrow slanted way up or way down. So, the closer you can create a setup, for you or your student, that is near that situation, the better.

Arrow selection is not a simple matter of just checking a manufacturer’s spine chart and selecting the shaft closest to the characteristics your archer possesses (DW and DL and bow type). In most spine charts, the entire row of choices determined by the DW are available to you. Limited only by arrows that are too short (as they are dangerous). Here is a row from a simplified spine chart:

Compound Bow

21˝ 22˝ 23˝ 24˝ 25˝ 26˝ 27˝ 28˝ 29˝ 30˝ 31˝ 32˝ Recurve Bow
29-35 lb 1214 1214 1413 1416 1516 1713 1716 1813/
1913 2013/

17-23 lb

Assuming this is the correct DW row, if the archer’s draw length is 24˝ AMO, a 1413 aluminum arrow is recommended. Shorter shafts are possible, but remember the arrow point is typically only about 1.75˝ ahead of the arrow rest at full draw, so a 1214 shaft could be used, cut to 23˝ but I wouldn’t go shorter. Other choices are: the entire rest of the row:
a 1416 shaft, cut to 25˝
a 1516 shaft, cut to 26˝
a 1713 shaft, cut to 27˝
a 1716 shaft, cut to 28˝
a 1813/1816 shaft, cut to 29˝
a 1913 shaft, cut to 30˝
a 2013/1916 shaft, cut to 31˝
a 2013/1916, cut to 32˝

All of these shafts and cut lengths should produce arrows of comparable performance. Keep in mind this is not this simple. As we move across this table row, the arrow shafts are getting heavier and we are losing cast thereby. (There are other issues, but this post is too long already.) All parameters in a spine chart, therefore, need to be taken with a grain of salt and if you desire to experiment with different length arrows, always (Always!) start with a longer shaft and cut it down in stages, testing for tune as you go (a bare shaft test is all that is necessary).

A Note Regarding Young Archers
Archers who haven’t achieved full growth probably should not play around with these ideas. For one, they are still growing and as their height increases, so does their draw length. Ordinarily I like to have at least 1˝–2˝ of extra length on their arrows just for safety (and the ability to shorten the shaft to get a better tune as they grow). These youngsters are better off working on their fitness and shooting form and execution than fiddling with equipment to get a slight advantage.

If a youngster, however, is having trouble “making distance,” the problem may be exacerbated by an arrow that is too long. I have seen some sticking out more than 5˝ past the back of the bow. In this case, a better fitting, resulting in a shorter arrow should help.


Filed under For All Coaches

9 responses to “Barebow Arrow Considerations

  1. Tom Dorigatti

    This is very well done, Steve! As a former barebow shooter, I started out with a solid fiberglass bow with gap shooting, then POA, then moved to string walking once I got a “real” recurved bow. At the beginning it was mostly for hunting. Managed to take 2 mule deer and two pronghorns with that Bear Kodiak Magnum recurved hunting bow. Then I graduated to a target bow and learned POA with apache style anchor (one finger above the nock, two below). Wasn’t long until I had to just try string walking and what a hoot of fun that was! I then graduated to a bow sight and shot that way for TARGET shooting, but I kept fingers on the string for HUNTING until I switched from left to right handed in 1986.
    Anyways, one interesting aspect from “times of old” when we “barebow shooters” shot indoor tournaments is that there was a rule in place that ALL the floor area in front of the targets had to be clear of any and all objects. Pieces of paper (a “trick” some shooters tried to play!!), score cards and clipboards, and other such items were NOT allowed to be placed on the floor in front of the bales.
    In addition, we were not allowed to “deface” our own target face in any way. Some were putting arrow holes into the target face or otherwise marking things on their target face that could have been used as an aiming reference. The only arrow holes allowed in the target face were those you shot into your target face during the practice end(s).
    Today, in my area, I have only seen a few barebow shooters now and again, and all are shooting compounds, and working with the tuning problems experienced while walking the string. There are also a few (but very few) longbow shooters that are gap shooting, and a couple that use POA.
    I haven’t seen any shooting a recurved bow and string walking in years.
    Just thought the deal about placing anything on the floor in front of the bale was interesting and some newbies might get a kick out of that one.
    Of course, those of us that knew what was going on (before the rule was added), would simply wait until that shooter wasn’t looking and move his/her piece of paper or the scorecards/clipboards a few inches or so. Really screwed them up, hahahaha.


    • There are a lot of Recurve archers string walking now! These are the modern Barebow archers shooting under the auspices of USA Archery/World Archery. This is way more popular overseas than here, but the times, theya re a ghangin’!

      On Mon, Jul 3, 2017 at 2:24 PM, A Blog for Archery Coaches wrote:



      • Tom Dorigatti

        Oh, how I would love to see this on THIS side of the pond, Steve! I think a lot of archers are getting discouraged concerning the fact that if you miss a baby x in the compound world, you may as well hang it up, cuz it isn’t likely you will have a podium finish. The accuracy is astonishing, but it also doesn’t do a lot to encourage people to continue on or to work harder to get to that rarified atmosphere of the top shooters.
        Barebow was a lot of fun, but it wasn’t fun in NFAA once archers stopped participating in the division.
        It is also good to see that USA Archery/World Archery is growing in leaps and bounds, too!


      • As I said, Barebow is in resurgence with the “new crowd” just discovering archery (several million people).

        On Mon, Jul 3, 2017 at 2:45 PM, A Blog for Archery Coaches wrote:



    • Stephen Williams

      Barebow (recurve, string walking, etc.) is definitely on an upswing at NFAA events in CA. I find myself training my own competition:-) We’re still swamped by “trad” and Freestyle attendance, but the word is definitely out, now.


  2. Paul Fender

    Very good stuff! I have been at this for a day or two, and have taken some of what of what you mention for granted at this point.

    But what I REALLY like is how at the end you bring in how these things can considered and used with new and very young shooters.

    It really bothers me when I see a youngster that is shooting horribly mismatched equipment and getting discouraged by only getting bad results due to the poor equipment set up. The odds of that kid just giving up and walking away from Archery are very high, yet with just a little thought, it doesn’t have to be that way.


    • This is why we teach our coaches that if a young archer gets serious about the sport, they need to get their own equipment, that can be fitted and tuned. Often kids show up with equipment that was bought for them, un-wisely, which is why we need to do a better job of getting them into reasonable equipment. Only when the equipment is providing good feedback can archers learn from their experience.


  3. Great text Steve!
    In the USA and Europe there are many clubs and many archers. Here in Brazil there are few archers of compound and recurve olimpico.When it comes to barebow there are practically no competitions. Then an article of that is like a treasure!


    • This is too true in many areas of the world. This is why “remote” coaching (via email, Skype, video, etc.) is becoming popular. I am also trying to get authors to write books on Barebow Archery.


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