Can This Trad Recurve Be Shot Off of the Shelf?

All of the older trad recurves and longbows were made to be shot “off of the hand” or “off of the knuckle.” There was no “shelf” to shoot off of. Then some enterprising bowyers started including a little built up section at the top of the grip wrapping. This could be something as simple as a little wedge of wood wrapped in place forming a small ledge that could help hold the arrow in place. Soon these bows also included an insert of a harder wood or other material to prevent wear from the arrow sliding against the bow.

Since these little ledges held the promise of better accuracy they grew in size until a substantial arrow shelf was built into a built up handle section. And as sights become popular the little cutout grew to facilitate being able to see your sight and the sight window was born. (Also, “centershot bows” allowed arrows to be aimed and shot closer to the central plane of the bow.)

So, to determine if a bow was designed to be “shot off of the arrow shelf, there has to be a substantial shelf built into the bow (at least the width of your arrows) and the shelf has to have a hump built into it. If the arrow shelf of your bow is flat, it was built to be shot off of an elevated arrow rest (which often were of the “stick on” variety which can and did fall off and get lost even in storage). The crown or hump on the arrow shelf was there so the arrow touched only a small area of the shelf meaning less friction and less possibility of a “clearance problem.”

The shelf and the side of the bow adjacent to us was often covered with leather, to prevent wear on bow and arrows and also to provide a bit of “give” to help the flexing arrow on its way, much as cushion plungers now provide.

When the shelves became very large, a way of “adjusting” the centershot of the bow was to build out the side of the bow with multiple layers of leather or whatnot. This was called the “build out” and you can read accounts from back in the day of archers setting their “build outs.” Now you know what they were doing.

Photos below show the crown of the shelf of a bow designed to be shot off of the shelf, the leather pads used there, and how different shooting off of your knuckle was from shooting off of a shelf.











Filed under For All Coaches, Q & A

4 responses to “Can This Trad Recurve Be Shot Off of the Shelf?

  1. Damon Ayer

    Steve, not all bows meant to be shot off the shelf have a crown. Look at all the bear bows with flat platforms that use thick rugs or feather rests. There are, of course, many other similar.


    • A feather rest is an elevated rest, attached directly to the shelf, but an elevated rest nonetheless (the rest “elevates” the arrow above direct contact with the shelf. The same would be true of a “crown buildup” made of leather or other.

      Shooting off of a flat shelf creates all kinds of problems for archers because there is no guarantee of a single contact point on that shelf. Consider a bow with a 2″ deep shelf. (I just made that number up but it is not an unreasonable number.) If the arrow glides against the front edge or the back edge backs a 2″ difference in the true draw length of the bow, which is massive. This amplifies mistakes a great deal.

      I will dig our my Bear bow history to see if I can find what you speak of.


  2. Marty

    FYI I have a 1962 Grizzly 62″ 40@28 with a flat shelf. I cut wine bottle corks to a small “D” shape, barge cement it on, then place a strip of rug or hook ‘n’ loop over that. Small detail is to maintain the same shape and location each time it needs replaced, which is not very often. It does shoot very well, but I show it off more than I shoot it – fun to show the kids a nearly 50 year old bow hitting the 40yd target.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I just looked up an ad for a 1962 Grizzly and the shelf is near flat. The ad showed it with a rug. If I could figure out how to embed the photo I would place it here. It doesn’t look dead flat but it is flat enough. Photos of earlier versions of the bow showed a more pronounced crown on the shelf. The key in this case, I suspect is that the shelf is short, front-to-back and by the time the arrow has moved roughly half of its length along the rest, it has “lifted off” and no longer in contact with the rest at all (as high speed video shows). There is no doubt that bow worked (and according to you, still does!) and so my guess is that they figured a more pronounced crown wasn’t all that necessary.

      Thanks for the information!


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