Tag Archives: Equipment

Archery in the News!

An article in The Guardian newspaper pointed to archeological discoveries which could substantially push back the date archery was used for hunting in Europe. According to that article:

“Early archers would have been able to kill their prey at a considerable distance while at the same time giving their diets a protein boost without endangering themselves, say researchers. It has also become clear that bow-and-arrow technology is ancient, with some of the oldest arrowheads traced to caves in South Africa and dated to around 64,000 years ago.

“Outside Africa, the earliest evidence of archery was some 48,000-year-old arrowheads found in a Sri Lankan cave two years ago. However, that date is now expected to be pushed back to around 54,000 years . . .”

Of course, this doesn’t mean that researchers or reporters have any idea what primitive archery was like. The article went on:

“An animal 100 metres away will think you are too distant to be dangerous and won’t move away,” Slimak told the Observer. ‘With a bow and arrow, you could pick it off easily. Equally importantly, you’ll be too far away for it to attack you if it is wounded and gets angry. So you can hunt safely and provide more protein for your group.’”

A one hundred meter (109 yard) shot? With primitive bows and primitive arrows? Pick it off easily? Egad! And not just “primitive” bows and arrows, but some of the first ever made in Europe!


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Do I Need My Own Equipment? Do I Need Better Equipment?

I am currently working on a book on coaching archery from first principles, my effort to supply “whys” for all of the “whats” we propound. Currently I am working on an equipment chapter and the following questions came up and while they don’t necessarily involve fundamental principles of coaching archery, I decided to include answers to these questions. I am interested in any constructive criticism you might have and suggestions as to things to include, etc.

* * *

As I have mentioned (ad nauseam?): archery equipment purchases are a minefield for newbie archers and/or their parents. So allow me to address the two questions here, even though they do not necessarily involve first principles.

Do I Need My Own Equipment?
When beginners start in archery, they generally will use “program equipment,” that is equipment supplied by the instructional program. The criteria for what makes good program equipment are: it has to last, be affordable (aka less expensive), suitable for beginners (low draw weights and draw lengths common to the kinds of beginners being taught—adult, youth, etc., easy to maintain and repair, sturdy (it has to last), it has to perform fairly consistently, and it has to last! (Did I mention it has to last?)

Few of these criteria are invoked when buying personal equipment.

Here is the guiding principle for equipment acquisitions—in order to learn to shoot well, your equipment must give good feedback. To give an archer good feedback, his equipment must be fitted to them. For example, I can pick up a 48˝ recurve bow, but if I were to draw it to my 32˝ draw length, it would either break or the bowstring would slip off the limb tips. There is no way I can shoot that bow with good form. So, in order for equipment to give good feedback it must be fitted and to be fitted, the archer must shoot fairly well. This sounds like a scheme out of the book Catch-22, but it really does make sense.

When I fit an archer for equipment they wish to purchase, we need to list all of the parameters involved in the purchase. Things like the color of an arrow’s fletches is basically a personal preference, but the length and heftiness of the arrow is not. Those are based upon the bow’s power, the archer’s draw length, whether they have their fingers on the bowstring or shoot a mechanical release aid, and how well they shoot. So, arrows are tested to find the sizes that will work best for the archer, and then color choices and whatnot can be made. The same is true for bows. If a recurve bow is being purchased, the bow’s length, draw weight, and draw length all must be factored in. But if the archer has only shot a few dozen arrows, his draw length may be all over the place: longer one shot, shorter the next, with no two measurements the same, so what do we use to measure the arrows?

So, the equipment purchasing pattern goes: (a) an archer shoots with program equipment (or borrowed equipment) until they develop somewhat consistent archery form. This is indicated by being able to shoot groups of arrows that land in roughly the same place on a target face, somewhat consistently. Then comes (b) the archer is fitted for his/her own equipment and that equipment is acquired. This equipment will then give the archer better feedback and so they will learn more and at a higher rate than if they had stuck with program equipment. If they are confined to using borrowed equipment/program equipment, their progress will plateau fairly quickly.

This first acquisition of fitted equipment is a major turning point in pursuing the sport of archery. After a few months or even weeks of lessons, archers or their parents are asked to shell out some hundreds of dollars to get equipment tailored to the archer. Please note one can use inherited or hand-me-down equipment or borrowed equipment, but that equipment must fit the archer, otherwise there is no point. I have seen young archers trying shoot bows their uncle gave them that were physically too heavy and too hard to draw. Their little bodies were twisted into pretzel shapes to hold up that heavy bow at arm’s length and then draw it. None of that helps. I use tests to see if the weight of the bow is too much; tests that show whether the draw weight is too much, tests to come up with a draw length that is close. But, with regard it growing youths, we are always providing some “room to grow” into those purchases, and I will be sharing those tips as we go.

Do I Need Better Equipment?
This question is similar but different from the one above. In this situation our archer has had equipment fitted to him/her that has either been outgrown, or the equipment is hindering their performance, rather than enhancing it.

If the archer in question is a casual, recreational archer who is satisfied with their performances but has clearly outgrown their equipment, then equipment of roughly the same quality, just of larger sizes needs to be sought out.

If the archer is dissatisfied with their performance and it seems as if the equipment is holding them back, they need better, not just different equipment. So, if your archery child is really enthusiastic about archery, why not just buy them top-of-the-line gear and have done with it? This sounds reasonable and I have even heard other coaches recommend this, but there are some, actually many, drawbacks to this. If the archer is young and still growing their working draw weight and draw length may go up in leaps and bounds. You may need replacement recurve limbs at the end of a summer, when you bought new limbs at the beginning of summer. Do you want to be replacing $100 limbs or $1000 limbs? In addition, equipment designed for advanced-to-elite archers can be quite finicky to operate. Small variations in execution can produce major errors. That level of equipment assumes a high level of execution and without it,  it may perform worse that cheaper equipment. (See “Patience” by John Vetterli in Archery Focus magazine, 8-3, about half way through John relates how he over bought equipment and how it delayed his progress.)

The rule of thumb I use is the level of equipment should match the level of the archer: beginners should get beginner-level equipment, intermediate archers should get intermediate-level equipment, and advanced-to-elite archers should get that level of equipment (close to top-of-the-line or there). Of course archery manufacturers don’t help you out with accurate labels of the levels of what they are selling, but there is a price correspondence: beginning level equipment is the least expensive; advanced-to-elite equipment is the most expensive, and intermediate level equipment is in between. (If you are just starting at the intermediate level, look at the low end of intermediate priced gear; if you have been an intermediate for a while, look at the higher priced end of the intermediate equipment range.

And we always recommend that you “try before you buy.” This is the really big advantage of a good archery shop. Most shops have a place to shoot and if they are selling what you are interested in, they will allow you to shoot it to see how it feels (within reason, though). If you then buy from them, the tend to set up the equipment for you and adjust it if necessary. These services justify a higher price for your bow or arrows than you can get online. Don’t just compare prices, compare prices and services.

How Do I Know If My Equipment is Holding Me Back? This is not an easy question to answer. One obvious example is if all of your aluminum arrows are slightly different lengths and are somewhat bent. Getting a set of weight-matched, straight arrows will result in an immediate score increase.

Another case is “making distance.” Young archers compete in age-range competitive categories. As you move up in age, the competitive distances increase and the target faces get smaller. Young archers using light drawing bows often encounter this problem when they move up to the next age-competitive category. In order to hit the target at their new longest distance, they have to hold their bow much higher, so high that their arrow point or bow sight aperture are lined up way above the target. Careful aiming is no longer possible and, well, tilting that far up distorts an archer’s form and undermines achieving good, consistent archery execution.

What is needed to “make distance” is lighter arrows, a stouter bow, or possibly both. Both of those things will produce flatter arrow trajectories, leaving the archer with his/her arrow point or sight aperture on a recognizable spot on the target face, allowing careful aiming and having archery form near what it is at the other, closer distances.

Since this is not an easy question to answer, this is where the help of an experienced archery coach can really help. In lieu of a coach, a very experienced archer may be of help in answering this question.

For some strange reason WordPress has decided all of the text of my posts is to be italicized. I have not yet figured out what to do. Any ideas? Steve


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Pet Peeve No. 

As a tyro magazine and book designer, I have a pet peeve regarding “eye candy” which is what I call photos that attract the eye but do not support the associated text. Consider the following photo:

The text this is supporting is an admonition to consult a coach who can check to make sure your form is good.

Do you see anything not quite right in the photo? I do. Check out the next photo.

Here I drew a line along the archer’s forearm. In perfect form, that line would be pointed at the center of pressure the bow hand makes upon the riser. As you can see, it isn’t even close.

Now, I am not pointing out a form flaw. There are many reasons why an archer may need to have a high draw elbow: a shoulder injury, a congenital defect, etc. I am not criticizing the archer, I am criticizing the choice of photos. If your point is that an archer should consult a coach to ensure their form is good, and you want a photo showing a coach and archer, you should use a photo in which the archer’s form is close to perfect, otherwise the photo is contradicting the text.

* * *

Since I am currently working on a book advocating coaching from first principles, which are often scientific principles, allow me to address why a lower elbow (than shown in the photo) is recommended (if possible, always if possible). When a bow is drawn, you push upon the riser and pull upon the string. The force, therefore, in a finger-release situation, is directly between the centers of pressure of the bow hand on the riser and the fingers on the string. This “line of force” (being just the line of the direction of the force) is often called the primary force line and is described as being from the center of pressure on the bow’s grip (which needs to line up with the central plane of the bow to prevent pre-loaded bow hand torque), through the nock of the arrow and out the bottom of the archer’s draw elbow. This line of force is as close as we can get to the line the arrow sits upon. The farther away the arrow is from that line, the poorer the transfer of energy and direction to the arrow. (Ask any string walker of the consequences of the arrow being elsewhere.) We can’t get any closer, because the arrow can’t sit in the middle of our bow arm, etc.

If the archer’s draw elbow is in any other position, they are effectively pulling away from the line we want the arrow to travel upon. If our elbow is on the high side, as in the photo, there is an upward pull on the bow that isn’t balanced and will cause the bow to move when the string is loosed and we do not want the bow to move once we place it in a “perfectly-aimed” position. If the elbow is low, there is an unbalanced downward force. If the elbow is outboard, you have an outboard force (which causes a wrist cock, and eventually a pluck). If the elbow is wrapped too far around the torso there is an unbalanced force in that direction, which can lead to the string rubbing on the archer’s face or arm as it leaves.

Another thing that happens with draw elbow variations is they change the pressures of the fingers on the bowstring. If the draw elbow is too low, it creates extra pressure on the top string finger and high fliers are the result, etc. Non-optimal finger pressures on the string and even the arrow can create forces on the arrow rest, causing things like clicker bounce, arrows lifting off of the rest (even under a clicker), etc.

Moving away from the primary force line results in compensations that result in larger arrow dispersions. If, for example, you have a flying elbow. you are actually pulling the bowstring away from your face. To make a semblance of an anchor position, you will tend to push your string hand in toward your face. When you loose the string, that inward push will result in an outward compensation and a pluck will be seen. There are some extensive videos of this on the ArcheryWinchester website.

The archer-bow-arrow system is somewhat closed so one thing out of whack always leads to others.


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How “Tight” Should Your “Tight Groups” Be?

There is a de facto standard as to how tight you want your groups to be: and that is you want all of your arrows to fit into the highest scoring zone of your target.

Fo example, let’s use an X-ring as the highest scoring ring of a paper target. (This way we avoid having to cover 10-rings, 5-rings, 11-rings, 12-rings, etc.) The largest group we could shoot and have all of our arrows “in” the X-ring would be this:

Six arrows, all scoring an X just barely from the “outside in.”

Actually this is an extreme case and not a reasonable goal because each of those arrow holes is subject to variation and if any were just a fraction of a millimeter farther out, it would be “out” rather than “in.”

This would be a more reasonable description of a desired group size.

The oft-stated goal of “all of your arrows in the same hole,” is just playing with words. Some compound archers are capable of doing this. I have seen Vegas targets with a single hole centered in each of the three X-rings. Of course, if they hadn’t used a multi-spot target face, they would have destroyed quite a few arrows. So, the saying “all of your arrows in the same hole” may be fun to say, but it isn’t an actual goal. Now this group has some “give” in it, that if one or more of those shots was a bit farther out, they would still count as an X.

I can remember getting proficient enough at Compound-Release shooting, that I would aim at a 15-yard target face on our field range and place my four arrows in the X-ring (first the 5-spot, then later the X-ring after a lot more training): upper left, upper right, lower left, and lower right. Yes, I aimed them to land in those spots and they did. (It probably involved a good measure of luck as I was never all that good on an ongoing basis. I had good patches and not-so-good patches, a sure sign of someone still learning their craft.

So, if your students or friends ask you “how tight do my groups need to be” you can answer them with “you want all of your arrows to be able to fit inside the highest scoring zone.”

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Complexity vs. Simplicity

In an exchange on my coaching blog the topic of “simpler is better” came up. This is a precept I have felt has merit for a long time. It seems intuitive . . . but is it? Is simpler really better than more complex?

Lets take as an example a Compound-Release archer and compare one to archers of the past. A longbowman had technique and equipment that needed maintenance, as well as skilled craftsmen to create. When compound-release archers came along, a great deal more complexity was injected into the sport (bowstrings and cables, and release aids, oh my!). Bow sights and bow sights with moveable apertures were invented, and then computer programs were written to ensure the most consistent sight markings possible.

Those bow sights involved bubble levels for an archer to determine whether or not his bow attitude was correct and consistent. Release aids were invented, along with D-loops, to make the release of the string smoother and more consistent. Stabilizer rods were invented to help hold the bow still for aiming and at the moment of release. Jigs were invented to make sure that these bow sights and stabilizers were optimally set up.

Compound-release archers produced higher levels of success at “hitting the target” than had previously been seen. So, was the increased complexity worth it? Apparently so, yes, if the goal is consistent accuracy. (Yes, I know traditional archers have more fun, I are one!)

I think the concept “simpler is better” is too simple. Archers are pragmatic, if nothing else. If additional complexity is warranted will be determined by whether results are affected positively and, really, nothing else. Compound-release archers may want to trim their shot routines to be as simple as possible (which is what I recommend . . . as a starting point) but if adding a little something here or there results in better scores, then “more complex is better.”

I think “simple” is easier to master and it is how we start archers off. We teach a standard, simple form . . . and, if the archer blossoms, we start the process of making their shot routine their own and certainly making it more complicated. (Have I mention mental programs?) Simple is a good place to start from, but not necessarily a good goal.

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Wow, Great Bow!

I just read another personal bow review. (I have read not a small number of these, I just don’t know what that number is.) The bow was claimed to be “nice to shoot” and was “incredibly accurate.” And, of course, people are urged to “try it out.”

The reporter doesn’t mention whether he is a sponsored archer or not, which leads to me wondering about his motivation for the “review.” There are, in archery, fanboys of the bows of certain manufacturers. Just as I grew up with “Ford guys” and Chevy guys” and “Mopar guys,” there are archers who are Mathews guys and Hoyt guys. If this guy is a fanboy of this company’s bows, then he might have posted this review just to get some props from his contacts inside the manufacturer.

I also have to ask “why?” Why is this bow more “accurate” than his previous bows? What were his previous bows? How much more “accurate” was it?

Of course, bows are not responsible for accuracy at all, we are. So bows aren’t accurate in an of themselves. A better statement might be “I shot more accurately with this bow than any of my previous bows (list of previous bows).”

What we do ask from bows is consistency, that if we aim them the same way and release them the same way that the arrows land in roughly the same spot. (I say roughly because the arrows have a lot to say about whether they land in the same spot and no two arrows are exactly the same, etc.)

The bow has to impart the same energy to each arrow and the guiding bits, mostly the arrow rest but also the eccentrics and their synchronous actions, have to guide the arrows in the same way, etc. And we can’t just use shooting machines to test a bow’s abilities in this realm. Some bows are stable and steady in the hand and some are not. Some are positively squirrely. For example, the last time I bought Claudia a new bow, she absolutely loved the way the bow “fit her hand.” I, on the other hand, felt as if the bow (another bow as she is left-handed and I am right-handed) was going to slide out of my hand and fly back and hit me in the face. After several attempts to draw that bow, I declined to try any more, for reasons of personal safety. Clamp that bow in a shooting machine and I have no doubt that you could wreck some arrows (one crushing the previous one).

So, back to the review I read. The bow was a carbon fiber-risered bow. I am not sure there is a net advantage to using such bows, except to the manufacturer who can charge a great deal more for the whiz-bang technology. The largest stabilizing factor of a compound bow is the mass of the riser. Newer bows are using longer risers and shorter limbs, which makes them somewhat more stable. The bow has to stay still while it is driving the arrow out, otherwise it changes the position we put it in while aiming. We can’t hold it still because we just add to the movement of the bow through trying. So, carbon fiber compound bows are lighter, which may be an asset over time because you won’t get as tired lugging it around and lifting it into position, but you are also sacrificing some bow stability through that loss of mass. So, what the carbon bows allow is for mass to be added back, but instead of being near the bow hand, the added mass can be placed out on stalks, which we call “stabilizers or rods.” In effect this takes mass that was concentrated near the bow hand and moves it out away from the bow, which makes that mass more effective at stabilizing the bow.

So, did my reviewer do that? Did he change his stabilizer setup? (He didn’t say.)

So, when I read one of these “reviews” all I can say is “Well, one person was happy with his purchase.”

Does it say anything, anything at all as to whether that bow would please me?



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Alert, Alert, Alert

Quintessential Archery has closed its business and that affects you thusly: they were the publisher of the very valuable book Simple Maintenance for Archery, the “go to” book for coaches and archers as to how to repair and maintain their archery equipment. They have sold all of their remaining inventory to Lancaster Archery Supply which is selling them off at a very low price. So, now is the time to get extra copies if you already have one or a copy if you have not.

Here’s the link: https://lancasterarchery.com/products/ruth-rowe-2nd-edition-simple-maintenance-for-archery

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It Could Happen to You (or Your Students)

Recently professional golfer Viktor Hovland was flying to Hawaii to participate in a golf tournament. When his clubs finally showed up, there was breakage involved.

Why he wasn’t using a hard case is beyond me, but what do I know? (I always used a hard case when flying.)

So, could this or something like this happen to you? I suggest the longer you are involved in archery competitions and the more ambitious you become, the more likely something like this will happen to you.

So what should you do?

I remember Rick McKinney telling us that when he flew, his broken in finger tabs were not in his luggage but in his pocket. Everything else could be replaced.

Because of the wonders of modern communications, you do not have to carry a physical description of your bow, arrows, etc. with you, because you can park such a list online, in a Dropbox or whatever. But that list must exist and it must be updated every time you make an equipment change.

The story is somewhat old now, but champion compound archer Dave Cousins was flying to Sweden to participate in the World Field Championships and his airline lost his luggage, all of it. (I still don’t know whether it eventually turned up or not.) His teammates supplied a backup bow for him to use, including stabilizers and release aids, arrows, etc. After sighting in and practicing a bit, Dave was in second place after day one! If you think about all of the equipment variables involved, that is as close to an archery miracle as I have ever heard of.

Part of being a high level competitor is being prepared. And that isn’t limited to physical fitness and tuning your equipment. Preparing for the worst case scenario can be very helpful, even when the case isn’t worst. Plus, you may end up with a great story to tell your grandkids.

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Dear Archery Organization

It doesn’t matter which organization this is addressed to as it is addressed to each and every. Organizations such as these were created to serve their members by creating consistent and fair sets of rules for competitions and even to sponsor some events, helping members with range certifications and coach certifications, and a lot more.

Below I address some of the things that I wish all of the organizations would take seriously as they would really help archers and coaches persist in our sport and pursue excellence in our sport.

Rehab Help
Archers get injured. I often mention that I have gone through the “grand circle” twice already, namely problems with both shoulders, both elbows and both wrists. Some of the injuries were minor, but one elbow problem result in wearing sling for weeks, getting cortisone shots, and not shooting for a year and a half.

So, if I log onto any of the archery organizations websites and search for help with injury rehabilitations, what do you think I find?

What I find is <cricket, cricket, cricket>.

Surely there are doctors who are archers who could provide some generic guidelines. USA Archery has archery teams as parts of major universities and surely those institutions have physiology departments or even medical schools that would help, no?

As it is now, if you get an archery-related injury you are on your own.

Archery Science
There is a large amount of “collective wisdom” floating around in archer and coach circles. Unfortunately much of that is dead wrong. There are many, many questions that archers and coaches have that science could answer definitively. Questions like: in a strong side wind, how much of the affect is on the arrow and how much is on the archer? What is the best way to deal with such winds? Which is better in a stiff wind: a heavier wider arrow or a thinner lighter arrow? (Arguments can be made for both.)

Another question is: what is target panic”? What causes it? How can it be ameliorated or “cured”? Imagine university graduate students in psychology looking for real world questions for which they could find real-world answers.

Again, USA Archery has archery teams as parts of major universities and surely they have physics or engineering or psychology departments that would help, no? Many of these universities have students actively looking for research projects. Having a list of such questions and maybe a small research grant to go along with each would get serious attention.

Providing a Coach Support Structure
At one point we attempted to build what we called The Archery Coaches Guild. The purpose of this organization was to help archery coaches by providing information, advice, continuing education, and connections to other coaches. We failed. I think it was a good idea, but the time or the people, aka us weren’t right. But this is something one would think archery organizations would be interested in, no?

And . . .
When the Professional Golfers Association (PGA) was founded in the early twentieth century, they focused on training two cadres of people: coaches and course superintendents. (There were no professional golfers at the time.) Coaches were needed to train new golfers who would then participate, or stay in the sport if problems were suggesting they leave, thus creating more demand. And they needed people to design and maintain courses, so that golfers had somewhere to play.

Currently the organizations make a minimal effort at training archery coaches, nonexistent coach support structures, and little to no help with range design and building and maintenance.

I have written a couple of articles about what I call “golf envy” from hearing golfers wishing that archery money purses were similar to those of professional golf tournaments. Maybe taking the path that the golf associations did is a way to achieve that.


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Reading Old Archery Books

I am an intellectual, a geek, I know that. When faced with a task the tools that come to hand easiest for me are books and articles, etc. What I want to address here is “reading old archery texts” and why you might want to do so.

There is a general tendency among archers, mostly compound archers, to look at the latest and greatest as having more value. We want the latest equipment, the latest tuning methods, the latest technique tips, etc. This is because we have been led to believe that things are better now that they were in the past and that, in general is true . . . but not absolutely true. My friend and colleague Tom Dorigatti has a bone to pick with the phrase “new and improved” which is a bit of marketing nonsense foisted upon us through TV ads and now other media. He claims, quite so, that something cannot be both “new” and “improved” at the same time.

Basically I have read archery books dating from recent to hundreds of years old. I have learned many things, including the idea of back tension goes back centuries. But specifically, let’s look at one book, namely: Doctor Your Own Compound Bow by Emery J. Loiselle

I gave away my copy of this book, so I am operating from memory. My later version included a section on those new-fangled two wheel compounds. Most of the bow was about four- and six-wheeled compound bows. Never having shot one of those older bows I learned a lot in seeing how they were tuned. They were open-ended systems so you could feed cables through from one end and they would come out the other, giving you a huge number of tuning options. Two-wheel compound bows are a closed system in which one thing feeds into another and so provided many fewer tuning possibilities.

The two-wheelers were also less complicated mechanisms and thus less could go wrong.

Historical tidbits are dropped along the way. Did you know that the earliest compound bows used banjo and guitar tuning pegs for their cabling take-ups? There wasn’t anything being ready made at the beginning, so they used what they had.

Did you know that the early compound bows had no bow presses to help work on them. The bows were loosened until there was no tension on the cables or string and then dismantled, which meant that retuning was required for any such process.

Did you know that the first bow presses had a single point of pull, resulting in myriad broken handles (and the invention of the two point harness)?

Did you know that “creep tuning” was invented in the 1970’s?

Some of this knowledge is of just historical interest but much of it underlies the processes used on modern bows and why modern bows are designed the way they are.

Old archery books are available for a song and many of them have information that is pertinent today still. You may be surprised at how little archery form has changed, for example.

Happy reading!


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