Tag Archives: Equipment

Parallel Shafts and Barreled Shafts: Same Centershot or Different?

I was recently asked by a Recurve student about whether barreled shafts should be set up the same as parallel shafts with regard to centershot. He commented that some expert archers are saying barreled shafts should be lined up with the string (actually the string plane) but parallel shafts should be lined up with the point peeked out from behind the string (the “standard” recommendation for “fingers” shooters). So which way should barreled shafts be set up?

I answered “yes.”

Having the arrow point peeking out from behind the string is the traditional setup position. Let’s look at this. The reason that the arrow point is set up outboard from the string plane is because when a finger shooter releases the string, the string slides off of the fingers (actually the string pushes the fingers out of the way, but “action-reaction” applies: as the string pushes the fingers away, the fingers push the string away). Since the fingers curl in toward the archer’s head, the string slides toward the archer slightly as it slides toward the bow. The bow pulls the string back toward the string plane as it pulls the string back toward the bow and the string slides over to be inside the plane of the bow and then back outside. The nock separates from the string when the string is at a peak in this sideways oscillation (away from the bow, similar to where it started), at least if it is properly tuned it does. The force on the arrow from the string is directed mostly down the shaft and by having the arrow point slightly outboard of the theoretical string plane, then the point end and nock end of the arrow are aligned when the arrow separates from the string. This results in the force being more down the line of the shaft (in which direction the shaft is very strong) and not sideways (in which it is weaker). Force that goes into the arrow oscillation/flexing doesn’t move it toward the target. If you want to see this in action, there is a YouTube video in which a bloke shot a weak arrow with ever stronger bows and the amount of side-to-side bending gets extreme, almost bizarre, before on the final shot (weak arrow-strong bow) the arrow shatters from the side force. (Note: this is why a spine match is so important for “fingers” archers.)

The traditional arrow rest/centershot position for a “fingers” archer. The string has to be visually centered on the riser to get this view.

The argument goes that a barreled shaft is thinner toward the point and when it slides forward to the central thicker section, it moves the arrow point out to the left (for a RHed archer) anyway, so starting from that position gives you twice as much offset and a misaligned force going down the string.

So, is this right?
Yes, sort of … the arrow at brace is sitting fairly close to the thicker center section and so this position is built in, it doesn’t sit with the thinner part on the arrow rest in the position the centershot is set in. When the arrow is drawn, the thinner part slides in toward the bow.

Does it make any difference?
Probably not … for most archers … here’s why.

The position of the arrow rest, which determines the position of the arrow when it is sitting on the arrow rest (the so-called centershot position), is a setup position. When a bow is initially set up, you put things as close to where they will be when the bow is tuned as you can. Why start with wild setup positions which will make tuning that much harder? But since those final positions are determined a great deal by your technique, there is no way to specify exactly what they will be without you participating. So, the described positions are positions that seem to be closefor most archers.

The final position of the arrow rest … and the nocking point, and the brace height, and myriad other settings on a recurve bow should all be determined by tuning tests. If your arrow rest is set so the arrow point peeks out from behind the string (when viewed properly: from behind with the string and limbs free) and you think you might benefit from having the arrow lined up in the string plane because you shoot barreled shafts, then by all means test this out.

Be sure to document your bow before you make any changes. Then measure something that determines the quality of your shots (group size, practice round scores, etc.) and then change the centershot and test again. If these metrics improve, keep the change. If they do not or things get worse, set it back to the position you began with.

Realize that elite archers know their equipment better than most archers. They may have starting positions they use for their bows that are very, very close to what they will be when tuned in. Most archers need to learn more before they will know what to expect, so minute information gathered from the elites is probably of not much value.

Also realize that there are many, many variables involved in tuning a recurve bow to a high level: nocking point, string material, string diameter, serving diameter, nock size, the archer’s tab, the brace height, the limb alignment, the stabilizers, nock size, … <pant, pant, pant> … , the quality of the limbs/riser, the button position, the button pressure, … , as I said, myriad things affect the tune. Interestingly, a good basic set up of a recurve bow gets you 90-95% of the way to where you will be at the end. Tuning takes a great deal of time and a great deal of effort for that last 5-10% of performance. We are saved because of a basic rule which is: you can’t tune any better than you shoot, so for most archers, little tuning is needed. Since the elites shoot so well, they have to tune the heck out of their bows. They are, after all, looking for the last fraction of a percent of the performance they can get from their equipment and the law of diminishing returns applies.

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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.


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The Ins and Outs of Bow Presses

If you want to be a compound coach, do you need a bow press or at least need to know how to use one? I think the answers are “yes” and “yes.” Compound bows were invented before the bow press. In those early days (the 1970s and 80s), it was the practice that to work on a compound bow, you slacked the string and cables or even dismantled it by backing out the limb bolts. This was a clumsy process which could be dangerous and, for one, screwed up any chance of finding your previous bow setup and tune accurately.

For those of you not in the know, compound bows use mechanical advantage to bend very stiff limbs, very short distances. In those early days, again, there were even kits to convert recurve bows into compounds: they involved cutting off the recurve sections and bolting on wheel hangers, etc. These bows, even without their springy limb tips were invariably weaker than purpose made compound bows, which used much heavier limbs (over 100 pounds of deflection force at a minimum).

Technicians in shops and manufacturers responsible for assembly, repair, and adjustment of these bows quickly realized the need for a device such as a bow press and voila!

The photo shows a couple of common modern designs, the yellow one was designed for older bows, the other for more modern bows. The yellow one worked until the past decade or so. The bow was placed so that the limbs rested on the outer rubber rollers, which were adjustable to make a correct gap between them. Then a winch pulled the riser, which was hanging below, downward, causing the limb tips to bend closer to one another, slackening the string and cables (see photo at bottom). The original presses were more like the yellow one, but they involved a single center pull (at the pivot point of the bow). It only took a few dozen bent or cracked risers (they were wood or cast, not forged, aluminum then) to suggest the improvement of having a double pull (note the two central rubber wheels on the yellow press), this perfecting the design.

That design lasted until compound bow’s evolved toward what are called “parallel limb” designs. These bows have limbs that are parallel to one another or even past that point. The original design of bow press no longer worked because the limbs didn’t stick out far enough to get bent; the bow just pulled through the outside rollers!

The other bow press has “fingers” that approach the limb tips on both sides of the eccentric on both ends of the bow (see detail left). Then a screw drive (powered or manual) brings those two ends of the bow closer together, getting the job done. This new type of press will work on newer and older style bows as long as the bow is short enough to fit between the fingers! In the early days of compound bows, the bows weren’t short like they are now. Instead of 30˝-38˝ axle-to-axle bows as are currently in vogue, they had 48˝, even up to 54˝, axle-to-axle bows. Modern bow press manufacturers are unlikely to make their presses accommodating of these very long compounds as so few still exist.

This press was my first press. I still have it as I have quite a few older bows.

Danger! Danger, Will Robinson!
Using a bow press is inherently dangerous, so be sure to get a seasoned veteran of their use show you how to use one. The forces involved are great (hundreds of pounds of force) and, trust me, if you make a big mistake, changing your underwear will be the least of your worries.





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Apertures: Pin or No Pin?

I got a question from Carole, who asked: “What are your thoughts on using a sight with a pin in the center (recurve sight) compared to one without a pin, just a tunnel? I have read that the human brain is excellent at centering a circle and wondered if it would be more ‘natural’ to allow the brain to center the sight on the gold and therefore more relaxed on the eye?  I have used both and (think) I prefer without the pin, but am interested in your opinion.”

* * *

Okay, here’s my opinion. I think the jury is still out on this one, so I would call it a matter of personal preference at this point. By all means, do try both types, noting how each affects your sighting (mentally as well as physically).

The same question comes up on the compound side in the form of having a central pin (usually fiber optic) or just an applied ring on one’s scope lens. (There are commercial sets of decals for application to the scope surface with various thickness and colors of loops.)

The orange ring is to make the scope housing more visible (it is centered in the peep hole to collimate the aim). My preference is for a thicker loop a bit larger than the decal shown here and bright green in color (see text).

My thinking at this point (remember this is premature as we have almost no real information on this topic, just opinions) is it depends on the kind of person you are. Using me as an example: I am a bit easily distracted, a bit shaky, and a bit nervous. I find the loops preferable for the following reasons: a small pin looks more jittery than a larger loop, which leads me to press to try to be more steady, which makes my steadiness worse, not better. One must relax into a clam state of steadiness, not “try.”

I use a bright green, thick, fairly large loop decal on my compound scopes. Green is not a color that shows up on target faces much so a good deal of contrast is there. The thicker loop makes it easier to see, the larger loop avoids a problem with small loops, namely that as target sizes change with distance, if you have a small loop, you can be floating around in the middle not knowing where you are. Take a Metric of American 900 Round. At 30 yards/meters, a small loop may only show you gold on the 122 cm multi-color target. So, where in the gold are you? Do you look for the dividing line between the 10-and 9-rings? Do you move around, looking for the edge? Similarly, if the entire gold, or center spot whatever the color, barely fits inside the loop, there is a tendency to try to fit it exactly which leads to over focusing on aiming too precise to sustain.

A large loop allows several rings or a smaller central spot to float in the middle of the loop using the brain’s automatic centering function to your benefit. (This function is hardwired into our brains. It is used for distance estimation and other functions and it is normal for most all people.)

Here’s a scope with a fiber optic dot in the middle.

On the recurve size, I prefer a larger loop than the commercially available ones that seem a bit small to me. (They are easy enough to make and I also paint the front edge bright green.)

So, when you try these options, in the back of your mind (that’s a metaphor, not literal suggestion) keep track of whether your aperture helps you to feel calm. In my case, the thick green ring helps me locate the loop in my visual field easily, in all lighting conditions, shows little perceived motion when aiming which provides a perception of steadiness, which then leads to relaxing a somewhat jumpy archer. If you, on the other hand, are rock steady, mentally calm person, you may find a pin easiest to line up with your point of aim.

The famous Beiter Sight Tunnel offers a square housing (to supply visual cues as to whether the recurve bow is being held vertically, and a plethora of “pins” inside the housing … or you can just use no insert for a circular opening.

It doesn’t hurt to try a number of variations to see what works best for you. Pin, no pin. Small loop, big loop. Different colors of loops. This doesn’t all have to happen at once (unless you are hyper-competitive), but over time, these are things to “give a try” at.

PS This is also wrapped up in another discussion: should you be looking at the bow sights aperture or the target. Both will not be in focus at the same time. That question is for another time.


Filed under For All Coaches, Q & A

How Can You Tell What is Better? (Or What is Best?)

Note Sorry about this being so long. I didn’t feel I could make the point otherwise and I didn’t want to split it arbitrarily. Steve

As a coach I am a professional advice giver. My clients are trying to get “better” and their definitions of that term are various to the point of contradiction, but at least we have some very clear indicators of “better,” competition round scores being the most obvious.

I also found myself in a recent comment saying “I am never satisfied with the ‘I just like it better’ approach to equipment recommendations. I much prefer for there to be reasons as to why such changes might be advantageous.” In archery, though, there isn’t a lot of “there” there when it comes to foundational reasons for believing why something is better than something else.

Allow me to address two topics in this regard: equipment changes and then form/execution changes. The question is: how do I tell if A is better than B?

Making an Equipment Change: Is It Better?
I am going to take the easiest and most likely to be profound change to examine: a change in arrows. Our starting point is you have a perfectly set up bow and arrow system that you have tuned to a ne’er thee well. You shoot excellent scores with this rig, but there is no such thing as perfection, so you want to explore whether some element in your equipment could be made “better.” The argument is that “better” equipment, in the hands of a skilled archer, results in better scores. I do not think this principle needs to be proven. It is not only self-evident (Look at how much better these straight arrows group, compared to the bent arrows I was shooting!) but the history of archery equipment development offers countless examples. As just one, the inclusion of carbon fiber into arrow shaft designs have made for lighter, stiffer arrow shafts that have in turn resulted in higher scores. For another, modern string materials have improved arrow speeds and equipment consistency and have also improved scores.

But this does not justify a switch from what our archer is doing now to another arrow. Typically, for elite archers, these changes are stimulated by offers of support from a different arrow manufacturer, but can also be stimulated by the previous manufacturer going out of business. Whatever the cause, we need some way to tell if a new piece of kit is better than the old.

We do have testing metrics that stand in capably for round scores. One of these is group sizes. If our archer shoots round groups centered on the target face, we can use something as the metric score (scoring rings divided into tenths and scoring down to the tenth as an easy way to measure group sizes.

There are considerations we need to make in addition to simple testing. Very few archers are so consistent that their scores do not vary from day to day or even group to group on the same day, so what ever test we come up with are best done “side-by-side” in time and location. For our arrow test, we would have to keep everything a constant, especially the bow, and as much as we can the archer, so the new arrows would have to be fletched identically to the old and adjusted so they are tuned to the bow in its current configuration. Then, our archer can shoot an end with the A Arrows and an End with the B Arrows, measure both groups, then shoot the BS again and the As again, then measure the groups. After many groups being shot, with no advantage given to one arrow over the other (which is shot first or second, etc.) you may come up with a result.

What if after many rounds, the average of the A Arrows was an average metric score of 8.9 and the B Arrows was 9.0. Is one better than the other? It seems easy to declare the Bs the “winner” and be done, but really this is a “too close to call” result. If you were to repeat the whole process the next day, you might get A: 9.1, B: 9.0. Maybe a difference of 0.5 in metric score average would be definitive.

So, let’s say that the old arrows scored better in the test than the new? Does that tell you whether the old arrows were better? This is a conclusion that many make fairly easily but I would not. The reason is that archery equipment is fairly idiosyncratic: small changes in configuration can sometimes make large differences in performance. I remember when Rick McKinney was heavily into the development of his McKinney II arrow shafts. On a particularly hot summer day (in Central California where 100+ degree days were fairly common) Rick spend many hours shoot his arrows with different fletches, down to comparing whether the new arrows grouped better with 1.75˝ Spin-Wings or 1.5˝ Spin-Wings. Arrow manufacturers make recommendations regarding best point weight and fletching for various applications (Rick’s company, Carbon Tech, also makes hunting shafts) but arrows targeting the elite competition set, need to be very refined, hence all of the “testing” out in the brutal sun.

Still, little is proven in these test. For our archer, if the old arrows had an advantage of 0.5 in metric score average, I wouldn’t say they were “better” per se, but that the new one’s didn’t seem worth the time and effort to explore. A great deal of time and effort went into the old rig, and to redo that process, I would want a better indication that better scores were in the offing.

I do not want to sound pessimistic, just that one has to be wary of “promises for better performance.” If you look at professional archers who are supported by a bow manufacturer, especially on the compound side, they have to switch bows every year or two as their sponsor brings out new models, yet, their round scores stay roughly the same. Basically, the differences in equipment from year to year are very small, the adjustments the archers have to make to “operate” the equipment well are also small.

This is on the elite end of the scale, of course. Large improvements in score are available to less accomplish archers using equipment not as well-designed and built.

There is something to say for making changes. My best friend was a sponsored archer and he got new bows fairly frequently and he stated that this actually helped him. It got him excited about having a new piece of equipment. It was necessary for him to “go back to basics” to create a good setup and tune, and the setting up process got him shooting someone more than he might do otherwise. So, new equipment can keep an archer’s head in the game.

My point here is: determining whether such changes are “improvements” or just “changes” is not easy. Think about how you would similarly test a new long rod stabilizer or arrow rest in the same manner as the above and you will see what I mean.

Making a Form Change: Is It Better?
As a coach, people perceive me as an arbiter of “right” and “wrong” when it comes to form and execution. The impression I got from my coach trainings reinforced this. You can even see this in archery instruction books which include drawings or photos of archers in “right” positions and “wrong” positions.

One must be very careful giving advice because just because something is not being done in a textbook manner does not mean it is wrong. There are too many champions showing off their medals whose form and execution include well-known “flaws.”

Before Making Suggestions of Changes Before a suggestion for a change is made, my hope is that I can link what my client is doing is the cause of some problem. A classic example of this is I had an older Recurve student ask me for help with a problem that was so frustrating to him that he was considering quitting. He was getting “high flyers” on short targets that barely stayed on target.

It took some discussion and observation to discover the problem. This student had been a gymnast as a youth and was quite thick through the shoulders. Because he had learned from “the books” that his draw elbow need to continue to move around toward his back, he was focussed on doing just that. When I observed him shoot, it was clear though that before the release of the string, his draw elbow, which was arcing around normal, reached a point where it changed direction and moved straight down. When this happens, it changes the angle the string fingers make with the bowstring, increasing the force of the top finger and reducing that of the bottom finger, a recipe for, you guessed it, high flyers, at a minimum vertically stretched out groups.

We can all swing our arms back around toward our backs, but that motion is restricted by the muscles creating it. The muscles in this situation are the famous ones, responsible for “back tension.” Those muscles bring the elbow around by contraction, but there is a limit to that contraction and then the movement stops. This archer’s muscles were large enough that his “stop” was just short of being in a state of good alignment. When the motion “around” was stopped by those muscles, the archer’s desire for continued motion resulted in more motion, just in another direction.

Unfortunately, all issues are not as clear cut.

What to Do? What to Do? Once a problem is diagnosed, then there is the problem of what to do about it. Too often, recommendations come in the form “try to conform to the normal way of doing things.” This the “you were doing things wrong, try to do them right” prescription. In the example given just above, the problem was created by . . . (wait for it) . . . trying to do it the right way in the first place. I have had more than a few students tie themselves into knots “trying to do it the right way.”

We settled on an approach in which he shot with his draw elbow just short of line. Some very, very successful archers shot this way. And, sure being “in line” is superior but if the archer can’t get their, what is “next best” is the real question.

The first major coach I ever heard address this situation directly was Coach Kim of Korea. He talked about how “standard form” was the place we started everyone, but then every archer departed from that to create their own personal form. He summarized this with one of the most profound teachings I ever received from a coach, Coach Kim said “Everybody same, everybody different.” We are enough the same to all start with the same suggestions for beginner’s form and execution, but because we are all unique, the form we end up with will be similar, but will depart from the starting point.

It is a coach’s job to help with that transformation.

How to Find Out if A Change is “Better”
Form and execution changes have a different set of metrics, ones more difficult to work with than those of equipment changes.

Consider an archer who switches from his former form to that of Coach Whizbang. After a year of training he says “I feel I am a much better archer now than before.” But, is he? How can we tell? Is he just flattering his current coach? Is he slamming his former coach, who he fell out with? Did he make any equipment changes in the past year that could account for more success?

Lets say that this archer had a 4% increase in a particular round score. Is this an indication that Coach Whizbang’s teachings are “better” than the former coaches? To answer this question, I would want to know a great deal more. First, did this archer’s scores improve last year with his former coach? If we find out that his scores did improve last year, on that same round, by 5%, would that effect your conclusion? One of the limiting considerations of such changes, which all take considerable time to implement, is time. (This is the old “you can’t step into the same river twice” trope.) A true comparison would be with what the archer would have achieved had he not made the change and that person is no longer available to do any testing.

Feelings Having qualified my answer ahead of time, I do want to say that the archer’s feelings are not to be disregarded as being somehow not measurable. One of my students had the opportunity to visit another coach recently and he came home with different form. Whether this will translate into what his goals are (better scores) remains to be seen, but I am very positive and have told him so as he says his shot now feels more stable. From my viewpoint his shot now is more dynamic and fluid (he had a tendency to try to control his shot minutely and that is now less evident). His feeling of the stability of his shot alone is encouraging and worth my recommendation that he continue to pursue these changes. (How dare another coach take one of my students and make him better! Hey, it takes a village.)

Conclusion: Is There a Best?
Is there a best? A best piece of equipment? A best archery form? Of anything?


The whole idea is not only wrong, it is hurting people who listen to discussions of such things. When people have protracted discussions of who was the greatest of all time (LeBron, Michael, Wilt?) only time is wasted on a silly question. But when archers are looking to implement form and equipment changes, the results can be negative to the point of people quitting the sport. Things are worth exploring . . . or they are not. If they are worth exploring, serious archers will expend considerable time and effort exploring their choices.


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Release Triggers: Size Does Matter

My Carter Target 3 with three thumb trigger options I have used.

This posts concerns the photo attached (right). The release aid is my #1 release (has been for a very long time). When I bought that release the spot that my thumb rested on was a simple post (in photo just below small barrel). Then at a Las Vegas Trade Show I bought a number of Tom Thumb adjustable “barrels” to adapt the trigger to a somewhat larger size. This was just before Carter came out with their own version, the “Adjusto Trigger,” so I felt I was very much in the avant garde.

Recently one of my students made me a trigger barrel much larger than the Tom Thumb version. It is 1.0˝ wide (25 mm), as compared to the Tom Thumb version (the purple one in the photo) which was 5/8˝ wide (0.625˝ or 16 mm). I noticed immediately the different feel associated with this new, larger thumb barrel which got me to thinking.

Perfect positioning of the trigger on a thumb release aid: nowhere near the sensitive pad.

When encouraging a “surprise release” approach to release technique, the standard instructions are to tuck the trigger back away from the tip of the finger/thumb. The argument is that the very sensitive finger tips can feel the position of the trigger as it moves and thus lead to anticipation in the form of flinches, freezing, etc.

My thinking is that the nerves associated with those finger- and thumb-tips are pressure nerves. (The pain and temperature change nerves don’t get engaged.) The force required to trip the release aid is built in with springs and whatnot. But spreading that force out from a narrow pin, to a small barrel, to a much larger barrel, I have created small and smaller amounts of pressure on the trigger. This diminishes the feel of the trigger on the skin, which should be a good thing.

So, if you coach release shooters, or are one, and you haven’t tried a larger barrel or a “shoe” trigger, give it a try. You may like the results.

Note I am never satisfied with the “Gee, I like it better” approach to equipment recommendations. I much prefer for there to be reasons as to why such changes might be advantageous. Still, you do have to try things out to see if they work for you.

Thumb barrel, thumb shoe, whatever. The aspect that is important is the amount of contact area between archer and trigger.


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Why Did I Make That Change?

Every archer I know says the same thing. Basically they say “my <widget> was working perfectly, I don’t know why I changed to something else?” This thought was prompted by an author who was working on an article about compound bow launcher arrow rests. He said: “Goodness, there a lot of options on launcher style arrow rests! I was digging in my junk drawers and kept finding other types and styles. They all worked but with a few exceptions, I don’t recall why I stopped using them.”

We then told several stories back and forth, because that’s what archer’s do. But, of course, I couldn’t leave it there. I have to add …

* * *

We all succumb to the “new, improved” sales pitch which appeals to the magical thinking of archers. (Better scores are available here, just step through this door!) This reminds me of the story of P.T. Barnum solving the problem he had of getting people out of his exhibits so he could fit more paying customers in. He put up a sign that said “This Way to the Egress” over the exit. People flooded through, ending up outside.

We keep going through the door labeled “This Way to Higher Scores” based upon buying something. This is a form of magical thinking as we cannot supply any reasonable reason for why a new stabilizer or arrow rest will actually improve our scores, but it is only $59.99 and it sure looks cool!

I was just watching a video of Darrell Pace and Rick McKinney shooting in the 1984 Olympics. They had wood-fiberglass limbs, aluminum arrows, Dacron bow strings, flat V-bars with steel rod sidebars with simple weights on their ends. No Doinkers or other vibration dampeners in sight. Almost 35 years later, how many Americans do you think are shooting as well as those two guys? (Pace averaged 1308 in two FITA Rounds in quite breezy conditions.) Maybe a handful at best. Gee, I wonder how they did it? It was probably that they had the best archery equipment! (Not!)

The still brilliant Rick McKinney is one of the few elite archers who has written a serious archery book.

Currently my thinking on any equipment change is: “any reasonable piece of kit is fine, but learn how to get the most out of it.” And, “if you feel a change is going to be profitable, prove it.” I have made a number of equipment changes in my life that really produced better results. One was changing from a 20+ year old bow to a six-year old one. Another was a change of stabilizers (to one that was much better in the wind). Other than that, there was little difference in my scores based upon equipment changes. In one case, I bought my first brand new bow and my scores dropped. (A year later a professional archer told me that none of the pros had ever got that model to shoot well. That bow model lasted just one year, possibly because of the feedback from sponsored archers.)

I am not saying, don’t bother changing your equipment. I am saying research it well. When you make the change, find the best setup for that thing and then prove to yourself that something is indeed better. (I recommend practice score benchmarks.) If your performance is the same or worse, you wasted some money. If it is the same, you can go ahead and keep the change as no harm was done. If it is worse, change back immediately to your old setup and give that piece of new junk you bought to a rival.



Filed under For All Coaches, Q & A

This Happens Far Too Often

This arrow shelf is “crowned” which means arrows can be “shot off of the shelf.” Note the material added to protect the bow (Velcro works great at this).

We had a light practice at the college yesterday (most were away at a competition) and one of the team members asked for help with his bow. I asked him what he was working on and he said his arrow rest. This young man is a Traditional Recurve archer and his rest was a metal wire stick-on rest, designed to be used with a plunger. In fact, shooting without a plunger was damaging his arrows because they were rubbing up against the rest’s bracketry. I suggested he use one of the club’s “loaner” plunger buttons and he set about installing it. I showed him how to adjust it and left him to it. (We learn manual things better by doing than by watching somebody else do it for them.)

When he finished he wanted me to check his installation. The button wasn’t out far enough, it barely protruded from the arrow rest, so I did a quick peek at his centershot and it was way outboard from anywhere good. What the heck? I looked more carefully at the bow (being more focussed before on the student) and noted that the arrow shelf was “crowned,” a design that facilitated shooting arrows off of the shelf. I dropped the arrow onto the shelf and … almost perfect centershot. Even with really skinny arrows, there was no way to shoot off of an elevated arrow rest. The only way I could see that the brass threaded insert could be used would be to bolt on a wrap around arrow rest, that would have to hang back over the edge of the shelf because the bow wasn’t cut with enough of a sight window to place any rest inside the sight window.

Who would make such a bow, I wondered? (I am not telling, and this is not the only one I have seen doing this, just let it be known that the buyer must beware when purchasing archery equipment.)

We did a few other things to allow him to “shoot off of the shelf” which I won’t recount but I happened to take a peek at his arrows. They were 350 spine. At his draw length, he would have needed a 65+# bow to make those arrows work. His bow is 42#. Thankfully, the arrows weren’t cut to his actual draw length and were a couple of inches longer, but they needed to be a couple of inches longer than they were to work in that bow.

Who would sell someone arrows so out of spine like that?

This shelf is flat and is not designed to be shot “off of the shelf.”

This is a sad tale. In many parts of the country, the number of archery pro shops has dwindled dramatically. I live in Chicago, and if you struck a 50 mile radius circle around where I live, you would have close to 10 million people inside that circle. To the best of my knowledge, there is one full-service archery pro shop in that circle. There are, however, a number of big box sporting goods stores that sell archery gear. Some of the members of one of the archery clubs I belong to work in such stores, so I know there is quality help available but time and again, bizarre sales are made from such stores.

A most common pattern is a newbie target archer goes to such a store and there is someone behind the counter to serve them. They tell the clerk they have a 30# bow and they need arrows. The clerk selects an all-carbon shafted arrow that they are having a special on (!) that is labeled 30#-50#, then measures the archer’s draw length (usually haphazardly) and cuts the arrows to the student’s draw length. This sounds right, no? It is dead wrong.

Many all-carbon arrow manufacturers got into the arrow game by selling a small line of good arrows cheaply enough to get sales. By designing the arrows correctly, they can cover the range of draw lengths that hunters need in maybe three shafts: 30#-50#, 50#-70#, and 70#-90#. With these kinds of shafts, though, you do not cut them to an archer’s draw length, you cut them to the correct spine. If those 30#-50# arrows are to be used on a 30# bow (with a 28˝ draw length), they have to be shot uncut.

Now, my student’s arrows were of a 350 spine, not one of these schemes. The spine chart for these arrows would have him shooting at 65+# at his draw length. There is no way to fit such an arrow to this archer. Either a mistake was made or a retailer was “clearing inventory” by any means at his disposal.

This AAE Super Flyte rest wraps around the riser to bolt on from the outside but needs considerable room inside the sight window to do its job.

Beginners, intermediate archers, and even some advanced archers do not understand spine charts and all of the criteria needed to fit arrows. They need professional help. I wish there were online programs on how to do this that were easily accessed and easily understood, but there are not. Please do not tell me about YouTube videos, the problem is there are so many videos posted on YouTube that it makes finding the right one quite problematic. I have suggested that major retailers and/or manufacturers set up a YouTube channel to address the equipment needs of these archers but that has not been done. We are currently developing several Internet training programs designed for coaches and archers but those are not yet done. (Maybe by summer.)

The implication for archery coaches is clear, if you want to be helpful, you need to inform yourself on these technical issues so you can be a source of clarity in the sea of confusion that now exists.

BTW I wrote a complete description of how to fit arrows and placed it into the team’s Dropbox folder labeled Instructor Materials. Now if I could just get them to read it!



Filed under For All Coaches

Personalizing Recurve Limbs

Recurve limbs tend to confuse beginners, intermediate archers, some accomplished archers, and even some coaches!

Sources of the Confusion
This will be about three-piece takedown recurve bows as they are the most common choice of target archers. The riser has a top limb and a bottom limb attached. These limbs come in three lengths (short, medium, long) which combined with various length risers, you can make the following bows:

Riser ► 23˝ 25˝ 27˝
w/short limbs 64˝ 66˝ 68˝
w/medium limbs 66˝ 68˝ 70˝
w/long limbs 68˝ 70˝ 72˝

Confused yet? (There are risers of other lengths!) Did you note you can make a 68˝ bow three different ways? (Generally, the shorter the limbs, the faster the bow, all other things being equal.)

The limbs then come in typically two pound (2#) increments over a fairly wide range of draw weights: e.g. 14#–48#. So, if you get “long limbs” and put them on a 25˝ riser, to make a 70˝ bow, and those limbs are listed at 32#, will you have a 32# bow?


Recurve limbs have their draw forces measured at 28˝ of draw. (Unless the bow is a youth bow for which it is common to measure the DW at 24˝ or a traditional bow, which are often measured at 26˝). Confused yet? But how many archers have a draw length of exactly 28˝? My guess is not too many. My guess is that most archers will have either longer or shorter draws. If their draw length is longer than 28˝, the draw force “in hand” will be higher than the weight listed on the limbs. If their draw length is less than 28˝, the draw force “in hand” will be lower than the weight listed on the limbs.

Well, if their draw length is exactly 28˝ will that be a 32# bow? Uh, maybe. Making limbs is not a perfect science. If a manufacturer makes a limb that is 31.5# do they discard it? No, they do not. It is “close enough” to 32# to warrant a 32# sticker and it goes in the pile with the rest. Now, don’t go all ballistic on the manufacturers about their sloppy manufacturing tolerances. These are quite reasonable numbers. If they do go “out of tolerance,” the limb is scrapped. And, if we insisted on perfect limb poundages, the price of limbs would skyrocket as so many would have to be rejected as not being “perfect.” (Since they can’t be recycled, so “Make another one, Bill, that one didn’t pass muster.” And if you have to make three to get one perfect one, do not expect them to be cheaper.)

FYI The manufacturers do not measure draw force like you do, they have a machine that clamps the butt of the limbs, fixing those in space. Then they place a force, in the old days this was a weight, on the limb tip and measure how much it bends. These “limb tip deflections” correspond to draw weights of assembled bows (the lower the LTD, the higher the DW).

What You Can Do to Lessen the Confusion?
As a coach, you can help get archers into a proper-sized bow. Youths need to avoid bows with too much mass as their bow shoulders aren’t very strong yet. Shorter archers need shorter bows, etc. Once an archer is fitted with one size of bow then you need to be able to address changes.

If they grow much taller, they may be ready to move up from, say, a 23˝ riser to a 25˝ riser. (Shorter risers have smaller sight windows and if the bow has a low draw weight, too, there may not be enough room in the sight window for all of the aperture positions needed. Longer risers are better for many reasons, but they are also longer and heavier than shorter ones.)

An Aside Bowhunters often use risers that are 20˝ or even 19˝ long. They can get away with such short bows, because their bows have to have a minimum draw weight of 40# (typically) and the shots they are taking are from fairly short range (20-30 yards).

Confused yet?

Changing riser lengths is a rare event (buying a new riser of the same length doesn’t pose fitting problems). Changing limbs is much more frequent. Enter the adjustable limb pocket! The first mass produced adjustable limb pocket was introduced by Hoyt archery, and which was so popular, the design was stolen worldwide; we now call it the International Limb Fitting, or ILF. This design was for a limb that pressed into the pocket, with a click stop, and a pocket that allowed the angle the limb made with the bow to be varied a little. Prior to the invention, you screwed the limb bolts in and out to attach and detach the limbs and if you wanted to make a limb angle change, you had to make (saw, carve, whatever) small wedges to slip between the limb and the riser and then screw down the limb bolts trapping them in between. This was more than a little bit of a hit or miss procedure.

An ILF Limb Pocket on a modern recurve riser.

With the new ILF design, the limb bolts were locked in place with a lock screw and the limb had a notch in it so it rode up to the bottom of the limb bolt (the butt having a “rocker” designed into it).

Note the rocker built into the limb butt. This allows an ILF limb to rock toward and away from the archer, restricted only by the position of the limb bolt.

When the limb bolt is “backed out,” the limb angles back toward the archer. This increase the brace height a little and lessens how much the limb gets bent at the archer’s full draw. Both of these lessen the amount of energy transferred to the arrows. But you can only do this so much before it becomes dangerous, so typically the draw force can be only reduced about 10% from the printed maximum on the bow. This amount of limb lean is so small that it is hard to see whether a bow’s limbs are “cranked down” or “cranked out” visually while they are being shot.

So, here is our quandary: recurve limbs (once a length is settled on) have their draw weights rated at 28˝ of draw (which your archer doesn’t have), may be slightly less or more due to manufacturer’s tolerances, and can be anywhere from the highest value of draw weight for those limbs to about 10% less than that depending on the limb pocket settings.

Got that?

If your head is spinning, you are not alone.

Try This Here’s a system that can simplify the situation for you and your archer. To use it you need a reliable draw weight scale (all measures must be made on the same scale). Here’s how to do it:
1. With your archer’s current bow, crank the limb bolts all the way down counting how many turns are being made in the wrench. The reference point for “turns” is the limb bolts all of the way down, so when we get there that will become the new reference point. If it takes three (3) full turns to get them all of the way in, then the limbs were “at” three full turns out from bottom.
2. Measure the draw weight of the bow at your archer’s draw weight. If they use a clicker, put one of their arrows on the bow and pull until the clicker falls off. Easy peasy. Write this number on the limbs with a Sharpie/permanent marker.
3. take 10% off of that full draw weight measure and write that number down next to the first one. That is the draw weight range for your archer’s limbs at that draw length. (Set your archer’s bow back to its original state when done.)

Moving On Up
If they want to increase their draw weight once they are “bottomed out” on their current limbs, they need to buy limbs of the same length, four pounds (4#) heavier. The previous limbs were bottomed out, the new limbs will be backed out, typically maximally. So, if moving from 30# limbs, you move up to 34# limbs and back them off fully (10% of 34 is 3.4 pounds) which gives your archer a net 0.6 pound draw weight increase, which is easily doable and he/she can crank it up from there.

No matter what their “personal draw weight” is, use the ratings on the limbs to make purchases. So, if the limbs were marked 28#, you move up to limbs marked 32#. Whatever their personal draw weight max is, it also will be increased 4# (approximately).

Their personal draw weight, the “weight in hand” is what you need for fitting arrows, etc. The marked draw weight is only used to identify limbs for purchase.

But, Wait, There is More!
Here are two sets of limbs and their maxes (in hand) for that archer:
26# limbs        29.5# max
28# limbs        31.5# max
He also has a pair of 30# limbs, can you estimate what they would measure maxxed out for this archer?
I came up with 33.5#. In each case the difference was about 3.5# and since all of these numbers are fairly close together, that pattern should continue. When the limbs get up over 40# I expect slight differences.

Now, just for fun, take off 10% from each of those max DWs to give a range for each set of limbs.
I get:

26# limbs 29.5# max 26.6# min
28# limbs 31.5# max 28.4# min
30# limbs 33.5# max 30.4# min

Can you see that the 26# and 30# limbs cover the same range (26.6#–33.5#) as these three do? There is a small gap from 29.5# to 30.4# when the swap from the 26# limbs to the 30# limbs is made but that is a reasonable “jump.” This is why it is recommended that you buy limbs in 4# increments (another blessing from the ILF system).

Note Realize that often more that 10% can be removed from a set of limbs so that gap is often much smaller.

Safety Note Never exceed the number of turns allowed in the manufacturer’s instructions!

If you try this system, let me know how it works for you or your students.

Leave a comment

Filed under For All Coaches

Breaking News! Archery is Counterintuitive!

I got the following email from my best student this morning:
“Okay coach, explain this one to me. Increasing my bow weight seems to make my arrows shoot more to the left. Compounding my confusion is that tonight I got the groups to move back to the right by tightening my plunger. Count me confused and dazed!

If this has never happened to you, you haven’t been in archery very long. The student in question shoots Olympic Recurve, so you have that as background. Here is what I answered, expanded for this post).

* * *

A bow is a closed system, when you change one part, many others are affected. (Memorize this!)

You got two counterintuitive responses to things you did. The problem is that ceteras parabus was nowhere to be seen. (Ceteras parabus is the principle that “everything else was the same.”) When you make a single change to a bow, you make other changes, too … always! There is no such thing as “everything else was the same” when working with bows.

For example, you increased your draw weight. I do not know how much but it was not a fraction of a pound is my guess. When you screw in the limb bolts, you change the angle of the limbs to the bow (making the limbs more upright as it were). This results in a lower brace height. (Plus more tension on the string at brace, plus …) The brace height is one of the determinants of the point in space at which your arrow’s nocks separate from your string at the end of the power stroke. Since the string’s path toward the riser is a flattish “S curve,” the change in the point of separation of the string and nock is complex. If the nock comes off more to the right from where it did previously, the arrow ends up pointed more to the left (the point has enough inertia that it doesn’t move as much as the nock end). If the nock comes off more to the left, the arrow will be pointed more to the right. (Think about it.) I have also to point out that when the arrow separates from the string it is no longer touching the arrow rest.

“Coaches need to expect counterintuitive responses to equipment changes.”

When you change the bow’s draw weight, you are also changing the efficiency of the bow due to a spine match or mismatch. I think I told you about the compound archer who lowered his draw weight (just a half turn on each limb) only to have his arrows hit higher on the target. What happened when he lowered the draw weight,  he created a better spine match (arrow to bow), which created a more efficient transfer of energy from bow to arrow which made up for the energy loss from the change in draw weight and more. These are the kinds of counterintuitive things that can happen.

If we had created a perfect spine match for your bow before (unlikely, such things take a great deal of time and effort), we no longer have that spine match. When you finish your draw weight changes, a complete re-tune is necessary because so many things have changed.

If you think the string goes straight toward the riser, think again. (Yeah, this is a stringwalking Barebow archer, but I get to exaggerate for emphasis, don’t I?)

A general consequence of this situation (reality actually) is coaches need to expect counterintuitive responses to equipment changes. This is because of the reasons stated and because what you were taught were often oversimplified rules of thumb. For example, “weak arrows fly to the right, stiff arrows fly to the left.” and “If you lower the nocking point, you will raise the hit point of the arrow on the target.” (All of these are for right-handed archers.)

These equipment aphorisms were intended to get you down the road until you could think through such problems without needing them. From a perfectly tuned bow, if the nocking point is lowered a slight amount, the arrow will hit on the target lower than it did previously. But if you lower the nocking point enough, the rear of the arrow will start hitting the rest or arrow shelf and where those arrows land is anybodies guess.

All of those pithy little rules need to be taken with a grain of salt. And, they need to be thought through as they are all true … up to a point. By thinking them through they provide an entry to better understanding of archery equipment. If you do not, they become unreliable crutches. (I am speaking from experience here. If I had a nickel for every mistake I made, I could have retired earlier.)


Filed under For All Coaches, Q & A