Tag Archives: Recurve Bows

Archers Need More Help with Stabilizers?

We have addressed the topic of stabilizers, primarily how they work, and how to get started using one. It seems that it is time to expand on that beginning. Here I am going to focus in on how you, as a coach, can help archers wend their way through a forest of stabilizers.

More Stabilizers, More, Please
It seems to me that many novice archers, young and old, rush to make their equipment look like the “good archers’” stuff. This is especially true of young archers whose moms and dads are archers. The problem with doing this is that such additional accessories may not help and might just hurt their progress in archery. Each new accessory changes how their bow feels and needs to be adjusted and tested. If your student does not shoot quite well yet, they may not be able to notice that there is no improvement in their archery from the addition of the XYZ Gizmo. And if they are adding mass to an already “too heavy” bow, they will be hurting their progress.

These accessories only make small differences in their results and if they really want positive attention for their skill as an archer, practicing and refining their form will probably pay off more than fiddling with their equipment.

That being said, you will probably not make many friends if you pooh-pooh each student-archer’s desire to add something to their kit. So let’s look at how you can help.

Getting Fitted
One of the areas archers need the most help is with their archery purchases. The archery marketplace is bewildering to even many seasoned archers, so it is especially so for novices and beginner-to-intermediate archers. If you prove valuable helping with these purchases, your opinion on subsequent ones will become more and more impactful. Besides, trying to help an archer is always one of the better things we do.

Fitting Long Rods Short stabilizers are limited in length by rule, but long rods are not, so let’s look at long rod fitting. An easy way to measure a student up for a long rod is to have them hold their bow at their side, string up. Have them allow it to hang as far as it will, but their hand should be in the bow as it is when shooting. Then measure from the stabilizer boss to the floor/ground. Add an inch to this length—this is a good first estimate as to what length of long rod to start on. If your archer is still growing, add another inch. If the long rod you are shopping for doesn’t come in that length, err on the long side, but not 5˝-6˝ long as that will be unwieldy.

As to how much the rod weighs: lighter is better (stiffer is better, too). The rule of thumb is a lighter weight farther out has a greater stabilizing effect than more weight closer in. There are now some carbon fiber long rods that are not too expensive that are lightweight and quite stiff, too. If on a tight budget, an archer can look for a used rod or a less expensive aluminum one. Some very gaudy scores were shot using aluminum stabilizers. Don’t fall for the “carbon is like bacon: it makes everything better” rule.

With regard to long rod “end weights” we recommend they start with none, maybe just a plastic cap to protect the threads on the end of the rod. If the rod comes with end weights, they can be just taken off (and put in a Baggie labeled and dated!) and added later when your archer is feeling experimental or just stronger.

Fitting Side Rods Side bars and V-bars themselves come in a number of variations. V-bar blocks (the block the side rods screw into) can be “fixed” or “adjustable” as to the angle. For compound archers, “one side only blocks” are available, but you can just use an ordinary dual rod block also, even though only one rod is the norm. The V-bars themselves come in various lengths, sort of small, medium, and large. If your student is fairly short in height, they should get the short side rods. If they are fairly tall in height, recommend they get the long side rods. If in the middle, have them get the mediums. If an adjustable block is used, the angle the rod makes with the bow tunes the effective length of the rod.

To fit them, they need to be attached to the bow and your archer needs to shoot some to adjust to the new feel. After this “break in” period, you need to ask them how the bow feels. If they pay attention, they will notice whether the bow tends to react left, right, up, or down. If they do not notice, have them shoot some arrows blind bale, specifically asking them to pay attention to how stable the bow feels at full draw and which way the bow tends to move when the shot is loosed.

Angling the side bar or bars downward moves the weight distribution from back to front (and the reverse does the opposite). So, if they feel like the bow is “rolling back” in their hand too much (or less forward, these things are relative) then the bow is back heavy and weight needs to me moved forward. Angling the side rods(s) down will fine tune this. Adding weight to the tip of the long rod would be the most affective way to move weight forward (and so removing it is the most effective way to move weight back). What you want to be leery of is adding a bit of weight on the end of this side rod, then a bit more on the end of the long rod, then a little weight on the other rod, . . . ; this can lead you to a bow that is much heavier than before, something that might not be desirable (this is a warning for youths and smaller adults who have less shoulder muscle development).

To get a feel for how the bow is balanced, try hanging it from a hook or loop of cord so it can hang freely. You will eventually develop an “eye” for how a bow that is balanced well hangs. One with too much weight forward will hang with the long rod at an angle that looks “too steep.” One that has too much weight to the rear will hang with the long rod to flat to the floor/ground. From behind the bow, the bow should hang straight up and down, if it doesn’t then weighting of the side rods needs to be adjusted. (This is the only reason for a single side rod on a compound bow—to balance the weights of the “compound weight” bow sight and arrow rest on the other side of the bow.)

Testing, Testing, Testing
We have recommended over and over that when anything new is added to a bow (or the accessories jacked up and a new bow put inside of them), the new rig needs to be tested against the old. Notes need to be taken regarding the arrangement of the “old rig” and some measures of how it performs need to be had (group sizes and round scores seem to work best). Then the “new rig” needs to be set up, adjusted, and tuned and tested in the same way. This is what serious competitive archers do.

Having said this, don’t beat this approach like a borrowed mule. A little bit goes a long way, here. Your first goal is to establish that “this is the way things are done.” You are not trying to establish that this is the best equipment setup in all of the world for your archer. U.S. archer Jake Kaminski has set up a YouTube channel and has made some very useful videos in which he walks through setting up new equipment and testing it. He is an elite archer and has worked out how best to do those tasks for him. You will also see the amount of equipment he acquires and tests, looking for small improvements in his performance. The amount of effort is amazing. Do not try to emulate this as your students are nowhere near ready yet.SAve the elite archer routines for the elite archers.

Bare shaft tuning works well (Jake uses it). Simple testing routines that can be done in a single practice session (or between lessons) should be the goal.

 

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To Pre-Draw or Not to Pre-Draw, That Is the Question

I sent a video link showing Darrel Pace and Rick McKinney shooting at the 1984 Olympics (Los Angeles) to a Recurve student of mine who is working on speeding up his draw. He is quite an astute student who wrote back immediately with these questions:

Hi Steve,
Thanks. I note that Pace is only a few inches from his face at a pre-draw, at 5:35 in the video. Also he goes from this position to a couple of inches under chin/jaw before back up to anchor. Lots of movements going on. What’s the benefit to drawing below the chin/jaw and then up into the anchor? I’m aware I draw pretty much straight to my face. I remember the summer evening archery lessons where I was taught to do this. Along with T shape, square stance, tuck my chin down (something we had to undo).
Cheers

And here is my response (somewhat augmented as I had a chance to think more deeply).

* * *

In American-style Archery (my term), you pretty much draw to anchor (with stops along the way). In is Kisik Lee’s teaching that you draw to 1+˝ below the chin and come up. I believe he claims it helps to set the rear shoulder/facilitate “loading” … I am unclear on this. (Have you read the USAA book “Archery?” This is the cheapest book covering Coach Lee’s teachings, also called the NTS or National Training System. I wish they had called it the National Teaching System because I don’t see training mentioned much.)

In Coach Lee’s description, you draw exactly that low until the string touches the corner of your chin, then you come up. This practice does give you a draw length indicator (if your head position doesn’t move, if …).

I found the whole “pre-draw” idea puzzling because everybody did it a different way. (I have written about this: “The Pre-Draw Redux” in AF 10-1) The first formal Instructor’s Manual of the NAA (now USAA) does not mention a pre-draw. I think it is a rather recent invention. Since starting and stopping muscle contractions results in more variation in muscle tension and therefore feel, I suggest we do away with it all together. (As an analysis tool, I always suggest you think about what if you carried it to an extreme: what if you stopped 5X or 10X on the way to anchor? If 1X is good, … ?) That stop may be being used to do something else, as I indicated, but does doing that require a stop? I don’t know.

In KSL’s technique, the “Set Up” element eliminates the pre-draw by skipping over it … or you could say he institutes it as being required as the final body position of the Set Up phase. I would like to find out what was happening elsewhere physically and mentally during a pre-draw as you have noted. It might have just been copied from the way others shot and then used as a point or marker in time/space in which other things are done, such as positioning the sight aperture, checking string alignment, etc.

Please realize that McKinney had his dad as a coach and Darrel basically didn’t have one (he did grill everyone he ran into, though). Modern coaching of archery hadn’t been invented yet. (I am not sure it has even now.)

PS Tucking your chin down is something you do (mildly) to use a high anchor. You do the opposite for a low anchor. So, if you were being taught to shoot with a high anchor, they were right. This is an ongoing problem with archery instruction. What is said specifically is generalized. Coaches need to do a better job of pointing these things out.

A Bald Face Plug
In this post I referred to an article in a back issue of Archery Focus magazine. If you are not subscribing, you are really missing out as you get complete access to all of the back issues when you subscribe. That’s thousands of articles written to make you a better archer and coach. You can get it here: www.archeryfocus.com. Here’s the cover of the latest issue:

 

 

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What Should an Archer be Thinking While Shooting?

What should an archer think while shooting? This is a question often asked even though it isn’t asked often enough. There is, no surprise, not a whole lot of data to examine, but I did run across a 2013 survey of 28 PGA Tour professional golfers who were asked about what their favorite “swing thought” was (“swing thoughts” being the golf equivalent of archery “shot thoughts”). Here’re the results: 18 pro’s said they didn’t think about anything at all during their swing, 10 who did claim to have a swing thought said it was to focus on a spot a few inches in front of the ball, to encourage swinging through the ball, instead of hitting at the ball, or they focused on the desired shape of their shot. None of them said they had any technical thoughts about their swing. (Read that last sentence again. SR)

Now golf is more dynamic than archery, but it has many similarities to archery. This is one of those.

  • Golfers do their analysis and thinking between shots, so should archers.
  • Golfers inspect the lie of their golf ball, obstacles in their way, potential hazards, the landing zone they want to hit and how far away it is, the wind, club selection, and on and on, but when it is time to hit the ball, they do two things: they visualize the shot they want to hit (this is a form of instruction to the subconscious processes that control our muscles; it equates to “this is what I want you to do”), and they stop thinking consciously (it is just a distraction). Archers should do the same.

There is one exception: when you find yourself or your archer making a mistake repeatedly, it is okay to have a “shot thought,” a short phrase designed to emphasize a correction, shoring up a weak point as it were. An example is “strong bow arm” or “finish the shot.” This phrase is though only at the point in one’s shot sequence where it is appropriate. Mumbling “finish the shot” to yourself mentally in the process of raising the bow and drawing it is not recommended, only after aiming when one is finishing one’s shot should the phrase be invoked. And, this is a short term process, which should last a few shots and then stop. I have known people who use a shot thought through a whole round. (I tried this myself; I don’t recommend it as it seems to focus too much attention on one part of the shot routine, thus drawing attention away from other parts. It, it seems, becomes some sort of magic talisman; use it and you will score well. It isn’t. Don’t be fooled into this kind of magical thinking.)

So, the answer to “What should an archer be thinking while shooting?” is “Nothing is best.”

Note I consider a shot to begin when the bow is raised and end at the end of the followthrough. This defines “while shooting.” What happens between one shot and the next is the post-shot routine (scoping the arrow, analyzing any fault, etc.) and the pre-shot routine for the next shot (checking the wind, slope, any adjustment suggested by analysis of the previous shot, etc.).

Another Note Shot visualization is not magic. You cannot use a visualization process to any great effect if you haven’t practiced the process you are attempting. The mental instruction that a visualization is cannot train the muscles to do what they are untrained to do.

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Barebow Arrow Considerations, Part 2

Tuning for a Single Distance

Target archery is becoming less interesting. In field archery, one has to contend with many different shooting distances, different footings, different directions (into the sun, away from the sun, into and out of shade, etc.) and different shooting angles (uphill, downhill, sidehill, etc.). Target archery was a contrast to field archery in that the shooting was on a flat field, at just a few distances and the angle of the sun only changed as the sun moved through the sky. Most rounds had three or four distances to contend with. But, now, as Olympic archery is being driven by telegenicity (make the game simpler so viewers can understand) and dragging the rest of the target archery community with it, competitions have devolved to single distance contests(!).

This came to my attention as I was helping a student prepare for our USAA national championships and he stated that Barebow Recurve was to be contested at 50 meters … only. That couldn’t be right, I thought, so I looked it up. Yep. 50 m, and only 50 m. <Sigh> This certainly doesn’t make things more interesting for the archer.

Preparing for a Single Distance Shoot
Obviously most indoor target competitions are single distance shoots, but outdoors was typically more varied. What this means in terms of preparation is that a number of options are now available for these outdoor contests that were not before. Here are some of my thoughts.

Try to Arrange Your POT Target Distance to be the Competition Distance Stringwalking puts demands upon an archer’s tune so that arrow flight will be acceptable at all crawls. Lots of compromises are involved. This is because taking a crawl basically changes the tiller of the bow and affects the bow’s dynamics. With just a single distance to prepare for, having a zero crawl is ideal. There is also less variation is placing the tab on the string when the crawl is zero rather than, say, a half an inch.

You Can Use a Bottom Nocking Point Locator to Your Benefit If you have a powerful bow, a small crawl may be inevitable. If that is the case, it is allowed to use the bottom of the bottom of two nock locators a set your crawl. The arrow and bow must be set up to make that crawl the correct one, of course. You are not allowed to put on a half inch long nocking point locator, or set your bottom nock locator a half inch below the nock where it would serve no purpose other than being a crawl locator. But for an ordinary tied-on locator in a reasonable position, well that can be used.

You Can Use a Split Finger String Grip String walkers do not use a split finger string grip, they use a “three fingers under” (3FU) string grip because they will be making crawls. But what if your bow is underpowered for the competition distance? In this situation, with no crawl and 3FU, your arrows hit below the target. One easy fix is to try a split finger grip (you may need a different tab). This results in a substantial gain in cast and if your arrows land on the target, you may be able to find a point of aim using either the target rings or the target stand or the wind flag, or … , etc.

A Permanent Fix is to Find Perfect Arrows If the target distance in such competitions is to be the same for many years, it may be in your (or your student’s) best interest to purchase and tune a special set of arrows. After all, you don’t see the long drive golf contestants taking full sets of clubs out onto the tee box. They just take the clubs they are going to use (a pumped up driver and spares). So, why prepare a bow and arrow combination to shoot multiple distances when there is no need. Field archers use arrows with lower FOC balance characteristics than do target archers, who tend to shoot at longer distances. This is just a manifestation of having different arrows for different applications, so this isn’t anything new, just the same response taken to an extreme.

A Perfect Solution Would Be a Dedicated Bow and Arrows It was the case that some archers used different bowstrings on their recurve bows for different distances in the FITA Round. This allowed them to choose different nocking point heights and brace heights for the various distances, essentially creating a different tune for each distance). A lower brace height could be favorable at 90 m but not help at all at 30 m. At 30 m a higher brace height might be a benefit. The nocking points would be used to get the best tune at those brace heights for those arrows (which by regulation had to be the same). I haven’t heard of this being done, but were I in that position and also well-heeled (I am not), I would be tempted to tune my backup bow and arrows, which can be different (both) from the primary set, for the shorter distances and switch bows half way through. Of course if one needed one’s backup bow at the longer distances, one would be in a bit of a fix, but how often does that happen?

So, the message is: if you only shoot at one distance for many of the events you enter (or your student’s enter) focus on setting up the equipment for that distance alone. If you can afford it, dedicate a set of equipment for just that distance. (This is already being done by anyone who has an “indoor bow” now.)

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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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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.

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A Recurve Dead Release Spotted!

Video of the 2017 Shoot Up Finals for the Barebow division at the Lancaster Archery Classic in Lancaster, PA has been posted on YouTube (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=39ppQpTQcz4). Recurve Barebow is more popular around the world than it has been in the U.S. (driven, I suspect, by the popularity of compound archery in the U.S.) but Barebow is on a rebound now and more and more people are attracted to it. Featured in these final matches are: Dewayne Martin, Scott Bills, Bobby Worthington, and John Demmer III.

Interestingly, DeWayne Martin shoots with a dead release, something very few recurve archers can pull off. (More and more I am coming to the conclusion that there are no absolutes in archery (e.g. You must use a “live” release in Recurve.), just some things make shooting “more or less difficult.”

View the video! Flinches! Creeping! Tape on the nose! Tournament nerves! Stringwalking! (Although the announcers were somewhat clueless about the advantages of a crawl.) At 29:18 a close-up of John Demmer III’s quiver (current WA world field champion) shows arrows with two different fletching patterns. This would not be allowed in a WA shoot. The Lancaster Archery Classic uses a mixture of NFAA rules and their own. (It is a private shoot, they can do as they wish. If they apply for a sanction from one of the governing bodies they would have to conform to that association’s rules. Note Many people do not know that the Vegas Shoot, while owned by the NFAA, is a private shoot with its own rules.)

John Demmer III, the eventual winner, and an elite Barebow archer, shoots with a tilted head. You don’t have to do it right, you just have to do it over.

If you shoot Barebow or your students do, watch this video. This gives you a good idea of what is possible, at least indoors. It gives you an idea of what “the best” can shoot under pressure and then you can determine how you stack up or how close your students are.

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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?

Maybe.

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.

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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!
Cheers

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.)

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What are the Advantages of Having a Heavier Bow, Like 50lb Compared to 30lb?

The question in the title comprised the entire question asked. There are advantages and disadvantages to all of these considerations and such considerations also depend upon application. You didn’t say what your particular application is, so that makes any answer I provide longer. (If you want short, pithy answers, ask detailed questions. ;o)

For example, if you are a bowhunter, most hunting regulations specify a minimum draw weight for hunting, typically 40# or so. Thus, a 30 pound bow would be illegal to use, a major disadvantage.

In general, hunters prefer higher draw weights and target archers lower draw weights. (As with all such broad statements there are many exceptions.) The reason for this difference is that a target archer may have to shoot one hundred or more shots in a single day but a hunter merely a handful. For some reason, a compound bow peak weight of 70# has proved popular for deer hunters. This is excessive as these bows will drive an arrow through the body of a deer, the most common large game animal in the U.S., and out the other side (still traveling at high speed). Possibly this very high draw weight is due to manhood issues amongst the bow purchasers or is possibly just a manifestation of hunters buying whatever everyone else has.

Whew, 53#! Just whew!

Olympic Recurve archer Brady Ellison shoots a very high 53# bow setup and is doing very well for himself. Most everyone else is shooting a lower draw weight, the women being typically about 10# lower.

In general and for target archers:

Positives of a Higher Draw Weight for Target Archers
A higher draw weight produces a crisper release of the string. (The string supplies the force to move the string out of the way and the more force available, the straighter the path of the string.)
A higher draw weight produces a flatter arrow trajectory. (This allows an archer to stay closer to perfect form for longer shots, not requiring as much bow elevation.)

Negatives of a Higher Draw Weight for Target Archers
A higher draw weight produces more fatigue. (Drawing a 70# bow is the equivalent to exercising with a 70# weight. How many repetitions can you do and execute with the same form on your last shot as you had on your first?)
A higher draw weight produces more tension at full draw. (Even compound bows suffer from this effect: a 70# bow with 65% letoff still has 25# in hand at full draw. A higher “holding weight” shortens the amount of time an archer has available at full draw and stresses the full-draw form of the archer. Obviously a recurve or longbow archers has an even higher load at full draw.)

In the past, high draw weights were the only option to increase the power and cast of a bow. Many of the English bowmen of the past were shooting bows of 100#-125# of draw. But that was then and this is now. Now, lightweight and extremely stiff carbon arrows allow high arrow speeds to be produced at much, much lower draw weights.

So, unless you have aspirations of being a very, very serious target archer (one who trains many days a week) my recommendation is to consider the goal of finding the lowest draw weight bow that will allow you to shoot your last arrow in any set with the same form and execution as you had on your first. Higher draw weights than that require serious physical training to be successful (which can be achieved by shooting, but that means many days per week of shooting).

“My recommendation is to consider the goal of finding the lowest draw weight bow that will allow you to shoot your last arrow in any set with the same form and execution as you had on your first.”

The overwhelming popularity of compound bows in the U.S. is driven by the difference in peak weight and holding weight of those bows. Low holding weights lower strain on the archer at full draw and increase the time available to aim while providing high arrow speeds because of he high peak weights. But too high of a peak weight will wear a compound archer down in a longer competition, resulting in mistakes that cause point losses no one likes. The same is true for recurve and longbow archers.

Choose wisely. The worst thing that can happen to an archer is to be overbowed (too much draw weight) because it distorts form and literally sucks the fun out of shooting.

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