Tag Archives: stabilizers

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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Q&A Do You Want a Heavy Bow or a Light One?

QandA logoI got this question from one of my University of Chicago archers: “I have often heard a heated debate over whether one should shoot a heavy bow vs. a light one. Today, I was reminded of that debate today when I was using my somewhat heavy compound bow. Camp A says that people should always use lighter bows, because with lighter bows, it’s easier to be stable due to the lack of significant strain on the muscles used to hold up the bow. Camp B says that people should always use heavier bows, because with heavier bows, it stabilizes your shot since more weight equals more inertia. Are both sides correct, and is it just personal preference?” Vincent Chen

The answer to the question has to do with time. With a recurve bow or longbow, you experience peak draw force at full draw, which means whatever you are going to do at full draw, you want to be quick about it. Because of the letoff of a compound bow, you experience a great deal less draw force at full draw (considerably less than half of the maximum or “peak” draw weight), so you have quite a bit more time available.

Dennis T near Full Draw

If you have to make positional changes in the bow at full draw, to get your sight’s aperture or arrow point on your point of aim, and you have little time, you want the bow to have less mass (= less inertia, meaning it is easier to move), so it can be moved while still having time to settle down from that movement. ( I use the metaphor of cartoon characters that run and then stop abruptly, vibrating to a stop, which isn’t quite correct, but it does take a little time after a gross movement for “stillness” to occur, plus you need to assure yourself that stillness has been achieved and you can only do that through observation over time.) If you have more time at full draw, you can afford the extra mass (which would slow such repositionings down). That extra mass really comes into play when the arrow is loosed in that the bow is barely being held when the string is loosed, so how much it moves is dependent upon inertia and the forces acting on the bow. Since the bow acts on the arrow and vice-versa, the only big other player is gravity.

Make sense? Olympic Recurve archers want lighter bows, compound archers want heavier bows.

This Italian barebow riser is massive and that's before the weights that fit into the two round holes are installed!

This Italian barebow riser is massive and that’s before the weights that fit into the two round holes are installed!

Now, recurve barebow archers, they are different. Since they are forbidden to take small amounts of mass and spread them out in space via stabilizers, like Olympic Recurve archers, they are forced to maximize what they have, which is the bow’s mass. Recurve bows made specifically for barebow tend to be quite heavy indeed as there is no other stabilization allowed. This then requires some extra time at full draw when shooting, unavoidably so. For example, I bought the riser of a bow shot by a world championship bronze medalist barebow archer. He had the grip taken off and then made into a mold to cast a replacement . . . in brass. I didn’t measure the weight difference between a large plastic grip piece and one of the same shape in brass but it was more than a pound. It made the bow heavier yet didn’t stick out far enough to fall prey to the “no stabilizer” rules.

A secondary question is whether the archers have enough strength in their deltoid muscle (on their upper bow arm) to hold up that much weight. Most beginning archers do not, especially youths and beginners with little upper body development, so I recommend that these folks “keep it light.” Over time those muscles will get stronger and adding weight to must bows then is relatively easy.

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Helping Them with Stabilizers

If you are following the AER Curriculum or not students will get interested in stabilizers at some point. Either a student joins the class who already has one, or a student sees a YouTube video, or. . . . or your student reaches that point in Stage 2 of the AER compound or Olympic recurve curricula.

What you can do to help is the topic of this article.

What Stabilizers Do
In archery, a stabilizer is anything that makes it easier to hold your bow steady while at full draw. Most non-traditional bows come with a hole in the “back” of your bow to allow a stabilizer to be fit. The holes are the same size with the same threads no matter where the bow as made, so you can install just about any stabilizer you get your hands on.

A popular short stabilizer amongst target archers.

A popular short stabilizer amongst target archers.

Typically stabilizers are either “short” or “long.” Bowhunters prefer short stabilizers because they are less likely to get tangled up in brush or a tree stand. Consequently all of the shooting styles that are based on hunting require that you use a “short” stabilizer (NFAA styles: BH, BHFS, BHFSL). The last we checked this meant under 11˝ in length (measured from the surface of the bow). Short stabilizers can be really short ~3˝ up to the max, just less than 11˝. Long stabilizers may be any length you want and people have tried stabilizers that have been ridiculously long, but most are somewhere between 24˝ and 36˝ long.

All the stabilizer does is spread out the weight of your bow. The more spread out the weight of the bow is, the harder it is to move, which means once the bow is in position at full draw, it will resist the forces trying to move it during the shot. (Think about it—aiming is putting the bow into a position which will cause the arrow to go where you want. Any movement after that is moving the bow where you don’t want it to be.)PSE Nova One Bow

If you hold a broom by the middle of its handle, you will find it easy to hold and move around. But if you hold it by one end, you will find it much harder to move in two important directions: left-right and up-down. (Try it.) It is still easy to move the broom back and forth along the line of the broom handle, though. If you were to think of a broom being attached to your bow (sticking straight out) it would make it harder to swing the bow left or right or up and down. You would still be able to push the bow in and out toward the target, but that doesn’t create much a problem when shooting arrows—swinging the bow left and right or up and down does. There is also one other thing you can do easily with the broom attached and that is to rotate the bow around the shaft of the broom handle. (If you think the idea of the broom on a bow is crazy we know an archer who used a golf club for his stabilizer!)

Let’s get rid of the broom (but remember what you’ve learned from it). One of the ways to reduce the ability to rotate the bow around the stabilizer is to add what are called “side rods.” Archers typically use a “V block” which is inserted between the long stabilizer and the bow. A V block has two threaded holes in it to attach shorter stabilizer roStabilizer + V Barsds on both sides of the bow (see photos below). This is the typical stabilization setup used by Olympic Recurve archers.

Cartel Carbon StabilizersIf you look closely, many compound archers who use side rods use only one rod. This is because the bowsights used on compound bows are significantly heavier than the bowsights used on recurve bows. The one side rod is used to balance the extra weight on the other side of the bow caused by the bow sight.

And most people shoot for quite a while with just a “long rod” before they then try side rods, so you don’t need the whole setup all at once. And do realize that there is a large number of gewgaws you can screw into your stabilizers: weights for the shaft, weights for the tip, vibration dampeners (Doinkers!), etc. These are used to adjust the weight distribution of your bow or too absorb vibrations left over after the shot (so that you don’t). (If you don’t think vibrations can make you tired, talk to a jackhammer operator sometime.)

Helping Them to Learn to Shoot with a Stabilizer
We recommend that when a student decides to try a stabilizer, that they borrow one. We have a half dozen “loaners” that we let our students use, but you may not have stabilizers for them to try, so they will have to borrow one from another student. Remind that they are not obligated to lend any piece of archery gear, so the person they ask may say no and that’s fair.

If their “style” requires a short stabilizer, then they may be stuck with a short one, but urge them to go ahead and try short and long stabilizers. If they really like what a long one does for them, they might want to switch styles!

Tap and WrenchStart by having them carefully screw the stabilizer into the hole designed for it. This must be done carefully because a number of things can go wrong. If the bow is brand new, there may be construction debris in the hole (metal shavings, paint, etc.). This may cause you to “cross thread” the stabilizer, which is to get the screw threads misaligned. If you force this, it can mess up the threads on both the stabilizer and the bow, which can be an expensive repair. If they encounter a great deal of resistance, we suggest they ask you for help. If the bow is old, a previous user may have cross threaded the hole and not told anyone. We carry a tap wrench and tap the same size as the stabilizer hole so we can “chase the threads” that is run the tap in and out and it will clear up the threads if dirty or only slight damaged (see photo). We don’t recommend doing this unless you are familiar with tap wrenches.

In all likelihood, the stabilizer will screw in easily.

We then recommend you have the student(s) take some shots at short range into a blank target bale. The bow will feel different. For example, bare bows generally rock with the top limb toward the archer during the followthrough. With a long enough stabilizer the bow will rock top limb away from the archer. Because of these effects, if you haven’t introduced a shooting sling of some kind, now would be good. You can find the specifics in the AER Recreation Archery Curriculum Coach’s Guide.

Also because of these effects, they will find that all of their previously determined points of aim or sight markings will now be different (not hugely so, but different). Don’t have them “sight in” again because they may be switching to another stabilizer to try or they may decide they don’t want to shoot with one at all and they will be right back where they were. When they have decided on what kind they want and have acquired their own, then they will need to “sight in” again.

Acquiring a Stabilizer
When they have some idea of what they want they will need help in finding the one they want. If you have a well-equipped pro shop in town, you can just send them there. If you don’t, we use catalogs to give them an idea of what they want at what price and then send them off, probably to the Internet, because big box sporting good stores are unlikely to have much in the way of stabilizers to choose from (short stabilizers are way more likely to be found than long).

While stabilizers help them hold their bows steadier while shooting they also add weight to their bow, so if their bow is already a little heavy (this is typically true for most beginning youths shooting compound bows) they will need to find a very light stabilizer.


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