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Bow DrawnOnce upon a time, traditional archery was just called archery. Through years of innovation and development, bow technology has evolved, not just into a more advanced form, but into a whole new species. That being said, during the past few years many shooters have found themselves craving the challenge of the stick and the string. As such, traditional shooting has grown tremendously over the last decade and continues to become more popular year after year. Hunter's Friend offers a wide variety of traditional equipment, from basic bare bows to complete ready to shoot packages. Are you ready for the challenge?

The first decision you need to make is simply, "What kind of bow do I wish to shoot?".

There are two primary classes of traditional bow:

  • The Recurve Bow
  • The Longbow

The longbow is where the history of archery begins. Originally, archery wasn't only a sport, it was a way of life and a means by which to provide for one's family. Though today's designs have many improvements to provide better arrow speed, durability, and comfort, the design basics of the longbow are pretty much the same as they were 11,000 years ago: the stick and the string. Historically, a fine bow was among a person's most treasured possessions. Many kings were entombed with their bows.

Martin Stick Longbow

The modern longbow comes in three basic variations:

  • The basic "Stick Bow" made of a single piece of wood with round or triangular cross-section limbs, which are thick and fairly narrow.
  • The rectangular cross-section laminate bow, composed of many layers of different materials each chosen and positioned based the material's specific properties. These bows are often much faster and lighter than a stick bow of the same weight, as well as being more durable.
  • The "Reflex/Deflex longbow", arguably a hybrid between a longbow and recurve, is kind of the middle ground between longbows and recurves. Such bows exhibit qualities that are very desirable to the traditional archer. Reflex/Deflex bows are very fast and durable, with very little "hand shock" or vibration.

The recurve bow marks the second generation of bow technology. The origin of the recurve bow design traces back to Asia around 2,000 BC. This design allowed archers to achieve the arrow speeds of a much longer bow with a significantly smaller package. For mounted archers, this was the answer to many problems. Traditionally, recurve bows are a composite of materials. It is difficult to achieve the desired shape out of a single piece of material. Laminates and composite construction were often utilized. Modern recurves are universally of laminate construction. They feature limbs that are relatively wide and quite thin, with the limb tips jutting far forward of the grip when the bow is unstrung.

One of the defining characteristics of the recurve bow, is the way the string and limbs interact. With the longbow there are only two points of contact between the end loops of the string and the limb. In a recurve design, the string will often contact the limb for a few inches at each end, with the end loops being pulled far ahead of the string. The force of the limbs is exerted more vertically in recurve designs, reducing hand shock and increasing arrow speeds.

Fred Bear Takedown

Recurve bows also come in three general variations:

  • The "Basic" recurve bow, which comprises of laminates of wood, sometimes with opposing grains, glued together to achieve the shape and curvature of the bow.
  • The "takedown" recurve bow, probably one of the most popular variations, which can be disassembled into a small package for transport or storage. Several variations on limb attachment method exist, the most common being a limb pocket and bolts. Other attachment methods such as the pocket and locking system used on the Fred Bear Takedown have gained popularity over the years.
  • The "Composite" bow, which describes the most ancient of recurve bow designs, and will not be discussed further in this guide.

There is no scientific solution to the choice of whether to shoot a recurve or longbow. Both designs have their merits and drawbacks. Typically longbows can be more forgiving and much easier to shoot. Recurve bows can be shorter, faster, and more maneuverable in the woods. Some models can be taken down for easy storage and transport. The choice is yours. The next question is, "How much draw weight do I need?" The answer is as complex as the human body itself. The truth of the matter is, the best way to find out is to actually draw a few friends' bows, club bows, etc. However, the following list can be used as a guideline if no bows are available to try out. Generally, it is recommended to err toward the lower side on draw weights. For example, the author is well capable of drawing and shooting a 100# recurve bow, however by choice my Martin Venom Longbow is 55#@30". Archery is supposed to be fun and exciting, not tiring and painful. If you are already shooting with modern equipment, it would be wise to consider choosing a traditional bow with a draw weight 10-15 pounds lighter than your compound bow. The draw weight of standard traditional bows is as measured at 28" draw. A good rule of thumb is 3-5 pounds removed for every inch under 28" and 5-7 pounds added for every inch over.


Small Child (70-100 lbs.) 10-15 lbs.
Larger Child (100-130 lbs.) 15-25 lbs.
Small Frame Women (100-130 lbs.) 15-25 lbs.
Medium Frame Women (130-160 lbs) 25-35 lbs
Athletic Older Child (Boys 130-150 lbs.) 25-35 lbs.
Small Frame Men (120-150 lbs.) 30-45 lbs.
Large Frame Women (160+ lbs.) 30-45 lbs.
Medium Frame Men (150-180 lbs.) 40-55 lbs.
Large Frame Men (180+ lbs.) 45-60 lbs.

Armspan - HersTo measure your draw length, determine the length of your arm span in inches. Stand with your arms out and palms facing forward. Don't stretch when measuring. Just stand naturally. Have someone else help you, and measure from the tip of one middle finger to the other. Then divide that number by 2.5. The result is the correct draw length in inches for your body size.

The majority of new shooters set their bows for too much draw length, which can result in poor shooting form, inaccuracy, and painful string slap on the forearm. You will better enjoy, and be more successful with your new bow when it is fitted properly to your body. Fortunately, recurve bows can be drawn to any draw length within a reasonable range. However, draw length must be established so that arrows can be trimmed to the correct length for your shooting system. Unlike compound bows, with traditional equipment, if in doubt, go a little long. Arrows that are an inch longer than absolutely necessary won't hurt your shooting. Arrows that are an inch too short will force you to use shooting form which is less than ideal, resulting in inconsistency.

Drawlength - HisIf you are a person of average proportions, your arm span will be roughly equal to your height in inches. So there is often a direct correlation between a person's height and their draw length as well. Once you have computed your draw length using the method above, you can double-check yourself by using the scale below to see if your number is within the expected range.


Draw Length Scale


Draw Length Scale Short

The next likely consideration is, "How much do I wish to spend?". This is the point where things become a bit more complex. Unlike compound bows, which use basically the same materials throughout the industry, traditional bows are manufactured from a tremendous variety of materials. The choice of materials and construction will directly affect the shooting experience. The most critical area of traditional bows is the limbs, you could have a grip made of pressed cardboard and as long as the limbs were of good quality, the bow would still shoot and feel good. Common combinations of materials for limbs include fiberglass, laminated maple and fiberglass, and bamboo and carbon fiber. You will find that in most circumstances, within limits, as the quality of materials and cost increase, the draw becomes more smooth, stacking disappears, and velocity ramps up quickly. When a bow stacks, the increase in draw weight per inch of draw length becomes cumulative, rather than a gentle ramp up to peak weight; the weight curve shoots up quickly at the end of the draw stroke. Stacking is the bitter enemy of efficiency and comfortable shooting. The next factor in price is choice of woods and cosmetics. Exotic African hardwoods cost more than good old American walnut. They however are more temperature stable, and there is no denying their beauty. You can go absolutely wild with the exotic woods or keep it simple. The sky is the limit on how far you can go with a custom traditional bow.

Now to enter the technical aspects of traditional archery. String materials and design, arrow selection, fletching selection, and rest style are among many factors to be considered when making a decision regarding our next bow. String materials have been a hotly discussed topic in recent years. The biggest battle being Fast Flight vs. Dacron. To make a long story short, Fast Flight strings will damage limb tips if they are not reinforced for the use of that type material. Dacron is the old standby; however, it stretches more than Fast Flight resulting in more required maintenance. Generally, if your bow has limb tips that can support the use of Fast Flight, use it. Otherwise, stick to Dacron. There are two string making techniques commonly encountered in traditional bows. The "endless loop" string is made of one continuous loop of string material, then served at both ends to bind the strands together and protect them, with a center serving in the middle to draw the bow and to support a nocking point. The "endless loop" type string is the strongest of string designs and is the type utilized on modern compound bow equipment. Flemish Twist strings are based on a very old design that allows a single string to fit many bows.

Historically, no two bows were alike, so the end user was required to fit the length of his bowstring to the particular bow he was shooting. One end of a Flemish twist bowstring is looped, while the other end is loose and woven into itself to create a final length. In the past, it was up to the end user to decide how long the bowstring was to be, and finish the weave to fit his particular bow. Today, however, Flemish twist bowstrings may be purchased finished and made to a final length correct for the AMO length of your particular bow. The Flemish twist string is not quite as strong as the endless loop design strand for strand, therefore it must be made with more strands and is heavier as such. For some traditional bows, this is an ideal situation as it slows the bow down just a bit and reduces stresses on the limbs during shooting. Typically, you will see more Flemish twist strings on longbows, and more "endless loop" strings on recurves.

Arrow selection was once a difficult task. Wood arrows had to be hand spined to suit the bow. Aluminum arrows have an extremely narrow spine band for each shaft size and with variations from shooter to shooter, finding the right aluminum arrow for your traditional bow was a genuine nightmare. Enter carbon arrow shafts. Spine is an extremely critical aspect of traditional archery as very rarely does a traditional bow feature a centershot riser. Because the arrow starts at an angle off the axis of travel, it is forced to flex a bit more on launch compared to the spine deflection with a modern centershot riser equipped bow. The self damping nature of carbon fiber arrows, fortunately, makes them very forgiving. A single spine stiffness can accommodate many different bows and shooting styles, making arrow selection a simple matter of consultation of the manufacturer's spine charts and a little tweaking with point weights. On the matter of fletching, the best universally accepted combination is 4 or 5 inch right helical feathers. They help to get the arrow on course quickly and consistently.

The style of rest you shoot with is one part the bow, one part shooter preference. Presently, most traditional archers seem to be shooting directly off the shelf. Shooting off the shelf has many merits: it is simple, the flipper will never break off since there isn't one present, and though not the easiest technique to master, it is great fun to really be shooting with nothing more than the stick and the string. Flipper rests, the other common type of arrow rest in the traditional community, are generally simple plastic self-adhesive pads with a "flipper" that sticks out to put the arrow on. One benefit of flipper style rests is they will allow you to use vanes if you wish, as well as allowing the shooter a very simple means of adjusting the arrow's position horizontally to fine tune for spine deflection.

Traditional archery can be one of the most fun, relaxing, and entertaining outdoor activities you will ever experience. There is no feeling quite like that first tight group with no reference beyond your own eyes and instincts. Not to say we can all become Byron Ferguson, but with practice, anyone, young or old, big or strong, can reach a fair level of proficiency using traditional equipment with a little practice and dedication. Give it a shot, you're only a few clicks away from joining the ranks of one of the oldest hobbies and pastimes in the world.

As always, if you have any questions feel free to give us a call or send us an email, we're happy to help!.