For recurves and traditional shooters, you should always string your bow with a commercially made bow-stringer. What is called the step-through method may look impressive in the movies, but it can twist the limbs of your bow or otherwise damage it. It is not considered a safe technique. Home-made stringers may also not be as reliable as ones made with safety and consistency in mind. Some archery ranges also have a “wall-stringer” that is safe for stringing bows as long as it is securely fastened to the wall and you’ve been taught how to use it properly.
Bow String with Proper Serving Size
Every bow needs a bowstring. Many recurve and longbow archers keep extra bowstrings in their case or quiver in case their usual one breaks or becomes damaged.
A string will consist of multiple strands and will be wrapped tightly at the ends and center with “serving,” another string material. The number of strands in your string and the serving itself can be thick or thin and will influence the way your “nock” fits to the string. The size of your arrow’s nocks will also play a part.
How do you know if you have a good bowstring and serving fit for your arrows? The best way to tell is by holding your bow so the string is parallel to the ground. Then put an arrow onto the string. Your arrow should make a small “snap on” noise as it goes onto the string and should stay on the string when you let go. A good serving fit is tight enough that the arrow is held securely on the bowstring, but not so tight that it takes effort to unclip your arrow from the string.
Arrows and quivers
You will need at least half a dozen arrows that are equal to or longer than your draw length. It can be dangerous to shoot arrows that are too short, so if you aren’t sure, err on the side of caution with longer shafts. A quiver to hold your arrows can be set on the ground or worn at the hip or thigh. Some traditional archers prefer a back quiver, but they can be difficult to use in competitions and may catch on underbrush if you plan on shooting in wooded areas.
A full length arm guard is a good idea for all beginner archers. You will wear it on your bow arm and it should cover the area above and below your elbow. They are designed to keep sleeves out of the way, protect your skin, and provide a flat surface for the string if it grazes your arm during the shot.
Once you learn to rotate your bow arm elbow to a more vertical position and out of the path of the bowstring, you can then switch to a small arm guard that just covers the forearm of the bow arm.
The technique of rotating your bow arm elbow is easy to learn, though it may take some practice. Begin by putting your hand on a door frame, on a wall or table to hold your wrist steady. Then, using your arm muscles, practice rotating your elbow so that the crease faces inward instead of up at the ceiling. Once you learn to rotate your elbow out of the path of the bowstring, it means your form is improving. This gives the added benefit of placing your bow shoulder into a more stable shooting position.
If you are a beginning archer and can shoot easily without an arm guard, there is a good chance your shoulders may be out of alignment. This will force your muscles to do more work than they need to. When the force of the draw is lined up along your bones, your muscles will have to do less work. Getting into better shooting alignment will increase your consistency and help prevent injury. However, this also means that your bow arm is more in line with the string, and even the best archers with a vertical elbow may feel the string brush their skin if they don’t have their arm guard on. This is why you will see elite archers wearing arm guards.
Finger tabs, gloves, and mechanical release aids
For archers shooting recurve, traditional, or compound fingers:
You will need something to protect your fingers. Shooting without protection may lead to blisters that can cause problems with your release. Many traditional archers use a leather glove in their shooting style.
Most competitive archers today use a finger tab which consists of flat leather attached to a plastic or metal plate. These are usually worn on the middle finger through the loop on the tab. Newer models often come with a spacer that will spread the index and middle fingers apart. This helps prevent the archer from “pinching” arrows and accidentally sending them off course.
For compounds shooting with a release aid:
You will need to decide on the kind of mechanical release aid you want to shoot. You have two general types to choose from:
- Wrist or caliper release
- Handheld release
The wrist or caliper release aid features a strap around the wrist and a trigger activated by your index finger. The calipers are like small mechanical jaws which close around the string. Upon release, the calipers open at the same time to provide a smoother release than would be possible with fingers. As you draw the string back with this style of release aid, you will feel the weight transfer to your wrist, forearm, and drawing shoulder, which may encourage you to use good back muscle tension. Keep in mind that the position of the trigger and the length of the release itself may affect your draw length. Some higher quality models may allow you to adjust the calipers for an easier or harder trigger tension.
The handheld release aid is lightweight and less bulky. The trigger method is also different, usually relying on your thumb to activate the trigger. For archers who want to encourage good back muscle tension, a handheld “back tension” model is also available. Instead of relying on a thumb-trigger, this model releases using draw shoulder rotation, or back tension, when you are at full draw.
With either style of release aid, your draw length may be different depending on whether you intend to use your release directly on the string or if you want to shoot from something called a “D-loop” that attaches to the string. Ask for the help of an archery shop, a coach or more experienced shooter before making your choice.