Trying Traditional: Five Things to Know About Traditional Archery

Bear Archery's Kevin Wilkerson with his first deer, a doe, killed with a Bear longbow. The hunt was filmed by Bear designer Dan Karcher while the two were hunting in southern Indiana. (Photo: Bear Archery)

Bear Archery’s Kevin Wilkerson with his first deer, a doe, killed with a Bear longbow. The hunt was filmed by Bear designer Dan Karcher while the two were hunting in southern Indiana. (Photo: Bear Archery)

Traditional archery’s experienced a renaissance of late, with seasoned archers seeking an added challenge that turns even does into a big reward, and others simply looking for a simpler bowhunting experience free of technological clutter.

By Patrick Meitin

Companies such as the venerable Bear Archery Products and Howatt/Martin, Hoyt and myriad custom makers are selling traditional bows in numbers not witnessed since before the late 1970s “Compound Revolution.” If you’ve caught the traditional bug here are some pointers assuring a more fruitful experience.

Buying Single String
Traditional bows gain three to four pounds per inch of draw and have no let-off. Draw weights are stated at a 28-inch IBO standard. When beginning, choose a bow pulling 45-50 pounds (even if you pull 70-pound compounds); a take-down model allows buying heavier limbs later if you wish to pull more.

Buy a bow that fits your draw length. Lengths of 56-58 inches are ideal for draw lengths less than 28 inches; 60 inches for 28-29-inch draws; and 62-64-inch for those with 30-inch-plus draw lengths.  This assures a shooting experience free of finger pinch, and limbs working within maximum performance parameters.

Traditionally Shafted
Less stored energy makes momentum most important to traditional performance, pointing to heavier arrows (10 to 12 gpi) with higher F.O.C. (12 to 20 percent).

Bear pro staffer Brian Otto with his 11-point double drop buck, which was killed with his Bear 59 Kodiak.

Bear pro staffer Brian Otto with his 11-point double drop buck, which was killed with his Bear 59 Kodiak.

Carbon arrows with .500 (with 125-150-grain heads) to .400 (with heads up to 250 grains) deflection are deadly traditional projectiles. Check out Carbon Express’ Heritage (150 or 250), Easton’s Axis Traditional (500 or 400), Alaska Bowhunting Supply’s tapered Grizzly Stik Alaskan or Quest Products tapered Ironwood Lite.

Shooting arrows directly off the shelf (across something like Bear Archery’s Hair Rest) provides maximum “pointability” while shooting instinctive, and makes 5-inch feather fletchings a traditional standard.

Choose heavier cut-on-contact broadheads – Steel Force, Zwickey, or Simmon’s Sharks are names to remember – which slip through hide and muscle more efficiently.

Tuning Traditional
Tuning traditional bows is just as important as tuning compounds.  Much of this is accomplished by discovering the perfect arrow/point combination.

Perfectly-tuned traditional arrows display clean flight, but also center where instincts naturally direct the shot.  There should be no need to force the shot at close range.

Trial-and-error fine tuning is accomplished by manipulating the brace height (distance between handle and string, and changed by twisting or untwisting the string to vary overall length) and the nocking-point location (up/down serving, 3/8-inch above zero a standard starting point). Both of these  affect vertical and horizontal impact.

Some fine tuning also can be achieved by varying strike plate thickness (padding against the riser, typically leather).

Start by bare-shaft tuning (shooting featherless arrow — with enough duct tape applied to the rear to compensate for missing fletching weight — into a backstop from 10 feet away and noting the arrow attitude).

Nocks pointing away from the riser indicate an arrow that’s not stiff enough (underspined), a point that’s too heavy or a strike plate that’s too thick. Nocks cocked into the riser show an arrow that’s too stiff (overspined), point that’s too light or strike plate that’s too thin. Upward-pointing nocks show the nocking point’s too high; downward the opposite.

Traditional Shooting
Traditional bows involve shooting with your fingers. Split-finger shooting’s (index finger over, middle and ring fingers under nock) is the best for true instructive shooting with lower anchor points (corner of mouth or jaw-line); Apache (three fingers under nock) best for gap shooting (using arrow tip as aiming reference) while anchoring higher (cheek bone or just below eye).

Grip the bowstring like you carry a bucket of paint, hooking fingers around the serving (bucket handle) while allowing the remainder of the hand to relax while drawing and anchoring.
Traditional and compound draw lengths should remain equal.

At full draw “push” the riser away with your shooting arm, holding the string at full draw using strong back muscles (back tension).

Canting (tilting) the bow opens the sight window, allowing you to get your eyes directly over the arrow for more positive instinctive shooting. This also provides more naturally-comfortable grip.
Aim small, miss small. Picking a finite small spot or visually creating one mentally while aiming is much more important in traditional shooting than shooting a compound with sights, as it gives you something to concentrate on — like a catcher’s mitt while baseball pitching.

Follow through!
Follow through, follow through, follow through! Traditional bows are slower than compounds (180-190 fps vs. 300-325), meaning any movement of the bow arm during release has more potential to negatively affect arrow impact.

Traditional bows take nothing away from compounds, nor make you a rebel.  They’re just another facet of our sport adding enjoyment and fun to archery and bowhunting.

Archery BookWant to Learn More About Traditional Archery?
If you’re interested in learning more about traditional archery, Brian Sorrell’s book “Beginner’s Guide to Traditional Archery” is a great starting point. It’s filled with solid information about the basics of traditional archery, bows, arrows, technique and more. Click here now to order!

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