Newbie To Bows

3 Meter Para Bellum

Apr 17, 2020
My relatively recent move has me on a big enough piece of property that I can practice shooting a bow safely on it, so obviously I want to! I would love to eventually bow hunt, but I will be sticking to target practice for a good while.

The thing is I know almost zilch about bows, so I am looking for advice about literally anything bow related, and specifically, what would be a good first bow to buy. I have heard that compounds can be easier to learn at first, but they are also more expensive, and I also have an obsession with simplicity, so I felt like a recurve might better for starters to see how I like archery.

I've only shot a bow like once, maybe when I was 13 or something. I would appreciate guidance on any learning resources that could help me get off on the right foot with my shooting technique. I like books, or if you know of any web resources that are reliable that's good as well, and any advice you are willing to give me right here is always more than welcome!
Welcome to archery!
Beware, it is extremely addictive!
Starting off with a recurve can be the simplest and most rewarding experience.
Bow, arrows, glove or finger tab, arm guard, string wax and bow stringer. (Sights are used on recurves for target archery, but are not allowed in 3D archery- game designed for hunters to mimic hunting scenarios on lifesize animal targets at unknown distances)
Other items can be added as you learn. (Spare string, nocks, knocking pliers, bow square, fletching tools, etc.)

First, eye dominance is important. You will need a right handed bow if you are right eye dominant, and a left handed bow if left eye dominant. Do not worry if you are opposite handed.
You do not use your hand, arm or shoulder muscles to draw a bow; you use your back muscles which are larger and more evenly matched. The draw cycle is squeezing your shoulder blades together with your back muscles, and when you are at full draw, it is your bone structure that holds the bow at full draw and bears the weight, not your muscles. Being new to archery, you will have the advantage in that you do not have any muscle memory to overcome when learning archery and the new shooting form, which is different than your firearm shooting form.

Second, will be draw weight. When trying out a traditional bow for the first time, most people get over bowed. When you are trying bows out for draw weight, use a closed fist when drawing. If you cannot draw and hold the bow at full draw for your draw length for 5 full seconds without struggling, then you need a lighter pundage. Even better if you can do this while sitting. In most places, regulations require a 40 pound draw weight as minimum for hunting (check your local regs). Takedown recurves are a good choice for beginners, as you can buy heavier draw weight limbs for the bow as you learn and gain strength. Most bows grow in a 2 or 5 pound draw weight increment. 2 pounds may not sound like much, but in archery is actually more than one realizes. Do not be in a hurry to increase poundage too soon as muscles develop, as there may be other changes required at the same time, such as heavier spined arrows, which adds to cost, and then there will be an adjustment period as you relearn how your bow shoots the new arrows at the new poundage, changing your aiming to keep your arrows on target.

Third, when it comes to draw length, traditional bows are typically set for a 28" draw length for the draw weight rating, and because you are using a glove or finger tab, the draw length for traditional bows is shorter than for compound bows where a mechanical release is typically used. A good bow shop and/or bow tech will be able to measure your draw length and set you up with the right bow and arrows. And there is a recommended bow length for every draw length. This is because at full draw, you want the proper string angle at the nock, to allow for proper release of the string in order to achieve the best arrow flight possible. At the end of the day, with a recurve, when you draw to full draw length, you are holding that full poundage until you make a clean release. This requires the shooter maintain the bow at full draw while aiming, releasing and following through. (Compared to a compound bow that has the mechanical advantage of let off; where you reach full draw weight at the peak of the draw cycle, and then experience the let off when the cam comes over and reduces the weight held at full draw. A bow with 80% let off, a 50 lb bow will peak at 50 lbs as the cam hits its peak, bit when cammed over the let off requires only requires 10 lbs of force to hold at full draw, which allows more focus on the aim, release and follow through) The key to accuracy is consistency in shooting form, including ensuring that you draw the bow to the same length each time.

Fourth, is the entire sequence of the archery shot and your shooting form.
Stance, orientation, foot spacing and weight distributed evenly over your feet, shoulder width apart, hips square, back and shoulders upright and square, neck and head up straight, grip on your bow (relaxed grip, not "suitcasing" the handle - not straight across palm, angled along lifeline), grip of your fingers on the string (3 finger under or Comanche style, or split finger or Mediterranean style; try both and use what works best for you), drawing, anchor (bring bow to you - do not bring head to bow; use the anchor point that works best for you - cheekbone, corner of mouth, incisor tooth, etc.), aim, release and follow through (keep bow still until arrow reaches target - do not move or drop bow - your eye will see arrow flight by maintaining focus on target during shot on follow through).

Fifth, bow tuning. A good bow tech or an experienced mentor can assist in getting your bow and arrows tuned for the proper brace height and best arrow flight possible (given good shooting form). Finding a shooting club with an instructor, or an experienced traditional archer with good shooting form and performance will be helpful. Thus where shooting form is very important in order to assist in getting the tune of your bow right for your arrows, at your draw weight and length. Fitting a bow is as personal as fitting your hunting boots; it must fit you properly to get the best performance!

Sixth, quality of practice is more important than quantity of practice. Remember it will take 1000 shots to start to build muscle memory, but it will take more than 15000 shots to build "instinct". Good shooting form will develop good muscle memory, that will produce good results and more satisfaction from good performance. Poor shooting form will produce bad habits that will result in poor performance, and frustration in trying to overcome bad habits developed in muscle memory over time. Like anything else, anything worth doing, is worth doing right, from the very start.

These are some quick points (although it seems like alot) to consider and discuss with the bow tech or salesperson when buying a traditional bow and gear to help you get started off right.
Hope it helps, and welcome to archery!
Have fun!
I picked up shooting a recurve in high school. I learned the proper way to shoot a recurve when I took archery as a P.E. elective at Texas A&M. I'll stress working with an experienced archer to get started. Until you learn to use your back muscles properly, shooting a bow will be frustrating. All starts with the back.
Good info above.
I've used longbow, recurve, compound and crossbow. And bow hunted for over 50 years.
Stop in to as many archery/pro-shops as you can. Look at the bows and talk to the people working at the shop.
Then research what they tell you. Get a bow that fits you.
Thanks everyone, and especially you Blkram. I will probably be re-reading your post frequently as I get into archery!
There was a time I could've given you lots of advice on what bow to get.......shot constantly on my own as well as shooting 3D courses and indoor winter leagues. Today I wouldn't have a clue. Lots of brands, I'm sure all are mostly better than what I was shooting, I for sure know they've gotten crazy expensive.

Learning instinctive shooting with something like a recurve or longbow is the most basic and simplest way of shooting. Can also be very rewarding. You can also shoot instinctively with a compound bow, but today's bows are so short that I don't think it would be conducive to shooting with your fingers because of the sharp string angle that would result from such short bow limbs.

I've done both instinctive shooting as well as using sights and release with a compound. If I was to get back into it today I think I'd keep it simple and go the recurve route. You will enjoy it whichever way you go. Learning consistency and repeatability and good form are skill sets that when tuned transfer over to lots of things.

Lots of practice like Blkram stated, and whatever route you go that won't be hard. It's addictive!
So I got both a recurve and a compound bow over Christmas, and I'm now trying to figure out how to set up a spot in my yard to start practicing. Is there a type of target that any would recommend, I'm not really sure what make the most sense. Also for practice, what type of arrow head do you use?

I was also curious if I should be suspicious of the quality of arrows that come with a cheap bow? I have no idea what makes a good or bad arrow.
The Block targets are very good, and you can use target tips and broadheads in them. Obviously, they last longer with limiting use to field points (target tips) normally used for practice and competition. Ensure your target tip (field point) is the same diameter as the arrow shaft. Makes extracting arrow from target easier.

Spyderweb targets are very good for target tips.

I have used and owned several types over the years, and only have and use these for the past 10 years. These are still going strong.

Arrow quality comes down to straightness and weight, including the balance of the weight in the shaft.
The straighter the arrow, the better it will fly. Typically you will see +/- tolerances, with most in the 0.003-0.005" range, and 0.001" amongst the straightest. Obviously price goes up with tighter tolerances. With weight, target arrows need to be a minimum of 5 grains per inch (minimum warranty requirement by many manufacturers as lighter arrows than this can cause damage to bow).
Typical hunting arrow weights are a minimum of 7 grains per inch. 30" arrow x 5 gr/inch = 150 grains. Then you'll add the weight of the insert, the nock, the fletching, and the tip (whether the field point or broadhead to get total arrow weight. My target arrows weigh over 350 grains, while my heaviest hunting arrows weight about 490 grains.
Balance, FOC or front of centre, has to do with more weight ahead of the centre of the arrow, and improves arrow flight and penetration performance. There is lots of information online for this topic.

There many quality arrow manufacturers out there. For either aluminum or carbon.
Aluminum used to be less expensive, but as they are made less, they can be more expensive than carbon. Less resilient and are damaged easily (bent). They can be straightened, but takes time and patience to get done right.
Pros and cons to each.
Carbon is more resilient and do not damage as easily. But must be checked regularly, as a damaged carbon arrow can blow up when firing from the bow, and can damage the bow, and cause serious injury to the archer.
There are also carbon/aluminum hybrids where the inner material is carbon or aluminum, with the outer layer the opposite. Easton's FMJ (full metal jacket) has a carbon core with an aluminum outer jacket. This adds to the arrow weight for heavier hunting arrows, and improves the resiliency of the arrow as they are more forgiving to side forces that do not result in bent arrows. (I have been using them for years with very good results.)
There are many models of arrows too, for target and hunting.
Quality will vary with cost. You will have to determine your use, priorities and budget to determine the level of quality of arrow you will buy and use.

Personally I like and use Easton arrows for all types; compound and traditional, target, competition and hunting.
Gold Tip and Carbon Express are two other brands used by many. Then there is Black Eagle and Victory.

The arrow is akin to the bullet; the quality of the arrow is going to determine how it flies, and the penetration it will provide on the target upon impact. The broadhead will determine the extent of tissue damage, resulting in the wound channel and bleeding, resulting in blood pressure loss and quick death. Buy the best you can afford. And yes, you usually get what you pay for (similar in optics).

Hope this answers most of your questions.
Well here's a stupid beginner question that I definitely should have asked much sooner, but better late than never. Can you shoot a bow with your non-dominate eye by closing your dominate one? I know that works for rifles, with some obvious disadvantages, but I'm not sure if I should do that with a bow.

Also thanks for the write up on arrows, Blkram.
3MPB, a decade or so ago I was where you are currently. All the above is great, and read all you can. I would add that what assisted me the most was going to a good archery shop. We had one in the next county over and the manager of the shop let me shoot numerous offerings, fitted me, gave me options, gave me technique lessons/pointers, and truly stayed with me as I developed. Sometimes as a teacher, sometimes as a therapist. I don't know where you are located, but it is certainly worth your time finding and buying from a local shop. I think in the long run you save money and much time. -B
Yes you can.
but, you may want to try and shoot with that eye becoming the dominate one.
what I mean is if you're right handed but left eye dominate then try shooting left handed.
I am a retired PE teacher and a certified NASP archery instructor, and we found with our students that the majority became “better” shooting this way than just closing their non dominant eye.
Now, that was our experience, try it out and see what works best for you.
Well here's a stupid beginner question that I definitely should have asked much sooner, but better late than never. Can you shoot a bow with your non-dominate eye by closing your dominate one? I know that works for rifles, with some obvious disadvantages, but I'm not sure if I should do that with a bow.

Also thanks for the write up on arrows, Blkram.
While you can, it is not advised...refer to my first point of my first post...get a bow to match your dominant will shoot better as your brain is configured to use the dominant eye for focusing on the target. Did you get the proper bows? Or are you struggling with the wrong handed equipment? (It is significantly easier to train muscle memory than it is to train eye dominance control!)

Being a right handed person with left eye dominance, I shoot left handed bows. While only 10% of the population are left handed, almost 30% of the bows sold are left handed, due to eye dominance. (This is unlike the firearms industry where they only make, or have made up to 10%, of the firearms in left hand.)
(While I was working as a bow technician, I was required to work mostly on right handed bows...but this required considerable extra attention to shooting form and eye focus to be able to do, that you will not want to have to deal with as you learn this new skill, and will only add to the confusion and difficulty in learning this new skill. And only easier as I already had the basics down, which is not your case at this point.) As a certified instructor, it also enabled me to be able to assist new shooters with their shooting form and equipment as I could adapt to any circumstance and equipment to demonstrate and assist them as they learned.

And using your dominant eye will allow you to keep both eyes open, for depth perception (required for judging distance and if an object, or target, is moving away or towards you), field of view (to allow you to track your target as it moves across in front of you and potentially into your shooting lane or window), and so you can judge the rate of movement of the target, whether it be across, away or towards you, so that you can adjust your aim as required to be able to hit that target.
Unfortunately I am left eye and right hand dominate, so is my younger brother, but my Dad and older brother are both right hand and right eye. We bought a couple bows thinking we could all try our hand at archery but it hadn't even occured to me at the time that I was cross eye dominate. I do have an archery shop nearby that I will definitely have to check out, and from the sound of it, look into getting a left handed bow.

Thanks all.