The Beginner's Guide to Traditional Archery

trad_arch_fLet's be honest, archery should be simple. Modern bowhunting, what with its fiber-optic sights, drop-away rests, mechanical broadheads, release aids, and accoutrements — any one of which will cancel your hunt immediately if forgotten — have made this once-simple sport more complicated than a tax return.

To combat this sometimes-unnecessary evolution, plenty of mainstream bow companies, such as PSE, Hoyt, Bear, and Martin, produce traditional bows. But there are also smaller, mom-and-pop-type bowyers that turn out handmade works of art: Black Widow, Great Plains, and many others. Last winter at the Great American Outdoor Show in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, I visited an Ohio bowyer aptly named Striker Bows. Since 1966 they have handmade lithe longbows and recurves at modest prices. Striker proprietor Rick Ellis offered his insight for getting started in traditional archery.

Picking a Trad Bow

"Longbows are known for their accuracy and forgiveness because the whole limb works when the bow is shot," Ellis told me during our chat.


Even so, longbows represent the most basic of archery technology. Recurves, so named for their limbs that each contain two curvatures for increased spring and energy, originated in Asia around 2,000 BC.


Often these bows are built from laminated woods and resins. Your choice boils down to personal preference. Many traditional bows are available in "takedown" designs, consisting of three main pieces including two limbs and the riser. They can be disassembled easily for transport or storage.

"Three-piece bows also allow the archer to buy a set of heavier limbs for certain hunting scenarios or lighter limbs for target shooting or small game hunting," Ellis said. "Shooters can switch between recurve and longbow limbs."

If you don't plan to travel much with your bow or alter your draw weight for any reason, a takedown-style bow may not be worth the extra money. One-piece bows are generally trimmer and therefore more pleasurable to carry. Plus, there's something satisfying about the look of a bow carved into a seamless piece of wood.

Bow Fit


As with compounds, bow fit is determined by the shooter's draw weight and draw length. Generally, length is measured from the web between the thumb and forefinger of the bow (handle) hand and the shooter's anchor point, which is normally the corner of the mouth.

Shoot as many bows as you can until one feels right.

"All of our bows are weighted at a 28-inch draw length and typically pull three pounds per inch more up to 30 inches in draw length," Ellis said. "A 45-pound bow at 28 inches is typically a great starting point for most men."


Most shooters find a draw weight of 15-20 pounds less than their compound bow's draw weight is ideal.  Ellis warns against going too heavy, as beginning archers often do.

"If your form is better and your shooting is accurate and consistent at a lower poundage, you'll be better off," he said.

Bow Tuning

Although it's less complicated than with compound bows, traditional bows still require tuning. Brace height is extremely important.

Brace height, the distance between the grip where it's narrowest and the string, is adjusted by twisting or untwisting the string, which lengthens the brace height or shortens it respectively.

"Tune it until you find a sweet spot that feels right for you," Ellis said. "The nock height should be about 5„8 inch above center. Playing with this height will also help with your arrow flight."

Several factors contribute to correct arrow setup, including draw weight and length, nock location, arrow spine weight, arrow length, and broadhead weight.

"We shoot carbon arrows like Beman's CenterShot Traditonal arrow and Easton's Axis Traditional arrow that are offered with feather fletching," Ellis continued. "Consult those companies' charts for the correct shaft size for your draw length and draw weight. We also recommend that you keep your shafts as close to full length as possible. Cutting them down can sometimes hurt more than help if all else is not set up correctly."

He adds that his bows generally shoot best with the cock vane to the inside of the arrow shelf, rather than outside.

Shooting Techniques

"Some shooters stand tall while others like to crouch," said Ellis. "We recommend putting some cant [lean] in your bow. Find an anchor point on the side of your lip and draw to exactly the same spot each time."

Concerning the draw, Ellis recommends new shooters use three fingers below the string because it more closely aligns the arrow with the eye.

As for aiming, there are two basic techniques. There's the purely instinctive technique, where the archer simply focuses on the target and, through thousands of practice repetitions, instinctively knows where to hold and when to release. Second, there's the "gap shooting" technique, where shooters focus on the tip of the arrow and use it for a reference for where to hold on the target. Most masters tend to use the instinctive technique, but either method can be deadly with practice.

Hunting

Unlike with your compound bow, don't expect to walk outside with your new stick bow and nail the bullseye at 40 paces after a few tries. Rather, set a modest goal of keeping all arrows in a 6-inch pie plate at 20-25 yards. If you can do this, you may be ready to hunt at this range.

Because traditional bows don't have nearly the kinetic energy of compound bows, penetration can be an issue, so your keep shots very close and your broadheads shaving-sharp.

Most traditionalist hunters prefer the two blade, cut-on-contact broadheads like Zwickey or the new 150-grain two-blade traditional point from Wasp Archery. Of course, modern three-blade heads like Muzzy will work fine if you do your part. Most experts advise against mechanicals and heads with huge cutting diameters, as both can rob energy otherwise used for penetration. Always opt for high-percentage broadside shots.

For some bowhunters, going to the basics can reinvigorate an interest in archery and return the fun in going outside to shoot. Certainly, it re-ups the challenge of hunting, because taking a mature whitetail with a traditional bow will forever be one of hunting's greatest feats.

GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.

Recommended Articles

See More Recommendations

Popular Videos

B&C Typical Mule Deer

B&C Typical Mule Deer

Doug Burris Jr's typical mule deer taken in 1969, could just be one record that will never be broken.

Moon Phase Rut Tips

Moon Phase Rut Tips

John Dudley, technical writer and host of Nock On TV discusses why it's imporant to follow moon phases for the rut.

Sighting In the CZ .557 Carbine

Sighting In the CZ .557 Carbine

Kevin Steele sights in his CZ .557 carbine rifle that he plans to use on a Colorado elk hunt.

Cheeseburger Poppers

Cheeseburger Poppers

David Draper shares his recipe for making delicious cheeseburger poppers with wild game in this edition of "Fare Game."

See More Popular Videos

Trending Articles

Is lever action dead? Not by a long shot. Guns

The Return of Lever Action Rifles

Craig Boddington - May 26, 2020

Is lever action dead? Not by a long shot.

If you're spending time in the outdoors where you might encounter bears, carry one of these guns. Survival

Which Firearm Is Best for Bear Defense?

Larry Case - July 11, 2018

If you're spending time in the outdoors where you might encounter bears, carry one of these...

Here's how to toughen up the weakest link in your shooting system. Optics

How to Mount a Rifle Scope for Maximum Accuracy

Joseph von Benedikt

Here's how to toughen up the weakest link in your shooting system.

A new wave of allergies threatens to turn hunters into vegetarians. News

The Ticks Making Hunters Allergic to Meat

David Hart

A new wave of allergies threatens to turn hunters into vegetarians.

See More Trending Articles

More Bowhunting

New products, born of innovation and ingenuity, are the hallmarks of the bowhunting industry, where Bowhunting

Best Cutting Edge Bow Products for 2017

PH Online Editors - August 18, 2017

New products, born of innovation and ingenuity, are the hallmarks of the bowhunting industry,...

Looking for a new broadhead this fall? Check out our top picks for the best this year has to offer! Bowhunting

Top Field-Tested Broadheads for Fall 2018

Jeff Johnston - November 01, 2018

Looking for a new broadhead this fall? Check out our top picks for the best this year has to...

These are our favorite new products of the year for the archery crowd. Bowhunting

Best New Bowhunting Gear for 2020

Petersen's Hunting Editors - May 21, 2020

These are our favorite new products of the year for the archery crowd.

As we began our annual x-bow test, it was clear that there would be a certain level of familiarity Bowhunting

Head-to-Head Review: Top Crossbows of 2014

PH Online Editors - July 10, 2014

As we began our annual x-bow test, it was clear that there would be a certain level of...

See More Bowhunting

GET THE MAGAZINE Subscribe & Save.

Digital Now Included!

SUBSCRIBE NOW

Give a Gift   |   Subscriber Services

PREVIEW THIS MONTH'S ISSUE

GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.

Get Digital Access.

All Petersen's Hunting subscribers now have digital access to their magazine content. This means you have the option to read your magazine on most popular phones and tablets.

To get started, click the link below to visit mymagnow.com and learn how to access your digital magazine.

Get Digital Access

Not a Subscriber?
Subscribe Now