Traditional Archery: Start Now

You don’t have to give up modern archery to experience traditional archery’s many joys. Take a shot at the exciting world of stickbows.

Traditional Archery: Start Now

To me, the difference between traditional and modern archery is more philosophical than technical. Traditional archery should use equipment that has the same general form and method of use that it has throughout the ages. It should make us feel as if we are part of an earlier, simpler era and make the same mental and physical demands on us.

If these things are present, it doesn’t matter if someone uses an aluminum rather than a wood arrow, or aims using his arrow point rather than instinctively. He’s a traditional archer.

So join the crowd. Break away, if only as a diversion, from the rigid mechanics of compound shooting and let your spirit soar.


Longbows are more historic than recurves. They’re generally lighter to carry, quieter, and more forgiving to shoot due to their thicker limbs. Recurves are smoother-pulling, harder-hitting, have less hand shock, and promote more consistent hand placement with their deep, contoured grips. Their greater physical weight adds shooting stability, and they often have deeper sight windows for easier arrow tuning.

Pick the design that fits your sense of history and that you can shoot most accurately, even if it means giving up some performance. Consider using a longer-length bow over a shorter one. They’re more accurate due to less finger pinch, and they store slightly more energy, pound-for-pound, which makes them shoot harder.

A bow’s performance is determined by both draw weight and draw length. Pull a typical 50-pound recurve back 30 inches, and you’ve got the same punch as a 65-pound bow pulled 26. Choose your bow based on its overall performance, not its weight alone. Where practical, choose a lighter bow and pull it back farther. It will be more comfortable to shoot and easier to control on cold mornings.

Use Heavier Arrows

Wood arrows are the undisputed king in terms of archery history and romance. Carbon tops the list in penetration and durability. Aluminum lies between these extremes on both counts. Use the heaviest arrow that gives you a speed and trajectory that you can live with. It will have more impact energy and momentum throughout its flight path, penetrate better, be more durable, and shoot more quietly than light arrows. The only “disadvantage” is that they’re a little slower and have a little greater trajectory than lighter arrows—qualities that are rarely important to instinctive archers.

Use large, helical, 4-fletched feathers. They’ll cost you little in lost impact energy and will improve penetration at close range by straightening out the arrow very quickly.

Tension, Tempo, Grip Key to Shooting

Control and maintain proper muscle tension throughout your draw-aim-release cycle so that you never allow the arrow to move forward. This will facilitate a crisp, breakaway release. Loss of muscle tension can cause string-plucking, false releases, and collapsing upon release. If you have this problem, use the back of your arrow point, or an O-ring around your arrow shaft, as a draw check. Pull until you feel the change in arrow diameter against your finger or hand, and release instantly with a smooth pull-through action. Most release problems should disappear.

Second, develop and practice a consistent tempo whether you’re shooting at a target or a game animal. This helps promote consistent muscle tension and shot execution.

Third, pay particular attention to consistent bow-hand placement. Failure to do this can alter a bow’s dynamic shooting characteristics and cause erratic shots. Recurves are more sensitive than longbows to hand placement variances because of their wider, more flexible limbs.

While it is popular today to tout instinctive shooting as the “only” way to aim a recurve or longbow, there are many other aiming methods dating back to antiquity. One of the most popular is to use the point of your arrow as a sight. For close-range hunting shots, consider gripping the string with three fingers under the nock, Apache-style, and aiming down the shaft as you would the barrel of a shotgun. You can also use your arrow rest or distinctive marks, blemishes, scratches, or dings on the bow as effective sights.

Learn the joy of instinctive shooting at some point. Practice from 3 to 5 yards until you can keep all of your arrows in a 3-inch circle. Then move back a few yards and repeat the process. In a short while, you’ll be amazed at how your enormously effective internal computer will calculate range and release the arrow automatically when it’s correctly pointed at the bull’s-eye.

Effective Practice

Work on form mainly during the off-season. Always practice on a 3-D deer target. This will train your subconscious mind to direct the arrow into the kill zone, even if you don’t consciously pick an aiming spot under the stress of a hunting shot.

Thirty days before the opening of deer season, shift to hunting practice. Erect a treestand or make a ground blind in a realistic. Once each morning and once each evening, dress exactly as you do when hunting, climb in the stand, conjure up the excitement of shooting at a real deer, and take one shot at your 3-D target. Don’t shoot more than one arrow or you’ll defeat the purpose of the exercise. The psychological pain of any misses will make you concentrate more and improve faster than repeating poor shots.

Just Have Fun!

One last thing about traditional archery: It’s fun. This is the comment I hear most often from newly minted stickbow shooters. If you don’t feel comfortable using a recurve or longbow for deer at first, then just hunt rabbits, stump shoot, or fling flu-flus at aerial targets. In short, learn a little about old time archery and your ancestors who practiced it.


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