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Try Traditional

  If you have never tried traditional archery before we hope that you will find the following information helpful.  It is meant to be a brief introduction, and by no means is it intended to be everything you need to know to get started.  The hope is that it will pique your interest, and maybe answer a question or two along the way.  

“So long as the new moon returns in heaven a bent, beautiful bow, so long will the fascination of archery keep hold of the hearts of men."
MAURICE THOMPSON
The Witchery of Archery. 1878 **

  You will find that traditional archers are a very friendly and helpful group, and if you can find one near you, take advantage of any opportunity you have to learn from them.  Seek out information from the listed sources.  Maybe buy a book or two.  Before you know it you may find yourself drawn down a different path.  The lure of traditional archery can be like a sirens song, and you may just find yourself seduced by the special romance of our bowhunting heritage.

Why Traditional Archery?

  The bowhunting marketplace today is dominated by compound bows and all the ancillary devices that go along with them.  The majority of hunters use modern equipment and most bowhunters who have taken up the sport within the past twenty years or so have never used anything but a compound bow.  Yet there is a growing trend among some archers who have chosen to take a step back and try traditional archery.   What is the attraction of traditional archery and why is enjoying a resurgence in popularity?  Why would someone want to give up the ease of use and pinpoint accuracy that modern equipment can offer?

  Those who have tried traditional generally offer the same explanations of what drew them to it.  The most common response given is that it is “Just more fun!”  People who take up traditional shooting suddenly discover that shooting a bow is enjoyable again and when they go out for practice sessions they have a difficult time putting it down.  Rather than becoming a chore that must be done before hunting season begins, shooting suddenly becomes a joy in and of itself. 

  It seems to start with a desire to simplify bowhunting.  Traditional archery can be the essence of simplicity – just two sticks and a string.  No sights, pins, stabilizers, rests, vibration reducing devices, and a myriad of other gadgets to worry about.  Once you try shooting a recurve or a longbow for awhile you may discover that all the things you thought you needed were actually more of a hindrance than a help.  There will be nothing to break or go out of adjustment, and no ranges to guess at. Just pick up the bow, nock an arrow, pull it back and let it go.  There is something truly magical about watching an arrow in flight arc toward its intended target and finds its mark.  Without aiming or calculating distance, the arrow and the spot you were concentrating on merge into one.  In its purest form, instinctive shooting is a blend of hand/eye coordination and muscle memory coming together to work as one without conscious thought.  That may sound difficult, but shooting instinctively is a skill we all possess whether we are aware of it or not.  It is similar to how we can throw a ball, somehow knowing how hard and how high to throw in order to hit what we want.  Shooting an arrow instinctively works much the same way. 

  Traditional archery also provides a closer attachment to our bowhunting roots.  Saxon Pope, Art Young, Fred Bear, Howard Hill, Glenn St. Charles, Will Compton, Ishi, and a host of others were the pioneers of bowhunting and they all did it with traditional equipment.  Who among us has not wished we had been able to walk down a trail with any one of them.  The stick and the string give us an opportunity to at least experience the sport as they did, and provide a greater appreciation for the feats they accomplished.

  The equipment used in traditional archery has an allure all its own.  Stunningly beautiful exotic hardwoods with exquisite grains and colors.  The addicting aroma of cedar wood shavings, and comfortable feel of leather on a grip or an armguard.  Traditional bows feature smooth flowing lines and graceful curves tapering to delicate tips.  They feel wonderful to hold and carry, and exhibit a beauty that cannot be built into the mechanical devices that today’s compound bows have evolved into.

  From a practical standpoint, regardless of the type of equipment used, bowhunting remains mostly a short range sport.  The vast majority of archery kills are at 20 yards or less – well within the effective range of traditional gear in the hands of a reasonably practiced archer.  If you have always hunted with modern gear, take a moment and think back to every animal you have ever taken cleanly.  How many were less than 20 yards and how many were longer?  One of the principal benefits of bowhunting is the close range encounters it allows with the animals we pursue. Traditional archery works perfectly with close up encounters with game, and once you try it you will come to discover an amazing fact.  Shooting instinctively is actually an advantage in many situations and can provide more shot opportunities than modern equipment.  Often when an animal is close the window of opportunity is very narrow indeed.  The animal may be facing the wrong way, brush is in between, or other animals nearby may be watching.  Frequently there is a tiny space in time when everything is perfect and a good shot can occur.  How many times have you drawn back on a deer only to have it step behind a tree or otherwise move out of position before you can get everything lined up for the shot?  The shot sequence for most users of traditional gear happens much faster than it does with a compound.  Modern equipment users often worry about how fast their arrows fly, but often what really matters in hunting situations is how fast you can take advantage of a limited opportunity.  When the window only opens a crack, instinctive shooting with traditional gear offers a clear advantage.

"After all, it is not the killing that brings satisfaction; it is the contest of skill and cunning. The true hunter counts his achievement in proportion to the effort involved and the fairness of the sport"

Dr. Saxton Pope  **

Choosing A Bow

  If you decide you would like to give traditional archery a try, the first step is to decide what type of bow to begin with.  Traditional bows are generally grouped into two main categories:

     Longbow – Most participants define a longbow simply by the fact that the string does not lay flat along the limb tips near the nock ends.  Within the longbow category are many variations in design.  The most traditional feature a straight limb design with a minimal handle area, little or no shelf, and a traditional “D” shape when strung.  More modern designs include a high degree of reflex/deflex in the limbs and sculptured grips with the arrow shelf cut to center, as more commonly found in recurve style bows.  The more aggressive designs often approach or even exceed arrow speeds obtained with a recurve.

     Recurve – Recurve bows are easily recognized by the limb tips which curve dramatically away from the shooter.  Before being drawn the string actually lays against the limb for the last few inches before the tips.  The handle, or riser, section of the bow is typically thicker and more massive than a longbow, although 50’s style recurves are lighter in mass. 

  The methods used to construct a bow also differ.  Most modern longbows and recurves are made from laminations of wood and fiberglass.  With this method materials are very strong and a light, fast, and powerful bow can be built.  Selfbows, on the other hand, are created from either a board, or from a single piece of wood split directly from a tree, called a stave.  It is then shaped by sawing, filing, and sanding into a functional bow.  Some may be backed with various materials like rawhide, snakeskin, or cloth, however fiberglass is not typically used. 

  Which bow is correct for you is a matter of personal preference.  Many individuals prefer the lightness and more romantic, traditional look and feel of a longbow.  Others find that a recurve bow is easier to shoot initially when switching from compound bows because the grip feels more natural and comfortable and the greater mass of the riser adds stability in the hand.  As a general rule recurves will be faster than a longbow, although modern longbow designs often approach or even exceed the speed of many recurves. For most traditional shooters speed is not a major consideration. Which bow an individual shoots best is by far most important.  

  The best advice is to try and shoot some of each before deciding and see what appeals most to you personally.  If at all possible, find someone who already shoots traditional.  Attend a traditional shoot or show, or find a traditional archery shop nearby.  Try out as many types of bows as you can in an effort to learn what works best for you as an individual.  Always remember that what works best for one person is not necessarily best for you.

  Regardless of what type of bow you decide to start with some general guidelines and recommendations will go a long way to helping you become successful.  First, do not over-bow yourself. The most common mistake new traditional shooters make is to start out with a bow that is too heavy for them.  They struggle to get to full draw, and in the process it is impossible to learn good shooting habits and establish a proper form.  A good rule of thumb is to begin with a bow at least 15 pounds lighter than you might currently shoot with a compound.  45 – 50 pounds is a great place to start, and is more than adequate for hunting deer and bear sized game.  Do yourself a favor and begin with a light draw weight bow.

  Draw length with a traditional bow will typically be 1 or 2 inches less than with a compound due to the differences in how the bow is held and drawn, as well as switching from release to fingers.  Most traditional bows are built to a 28” standard draw length and the marked draw weight is measured at this point.  If your own draw is more or less than what is listed on the bow you will simply be drawing a little more or less weight than is marked.  Typically for each inch more or less than the listed draw length you can add or subtract approximately 3# in draw weight.  So a bow marked 57 @ 28” may actually pull closer to 51# @ 26”. 

  Length of the bow from tip to tip is another factor to consider.  Most shooters feel that a longer bow is more forgiving of shooting form inconsistencies and smoother drawing, especially for those with longer draw lengths.  Shorter bows may be slightly faster, and are felt to be easier to maneuver in brush or tree stands, although many hunters feel this factor is overrated in importance.  Bow design can also make a big difference from one bow to another, and a properly designed bow can shoot every bit as good as a longer one.  Again, much of the decision here comes down to personal preference.

  **Quotations Presented Courtesy of Wisconsin Traditional Archers

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