Your first bow...Exciting stuff! Let me help you figure out some of the basics as you get started. In this article, I am going to be mentioning some specific brands and retailers. I am not affiliated in any way with these brands, nor am I being compensated for mentioning them. We'll go over the basic understanding of traditional bows and which one will be best for you as you begin your traditional archery life.
Ok, here we go - A Beginner's Guide to Traditional Bows!
How to pick your first traditional bow. Now, if you haven't already done so, a great place to start would be to listen to the Traditional Bowhunter's Journey series of podcasts, presented in partnership with Traditional Bowhunter Magazine. These podcast episodes are geared towards beginners, and the expert guests on those shows have laid down some stellar advice. Since we are talking about beginner's bow selection here in this article, a great episode is both Cody Greenwood's episode and Randy Cooling's. Both of these guys are extremely advanced archers, but they had great advice for selecting the right bow if you are a beginner.
...you will never, ever, see an Olympic archer shooting a longbow. Fact. So what that tells me is that, due to their design, recurve bows are more accurate.
What poundage do I need?
If we are talking about a beginner's guide to traditional bows, the first thing that we should talk about is poundage. Luckily, almost every expert today agrees on the ideal poundage of the bow you should be looking at. A recurve, or longbow for that matter, should be in the 40-50 pound range for your draw length. What that means is that as you pull back to your anchor point, let's say that is 28 inches, you will be holding that poundage. If you plan to hunt with your new bow, check the regulations for what the minimum poundage is. Usually, it is 40-45 pounds here in N. American jurisdictions.
Why am I suggesting the lowest possible poundage for a traditional bow? A couple of reasons. One of which is accuracy which I mention below, and another is your shooting form and physical well-being. Most folks my age grew up shooting bows in an era where heavier was better. Our shoulders are now reminding us of how stupid that way of thinking was. Lighter bows are easier to shoot properly and therefore easier to tune. A bow that is tuned properly (the arrow flies true and straight) is infinitely more accurate and penetrates better. If hunting is your goal with traditional archery, then accuracy and penetration are the two most important aspects of your equipment. Beyond those two things, nothing else matters at all.
What is my draw length?
An easy way to measure your draw length is to take a yardstick and place it on your sternum. Reach out with both hands and have someone mark the measurement of where the tips of your fingers are on the stick. Another common method is to stand with your back against the wall with your arms extended. Have someone measure the distance from the tip of one middle finger to the tip of the other. Now divide that measurement by 2.5. This is your draw length...the length that you will be drawing your bow every time you shoot.
Let's say your draw length is 29 inches. Every bow's poundage is rated at 28 inches. That is to say that a typical bow will say something like 45#@28". If your draw length is 29 inches, you will be pulling approximately 47.5 pounds. Something important for you to keep in mind. Cody Greenwood is a big powerful man who works out regularly. He says that he notices his form and accuracy decrease significantly at 50 pounds. If Cody shoots up to 50 lbs at most, then so should you. My current hunting bow is 48 pounds at my draw length of 28 inches.
Recurve or longbow?
This answer used to be a no-brainer. Now, I am not entirely sure how to handle this question. The new "longbows" are more of a hybrid design. That is to say that they have slightly recurved limbs that uncoil as the bow is drawn. These new longbows are made with modern materials and designs and they pull back smoothly and shoot accurately.
But here's the thing...you will never, ever, see an Olympic archer shooting a longbow. Fact. So what that tells me is that, due to their design, recurve bows are more accurate.
I have shot both styles of bows. I've built a couple of longbows and I've been successful at making venison with them. But there is no doubt that my recurve bows are more fun to shoot on a regular basis. 3Rivers Archery has a good selection of recurves to choose from. They carry my favourite bows, from Bear Archery. I currently shoot a 1957/58 Bear Kodiak. They are still producing their classics like the Fred Bear Takedown and Grizzly's.
A funny, not funny, story about the Bear takedown. I used to own one. I got a hell of a deal on it from a friend of a friend when I first made the switch to traditional archery. Somebody made a crack about me shooting a "compound" when I outshot them one time. I sold that bow soon after. What an idiot. One of my biggest regrets. Beautiful bows.
Back to bow selection.
Cody Greenwood, Randy Cooling, and other pros are telling me that DAS and other ILF (International Limb Fitting) bows are the way to go. These are made from metal and are fully adjustable in a number of different ways. The grips and arrow rest can all be adjusted to maximize arrow tuning. Additionally, with ILF bows, you can purchase a number of different limbs of various weights. One riser with different limbs can make your recurve ultimately flexible for different hunting situations.
The Bear Archery recurves are made from wood and fibreglass, and are generally one-piece bows. No interchanging limbs for these bows.
An example of a great beginner bow, and in fact, a bow that will last you the rest of your archery career is the Old Mountain Mesa Longbow by 3Rivers Archery. This is a bow that I've heard several knowledgeable folks recommend.
There is a ton of information out there about bows and which bows are the best. I would just be adding to the white noise with my suggestions. The fact is that almost all of the bows made today are built well and shoot well.
Final decision (if it were me)
I would pick one of the longer recurves, above 58 inches from tip to tip. Shorter bows will be more difficult to be accurate with. Longer bows are sometimes messy to handle in the woods. Ideally, a recurve would be sixty to sixty-two inches long in my opinion. If you go on eBay and search up Bear Recurves, you will likely see the Kodiak Magnums for cheap. These bows are too short to shoot properly unless you're very compact in stature.
DAS-style vs Wood - This is a tough one. Metal riser bows are definitely more high-tech. For this old Gen-X fella, that isn't necessarily better. I do love the feel of wood bows. I love the sound they make when they shoot, a dull thudding sound. But, it is really hard to argue with the technology that exists today, Those DAS and other ILF bows shoot really well. Toss a coin I suppose. You will have to make that call for yourself. I don't believe that there are any wrong answers here.
If you have any questions about picking a bow to get started with please be sure to reach out to me. A good place for your questions is on Instagram. That is where I place most of my attention.