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How to Choose a Traditional Bow

a man is holding a recurve bow and has fully drawn it back. The sky in the background is brilliant blue.
John shooting his beloved 1957 recurve bow.

Few people involved in traditional archery are as well versed in traditional archery gear and the way to use that gear as Cody Greenwood. Cody is the owner of The Trad Lab channel on YouTube, and his profession is investigative analytics. He applies his professional skills to traditional archery equipment whenever he can. You can also find Cody on Instagram and Facebook. The following is a summary of some of the topics he touched on in a recent episode of The Traditional Bowhunter's Journey when discussing advice on how to choose a traditional bow.

Cody appeared on the Food Afield Podcast in this episode, "Barebows and Tuning" and spoke in great detail about some of the facts that surround our lifestyle of shooting the single string. As of this writing, this is the most popular episode of the podcast series The Traditional Bowhunter's Journey. The episode and especially the wisdom in Cody's words resonated with folks already in, or wanting to participate in the traditional archery lifestyle. Please be sure to leave a review wherever you listen to the episode, and we'd love to hear from you here on the blog! Please leave a question or comment below.

Traditional Bow Weight

The weight (or pull) of the bow is crucial, especially for beginners. Gone are the days of pulling back high-weight bows. The key here is sustainability. Shoulders, arms, and wrists all have limits and at some point in time we will all be forced to stop shooting our bows. Let's make that day as far into the future as possible!

the handle of a recurve bow. The 1957 Bear Kodiak. A black beaver tail handle wrap. The text on the bow says 60" and 48#
The old Bear bow...forty eight pounds, and sixty inches.

A lighter-weight bow will allow you to participate in traditional archery and bowhunting for a much longer period of your life. Guaranteed.

Hunting - heavier isn't better. Cody hunts with bows in the low forty-pound range. Matched with proper arrows and super-sharp broadheads, 41 pounds is plenty to harvest big game for the freezer.

Form - The foundation of both accuracy and arrow flight. In Cody's experience with data, there is a fairly large drop in his ability to shoot a perfect arrow at anything above 45 pounds. Now please keep in mind that he is a big guy...and he works out! If the arrow is flying perfectly, and your form is consistently perfect, the arrow will penetrate its target much more efficiently. These perfections are only achieved when we shoot a bow that is below a certain weight limit. Overbowing is a huge mistake!

Target Distance Reality

Don't listen to most folks on social media talking about, or showing, the distance that they have shot different targets, or explaining that "their effective range is thirty yards". It may be true for those folks that are telling you that, but the reality is kinda shocking and completely fun.

Cody collected data from ETAR recently. He observed hundreds of archers shooting at a 3-d target of a whitetail deer from 22 yards. The average success of hitting the eight-ring or better (lung size) on the target was 30%!



Something else to consider when getting started with traditional archery and becoming a traditional bowhunter is the reality of the average distance of a kill shot on whitetail deer. The Trad Lab asked for submissions of the details of kills. There were a little more than 500 submissions last year. Out of all of that data, the average distance of shots taken at deer was fifteen yards! Actually, that was the average distance over the past two years of collecting data.

I can confirm, looking back at all of the deer I've put in the freezer with my bow, fifteen yards sounds about right to me. If I had to guess, I would say that my average has been sub-fifteen yards.

Choose the Most Forgiving Bow

Design is important. A good tune on your flying arrows means that you are far more likely to hit whatever you are aiming at. Recurves are the easiest bows to shoot. The natural deflex design means that you will be far less able to torque the bow when you're shooting it.

A recurve bow is the most forgiving bow design of them all. Cody made me laugh with his undeniable logic when he said, "When longbows are winning the Olympics, I'll claim that longbows are more accurate than recurves".

Bow length matters. Bows under sixty inches drop off in accuracy dramatically. A sixty-two-inch bow is perfect.

Tiller matters too. Easier for you to just listen to the episode when Cody describes the tiller of a bow. Basically, the tiller of the bow is the rate at which each limb "uncoils" as the bow is drawn. He says that this is also critical to accuracy. It is too difficult to determine this feature in a bow from a catalog. The more curve to a limb, the more sensitive the bow will be to tiller variation. Some brands of bows are better than others.

Get Something That Inspires You!

Following the above advice will get you a good bow. But, at the end of the day, you need to love that item. You need to love the look of the feel of it. If you find yourself pulled in a direction because of design or materials, you should absolutely follow that path. Maybe the solution to hunting with a slightly less accurate bow is to just limit your shots to be closer? It can be as easy as that.

Still wondering about how to choose a traditional bow?

A father is helping his young daughter to shoot a recurve bow.
Johnathan Karch, President of 3Rivers Archery, and his daughter.

A tremendous resource for traditional archery equipment is 3Rivers Archery (there is no affiliation on this blog and we are receiving no money from anyone with these links and suggestions). Johnathan Karch, the President of 3Rivers Archery, was on another recent episode of the podcast. You can hear his story and some of the features that they have efforted over the years to cater to folks who wish to get started in traditional archery. Here is the download link for the episode with Johnathan or the regular link.

Follow along with our Instagram account, @foodafieldpodcast, and subscribe to the podcast series, The Traditional Bowhunter's Journey on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, or any of your favourite podcast platforms.

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Aug 08, 2023
Rated 5 out of 5 stars.

In the process of choosing a trad bow and this is all very helpful info. Thank you !

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