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A Beginner's Guide to Bowhunting Basics

bowhunting basics

So, you are thinking about getting into archery and bowhunting? That’s a great decision, but the sport can be overwhelming at first. There are lots of different terms most people are not familiar with, and tons of different types of products. Archery can be a very expensive sport – many quality bows cost as much as a high-end hunting rifle. Learning to shoot a bow doesn’t have to be a difficult experience, nor do you need to spend thousands of dollars to get a start in the sport. It’s important to understand the types of bows on the market today, each with pluses and minuses. Knowing the different components and equipment can help narrow your search for your first bow and help get you shooting fast. 

This article we put together explains how different types of bows shoot, what makes one different from another, and how different equipment can be useful in varying shooting conditions, whether you are at a range or in the field. We will explain terminology in simple to understand ways and give examples of some products to consider when shopping for your first bow. 

Terms You Need to Know

  • Arrow Rest: The arrow rest keeps the front of the arrow in place while the bow is drawn.
  • Limbs: The limbs of a bow are the long portions running from the handle to the point where the string attaches.
  • Riser: The riser is the center of the bow where the handle is located.
  • Draw Weight: the force, usually measured in lbs the archer must pull the string to get good performance.
  • Draw Length: The distance a bow must be drawn to achieve maximum force.
  • Let-Off: A term describing the effect of compound bow cams to relieve a percentage of the draw weight once the string is drawn a set distance. 
  • Nock: The nock is the part of the arrow that rests on the string. The string will also have a spot known as the nocking point. 
  • Take-Down: A take-down bow allows the shooter to remove the limbs for storage, then assemble the bow when ready to shoot. 

Types of Bows

The first – and often most confusing thing about archery and bowhunting is the variety of types of bows out there. Each type of bow accomplishes the same task: sending an arrow downrange with sufficient force to strike a target. We are going to break down the basic types of bows and let you know what makes them popular.

Traditional Bows

Two types of traditional bows are in common use today; the flat bow and the longbow. The primary difference between the two is the shape of the bow. A longbow uses a D-shape for the arms, while a flat bow is rectangular. The key to identifying these traditional designs lies in the curve of the bow when it is strung. The tips of the bow where the string attaches will curve toward the user. The design is simple and efficient, these types of bows have been in use since the dawn of time. 

Recurve Bows

A recurve bow is also a traditional bow design, but is significantly different from a flat bow or a longbow. A recurve bow will have tips pointed away from the shooter. When a recurve bow is drawn, a tremendous amount of force is available. Recurve bows will shoot faster and harder than flat bows. Stringing a recurve bow must be done correctly and with care; a mistake can cause serious injury.

Compound Bows

The design of a compound bow has been around for a very long time, but not as long as the other types of bows. A compound bow is easy to identify because of the cams at the top and bottom of the limbs. The cams function like pulleys, allowing a huge amount of energy to be built up from a compact design. A compound bow can easily generate twice as much force as a traditional longbow despite less than half the height. Compound bows use oblong cams that produce a let off of draw pressure once the string is far enough back. Let off allows compound bow shooters to aim and steady shots better because of the reduction in effort to hold the string back. 

Crossbow

A crossbow can be either a recurve or compound bow, but is mounted horizontally to a rifle stock. Unlike a bow that must be held in tension, a crossbow can be carried cocked and loaded. A crossbow shoots bolts rather than arrows. Bolts are typically shorter and thicker than arrows due to the decreased draw length of a crossbow. The crossbow design allows for extremely high draw weights with minimal effort on the part of the user. Crossbows typically use a device to assist the shooter in cocking the string which can reduce the weight by 50% or more. Crank-type cocking assists can make a 150lb crossbow require only five to ten pounds of effort to cock. 

Take-Down Bows

Take-down bows feature limbs that detach from the riser for storage and transport. When the shooter is ready, the limbs can quickly install and the bow can be strung. A huge advantage to many designs of take-down bows is the ability to increase or decrease the draw weight to suit different users. Most shooters will start out with lower draw weights, then increase over time as they gain experience. A take-down lets archers increase draw weight by purchasing new limbs without the expense of buying a new bow. Take-down bows are available with flat and recurve tips, but not compound designs. Flat and recurve bows can be strung in the field, but a compound bow requires a special press to install the string properly. 

How to String a Bow

Learning to string a bow may seem like a daunting step full of danger, but it doesn’t have to be. Stringing a flat bow, longbow, or recurve is an important thing to learn to do. Most bow manufacturers recommend storing bows unstrung. A take-down bow must be strung each time it is assembled.

The safest way to string a bow uses a device called a bow-stringer. A bow-stringer is an easy-to-use tool that prevents injury when getting the string in its seat properly. The principle is easy; the bow-stringer fits to the top then bottom limbs and the user stands on the bow-stringer string. When the bow is lifted up, the limbs are bent, and the bow can be safely strung. 

A compound bow cannot be strung like a recurve or a take-down. Compound bow limbs are under high tension, even at rest. The string must align correctly, and it is a much more complex process. A bench-mount bow press is the only safe way to string a compound bow. 

What’s the Best Type of Bow for Beginners?

The best bow for a beginner will depend on many factors beyond the type of bow. New shooters must take into consideration things like height and arm length when selecting a bow. Draw weight directly relates to the speed a bow fires an arrow, but higher draw weight bows are more difficult to shoot, too. Finding the correct compromise can be a bit of a challenge. 

Determining Draw Weight

Draw weight is one of the more complex issues in bowhunting. Many new shooters start out with too heavy of a draw weight, expecting to “grow” into it. According to learn-archery.com, too much draw weight contributes to bad form and posture, leading many new archers to quit the sport. The website provides a chart breaking down good bow draw weights based on age and experience for both recurve and compound bows. 

Determining Draw Length

Draw length is a measurement relating to how far a bow must be pulled to achieve the intended power. To get an idea of an appropriate draw length, measure your arm span from thumb to thumb, then divide by 2.5. Round the arm span measurement up to the nearest whole number. This weird, but tried and true method is an accurate and fast method of finding the proper draw length. 

Final Suggestions for Selecting a New Bow

Bowhunting can be a rewarding experience that doesn’t have to be expensive. A high-quality bow, complete with everything necessary to get shooting can be had for a reasonable price. The most important thing to consider when getting into bowhunting is to find a bow design that fits well and is comfortable to shoot. Many archery pro shops can offer lessons, and are usually more than happy to help you find the type of bow you are the most comfortable shooting. Knowing the types of bows and how they differ should help you to identify the type of bow you want to try. 

If you really want to deep dive into bowhunting, we've recently put together a guide with our top bowhunting tech for 2020. We go over the newest gear and tech we think can elevate your bowhunting skills to the next level.