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Advice for Buying Your First Bow for Bowhunting

Maybe; you have seen a hunting video and think that is a cool way to harvest my next animal. Maybe; you are a rifle hunter looking for a new/different challenge. Maybe; you want to take advantage of local archery opportunities. There are many reasons people decide to pick up a bow whether it be in the pursuit of game. Whatever your reason for considering this… Welcome to the addiction. I am taking a bow-hunting perspective in this because again like any purchase the end use has to be considered. A sports car aficionado is going to choose a different vehicle than an off-road aficionado. While both vehicles have a powertrain and tires there are other features that make the vehicle  suitable for the application.

So; I will continue in a bowhunting vein. You look at the wide variety of equipment available and wonder what is best for you? The best advice I can give is to go to a reputable bow shop and talk to a person there and most importantly! DO NOT WALK OUT WITH A BOW ON THE FIRST VISIT. Take that information home and mull it over. Then go to another source of information that is reputable and inform yourself. As you do this you may become a bit more confused by the myriad of information and conflicting reports especially on online forums with people defending their own personal choice of equipment. I would say also go watch some video of what people are using for hunting in the various hunting videos…of course remembering that these people have sponsors thus a vested interest in the brand of equipment they are using. Bow shops have a vested interest as they usually support a few lines they have chosen to carry, or what is available to them because of territory etc.

Are you confused yet? If you are not then you are of a minority. When I made the decision to go bowhunting I decided to go the used equipment route. I bought some used equipment in a reputable bow shop on my third visit and with some great information provided was shooting relatively well. Then I joined a local club and a member there provided some awesome information that I still use today .He told me that anything that has been available for a few years is still available; because people are using it successfully. There is a lot of hype in sporting goods and lots of marketing  money being spent on brand endorsements but in the end it comes down to what you choose.

The first step in deciding what you need is deciding what your intentions and budget are. The higher the budget the easier it is to select equipment. If you are just planning to try it and see what it is about, if you have ill-fitted improperly chosen equipment chances are you will not enjoy the sport  as much.  Many people buy poor to mediocre used equipment and then end up spending money again to get what a good advisor would recommend in the first place. Expect to spend what you would spend on a decent scoped rifle  plus accessories.

Without further ado her goes the information spiel. Each of these sections could be an article on its own so I will give the “Reader’s Digest” version.

Package Deals: These are usually the best way for a first time bow-hunter to get started. Most package deals have decent workable gear.   It is a great thing for a starter. Once people gain some shooting experience then a person can choose upgrades once they get information. I never consider archery gear to be a purchase, more of a rent/lease plan.  I will use it then sell it to someone else and the difference is my rental/lease payment.

Used Equipment:  If you are on a budget; you may choose to look for a good used starter package but again I will caution always do this with a knowledgeable advisor. In many pro-shops you can see used equipment and often it has been serviced by the shop in question and they know the life of the bow and whether it has been abused or not. The used bow market is very “BUYER BEWARE”. That being said it comes down to a matter of trust. Bow hunter’s love to help out their friends in general; so if a good friend has a used bow for sale that fits you it can be a great deal. Just be aware of the risks.

Bow specific: In online forums this is a most often asked question. What bow? The answers usually are brand specific and you will get the, “Well go and try every brand and see what you like the best.” It is really hard to test a bow when being brand new because you have no baseline to compare to. Once a person has been shooting a specific bow for awhile then they try a different one and can decide if they like it better or not. There are three important measurements in a bow. First; do you need right or a left bow? This actually refers to eye dominance not Hand dominance. Using a bow does not require fine motor movements like writing and regardless of handedness you are going to be clumsy with either hand until you practice.  Do an eye dominance test and then go with your dominant eye. Many people go with hand dominance and then later get advised to switch but have difficulty then. Second; is draw length, again there are different methods of checking this for a guideline but I like to confirm this with bow fit. Third is string angle which is a function of your draw length ATA length, limb configuration and brace height. This affects bow fit as well and this combination is different from person to person as faces and anchor points (where hand is on face at full draw) come in all shapes and sizes. Typically taller people like longer ATA and longer BH and vice versa, but not always, again an advisor is so important here.  I like to see a string angle where; with a natural head position,  the nose is able to touch the string at full draw without the string coming back past and imaginary line drawn  between corner of eye and corner of mouth.  This is where a good advisor/bow tech will help a new archer because proper draw length leads to good form.

Arrow Rest: Any commercial arrow rest will work if it has been around for years. There is a whisker biscuit style which is very good for beginner archers for simplicity as there are no moving parts.  The other style I like is a simple drop away with a full capture system and an example iof this is s Trophy Taker Top Slot. There are also people who like the lock-up style drop-away like the Ripcord, QAD Ultra rest etc. but there is an additional moving part however some people really like the lockup feature. It really does not matter because each of these rests when setup properly by a good advisor/bow tech will function as well as the archer.

Sights: There is a huge variety of sights here. For a new bow hunter I like simple but functional sight that they can start with that has a micro-adjustable gang adjust. This is where all pins move with a screw apparatus. There is nothing worse than trying to make a small adjustment with a sliding sight and then slipping past the intended place and then guessing where to put it. With a screw assembly it makes sighting in much easier for the advisor (and bow hunter).

Stabilizer: This really is a personal preference and some bows need very little stabilization however the best thing to do is start with a basic model (especially in a package deal) and leave this decision for later once you have some experience under your belt.

Arrows: This is totally dependent upon bow specifics, and purpose. In today’s world there are spine charts and I usually recommend something that will be in the proper spine with a 100 grain broadhead. I look at the 100 grain broad head as the 180 grain 30 caliber bullet. You can find them in most places, and in the greatest variety of styles and brands.  Having a good advisor know how to optimize spine for your setup is absolutely critical to enable easy tuning. An out of spine arrow (too stiff or too weak) is just plain no good. This is a whole other multiple article topic. Basically get a good quality carbon arrow that is in the manufacturer supplied arrow chart cut to the length described with the proper tip weight and it will be close.

Broad heads: Again each brand has their following. Fixed blade and mechanical is a debate that will never be solved.  All I say is legal sharp ones here.

Release:  This is your connection with the bow. This is equivalent to a rifle trigger. Because this is not automatically installed you choose your level of accuracy. You need a decent trigger release. There are many manufacturers of releases as there are many preferences. Again fit is so important. Many people are shooting a release with too long of a length of pull. Their finger tip is just on the release and when you take video the force applied is actually more downward than rear ward. Think of the string as a big elastic band. If you apply downward pressure it adds potential inconsistency as the downward pressure is not consistent. This is an article on its own as well. What I say here is go with a good index finger release, that fits properly that you can get your finger around so you can activate it by pulling rearward…and proper draw length assures this.  Again a good advisor is critical.  Realize that you may also lose a few arrows in the learning so good to go inexpensive at first!

There is a lot of consideration but the shooting system is only as good as the weakest link. Top of the line well fitted bow with poorly spined arrows is only going to perform as well as the arrows can. Improper draw length on an expensive setup is not going to perform as well as a less expensive setup fit properly.

So how does one choose the right equipment? There are many considerations and the confusion could be endless and it often takes years for people to select the equipment that works for them. There are those who in the quest for better accuracy trying to buy every nick-nack and gadget out there instead of focusing on the weakest link which may the archer themselves. A good archer that has lots of practice and good form can shoot less expensive, ill-fitted equipment reasonably well. I have even seen archers who are shooting equipment that fits very badly according to conventional thinking but shoot it amazingly well and refuse to change and we will never know how much better they could shoot with proper fitting equipment because it is what they started with and they shoot it in parameters they are happy with.

The two biggest variables are the archer and the advisor. The archer has to come into this situation with a cautious but open mind. There is so much conflicting information and the best situation is to have a good advisor.

For many prospective new archers these advisors are often one of these two people:

  1. A friend who is into archery and advises according to their knowledge.
  2. Or, a pro-shop owner who advises according to their criteria.

 

I have seen some good advice and bad advice from both of these sources. So how does one know if they are getting good advice? I say one has to look at the potential bias and remember there is always vested self interest. I have seen a pro-shop sell a 5’9” person a bow built for the people over 6’3” and then the buyer wonders why they were not getting the performance they expected. The reason for this travesty is that the bow shop was over-stocked on a particular bow so the resident bow-tech got a bonus every time he sold that particular type of bow. I have also seen friends give friends ill advice because they understood what worked for them and tried to get their buddy who had totally different characteristics into the same equipment when it may not be an ideal match. Of course fortunately these cases or isolated but it can happen. The best advisors are people who are obviously involved in archery and it is always best to get multiple opinions. When people agree in a certain area chances are that is good baseline advice.

 

As a new archer I talked to a reputable bow shop person and a local coach/member of an archery club and gained all sorts of advice. Aver the years as I adjusted my equipment and changed things I received advice from many other sources.I talked with professional archer’s and attended seminars, hosted seminars etc. and in the end I found that simplicity is always the best option in a hunting system.When buying a vehicle if you talk to a mechanic they will advise on a vehicle that is easy to work on, or if they are looking for revenue a vehicle that requires lots of work. Not saying that one should not get advice from a bow tech; one just needs to be cautious. If you talk to another bow-hunter they will tell you their preferences and maybe their dislikes and then you can compare to what the bow tech told you.

 

When I am vetting advisors I like talking to various people and the ones I like are the ones who have relevant experience, seem to know how to shoot, and yet have an open mind. The responses I like to hear when testing are: “Well this is what I use and why I use it, however some people like to use Option B or C for these reasons.If the response to the “I am thinking about getting into archery”… and the response is “How much are you thinking of spending….” RUN AWAY.

 

I really like it when I see a company rep shooting a bow and a new archer comes up and they spend their time having a conversation with the new prospective archer and it is an information laden conversation without being pushy.

 

So in conclusion to compare a bow purchase to a rifle purchase I look at these three critical components. The bow has to be a proper fit for draw length and string angle. There must be properly matched arrows for the bow. There are no “factory arrows” each arrow is cut to length and the length affects spine so these have to fitted to the bow properly too. Then finally, ensure you purchase a good release. What is the good of having a custom tuned rifle with a creepy inconsistent trigger?

 

Armed with this information I hope to make buying your first bow as pleasurable of experience as buying your second one will be!

 

 

Mark Twang

Have a question email marktwang@canadianhuntingsociety.com

                       


 
     
     
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