Tra­di­tional bowhunt­ing primer

NOW IS THE TIME to lose the train­ing wheels and gear up for your first sea­son of tra­di­tional bowhunt­ing

Outdoor Life - - CONTENTS -


The tool of choice for most bowhunters is a mod­ern marvel. It’s highly en­gi­neered, supremely ef­fi­cient, and forged from alu­minum, car­bon, steel, and com­puter-aided al­go­rithms. And then there are the rest of us: bowhunters who use a tool that is sim­ple and en­dur­ing. It’s built of wood and fiber­glass by the hu­man hand, and though it’s com­par­a­tively lim­ited in range and ef­fi­ciency, it’s ab­so­lutely deadly when mas­tered.

A few as­pects of tra­di­tional bow de­sign have been in­flu­enced by mod­ern tech­nol­ogy. But for the most part, it has re­mained largely un­changed since the days of Ishi, Fred Bear, and Howard Hill. And the stick­bow is rid­ing a new­found wave of pop­u­lar­ity as more bowhunters look to change up their ex­pe­ri­ence in the woods.

Think­ing about mak­ing the plunge into a sim­pler side of bowhunt­ing? Here’s what you need to know.


There are two ba­sic types of tra­di­tional bows: long­bows and re­curves. You prob­a­bly al­ready know the fun­da­men­tal dif­fer­ences be­tween the two, but there’s a whole lot more to the de­sign of each than first meets the eye.

Long­bows are the old­est de­sign. It is pos­si­ble to get a flat stick-and-string, but “mod­ern” long­bows are likely to have vary­ing de­grees of re­flex/de­flex (see below) in the limbs, and those limbs will be trapped.

The ad­vances in ge­om­e­try are quite sub­tle but have had a big im­pact on over­all bow per­for­mance. Mod­ern tra­di­tional bows are of a lam­i­nated con­struc­tion, mean­ing the limbs are made up of thin lay­ers of wood and fiber­glass sand­wiched to­gether us­ing high pres­sure and heat-cured ad­he­sives. The ad­di­tion of car­bon lam­i­na­tions and ta­pered wedges near limb tips is some­thing only a scru­ti­niz­ing eye would no­tice, but the im­pact on a bow’s ef­fi­ciency and over­all per­for­mance are ap­pre­cia­ble.

Most tra­di­tional bows are one-piece de­signs, but many are take­down mod­els. There’s a buzzing world of bow man­u­fac­tur­ers and crafts­men pro­duc­ing ev­ery­thing from high-vol­ume pro­duc­tion mod­els to one-off cus­tom builds.


If you’ve shot only com­pound bows, you’re in for a much dif­fer­ent shoot­ing ex­pe­ri­ence with a tra­di­tional bow. Some say you’ll have an eas­ier time tran­si­tion­ing from a com­pound if you use a re­curve with a ma­chined riser. I say that’s non­sense. The grip might be mod­ern and fa­mil­iar, but that’s where the sim­i­lar­i­ties end. Don’t pick an ILF riser sim­ply be­cause you think it’ll give you a short­cut in learn­ing how to shoot a tra­di­tional bow. It won’t.

Tra­di­tional bows are shot with fin­gers on the string. No re­lease aids. The most pop­u­lar shoot­ing styles are three-un­der and the Mediter­ranean draw. Both work and both will take plenty of prac­tice to mas­ter. Choose the style most com­fort­able for you.

You won’t be us­ing sights to aim. You’ll be shoot­ing in­stinc­tively or sight­ing down the ar­row shaft. It is pos­si­ble to use a sim­ple rest, but most se­ri­ous tra­di­tional bowhunters pre­fer to cant the bow and shoot di­rectly off the ar­row shelf.

The draw cy­cle is quite dif­fer­ent as well. There is no val­ley. No let-off. No solid back wall. Draw­ing and an­chor­ing the bow con­sis­tently will re­quire mus­cle mem­ory that comes only with prac­tice. I re­lease the ar­row when my in­dex fin­ger brushes the cor­ner of my mouth. Oth­ers bring the string to the tip of their nose and gap shoot. Your style will de­velop only af­ter enough prac­tice.

A still-hunter with a re­curve hits his an­chor point.

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