Buying Your First Bow?

Deciding to 'Buy a Bow' is not an everyday occurrence, be it your first or your umpteenth, it requires detailed thought and discussion.

Your first bow is always the most difficult, there are so many unknowns; equally your first bow is possibly the most important purchase you will make in the sport. If the purchase is wrong you may well discard it and turn to another sport in the belief that Archery and you are not compatible. This would be a pity. Hence, we want to get the choice right or as near right as possible. As with any decision making, the solution lies in identifying the problems, gathering as much pertinent data as possible and then making an informed decision. The object of these words is simply to promote discussion and indicate various pros and cons of a few alternative approaches.

Let us start with what I must assume you know at this stage:-

1. How much are you prepared to spend? It is a pity to have to consider this aspect early in the decision making process, but to most of us it is all important. Obviously, you must have a figure in mind, but try not to be too fixed about it at this stage. Cost will come up in the discussion later so please read on.

2. The type of Bow required; obviously it is necessary to be definitive on Compound or Composite; for Target Archery or Field: Decisions like ‘take down’ or ‘one piece’ should be thought about now, but left open at this stage.

3. What Bow weight and current arrow length you require; we must assume that both these are known by you and your instructor at the completion of your introductory period, do not be definite about them at this stage as both will vary as your own style develops, especially, your arrow length may well 'grow'. Arrows are a separate subject in themselves, I do not want to discuss them here in any detail only in so far as they affect the choice of bow.

So far nothing has been said that actually helps the beginner make his choice, but we have, I hope, set the scene. We must now start to be specific about the Bow suitable for you. The discussion is independent of left or right handed and yet does in the main only apply to Composite Recurve Bows to be used for Target Archery.

In very general terms you want the longest bow at a draw weight you can manage consistently all day long that will give you a good sight at the longest distance you shoot. Longer Bows will 'pull up' more comfortably than shorter Bows of the same style and weight, but as a penalty, you loose cast, (distance). Hence, it is a matter of balancing one against the other. Remember, the marked weight of a Bow only tells you the poundage necessary to hold the string at a given draw length, it does not tell you anything about the difficulty or otherwise of getting the string to that draw length. Remember also that different manufacturers specify draw weight in different ways, at different draw lengths and use various locations on the riser to measure draw length from. If you are confused about any particular Bow, either refer to a catalogue or ask to ensure you are comparing like with like. Returning to drawing a Bow; different models of Bow have different draw characteristics or 'feel' to them, some are stiff and 'harsh' others are free and 'sweet', unfortunately the 'harsh' ones invariably turn out to be the most stable and more tolerant to your inconsistencies; the 'sweet' ones are more difficult to shoot well, but, in my opinion, more pleasant to use. What all this boils down to is you have to try various models for yourself; do not be fooled into thinking that a 36lb Bow is that, irrespective of length, model, and cost. It is not.

In making your purchase, the first most important aspect is, do not buy too soon. Take your time and allow at least a semblance of your own style to emerge from the basic techniques you have been taught. This gives you a chance to try different models and styles of Bow. This is possibly the most important activity for the newcomer to Archery. Gain as much varied experience as possible. I do not mean just 'pull up' different Bows in a show room, you learn little from this, you are physically and mentally restricted and under conditions that are totally unrealistic to shooting. I mean, shoot at least several ends in the open, do not worry about the result i.e. grouping, so much as what the Bow feels like; can you become part of it? When a fellow Archer offers his Bow for a trial, accept the offer, you will learn a lot from it, the danger is you may not be satisfied with a cheaper model as a result.

In this way you can build up your knowledge to aid your final choice, above all, make notes of your impressions at the time. Write them down. Consider how your hand sits in the riser, is it comfortable, does it suit you? Consider how it pulls up, is it sweet or harsh? What does it feel like at full draw? Again, can you become part of it? Above all is the right one for you.

Now comes the question of how you buy your Bow. It is as well now to ask yourself another question; are you going to try and buy a Bow that you will be contented with for years to come, or are you buying for a limited period in the full knowledge that you will "outgrow" it and soon want another? Most people do, not because the Bow has changed, but because they have changed in style, in attitude to the sport and because they possibly mistakenly, think that is the only way they will improve their scores. Think about that question and try to categorise yourself. Making a long term buy is very difficult especially if your style has not stabilised sufficiently and if you have not thoroughly examined the market. Recognising at this stage that your initial Bow will be of temporary use is possibly the best solution if money allows. It will of course, have are sale value later and allows you to select the Bow you eventually want when you have more knowledge about Archery and more important, about yourself.

There are basically two ways to buy a Bow; to buy new and to buy second hand. Whichever you select has it’s own pit falls and its own advantages. By buying new, you can specify and get the Bow to your detailed requirement of model, style, length, weight and even colour. You have, from most retailers, the facility of trying various types without committing yourself or your money, so use it. You have the protection of a guarantee period and you may have to wait only a short time to acquire the Bow to your specification. Above all, do not settle for a compromise because that is all hey have in stock at the time; you have the advantage of knowing that that Bow has no previous history, and will have the maximum life before it, the chances are that you will tire of it before it tires of you. Bows, however, do not appreciate in price with age so you will most probably loose money.

Buying second hand obviously has its disadvantages. Waiting for a Bow to come on the market that meets your specification requires patience few of us have. You end up compromising your specification, which, if you are not too sure what you want may not matter too much. You should also appreciate what you are buying, in terms of useful life left in the Bow; look for twisted limbs; feel for signs of "stacking up"; look for cracks in the limbs and riser; look for signs of wear of surface finish on limb edges and above all, know who has used it before and know his (or her) shooting style and draw length. If this sounds a lot to consider then ask more experienced Archers for advice but never decisions, that must be yours.

There are some advantages in buying second hand; it does give you the chance to shoot a good quality Bow for possibly the price you would pay for an: inferior quality new Bow: It gives you the opportunity to fill in the gap between a Club equipment and a good quality, but possibly expensive new bow; it is possibly the cheapest way to shoot since a second hand buy will lose less on resale, and above all, it gives you something to shoot with while your style and attitude are developing. I must repeat though, do not buy anything you cannot handle in terms of draw weight and ensure the Bow still has useful life left in it.

Whichever method you elect for buying your first Bow, the rule is "try many and take your time". The opportunity is there to try different Bows, unlike most other purchases you will make in any other walks of life, so use it. Time is on your side, people who get most enjoyment from Archery are, in the main, the people who build up their ability and knowledge, gradually and enjoyment is what it is all about.

Well, that's about all, the decision is yours. Seek advice from others, most Archers are only too willing to tell you how well or bad their Bow shoots, so ask them. In the end though the final decision must be yours, since it is you who will be shooting it and it is you who will be parting with the hard cash. One final word, there is a third way of acquiring a Bow while staying within the law i.e. not stealing and this is to make your own. For the better than average handyman, it is not too difficult to make a bow; to make a Bow to a particular specification with particular characteristics, however, requires an ability, experience and equipment few of us have, in addition to several failures behind you. It is worth a thought, and there are several books on the subject written by persons with the ability, equipment and failures behind them.

Brian Williams