A Traditional Archery Journey – Part 2: Decisions, Decisions

Read Part 1: Background here

After a week of unsuccessfully chasing turkeys, I was bit with the hunting bug. When I get into something, I dive in all the way. Now hunting has been added to my  list of eclectic interests right along with open source software, board games, art, barefoot running, photography, and music. Along with hunting, two sub-interests tagged along – flintknapping and traditional archery. My next step in the pursuit of archery was to buckle down and get a bow.

So many decisions: What would I need? Custom or factory? Recurve, longbow, hybrid, reflex-deflex, horse bow, flatbow, self bow – what does that all mean? What is my draw length & what weight do I need. What length? Do I need a shelf? If so, should it be cut to center?

Most everything I read was geared for those who were switching over to traditional from compound, where there was at least some understanding of terminology. There was very little information that was easy to understand for someone completely new to archery. I had to break things down into very general areas before I could dive deep into the nuances.

The longbow has a lot of romance tied to it, it's the bow of Robin Hood, the bow of Howard Hill, it's also a very forgiving style of bow, I can make mistakes and still hit the target.

-Byron Ferguson

Type of Bow

I scoured and devoured every piece of information I could find on what all the different types of bows were. I had already made the decision that I would not use a compound. I have nothing against compounds, I just knew they weren’t for me. To pay the bills, I work in the high-tech world of computers and gadgets and I craved something simple.  I quickly learned, however, that within the traditional archery world, things are only as simple as you choose them to be.

I realized that there were two main types of bows to focus on – recurves and longbows. Within those two very broad categories, there is a plethora of subdivisions, but I wanted to focus on those main two. They each had their positives. For me it came down to these things

  • A mysterious thing called handshock. Apparently, it is not fun and longbows were supposed to have it,while recurves don’t.
  • Smooth draw. Apparently, it is good and longbows are supposed to have it, while recurves don’t.

Now, looking back, I realize that neither of those things is completely true. There are recurves with handshock and longbows without it. Similarly, there are recurves that don’t “stack” and have smooth draw and there are longbows that stack and aren’t as smooth. However, this was the information I was working with and the generalized consensus of “The World Wide Web.”

Faced with the false dilemma before me, I was trying to figure out if I wanted to give up smooth draw or handshock. I then came across something called a hybrid, or reflex-deflex longbow. this design offers many of the advantages of a recurve in the form of a longbow.

Custom vs. Off-The-Shelf

Having decided on a hybrid longbow, I needed to find one of good quality that fit my budget. This led me further down the rabbit-hole of terms I didn’t understand the significance of: draw length, draw weight, riser type, grip shape, ILF, etc. I researched all I could and found the very basics of what I needed to know. Still, I was a bit overwhelmed and knew I needed some help. I looked at some of the more popular manufactured hybrid longbows. There wasn’t a real consensus like there was with recurves (you will see the Samick Sage mentioned over and over as a recommended first recurve). For no real reason except price and availability at a local big box store, I was set on the Bear Montana.

I noticed that at its price I could also get an entry level custom bow. So my research led me down the road of custom bowyers. There are some incredible bowyers out there that make wonderful works of art. I really wanted a Stalker Stickbow. South Cox, the owner/bowyer and I shared a bit of a connection – he was from Big Sur and his place in Fortuna was a few houses down from my mom.  Small world! However, the bows were out of my price range.

There was another name that kept coming up – Kegan McCabe and his Omega Longbows. People kept mentioning that his bows performed as well or better than high-end custom bows at a fraction of the cost. How could that be? He uses native woods as opposed to the exotics of many other companies. The more I read and researched, the more I was intrigued. Especially when given the option of an unfinished (unstained, unsealed) bow at a discount. Now, high-end performance was attainable while spending far less than I would have on any manufactured bow that offered similar performance.

The unfinished bow

I also had access to a helpful, knowledgeable bowyer. He didn’t mind the simple questions I asked that he’s likely answered hundreds of times for others. He guided me to what I needed, not what made him the most money. Truly good customer service.

Final Decisions

My initial setup, after about a month of practice @ ~15 yards.

Now that I knew where I wold be sourcing my bow from, I still had to do things like figure out my draw length, weight, etc. Here’s what I ended up with and the reasoning behind each part:

Component Description & Reasoning
Make & Model Omega Imperial  This model offered the most options. It is a “stealth D” bow, meaning it is legal for strict longbow tournaments. It is forgiving and does well with both targets and hunting. I don’t have any aspirations of competing in tournaments, but it is nice to know that the option is there.
Length 64″  This is a length that would be short enough for most hunting situations, but long enough at my height and draw length to have a nice, smooth draw.
Draw Weight 40#  40 pounds out of modern hybrid like the Imperial is roughly equivalent to 45# out of an older style bow. This is more than enough to hunt North American big game with, but light enough that I can still work on good form. Some people suggest getting an even lighter bow. I’m inclined to think that generally, lighter is better and I went at the very top of the “light first bow” range since I had the now laughable perspective I would only ever get this one bow.  This will be different for everyone, but keep in mind that lighter is better – No matter what you may use in the compound world or how much you can bench press.
Draw Length  29″  I’m 6’0″ and figured out my draw length with the calculation of my arm span (72″) divided by 2.5 which came out to 28.8. Kegan recommended rounding up to 29″ as he believed my draw length would likely expand somewhat over time, which it has (about 30″ now).

Arrows

What a complicated subject! Again, the terms were thrown around as if I understood – Bareshaft tuning, weak spine, stiff spine, FOC, carbon, aluminum, wood, etc. I asked Kegan for a basic recommendation that would get me close and ended up with some Beman ICS Bowhunter .500 spine arrows 31″ long. I figured I would learn to tune after I learned to shoot, knowing that even given perfect arrows for my bow, I still needed to learn the mechanics of the shot cycle. Looking back, this approach was a good one because the detail of information can get overwhelming in a hurry. I have since changed my arrow setup (now shooting Valkyrie Archery‘s full-on “Ultimate Broadhead Delivery System”), but this was an excellent starting point.

My current setup with a beaver tail grip, Selway slide-on quiver, custom flemish twist string, bear hair rest, and Valkyrie arrows.

Now that I had made my decision, I placed my order and waited for my bow to arrive.In the meantime, I needed to study and prepare myself to be ready once my bow was ready. About 6 weeks later, it was shipped in a nearly indestructible PVC tube ready for me to sand and stain.

Recommendation: If you are at all interested in traditional archery and are wondering where to start, just get started somewhere. Don’t let the all of the information and opinions become daunting. Be sure to do your research – reach out to bowyers and those on the web. Just don’t let it overwhelm you. Get a (light) bow, some arrows, and start flingin’ ’em!

To Be Continued…

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