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EMBARK: Beginner’s look at bow hunting tools

October 13, 2015
By SHAUN KITTLE - Embark ( , Lake Placid News

With bow hunting season in full swing, Embark took a beginner's look at the sport with the guidance of Matthew Rothamel, who owns Blue Line Sport Shop in Saranac Lake with his wife, Cory. First, we talked about some standard archery terms before getting into three basic bow types: longbow, recurve and compound.



Article Photos

Long bow
Photo by Shaun Kittle


The riser is the fatter portion of the bow.

A level edge on a riser, called the shooting shelf, gives the archer a place to rest an arrow.

"In archery you'll find that people have strong opinions on what works and what doesn't," Rothamel said. "A traditional stick bow usually wouldn't have a riser, you were just shooting off of your knuckle."

Risers can be custom made according to the user's grip.

"You can tell whether the bow is righty or lefty depending on which side the shooting shelf, or rest, is on," Rothamel said. "If I shoot lefty, my shooting shelf is on the right."



Limbs are the main body of the bow.

The upper limb extends above the riser, the lower limb is below it. The lower limb usually has the bow's information on it.

"For example, this is a 64-inch, 40-pound, 28 inches of draw," Rothamel said. "What that means is from tip to tip this is 64 inches, and 40 pounds (of draw weight) at 28-inches. On this particular bow, you have to have 28 inches of draw to get the draw weight."

Different people have different draw lengths. If you shoot the above bow at 27 inches, it won't have a 40-pound draw. Exceeding the draw length increases the draw weight.


Bow string

Rothamel said the oldest form of bow strings were probably made out of animal gut sinew.

Natural bow strings can also be made out of linen, vegetable fibers, silk and rawhide. Bow strings can also be made from more modern materials like dacron and kevlar.

The string itself is comprised of a number of strands twisted, layered and laminated with a wax to hold it together.

"If you look at a more modern bow string, you get into loops," Rothamel said. "The more loops you have, the stronger the tensile strength might be. That's also based on the strength of the material. More strands also equals more strength. Under tension it looks like one string."

The bowstring is nocked to the limb tips of the bow. Nock has several applications in archery. It also refers to the center of the riser, and an archer nocks an arrow to the string.



Traditional arrows are feathered, and those feathers are called the arrow's fletching. There are three-, four- and no-fletch arrows.

"Believe it or not, if I shoot an arrow without fletching on it, it will fly straight, to a point," Rothamel said.

The fletching can be arranged in different ways. Straight-cut fletches run parallel to the arrow shaft, offset fletches run slightly off parallel by a couple of degrees and helical fletches twist around the shaft. Rothamel said arrows need fletching to shoot off of a traditional riser.

The fletching has one odd-colored feather, called a cock feather. The other feathers are called hen feathers, and they're usually darker than the cock feather.

"In times of war, back in the day, you'd have your arrows marked so you would know which were yours," Rothamel said. "They actually kept track of kills on the battlefield based on who shot which colored arrows."

Arrows are made out of materials like wood, aluminum and carbon. They have spine, which represents how stiff the shaft is. Since arrows flex when drawn and recover when released, a stiffer arrow is best for a heavier draw.

"If the arrow doesn't have proper recovery, it'll be all over the place," Rothamel said.

Arrows are cut for different draw lengths, and there is an endless amount of tip styles to choose from.

"For targets and paper, generally you're going to use a field or bullet point," Rothamel said. "Mechanical heads usually have some kind of cutting edge for hunting. There's a million things out there."




As their name implies, longbows are longer than their modern counterparts. They're also more traditional.

Longbows can be made from a single piece of wood or by gluing several pieces of wood together, called wooden laminate.

Longbows typically have fewer features than recurve or compound bows. Simpler in design and composition, they have the basic elements of a bow - riser, limbs and string - and that's usually it.

Wooden longbows need to be unstrung after use to avoid taking on a permanent bend. The same is recommended for wooden laminate and fiberglass bows, although they are thought to be more resilient to permanent bend.


Recurve bow

A recurve bow's limbs curve away from the archer, making its shorter limbs more powerful.

The limbs are typically made from layers of material like wood, fiberglass or carbon.

The riser is usually separate from the limbs and can be constructed from wood, carbon, aluminum alloy or magnesium alloy.

A recurve's shape allows the bow to store more energy than a longbow, delivering more speed and power to the arrow. Their smaller size also makes them better suited for taking into the woods.


Compound bow

Compound bows use a levering system consisting of cables and pulleys, called cams, to bend the limbs.

That system allows the bow limbs to be stiffer than those of a longbow or recurve bow, so there's less bend resulting in increased accuracy and efficiency.

There's a lot of potential for power there. The right compound bow with the right cam system can deliver arrow speeds of 375 feet per second, which rivals some crossbows.

It isn't easy holding a 40-pound draw weight for an extended period of time. The asymmetrical pulleys create a let down of the draw force when the string is pulled beyond a certain point, making it easier to hold in place while aiming.

"On the most modern bows, you don't experience a let down in poundage until you're at full draw," Rothamel said.

Compound bow risers can be made from materials like wood, carbon and aluminum. Some have arrow rests called whisker biscuits, a small sound hoop with inward pointing bristles that offers minimal resistance when the arrow is released. There are also plunger rests, which drop away when the arrow is released, and prong-style rests, which have a notch for the cock feather to travel through.

"The main point of all of this is to reduce contact with the arrow," Rothamel said.

Compound bows usually have shorter brace heights, which is a measurement from the center of the riser to where the knocking position on the string is. A smaller brace height results in a faster arrow.

The axel-to-axel measurement of compound bows is often shorter than a limb-tip-to-limb-tip measurement on longbows and recurve bows, giving hunters more maneuverability in the woods.


[This article appears in the October-November issue of Embark. Embark is a free, bi-monthly publication that focuses on outdoors-related topics in the Adirondack Park. Embark is published by the Adirondack Daily Enterprise and Lake Placid News.]



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