Taking Aim: A Primer on Traditional Archery

by A Manly Guest Contributor on November 4, 2010 · 32 comments

in Health & Sports, Sports

Editor’s note: This is a guest post from Josh Parchman.

“A long bow and a strong bow,
And let the sky grow dark.
The nock to the cord, the shaft to the ear,
And a foreign king for a mark!”

- From “The Song of the Bossonian Archers”

If you like to do things “old school,” it doesn’t get much better than traditional archery. The bow and arrow have been around for thousands upon thousands of years. This tool has served men as a way of providing food, protection, and recreation since its creation. Genghis Kahn, Robin Hood, and Art Young are just a sample of the great names associated with the “stick and string.” Since these legends have passed on to the happy hunting grounds there have been many advances in the field of archery: compound bows, sights, rangefinders, etc. These may be more “efficient” ways of using the bow and arrow, but not everyone agrees they are better. Be it while at the 3D target range or stalking the woods for game, many prefer archery in its more traditional form. For many, the appeal of bowhunting “the hard way,” as their ancestors did, is simply too much to resist.

If you’ve ever felt drawn to embrace your inner Hawkeye, here are a few basics on traditional archery.

Tools of the Trade

1) The Bow - There are two main types of  bows in traditional archery: the longbow and the recurve bow. Both have variations among themselves, but the basics are pretty standard. The longbow is a straighter bow with one curve from end to end, looking like a “D” when strung. The recurve bow has more than one curve, as the name suggests, and this causes added spring-like quality in the bow when it is pulled back, giving additional power to the bow.

2) The Arrow – This is the most important piece of the setup. If you do not have a proper arrow, it matters little what bow it is shot from. If it is not capable of correct flight, the archer will never hit the bull’s eye or the vitals of his prey. The arrow consists of a straight shaft of wood (many archers today use carbon or aluminum shafts for cost and consistency considerations), a nock that allows the arrow to rest on the string of the bow, fletching to stabilize the flight of the arrow (most commonly primary wing feathers, usually from a turkey) and, foremost, the attached broached, blunt or target tip, depending on the intended use of the arrow.

3) The Quiver – Holding extra arrows is the primary function of the quiver. However, if sharp hunting broadheads are being used, the quiver will also function as a guard against the archer injuring himself on an arrow not in use. Quivers come in the form of back quivers worn much like a single-strap backpack, side quivers that hang at the archer’s side, and bow quivers that attach to the bow itself, as well as several other formats.

3) The Armguard – Armguards protect the forearm of the archer from the string of the bow as it is released. Not all archers find this necessary, but may still use them for the purpose of restricting the clothing of the forearm from coming into contact with the string and throwing off the shot of the arrow.

4) The Shooting Glove or Tab – In traditional archery a mechanical release is not used. Instead, to relieve the pressure of the string on the archer’s fingers he will use a shooting glove or a tab. These also help in releasing the string smoothly so as to make the most accurate release of the arrow.

Those are the basic and most common components in traditional archery. There are many variations of each and they come in all levels of quality from basic, functioning items to works of art which leather and wood craftsmen have invested many hours into creating.

Traditional vs. Modern: Understanding the Differences

Shooting traditional archery is not better or worse than modern compound shooting, it’s just different. There is nothing wrong with cams, releases, stabilizers, etc. Instead of using those aids in shooting, however, traditional archers prefer to shoot instinctively. The difference is this: When an archer shoots with modern bows he will most always be using sights. He must either have an incredible ability to judge distances accurately or use an electronic range-finder. This is because the sight pins on his modern bow represent different distances in yardage and the proper pin must be aligned with the target to be accurate, and the bow must be held at an angle perpendicular with the ground.

The traditional archer, on the other hand, shoots instinctively; the bow can be held at any angle (called canting), and his brain makes the calculations as to what angle to hold the bow in order for his arrow to reach its mark. This sounds more complicated than it is. The process is much akin to a quarterback throwing a football to a receiver; he doesn’t need to know the exact distance (though in football we know the yardage is in fact there for him to see) because his brain calculates how hard he must throw the ball at a particular angle to get it to his teammate.

Also, compound bows provide what is known as let-off. Once the bow has been drawn it requires very little effort to keep it at “full draw.” Traditional archery bows do not have let-off. The amount of pressure on the string needed to draw it back is the same needed to keep it at full draw. No prolonged period of holding at full draw for the traditional archer. For many this is a much more rewarding method.

Fringe Benefits

If an archer is not a hunter, but shoots solely for competition and recreation, there is plenty for him to participate in. There are many traditional archery clubs across the world that have regular competitions and events to get involved with, and contact information for these clubs can be found in the links provided below.

If an archer is a hunter he also has the opportunity to test his woodsmanship to the extreme. It’s comparatively easy to shoot an animal from tens, if not hundreds, of yards with a scoped rifle, or shoot a blast of “boom-stick” at your target than it is to step into the home of the wild creatures, get within a handful of yards without being detected by them, and release an arrow that will put them down in an ethical and efficient manner. Again, there’s nothing wrong (or inherently easy) with hunting with firearms, it is just different.

“Archery enshrines the principles of human relationships. The Archer perfects his form within himself. If his form is perfect, yet when he releases he misses, there is no point in resenting those who have done better than him. The fault lies nowhere but within himself.” -Confucius

For many, this centuries old activity is a form of therapy. Concentrating on their form, method of release, and accuracy demands a great deal of attention and concentration. If they can clear their mind in this practice, they can begin again on the more “stressful” things in life with a clean slate.

Trad Archery – A Thriving Community

The community that exists for traditional archery is astoundingly extensive. There are literally tens of thousands of traditional archers around the world. Many of them gather at pow-wows, rendezvous and club events throughout the year. Any type of folk you can imagine can be found at these gatherings. A budding archer may find himself in the company of the many older men that will share their knowledge and experience with him. Because of the nature of traditional archery many archers are enriched with the wisdom of primitive skills and a plethora of outdoor treats. One never knows what he will learn from a generous soul.

Getting Started

If a man is interested in getting involved with traditional archery he should check out the following websites (amongst a plethora of others, these are the authors particular favorites):

www.TradBow.com – The website for Traditional Bowhunter Magazine

A great publication full of shooting techniques, hunting adventures from around the world, insight from some of the greatest traditional archers, and general archery goodness.

www.TradGang.com – “The Cyber Camp of Traditional Archers”

An amazing resource for learning and sharing with traditional archers the world over. This is a great resource for everyone from novices to experts. It is also a great resource for finding archery clubs in your neck of the woods.

www.3RiversArchery.com – “Longbow & Recurve Experts”

This site is a great resource for anything and everything a beginning archer will need to get his new hobby started. Even the experienced will find it a valuable resource. If you want to get your hands on a bow, check out 3Rivers.

www.ShrewBows.com – Traditional Archery Shoppe

Shop of renowned archery legend Ron LaClair. If the videos of this man’s talent don’t inspire you, you can go home.

{ 32 comments… read them below or add one }

1 James November 4, 2010 at 10:58 pm

Thanks for the great article and resources. I’ve been wanting to get into traditional archery for some time.

2 Trevor DoBell November 4, 2010 at 11:14 pm

Traditional archery is as good as archery gets. I’ve shot Olympic style competitively, compounds recreationally, and traditional for pure enjoyment.

3 Ali S. November 4, 2010 at 11:34 pm

Funny you posted this…as I was walking through a bookstore on my way home and stumbled upon an Archery magazine and was stunned that this sport still has many adherents. I’ve always wanted to learn about how to use a bow and arrow (obviously, my poor excuse of a bow and arrow when I was a kid was a stick with a string!) just for the sheer thrill of letting an arrow whistle through the air…but also to pay homage to the old tradition that almost every culture around the world has practiced in it’s variety of forms. Anyone know any place where a newbie in Toronto, Canada might get some info on this? :)

4 Josh Parchman November 4, 2010 at 11:45 pm

Ali S., check out the links at the bottom of the article. You shouldn’t have difficulty finding equipment or people to shoot with through those resources.

5 Ali S. November 5, 2010 at 12:52 am

@ Josh Parchman,

Ah, you got me! I was a little zonked out and totally missed those links. *note to self don’t skip meals on long days*

6 Jon November 5, 2010 at 1:31 am

I’ve been bowhunting deer in California for about 5 years, even with modern archery equipment getting within 60 yards of a deer is extremely difficult and have yet to kill a buck. It takes a combination of patience, determination, skill, and a little luck, and is an excellent way to learn those virtues. Also if you spend a few cold nights and mornings sitting completely silent in one spot watching for deer it’s amazing how easy it is to be patient and endure discomfort in day to day life.

In regard to traditional archery, I’ve shot a recurve a few times and they’re pretty amazing. I have tremendous respect for the stick bow guys out in the field stalking deer.

7 sprinkly tinkly dinkly November 5, 2010 at 3:24 am

Josh this article is impressive…I was unable to finish reading the whole thing but none the less i am impressed and am now on the hunt for both a job and a bow. you are certainly among the manliest of men i have known good sir…good day to you

8 Jack Shanks November 5, 2010 at 6:06 am


A great article and excellent explanation of traditional archery. Showing my age but we didn’t call it traditional when I began shooting a bow as a boy. The simple longbow and recurve were the only bows available at the time. Like many others that also grew up in that same era I had to try the compound bow when the device hit the market during the seventies. I shot and hunted with those for a few years but somehow felt something was lacking. An older friend that had also gone the same route as me started crafting longbows and recurves in a home workshop. He helped me re-discovered the bows of my youth and for over twenty years now have never looked back.

9 Bob Bakker November 5, 2010 at 8:44 am

To Ali:

Try http://www.thearcher.com, it has a lot resources for Toronto archery and links. There are a couple of small shops/ranges that have some good selection in traditional archery equipment, you can also check out Bass Pro.

My brother in law got me into archery years ago, and I guess it was a reverse evolution, we started out with compounds and aluminum arrows and slowly worked our way to recurves and longbows and making our own cedar arrows. Traditional archery and Primitive archery magazines alway have great articles on making your own equipment and it really brings the hobby full circle. Making your own tackle and watching an arrow you made and crested flying from a bow you carved off a string that you flemish twisted by hand, well you just can’t think of work or problems in a moment like that.

10 Kyle November 5, 2010 at 10:49 am

Great article!

I’m more of a firearm guy. But I’ve been thinking about getting into archery too. I think this post is about to get me going on it!


11 Eric Francis November 5, 2010 at 11:11 am

I really was glad to see traditional archery appear at The Art of Manliness. Though I haven’t shot in several years (something I need to rectify), I used to do a fair amount of target archery with traditional bows. I’ve also made my own arrows, which can itself become an enjoyable (and obsessive) pastime.

To anyone interested in exploring the many facets of traditional archery, I would highly recommend the four volumes of The Traditional Bowyer’s Bible from Bois D’arc Press. They cover ever imaginable angle, from making bows with stone-age tools to analyzing the force-draw curve of your bow to meticulous examination of the archery tradition of foreign and Native American cultures.

Happy shooting, everyone!

12 Joe Sul. November 5, 2010 at 12:55 pm

I hate to be picky but…….

That’s supposed to be “The Song of The Bossonian Archers”., not the “bosnian archers”. It’s from a Conan short story by Robert E. Howard called “Beyond The Black River”, set in an area called the Bossonian Marches.

13 Dennis L. Glavin November 5, 2010 at 3:47 pm

Great Article! I took up Traditional Archery hunting in 2000 and, although I have not been terribly successful, enjoy it very much.

It is a radical change and huge challenge to go from shooting a deer with a scoped rifle from 200 yards to a 15-20 yard shot. Heck, it’s even a whole different sport from shooting a compound bow with 80% letoff with a release aid and pin sights.

14 Ivan Merl November 5, 2010 at 5:55 pm

I have been shooting an English “style” longbow recently and I cant hit anything. I love it! Great article and I was glad to see it today.

15 Al Harron November 5, 2010 at 8:18 pm

The poem is “The Song of the Bossonian Archers” from Robert E. Howard’s “The Scarlet Citadel”:

A long bow and a strong bow, and let the sky grow dark!
The cord to the nock, the shaft to the ear, and the king of Koth for a mark!

A great quote, nonetheless.

16 Joe Sul. November 6, 2010 at 11:02 am


I stand corrected! Thank you!

17 Sean Glass November 6, 2010 at 3:57 pm

TIMELY! I was just in the woods the other day hunting for a good piece of wood to make a handmade bow from and have a great interest in the subject. Thanks!! Great article.

18 Paul November 6, 2010 at 4:32 pm

It’s funny, a friend and I were just talking about wanting to get into archery a few days ago then *poof* this article appears. Great resources, thanks for the links.

19 Joe Smith November 7, 2010 at 9:50 am

http://www.stickandstring.com is a new trad forum and they have a podcast too

20 Timothy November 7, 2010 at 2:21 pm

Hawkeye? Somebody’s a comic book lover!

21 Kyle November 7, 2010 at 5:08 pm

No mention of Fred Bear?? All the less, a great article. Perhaps an article on traditional bow making sometime?

22 Josh Parchman November 7, 2010 at 10:07 pm

Kyle, What could I say about Fred Bear in this article that would have done him justice? Instead, I just used my Bear recurve for photos. “I Remember Papa Bear” is a great book if you want to learn more about the man and the way he did things.

23 jesse November 7, 2010 at 10:08 pm

I have been shooting trad archery for a couple years now.. This was my first hunting season. I went for elk in Colorado. Truly an old school past time. Love to see this popping up in a spot like this. The links are great. Thanks.

24 Guy November 9, 2010 at 10:13 pm

Nice article. Howard Hill was the real long bow shooter, I’ve been shooting a longbow for over 20 years and make my own arrows. Ron LaClair made me my first dozen way back at the beginning.

25 Drew November 9, 2010 at 10:55 pm

I have been into archery for years. I find it a great sport and helps me focus.

@Timothy, Im a comic bookfan, I have been reading hawkeye latesly. its great but I also love Green Arrow.

For anyone interested in Archery and want to see some impressive things I would recommend checking out HOWARD HILL. He is a fantastic archery who worked on several films included Robin Hood (starring Errol Flynn) and They died with their boots on (also starring Errol Flynn) he has made several appearences in Green Arrow Comic Series. and he was so popular that when he was shooting at a Worlds Fair he was mobbed adn robbed of his bow, arrows, quicer and shirt right off his back.

Archery is a fantastic sport and I recommend it for everyone.

26 Todd Helmkamp November 13, 2010 at 2:07 pm

I’m fortunate enough to live right around the corner from Three Rivers Archery. Fantastic people, they’re always willing to help.

I also recommend Primitive Archery magazine. Excellent resource.

27 Jennie p November 14, 2012 at 10:41 am

for all things traditional:


enjoy :)

28 Kevin Forrester February 5, 2013 at 5:54 pm

Wow LOVE your site!

29 Joe Blogs March 13, 2013 at 9:45 pm

Nice article, but the recurve bow and arrows you show, although very fine, are clearly manufactured using industrial processes and modern materials. Things get more challenging when dealing with the inconsistencies of wood, cane, feathers, glue and sinew.

30 Rich March 15, 2013 at 8:50 am

I just got my wife a recurve bow for her birthday. She got a Sky Breeze which is actually a youth model but she is a tiny thing so it’ll work for her to start out with. Looks like it’ll be a lot of fun, I may have to get my own soon!

31 Micheline Mynatt December 8, 2013 at 1:46 am

It seems to be like good post, on the other hand it just an individual side on the medal. Good reading anyway, I generally appreciated fantastic brain teaser and solid amount of awesome information.

32 Tawnya N. T March 26, 2014 at 9:39 am

This was very helpful for my speech in English, thanks!

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