There has never been a better time to take up traditional archery. Simply stated, the online resources available to the new single-string archer are vast and bordering on limitless; however, as with all things on the internet, some are better than others. Matt Zirnsak and Tim Nebel put out a complete soup-to-nuts video last year that is simply the best place to start your journey. At almost 2 hours and 20 minutes, it is the best single source on the web. Watching this is a must.
If you haven’t already, you need to hone your skills on assessing the good, the bad, and the ugly of internet education. The wealth of information is unfathomable, but learning to filter is a key skill in the modern world. Are most sources basically saying the same thing, or is it one lone idea? I’m hoping to help you learn to fish here if you will.
There are a few choices you need to consider before you do anything else, to choose which path to go down. First, will you shoot instinctive or with an aiming point? I recommend you start with aiming then progress from there; you can always switch to instinctive, but aiming is an easier place to start. Next: glove or tab? Three under or split finger? It is $20-$30 to buy both a glove and tab; spend the money, and play with both see what works for you. At the same time get an armguard. You will hit your arm sooner or later and have a nice welt to show off, I guarantee it! Not sure what this means? Watch “The Push,” or search for terms like gap shooting, instinctive archery, three fingers under, split finger, and string slap.
As for a bow, start cheap and low poundage. There are many good bows in the $125-$150 range—new—that are a great place to start. And don’t let ego pick your draw weight; aim for 35-45 lbs to start – AT YOUR DRAW LENGTH. Traditional bows are weighed at 28”; add or subtract 2-3 lbs per inch for an approximation.
Arrows – there are many choices within choices which can boggle a new archer into paralysis. I love wood arrows and will take some grief for this from the trad community, but I recommend a new shooter buy carbons. Get a six-pack of full length, 4-5” feather-fletched carbons that meet your spine group (each manufacturer has a spine chart), put some 125 gr field points on, and call it done. You need to learn to shoot, to learn what you like and what you don’t. Consider your first arrows your training wheels. As long as you are close to your correct spine group, you’ll be fine getting started.
Now you’ll need a nocking point. In truth, two are best – one above and one below the nock. Run a quick search on how to tie on your own nocking points. Get the arrow nock about a half inch above perpendicular to your string. We’ll worry about precise nock height and arrow tuning later, at this point you need to go shoot. After you’re hitting the target consistently, you can start to fine tune your nock height.
So let’s go shoot this thing – that’s why we bought it after all! Start close…3-5 yards close! Start by anchoring with your pointer finger in the corner of your mouth and holding the tip of the arrow at the bottom of the target and release. You will most likely hit high, however, that’s it. Try again. When you’ve got a group and you’re starting to get the feel for this, move back to 10 yards and continue. If you get sore, put it down take a rest. It’s supposed to be fun!
Your anchor is a key fundamental to consistent shooting. I gave you only a starting point. There are endless variations, and you just need to find what works for you. I use a combination of cheekbone and jaw with a blurred string. This will be Greek to you without a few internet searches, but the point is, try until you find one that works best.
From here forward the journey is about consistency, and unlike compound bows, it’s more about you than your equipment. Single-string archery isn’t for everyone; it can be frustrating as hell, but can also be very rewarding. The world has changed a lot since I first started playing with stick and string 35+ years ago, however I feel the concept of pie-plate accuracy remains sound. Simply put, whatever distance you can put every arrow into a pie plate is your effective distance. For most trad guys that is 20-30 yds. Why talk about this in an intro article? You’ll compare your accuracy to your compound and feel like a failure, but they are different beasts with different reasons to use each. Most would say it takes 2-3 years to be proficient with a longbow or recurve.
Good traditional shooters have great consistency they’ve developed over time. Many have good form, but all have good mechanics. I can’t state this strongly enough, or often enough: traditional archery is mostly about the archer, not the equipment. You’ll need to build this skill and hone it regularly if you want to be successful. The rewards are many. I’m more impressed with a person that can consistently get close to animals with woodsmanship skills earned and developed over time. Nothing builds the skills of the stalk and the execution more than single-string archery. It was best stated by Fred Bear: “You can learn more about hunting deer with a bow and arrow in a week than a gun hunter will learn in his entire life.”
Next steps are many, and at the same time very few as you walk in the steps of our forefathers. You will and must practice, but there is a distinction between good practice and everything else. A coach/mentor is the single best thing you can do to help your journey be smooth. However, and I can’t stress this enough, any coach must align with you and how you shoot! I am a gapping/fixed crawl bowhunter that prefers 580 gr wood arrows with 160 gr points, which is fundamentally different than an instinctive 3D shooter with 350 gr carbons and 100 gr tips. I’ve been going through Joel Turner’s online course, “Iron Mind Hunting,” and recommend it to all; he focuses on the mental game, and let’s face it, it’s all mental!
Arrow tuning is the cornerstone of a tuned set-up; there are a number of excellent online resources to investigate: S3 archery, sections of “The Push,” and Ryan W. Sanpei are all good ones. Take your time, do it over a series of days, and look at the trends rather than the blips. Start with full-length shafts and a few different spines and point weights. You’ll be bare shaft tuning at close ranges with the goal of finding what arrow combo you shoot from your bow the best. Think of it like finding the harmonic sweet spot where the shaft inherently flies correctly and the fletches are left with minimal work. Once you know what bareshaft/arrow works, you can now make up a set of arrows and continue along the journey.
There are a number of more advanced steps one can take to eliminate equipment error once you’ve progressed to the point of getting groups at 10 yds and beyond. For the most part, your brace height can be adjusted with the string length through adding or removing twists. Most shoot off the shelf, which can be adjusted with shims. Start at the bowyer’s recommended brace height and then tune from there. There are some bows such as ILF or Hoyt that offer some adjustment for tiller and centershot.
My hope is that if you finally pick up a single-string bow, you have enough information to start on this adventure with much less frustration. Additionally, remember you are improving your shooting every time you shoot a target. You only become a better hunter by combining good shooting with good woodsmanship, and that can only be learned with muddy boots, blown stalks, broken arrows, and sore backs.