Buying Your First Bow: How To Choose a Bow

a beginner archer holding his first bow

Choosing your first bow and beginner sets can be a daunting task especially if you’re just starting.

You not only need to figure out the best type of bow for your preferred shooting but also understand the involved numbers like the draw length.

You also have to decide on arrows and other accessories.

In short, there’s a lot you need to know prior to walking into the shop or clicking the order button online.

I wrote this guide with you in mind and I will be explaining everything in simple terms.

I will also be sharing some useful tips like where to buy and the best brands.

Let’s get started…

Choosing your first bow and beginner sets: The basics

I will start by answering the question: What’s the best bow for a beginner?

Well, in general, bows fall into three large categories:

  1. Traditional bows
  2. Recurve bows
  3. Compound bows

Traditional bows

These bows include:

  • The Longbow: This is a self bow  (bow made from a single piece of wood) and has limbs rounded in the cross-section
  • A Flatbow: This has limbs roughly rectangular in cross-section.

I can’t lie that I am a fan of these but I have friends who have refused to jump ship to recurves and compounds and they look pretty happy.

Pros of traditional bows

  • Because they’re still based on the old instinctive shooting, they’re nostalgic to shoot.
  • Longbows and flatbows are much quieter
  • They don’t cause as much fatigue as latter day recurve bows

Cons of shooting traditional bows

  • You cannot dismantle it during transportation so they’re bulkier to haul along and store.
  • These bows lack customization options.
  • Worst of all, these types of bows are quite difficult to master.

Who are these bows for?

If I must say, I would propose this type of bow for archers who want to relieve the fun of traditional shooting when shooting was less mechanized.

You can also consider using it when targeting upgrading your skills, may be at a later date when you have perfected the basics.

Recurve bows

This bow is so called since its limbs curve away from you when unstrung and are a fantastic upgrade on the bows used by our forefathers.

This shape helps recurves store and release energy more efficiently and they thus shoot more powerfully.

In fact, it’s the only type of bow allowed by the IOC (International Olympic Committee). That alone tells you how good recurves are.

Pros of shooting recurve bows

  • Like I hinted above, these bows shoot faster and more efficiently.
  • You can disassemble a takedown recurve and pack it into a smaller bow case for easier transportation.
  • Most recurves provide a host of upgrading options.
  • The learning curve isn’t as steep as with ancient bows.

Cons of recurve bows

  • Recurve bows are harder to draw than compound bows.
  • They are also, on average, heavier (total mass) than old-timer bows.

Who are these bows for?

Recurves aren’t as technologically advanced as compound bows and tend to lean more towards traditional shooting.

As a result, this bow is more exciting and challenging to shoot so it will be a good fit if you’re searching for enjoyment and more challenge.

Are recurve bows good for beginners?

I already mentioned that its way easier to learn a recurve bow. It’s subsequently a cool choice for shooters who are looking for a good bow to train with.

Compound bows

Does the name Holless Wilbur Allen ring a bell in your head? Well, he is the inventor of compound bows, World’s most technologically advanced bow.

The bow comes with sophisticated mechanical aids (pulleys at the tip of the limbs) that make drawing the bowstring easier.

How easy is it?

Now, the bow creates a ‘let-off’- a form of release when drawn fullest so you’re able to hold it for longer in search of the best shot.

Other advantages

  • You are also more likely to achieve unparalleled levels of accuracy with this bow since shooting precision relies more on the technology over your physical strength (like the rest).
  • The greater shooting power will help you hit targets at greater distances.

Cons of compound bows

  • The prices (including for the accessories)are just crazy meaning that good compounds are out of reach for starters on a budget.
  • Some traditional archery enthusiasts claim that compounds are not as thrilling as first-generation bows.

Who are compound bows for?

These are versatile bows and widely used both in hunting and target practice. Due to this flexibility, compound bows have been selling like hot cakes World over in the last few years.

Are compound bows good for beginners?

The enhanced options for adjustments mean you can tweak it to accommodate novices and experts too.

Bottom-line?

To tell the type of the bow that will be ideal for you, it’s important that you consider your shooting goals, level of skill, and other specific needs.

For instance, recurves are rated better for hunting than longbows (Link to the Longbow vs Recurve Bow (Which is better for hunting) article.

Furthermore, if you’re the type that’s obsessed with the excitement associated with time-honored shooting, traditional bows might be more appropriate.

But if you love technology and are after results, then you might find a compound bow more appealing.

Likewise, a recurve could be the surest bet if you harbor a burning desire to one day climb the winner’s podium at an archery competition.

How do I choose the right bow?

I hope you’ve now settled on your favorite type.

So, how do you exactly pick a bow?

You will need to factor in myriad issues….

  • Will you be using a left or right-handed bow?

The first thing in choosing your first bow and beginner sets is to figure out if you’re a left or right-handed shooter.

You will be holding the bow in your left hand if you’re a right-handed shooter and draw the bowstring using your right hand. The opposite is also true.

It could be worth taking time and finding out your dominant eye to know your hand orientation.

I know that this may sound insignificant but it can be a factor particularly in accuracy.

  • The construction

The riser- the central part of the bow- forms the foundation for everything else and you cannot afford to have it flimsy.

You must, therefore, check that it’s made of the right material.

Typically, manufacturers use aluminum, carbon, magnesium, and even wood.

This, of course, affects the eventual price of your bow but importantly, determines the overall quality of your bow, the eventual weight, plus how it feels when you’re handling it.

Let’s rate each material type:

Wood: Wooden bows are not that common in competitive target shooting nowadays but are still used in training by a significant number of shooters. By and large, wooden bows are heavier and somewhat erratic hence their noticeable rarity among experienced archers.

In terms of prices, there’s no prize for getting this one right- wood is by far the cheapest.

Aluminum: this has been the ‘in-thing’ for the best bows for many years because it gives you a more settled feeling when being shot.

In actual sense, aluminum risers adopt three construction methods…

  • CNC (Computer numeric control) machined: Their distinct shape is crafted using high-tech computer controlled machines. These are the most expensive.
  • Drop forged: The metal is melted then forged into the riser. This produces a super robust but lighter riser.
  • Casting: Here liquid aluminum metal is poured into a mold during manufacturing. Of the three, cast aluminum bows are usually the cheapest.

You now know a lot about aluminum but not the downsides so here they come:

To begin with, aluminum is just about the very worst when it comes to deadening vibrations…the vibrating tingling noise can be absolutely frightening (Thank God you can always introduce handy accessories such as stabilizers to dampen it).

You also need to be aware that aluminum bows are sometimes stone-cold when shooting during freezing conditions.

But you can again remedy this by wearing thin gloves or wrapping the handles in a thin racquet tape.

Pricewise, aluminum is mid-range.

Magnesium: This is used in some bow and also brings its unique advantages and some factors you may not like.

I will try to be very brief and we will start with the positives..

On a more positive note, magnesium can be excellent when it comes to naturally dampening vibrations and you won’t feel as much shock like aluminum.

Secondly, forged magnesium risers better withstand pressure and don’t break up easily even with consistent mishandling.

Flipping to the other side, magnesium lacks the stiffness of aluminum and as I hinted earlier, that might slightly put a damper on your accuracy.

But the worst bit for me is that magnesium risers are heavier- you practically feel like you’re lugging a huge stone!
Magnesium is another intermediate priced build material.

Carbon: Carbon risers are stiffer and this is big news in shooting since stiff risers translate into more accurate bows

Indeed, carbon feels remarkably different when aiming and can boost your accuracy levels.

I could be biased but I tried 2 Hoyt bows – the popular Hoyt defiant turbo aluminum bow and the much-praised Hoyt Carbon Spyder- and in my opinion, nothing comes near carbon bows.

I am in love with how they feel and thrilled about how they shoot.

In a nutshell, carbon is, for me, near perfect.

And I am not alone as going by what I am hearing lately from shooters I interact with, Carbon is slowly edging aluminum and its well on the way to market domination.

The one thing I cannot fail to pinpoint is their hefty pricing so be ready to dig deeper.

Note that this explanation is general and you should know that how the riser is processed and fabricated can introduce a whole range of considerations that favors or disadvantages you.

Manufacturers also won’t decide for you and will release aluminum and carbon versions for their fast-moving bows so it’s upon you to weigh them out.

The best way of doing this is by holding and shooting each material if you get a chance.

The numbers

You will need to take some measurements ahead of picking a bow.

Getting these numbers wrong will derail your efficiency and long-term bow performance so you don’t want to be in a hurry here.

Take a look..

  • Your draw length: Draw length is typically the distance from the bow’s nock point to the grip’s throat plus 1 3/4″.
  • Your draw weight: Each bow needs a certain amount of force to draw (poundage). Many novices blunder here and end up with bows too powerful for their strength or too light leading to suboptimal shooting.  You can use several methods to calculate it including a bow scale (Hint: Most adult archers traditionally pull 50 to 70 lbs.)
  • Bow length: The commonest risers are 23-in, 25-in, and 27-in long which is in order since the greater majority  are fine with 23-in or 25-in risers.

On the whole, a 25-inch riser will work well if your draw length is within the 26-31 inches range as long as the limbs aren’t too short/long. Like the other figures, this boils down to your specifics so do your research.

  • You accurate arrow length: The other important question is how long should be your arrows. As a general rule, your arrow length is longer than your above-computed draw length.

Tip: I previously wrote about how to choose a recurve bow (size, draw weight, etc.) so head over to the article to learn how to approach the computations (another link)

More on arrows

What are the best arrows for target shooting?

Well, before you buy, check out your numbers (bow length and draw weight) and read these against the manufacturer arrow charts.

Besides, consider what you will be shooting (fishing, hunting, target practice, etc.).

These charts are quite detailed and indicate nearly everything and can help you quickly identify for whatever purpose.

That being said, aluminum arrows are widely used for the reasons that they’re quite pocket-friendly, straight shooting, and generally well-constructed.

Carbon arrows have nowadays given aluminum arrows an almighty scare as shafts are usually lighter than aluminum arrows with a similar spine.

This means they fly off the bow faster- speed is always great when shooting because it helps beat obstacles like wind.

The best news is that their prices have dramatically fallen.

Lastly, hybrid arrows (made of carbon & aluminum) give you the best of carbon and aluminum arrow worlds.

Unsurprisingly, these are the priciest arrows to date.

I haven’t paid much attention to wooden arrows because they break fairly quickly and only work well with longbows or wooden recurves (not compounds).

Learn more here: What type of arrows for compound bows?

Also, note that fiberglass arrows are only recommended for youngsters.

And don’t forget to select the right arrow fletchings (plastic is preferred over feather because it’s not affected by rain).

  • The finishing

Painted and anodized finishing is most common in bows. Anodized finishes get scratched easily than matte lacquer finishes (found in some carbon risers) and pure paint.

What about accessories?

Your hobby will be more fulfilling if you include the essential accessories in your beginner sets.

There’s no limitation here and your type of bow and skillset come into play when deciding what to include or ignore.

But you obviously may want to include essentials like a sight pin, shooting tab, quiver, and an arm-guard, arrow rest, and more in your kit.

Here is a word on each:

  • Finger tab/Gloves: Protects your fingers if you’re shooting minus a release.
  • Release: You typically require a release aid with a compound bow to help you fire safely. They consist of a trigger mechanism for releasing the bow and shooting arrows.
  • Arm-guard: Deflects the bowstring and prevents bruises and pains.
  • Arrow Rest:  Biscuit arrow rests quietens the bow when you raise it. Some bows come with rests installed.
  • Sight: This is useful for accuracy when shooting targets at longer distances.
  • Stabilizers: They do exactly that- stabilize your hold to diminish vibration.
  • Bowstring: Here you have plenty of options as per your bow.
  • Quiver: This will be holding your arrows until you need them.

 

If you’re, however, into barebow shooting, you, of course, might not need sights, stabilizers, and some of the above devices

Others:

  • Bow Stringer: helps you string/unstring the bow safely.
  • Bow case: This is for transportation and self-explanatory.
  • Stand: It holds your bow off the ground safely.

The brand name

The biggest brands include Hoyt, Diamond, and Bear Archery.

As it happens, their prices are higher than offered by the little-known brands.

That doesn’t mean that you can’t get value when choosing your first bow and beginner sets from the many smaller names, like Parker, Ross, and Strother if you do your research well.

General tips on choosing your first bow and beginner sets

1. Seek advice

Talking to an experienced pro can help you demystify some of the critical issues. He could be a buddy from your local club or even a veteran assistant at your nearest archery shop- during one of your window shopping trips.

The important thing is to be frank that you’re still learning and not to fear asking even those basic questions.

2. A word on pricing

Bow and accessories pricing oscillate insanely and you have choices on both ends.

As a starter, it could perhaps be wiser to not to overspend since you don’t know whether your bigger sets will still feel great when you improve your form.

Again it may not be advisable to go too low as you may end up disappointed with your choices.

Having said that, it all boils down to how much you have at your disposal to spend on your introductory archery equipment.

I would also suggest that you set some funds aside as you may want to upgrade some parts, for example, the limbs as soon as you start growing into the game.

How much does a good bow cost?

This is a question I am often asked by people coming to this blog for the first time and it’s quite a tough one because the word good is relative..

But for the sake of giving you an idea of how much you should budget, I looked at the prices online and compiled the following pricing guide across the common bow types..

Beginner bows: about $200

Medium/intermediate level user bow: $300-$600

Flagship bows (competition level and pros): $1400 to $2500

Note that this is not cast on stone and the prices can vary depending on the brand, where you’re buying, and the season.

Overall, the quality of bows and accessories has greatly improved so you’re assured of much better quality than the days gone by even at the starter level.

Which is the best place to buy your first bow and beginner sets?

Now, this depends and I will try to compare:

Your archery shop: Buying in the shop has its own conveniences despite the pricing being generally higher than ordering online. One of the biggest advantages is that you get free expert advice plus you can practically test out your equipment.

Online shops: These are massively popular and more and more shooters are favoring online shops over the traditional store mainly because of the lower pricing. Remember the e-commerce seller doesn’t pay rent and can run on skeleton staff hence the affordability. It’s also time-saving since you don’t have to leave home. But you lose out on some perks that come with offline shops like live-testing the bow.

Second-hand sellers: If you’re squeezed financially and don’t mind buying used equipment, then you may want to look at second-hand shops both offline and online (eBay and the like). I have also come across some dirt cheap bows on craigslist. The only danger is that you cannot precisely tell the condition of the bow and the sets until they’re in your hands!

Summary

Choosing your first bow and beginner sets will not be a daunting task if you follow the above guide.

Research can take your time but it’s all going to be very worthy in the end.

I have done my part so now it’s upon you to make an informed choice.

Please drop your question in the comments section if you need any clarification.

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