Beginner's Guide to Traditional Archery: Basic Gear
Getting started with traditional archery can be a very fun experience ... but only if you have the right gear. It takes more than just a bow and some arrows to make your archery experience enjoyable, and this guide will go over the little things you'll need to make your shooting adventures much more enjoyable - and less painful.
When I first started shooting awhile ago, I simply went out, bought a bow and a few arrows, went to the range, and started shooting. While this is a great way to begin, I quickly realized that I needed a few things in order to spend more time concentrating on my technique, and less time cursing under my breath and wasting time doing things other than shooting. Having the proper gear will enhance your archery experience, and leave you more time to focus on your newly discovered talent!
When I first walked into an archery store, I decided against getting a quiver because it seemed like an extra expense that I could easily do without. And, its true, I see many people at the outdoor and indoor ranges not using a quiver - but after dropping my arrows a few times, bending over after every shot to pick up a new arrow, and the awkwardness of always having to hold all my arrows while walking to and from the range finally convinced me to pick up a quiver.
There are generally two types of quivers that are good for traditional archery; the back quiver and the hip quiver. The back quiver is like the one you envision Robin Hood with. Its very ascetically pleasing and definitely makes you feel badass - but it is more difficult to handle and finding one that fits you properly without sliding all over the place while you load / unload arrows can be a challenge.
The hip quiver is a much easier alternative. It puts the arrows right in reach (where you can see them) and does a good job staying out of the way. Most quivers are compartmentalized into multiple sections, and so if you're shooting with more that one type of arrow, a hip quiver makes it easier to sort and identify which arrow you're grabbing. Be sure to by a leather or hard plastic one though, because eventually the fabric styles wear out from having the sharp points of the arrows always hitting the bottom.
This is another frequently overlooked item on the beginner's equipment list. But it only takes snapping your forearm once with the bowstring to realize how important the arm guard can be. Not only does accidentally snapping your arm hurt and leave a bruise, but it also creates a subconscious flinch while shooting that will keep you from developing good form. When learning how to shoot you're bound to have a few "bad shots" and, if you're not wearing an arm guard those bad shots could completely work against you forming the proper technique by creating an element of fear in your shooting. Instead of focusing on the target, you're afraid of hitting your arm, so you don't use the proper form, and you'll never become a good archer. Once you have mastered the basics properly, you're much less likely to snap your arm and an arm guard isn't as needed. But when you're first learning - buy an arm guard.
Make sure you get a nice and durable one made of either high quality impact plastic, or the more traditional leather. I personally like the leather ones as they add to the traditional feel of your shooting - but just get whatever works for you. You'll thank yourself the first time you feel that string harmlessly take out its aggression against your arm brace, and not your delicate skin!
The Right Bow
Of course you'll want a good bow and some arrows - but here the options are wide and open to personal tastes. You could have a longbow, recurve bow, target bow, hunting bow, stick bow ... the list goes on and on. Find a bow that fits your style and that you like the look of. The joy of traditional archery is knowing that you're developing the same skill that our ancestors perfected before us - so find a bow that takes you there mentally.
Be sure that you're not buying a bow that is too heavy for you. Its better when you're first starting out to use a bow that is light enough that you don't have to struggle to pull it back, and you can shoot it for an hour or two without becoming fatigued. You'll never learn the proper form if you can only take 10 shots before you need to rest for the day. Moving up to a higher weight bow is easy (especially with a take-down recurve bow ... just replace the limbs) - so don't worry about the weight of you bow. Just practice the proper technique. Once you have that down you can build all the muscle you want to pull back that 70# longbow.
The Right Arrows
These will depend on a few things. First is the weight of your bow. You need to have arrows that are properly spined for your bow. If you get arrows that are too stiff or too light, then they won't fly in a straight line. You also need to know your draw length (how far you pull back) and get arrows of the proper length. Don't worry, this all sounds confusing, but the folks at your local archery shop should be able to help you out and find the arrows that best suit your bow.
There are many techniques for stringing and unstringing your bow using just your hands and legs as leverage. And, while it might be appealing to just try these methods out, the consequence of doing it wrong can be devastating. There are numerous accounts of people being sent to the hospital while trying to string their bow in a dangerous manner. To avoid this, buy a bow stringer. Its just a piece of string with some loops and normally a piece of padded rubber - but it makes stringing you bow a quick and easy (and safe) exercise that you won't have to fear. For the new archer, this is another must ...
And That's All!
Just like any hobby, you can choose to spend as much or as little as you'd like. There are many other items that you can have in the field of archery, but these are the absolute essentials to get you started. The only other thing I would advise is a case or cover for your bow to protect it from the elements, but its not essential. Eventually you'll acquire many do-dads and what-nots for your archery crave ... but the first time you walk into your archery store, be sure to leave with the items listed above. You'll have more fun shooting, learn the proper form quicker, and avoid injuries from inexperience.
Have fun and be safe! See you out on the range!