How Stable are You?
… As an archer, probably not very. It’s a frustrating sport … but this article is about bow stabilization and not how archery drives you to bouts of rage fueled Tourettes.
Until the evolution of modern archery, arrows were, in the main, either shot at man sized or smaller targets close up (hunting dinner or self-defence) OR extremely large targets (infantry or cavalry formations) far away. Stability wasn’t something that was really a concern as aiming was either pretty rapid and instinctive or a calculation of distance and angles. While the Victorians did restart archery as a target pastime, this was more to do with romanticism of bygone days hence longbows. Modern archery changed all that with competitive target archery being the real motivator. Shooting small, graded targets at longer distances needs deliberate aim. Wobbles in your bow, either human or wind induced, are going to reduce your score. So, some form of stability added to your bow would be good and if those stabilizers also absorbed vibration .. woohoo! However not all bows can have the same stabilization systems…
Traditional: Here we are talking zero. Nada. Nothing. Traditional bows have no stabilization available to them … unless you consider the archer having been overindulgent in the food/drink department and so has a “tummy mounted weight system” to lower their centre of gravity. Actually, joking aside, being heavier will increase the archer’s inertia (and so stability) in windy conditions but (back to joking) will also increase the waist measurement on their craghoppers. This certainly ties in with the longbow archers love of real ale. WADA’s views on archery and real ale at the same time are quite definite however.
Suprising fact: During a World Cup event in South America a few years ago, it was so windy that some of the smaller competitors shot wearing backpacks filled with weighty things to give them some stability in the wind.
Barebow: Ok, now we have something serious to talk about. Under AGB rules, unbraced barebows complete with permitted accessories must be capable of passing through a hole/ring with a 12.2cm inside diameter. (Appendix F, Rule 11.4.1) This means no long stabilizers to absorb vibration or pull the bow forward. However, simple metal weights are allowed to be added. The weights lower the centre of gravity on the bow greatly helping stability and that dead in the hand feeling after the shot. These use the longrod and lower stabilizer bushings available on all risers or can be an integral part designed into the bow like with the Kinetic Vygo. The weights can be just a lump of metal with a screw, a modular fitted piece or they can be sculpted art. Gillo does an interesting line in axe blade, wolf and dragon head weights for their bows of which we have one in the club. We suspect medieval archers would have approved of a big lump of metal on their bows if only for smacking the opposition in the face. There is no vibration suppression in these weights but the increase in mass of the bow does handle vibration better and limb saver dampers are legal on barebow.
Compound: Normally we’d leave the mocking of compound to the end of the article but arguably recurve, for once, has got more to mock. So, compounds! … So far, no gyro stabilization thank the Gods. Usually, a simple longrod out front pulling the bow forward post shot with a single short rod steeply swept back to balance the substantial scope and sight. Nothing too insane there. However, the current fashion is to get the heaviest collection of weights possible and attach them to the end of the long rod/single short rod setup. The more the weight, the more it will negate all muscle tremors and twitches through inertia. Well, that’s the theory.
In practice compounders are making their bows extremely heavy requiring higher shoulder, arm and core strength to hold steady. It’s also negating many of the advantages derived from the cams. Why? Because although holding at full draw while aiming is not tiring compared to a recurve at full draw, holding the bow up is now increasingly tiring. Tiny Finnish compounder Anne Lantee (Anne Laurila) captured numerous international medals and was ranked 10th in the world at one time using the lightest of stabilizers (Beiter multi-rod), so it seems all that weight is just the current fad and marginally effective for considerable effort. It’s not like we need extra ammo to mock compounders but hey, more never hurts!
Recurve: Ok, the editor has dozed off under his copy of Bow International … time to have a go at recurves. Recurve risers used to just have 3 bushings on the front .. for a top rod, bottom rod and a longrod. Added to the long rod bushing, as time went on, was an extender, a v-bar and 2 short rods each with a damper for the classic recurve stab shape. This layout, for all intents and purposes, is enough to balance your bow perfectly and handle all the post shot vibration. However, as with faddy compounds, recurve design went a bit off the rails adding another bushing on the back of the riser below the handle. Here, a small top rod and extra weight could be added. So that’s now 4 bushings. Also remember it was already possible to stick limb saver anti-vibration devices to the limbs.
Vibration and instability now has to be endangered species with those 2 limb savers plus 6 dampers on the longrod, 2 short rods and 3 rods (top, bottom and handle). But that still wasn’t enough for the bow boffins. Win&Win in their 2021 riser the Meta DX, added 3 circular vibration dampers into the body of the riser increasing the stabilization system to a possible max of 1 longrod, 2 short rods, 1 extender, 1 v-bar, 3 “top” rods and 11 dampers plus weights. Many current top end risers (looking at you ATF-X) even have TWO MORE bushings for rods than the above! At this point even compounders get to point and laugh. Oh the shame!
Note: yes, we are aware that the variety of bushings are supposed to give choice on where you put your weights and dampers. However, it’s incredibly rare you see an internationalist with anything more exotic than a top rod and longrod/shortrod/vbar/extender on their bows! If the best of us aren’t interested, seems we don’t really need all that choice. As this is, after all, a website that loves to mock, we had to take the mickey regarding bushings and dampers! :o) And we all know that there are archers out there with something in every bushing just because they are there AND claiming they shoot better because of it!
So, to sum up. Somehow, we seem to have lost our way a little with stabs. Focusing on bushings everywhere or massive amounts of weight rather than exploring simple and more practical solutions seems a little like tunnel vision. The barebow guys just added a small lump of metal to lower the centre of gravity. A simple solution to the problem. Probably best not to let on they were sensible though. They’re getting pretty smug with their style of archery being so popular right now. They might even get it into their heads they are the best sort of archery. (Note: Thats Olympic Recurve and our editor will shout at you til you agree.) However, one thing is certain .. while recurve and compound stabilization have currently headed down somewhat evolutionary dead ends, risers and arrows have been refined to near perfection. With fewer areas that can evolve, stabilizers might be somewhere there can be developments in the future possibly via newer design methodologies, lateral thinking and wider looking computer modeling. Just no more bushings for recurve dampers or weight on compounds please!
Update: Seems we got our wish. Mad scientist of archery Tim Gillingham showcased an outrageous stabilizer set up early in 2023 using no less that FOUR 30″ longrods and is almost a walking/zimmer frame round his bow. Words fail us but check it out in case words don’t fail you! Tim Gillingham describes his set up at Lancaster Archery classic.
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Admission: Unfortunately, several pints of real ale were deliberately consumed during research for this article. We regret nothing!