Traditional archery is quite a unique part of the overall archery experience. No high-tech materials (mostly), no precision sights, no vibration suppression or stabilization systems, wooden arrows (aka woodies) … it’s literally a throwback to an earlier time. Historically based kit is a lot more basic than what you normally see on the line with a little bit of a leather kink thrown in. ;o)
We’ve already looked at personal kit for traditional. Today, let’s take a look at some traditional style, entry level bows if you feel like that’s going to be your thing. These are definitely the sort of bow to buy if you want some inexpensive fun and introduce yourself to our forefathers style of archery.
Sometimes referred to as a Longbow by Americans (it’s not), the flatbow is an extremely cost-effective way to get into the traditional side of archery. The bow is long, approaching the height of the archer (but still not a Longbow). The limbs are quite wide and rectangular in cross section with a shelf for the arrow. They are stable to shoot, light in the hand and fun. While a recognized bow type in their own right, they are also ideal as a starter bow/trainer for eventually shooting real Longbows should you feel that’s where you ultimately want your archery journey to go.
The price range of this type of bow can be quite wide. Ranging from hand crafted with laminates of exotic woods to made with laminates of a single wood and fibreglass. A range of bows for the first-time buyer could be Italian bowyer Ragim‘s 56″ Squirrel, 62″ Fox and 68″ Wolf flatbows. The Fox and the Wolf are made of hard maple and fibreglass. These bows are durable and extremely competitive in price – your height really being the key as to which might suit you best. The Squirrel is of lighter construction intended for smaller juniors but just as competitively priced. (prices range from £95 to £115 ish). Merlin’s support of the flatbow is pretty good.
The Field Bow:
The field bow can either be a one-piece wooden bow or a takedown bow similar to recurve and barebow. They can be either all wood construction or have an aluminium or carbon components. The limbs will have a recurved tip for a more efficient transfer of energy. They are always shorter than an Olympic recurve/barebows by as much as 10″ as these bows were originally envisaged for out in forests, hunting. Normally they don’t have bushings for sights although some american designed risers will have a facility for a bow quiver**.
Italian bowyer Ragim are again very active in this class of archery with some nice one piece bows like the 58″ Black Bear. Inexpensive, durable and quite definitely a bow that could lead onto so much more. Another bow in this ball park (around £130) would be the 62″ Oakridge Dymond, a bow that comes with a traditional Flemish twist string for that extra touch of traditional.
Take down field bows can get as expensive as recurve/barebows mainly because the riser and the limbs are separates. There are take down wooden risers as well as aluminium and carbon so the cost can vary wildly. They are more convenient than one piece field bows, and ILF limbs can be swapped in and out but to be honest … you are really just shooting a small barebow less accurately with the ali and carbon risers. This is more field archery territory and as a target club we’re kinda going to pass on recommending anything here. Indeed, you would be horribly penalized by having to shoot in the barebow category if you compete in a target competition with a field bow.
** This is a frame that attaches to the bow for holding 5 or so arrows at the ready for quick reloading when hunting. Its not something we in the UK need.
During the medieval period and into the renaissance, a significant amount of history was created by Asiatics on horseback. Their weapon of choice was the bow. A small recurve often made of a laminate of materials held together with naturally sourced glue. This was what we now call the horsebow and they are incredibly fun if harder to shoot than field bows as you shoot off the back of the hand rather than a shelf.
A very fine bowyer in this field is Csaba Grozer whose bows are works of art and damn near authentic. They are moderately to ooof expensive but you may as well be mugging a Mongol or an Avar for his personal bow. This is not to say that there aren’t less expensive options if you fancy trying a horsebow. With Merlin being extremely supportive of the trad side of archery, its no surprise that they stock a large range of horsebows. Something like the Oakridge Black Sada looks to be an ideal starter horsebow with attractive looks and a good range of draw weights (these normally go up in 5lbs increments). It also will allow a 31″ draw which will not exclude the gorilla armed amongst us (like our editor). Here is a Sada video review by Armin Hirmer. Another rather nice bow is the White Feather Wingz Carbon which is 50″ long and based on the Korean design of horsebow. These bow’s weights are measured at a 30″ draw (rather than the usual 28″) due to Korean bows being drawn to the ear.
Note: It always pays to always be quite wary of displayed horse bow draw weights due to how the draw weight is calculated. Ask the store if its not clear.
Probably the peak of the traditional archery scene is the Longbow. While Longbows can be bought off the shelf, these tend to be more basic bows without horn nocks and arrow plates yet still cost quite a bit. We’ve found that people buying a Longbow want the real McCoy! As a newer archer, its probably a bad idea to go straight to Longbows early on. An American flatbow would be a better starter to learn on. These are a bit less fraught regarding form, draw weights, specifying a custom set of parameters when commissioning a bespoke bow (that you might grow out of extremely quickly) and the Longbow’s special demands for attention!
The bespoke Longbow is hand crafted often using very traditional processes (although the odd power tool does sneak in to reduce workload and timescales). Each bow is made to the archer’s stipulation … woods, draw weight, length, handle, arrow plate and horn nock design. As a result Longbows are quite expensive, take time to be delivered after order, need coddling like a prima donna and have a finite life … they are just wood and will crack and fail at some stage. As we said, a Longbow is a fraught experience but a rewarding one if you like your history. Two good exponents of the bowyers craft are Bickerstaffe Bows and Richard Head Longbows. If you want to look into the making of a bespoke longbow, Richard Head Longbows have a youtube channel dedicated to just that.
Traditional bows call out for traditional arrows and here we mean ones with wooden shafts. Popular materials are Port Orford Ceder (P.O.C.) or Pine and you spine the shaft to your bows draw weight the same as you do with other arrows. The fletches should be of the feathered variety to ensure the arrow gets away cleanly no matter if you are shooting off a shelf or the back of your hand. They need few, inexpensive tools to make and only 4 basic components an arrow (fletch, nock, shaft and field point/modern bodkin). Seal the shaft with Danish Oil and jobs a good ‘un! As a result, many archers make their own often painting them with cresting.
If woodies are not of interest (Ok, we’re intrigued. Why?), then the Easton xx75 platinum plus is a good arrow to use although may not be acceptable in AGB competitions for traditional bows. Still need feathers though!
Traditional archery is almost entirely about fun. Other styles of archers often shoot a trad bow to relax when their normal style gets too much. Traditionalists shoot them because they are usually history buffs and shooting a trad bow is “research” and makes them happy. Beginners shoot them because they are less demanding of perfection that other styles demand but can still be a learning process while they have fun. In addition to target archery, doing a field course with a traditional bow is extremely gratifying. All in all, if fun is your aim in archery rather than winning medals, traditional might be your thing. That’s not to say Longbowmen are all cute and cuddly without tantrums when they do compete. 100yrds is a long way when you have no sights and that field party will be giving you side eye the entire day if you keep missing! ;o)
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As is usual with our kit suggestions, do your homework and don’t just take our word for how good things are. Archery is a very personal experience and what is good value for one might not lead to the same experience for another. We base our suggestions on anecdotal evidence on forums and from other archers, reviews and what “should” be good value. Feel in the hand, draw weight and hand shock are all things that vary significantly with trad bows so speak to the store you are dealing with and get their opinion. Better still, go try it out in person before buying if you can. Its the only way to be sure!
Pictures for the purposes of recommending bows to new archers and obviously their potential purchase! :o)