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Stefan's Florilegium


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Types-of-Bows-art - 2/13/16


"Which Bow Is Best" by The Honorable Christophe of Grey.


NOTE: See also the files: arrows-msg, merch-archery-msg, Arrow-Matchng-art, Arrow-Inspect-art, 16C-Arrow-Bag-art, arch-supplies-msg, archery-msg, SCA-T-Archery-art.





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While the author will likely give permission for this work to be reprinted in SCA type publications, please check with the author first or check for any permissions granted at the end of this file.


Thank you,

Mark S. Harris...AKA:..Stefan li Rous

stefan at florilegium.org



You can find more of this author's work on his website at:



Which Bow Is Best

by The Honorable Christophe of Grey


At a recent event a couple of folks came to the range expressing a desire to get involved with SCA archery. Usually the first question is "What kind of bow should I get?". I have written an article on getting into SCA archery but this article is going to discuss different bow types and advantages, disadvantages of each. I’ll also include a few suggestions along the way.


Archery requires a set of muscles not commonly used by modern people. Thus I would recommend your first bow be in the 30 – 40 pound draw weight range. If you are slight built, a lady or not real strong, it’s OK to admit that, then you could go down to about 20 pounds. In the SCA the farthest you will ever shoot is 100 yards, and that, only at war or SAAD. A 20 pound bow correctly set up can fling an arrow over 100 yards. At most local events and for Royal Rounds you won’t be shooting much farther than about 50 yards (max 40 for Royal Rounds). Bow draw weight is most often marked on the bow and measured at 28 inches. That’s an industry standard. Some people have a draw length greater than 28 inches and some less. Depending upon bow type, see below, marked draw length may be critical but for most modern bows it is not. Unless you happen to have a draw length over 33 inches! In that case you may need a custom built bow.


Long Bows – Longbows come in two flavors, the English Longbow, ELB, and the flat bow. The ELB is typically about 72 inches long, has horn limb tips, no arrow rest – you shoot off your hand, and a D cross section with the flat part facing away from the archer. A flat bow has the same general profile as the ELB except the limbs are flat, i.e. no D cross section shape. Longbows are typically about 62 inches long and have a shelf the arrow is shot off of. All longbows are not center shot bows. That means the arrows does not pass through the center line of the bow limbs. In truth, it looks like the arrow is going off to the side. To aim you simply look down the arrow to aim it to the target. Longbows have a more period look to them but are slightly harder to master than the recurve bow. Modern longbows are marketed as reflex/deflex bows. This means the limbs have a slight curve to them then near the limb tips the limbs begin to curve back in the opposite direction. When strung the bow limb tips ever so slightly curve back away from the archer, which causes controversy with the recurve definition below. The main point is that for longbows the string does not lay on the limb tips before the bow is drawn. For recurve bows the string lays on the limb tips. However, studies of the bow staves – wood chunks bows are made from – found on the Merry Rose indicate that the English war bows actually curved away from the archer before being strung. That is, they were reflex/deflex in design. Please understand that a true ELB is NOT an English war bow. English war bows had draw eights from about 110 to 190 pounds and were mighty pieces of war equipment that most modern people can not draw or shoot effectively.


Recurve Bows – By Atlantian definition a recurve bow is any bow on which the limb tips curve back away from the archer when held in a shooting position (thus the controversy with modern reflex/deflex longbows. However, modern longbows are classified as longbows for the purposes of Royal Round scores and competitions.) Recurve bows typically have a handle built into the bow with an arrow shelf. The arrow shelf allows the arrow to pass through the center line of the bow’s limb tips. Some recurve bows may have an arrow rest above this shelf. This is SCA acceptable if the rest is plastic. Plunger arrow rests which can be adjusted are not acceptable. Recurve bows range in size from about 50 inches to 65 inches. Recruve bows are the easiest to shoot well of the bows in this discussion. That in part due to the arrow passing through the center line of the bow and how a recurve is drawn to shoot. For a 62 inch bow at 40 pound draw weight you begin your draw on a bow about 58 inches long. That due to the string laying on the curved limb tips. As you continue your draw the curved limb tips begin to curve back lengthening the bow at which point you are now drawing your 40 pounds on a 62 inch bow. This action is quite similar to the modern compound bow with its cams and wheels. Thus it is easier to hold a recurve bow at full draw than a longbow of equal draw weight.


Horse Bows – This is a name associated with bows that were used by Asian and Mongol societies. The characteristics of these bows are the large wooden limb tips and the radical curved nature of the limbs. Often the limbs are covered with leather. Period horse bows were made out of bone, antler and rawhide. As rawhide looses its strength when wet the leather covering was covered with animal fat/grease to "waterproof" the limbs. Horse bows, like longbows do not have an arrow shelf, you shoot off your hand. These bows are typically short, about 50 inches. Due to the large syhas (limb tips) and their effect on transferring the power from the limbs to the string and then the arrow, horse bows tend to shoot more like a bow of higher poundage. That is, a 40 pound horse bow shoots more like a 50 pound longbow or recurve.


Materials – Longbows and recurves are typically made of laminations of wood covered with fiberglass. Most modern horse bows are made of laminations of wood and fiberglass. If you plan on shooting a lot or keeping your bow for a long time I highly recommend getting a bow with fiberglass on the limbs. It will last longer. All-wood bows, i.e. no fiberglass, after some time, loose their draw weight. This is called string follow. What happens is each time you draw the bow you are actually crushing wood cells. Over time enough cells are crushed that when you unstring your bow it retains part of the curve of being strung. Given enough time a 40-pound bow can reduce to a 30-pound bow and ultimately become useless.


Draw Length – It is critical that you buy a bow suitable for your draw length. To measure your draw length hold both hands straight out in front of you, palms together. Measure from your sternum to the end of your fingers. This is your draw length. Realize that modern bows are all measured for draw weight at 28 inches. If you choose an all-wood longbow make sure it is suitable for your draw length. The manufacturer will know this. If you use a bow too short for your draw length it will ultimately break while being used. Not a fun thing!


Strings – If you buy a used bow (I have written articles published in the Sacred Stone Phoenix Eye archives about buying used bows) I would recommend using ONLY a Dacron B50 string on it. DO NOT use a modern FastFlight string. FastFlight material has a very low stretch factor to it. When you release the string to shoot an arrow the limb tips actually over-recover. The string needs to stretch a bit to accommodate this. Modern bows are stressed for this, older bows are not. If you use a FastFlight string on an older bow you may snap off a limb tip or damage the bow beyond repair/use.


Copyright 2014 by John Atkins. <cogworks at triad.rr.com>. Permission is granted for republication in SCA-related publications, provided the author is credited.  Addresses change, but a reasonable attempt should be made to ensure that the author is notified of the publication and if possible receives a copy.


If this article is reprinted in a publication, please place a notice in the publication that you found this article in the Florilegium. I would also appreciate an email to myself, so that I can track which articles are being reprinted. Thanks. -Stefan.


<the end>

Formatting copyright © Mark S. Harris (THLord Stefan li Rous).
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Comments to the Editor: stefan at florilegium.org