Buying your first Olympic Recurve Bow

This is short guide to everything you need to consider when shopping for your first Olympic recurve bow.

How much does it cost?

A basic set of equipment (bow, arrows and other accessories) is likely to cost between £250 and £300.

Shops will sometimes offer bundled archery kits, but these are generally not worth your time. They tend to contain inferior accessories, and don't come with enough arrows. Our experience is that if you buy one of these kits, you'll probably end up replacing much of it over the subsequent year, negating any real savings.

Where should I go?

Our two local archery shops are Custom Built Archery at Eakring, and Merlin at Loughborough. Initially we always recommended Custom Built, but a number of our members have made favourable comments about staff at Merlin too. Our advice is to pick a quiet day (mid-week if you can), and to allow a couple of hours for your visit. Ask fellow club members about particular members of shop staff they found to be helpful. Note that Merlin is shut on Mondays!

What do I need?

The basic shopping list is this:

  • Riser and limbs
  • String and stringer
  • Arrow rest and pressure button
  • Sight
  • Arrows, quiver, arrow puller
  • Finger tab and bracer
  • Bow stand
  • A bag or case

Riser and limbs

The riser is just a handle to which the other components are attached, but it's also a part of the bow that you're likely to keep for a long time. Risers vary in length, with 25" being the most common size. Cheaper risers may be a bit heavier. Most are made of aluminium or alloy, with carbon fibre at the more expensive end of the price-range. Some are cast, and others are CNC machined. Above all, choose something that feels comfortable in your hand.

Don't splash out on expensive limbs to begin with. If you shoot regularly, you'll soon outgrow the draw weight; if you're a once-a-month shooter, then there's no real need for fancy equipment anyway. Our club limbs are mostly rated at 18lb and 24lb, so consider whether those were about right, or whether you feel you could easily draw something requiring more power. Remember that you need to draw the bow comfortably dozens of times in each shooting session; picking limbs that are too heavy will make it very hard to improve your technique, so erring on the light side is best. The cheapest limbs may be a bit noisy, and may not be especially well-made, so we'd recommend going for something slighly better (but still well under £100). If you keep your limbs in good condition, you may be able to part-exchange them, or sell them to one of our beginners, when you upgrade.

String and stringer

Ask the shop staff to recommend a suitable string. There are a variety of different synthetic string materials available, and prices don't vary much between cheap and fancy. Pick colours you like! Make sure you don't end up with a Dacron string, though, as they are too stretchy and are only really suitable for wooden-handled club bows.

The shop staff may offer to put brass nocking points onto the string for you. Ask them to tie on thread nocking points instead. Or you can do it yourself, with the aid of a bow square. Many people use dental floss for this, although any stong thread will do.

Don't forget a stringer!

Arrow rest and pressure button

Most people choose a stick-on wire rest, although even some top archers prefer the cheaper flexible plastic type Restsstart at under £5. You might consider a spare too, as it's one of the commonest bits of equipment to fail. For a couple of pounds more, you can buy an adjustable rest, which allows you to set the rest height correctly without having to bend the wire.

A pressure button is something that's probably new to you. It screws through the riser and pokes out through the rest. The pressure button (or plunger) helps to set the horizontal position of the arrow, and allows the bow to be 'tuned' to optimise arrow flight. A cheap pressure button is fine. Ask the shop staff to set the pressure button up for you (they may charge, but it's well worth it).

Sight

The sight is basically just way to move a little dot up and down and from side to side, relative to the bow. And yet some of them are eye-wateringly expensive! A basic sight with a metal body should be fine, although you'll probably find that it needs tightening up every now and then. More expensive sights will often offer micro-adjustment both horizontally and vertically, and are less prone to vibrating loose than cheap sights. That's unlikely to be worth an extra £50 or £100 to you at this stage, though. Cheaper to just tighten the screws occasionally!

Arrows, quiver, arrow puller

Note that all-carbon arrows aren't allowed at our outdoor venues. Cheap all-aluminium arrows aren't a great choice either, because they tend to bend and break very easily due to aluminium being rather soft. We recommend Easton XX75 alloy arrows, such as the Easton Tribute. Typical prices for these are around £5 each. You'll want 8 arrows - 6 to shoot and 2 spare, so that's £40ish.

Arrows come in a range of spine measurements (that's stiffness to you and me) and the correct stiffness will depend on your draw length and the weight you pull at that length. Once the shop has your bow set up, they'll be able to measure these two things and select the correct arrows for you. The arrows need to be cut to length - they should cut them so that they protrude around 1.5" - 2" beyond the arrow rest at full draw. This gives some room for your draw length to increase as your technique inproves.

Make sure you buy some spare fletchings. A tube of fletching glue, such as 'Fletch-tite' isn't a bad idea, either.

A quiver is a matter of personal preference. Some just clip onto your belt, while others come with their own belt. Most have a variety of pockets for stashing bits and pieces. Back quivers aren't something you see a lot of in target archery, but express your individuality however you like!

An arrow puller will be useful outdoors, where we shoot at hard straw targets.

Finger tab and bracer/arm-guard

Most archers choose a finger tab consisting of two layers of leather, a strap for the middle finger, a spacer to hold the fingers apart, and an optional 'shelf', which can be used to help find a consistent anchor point under your jaw. These tabs are a major improvement over the very basic flat tabs we have at the club. Shop staff should be able to help you pick the correct size for your hand. Prices start at around £8. More expensive tabs tend to have a better grade of leather. There are lots of different shapes and sizes of finger tabs, so try a few and pick whatever suits you best. Shooting gloves look cool, but aren't really used in target archery - they're more of a traditional archery thing.

Choose whatever arm-guard or bracer you like. If you never, ever, hit your arm with the string, you can forego the bracer altogether, but most people do it regularly enough to need one. Again, pick whatever's comfortable. Some people find that their inner elbow catches the string a lot - this is especially common for women; there are longer bracers available that protect the whole elbow area.

Bow stand

Bow stands start at well under £10. A basic one such as the club uses is fine. An alternative is a 'hybrid' stand which will support your bow in a more upright position; these tend to cost a little more.

A bag or case

Well, obviously you need something to put all of your archery swag in. Depending on your choice of bag or case, you may also need to buy yourself an arrow tube to store your arrows. Backpack-style cases are a popular option, and are available from around £35; many incorporate an arrow tube. For a cheaper option, there are bags for around £15 that will hold all of your equipment perfectly well.

Other bits and pieces not in the main list...

A few other things you might want to add to your bag are:

  • Tube of string wax - keeps your string in decent, non-frayed, condition.
  • A bow square - for checking the setup of your bow.
  • A chest guard - most top archers wear them - they help the string to move away cleanly without snagging on your clothes (or delicate anatomy)