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Archery Going Traditional

Going Traditional

Recurves and Longbows Demand a Different Approach to Archery

I was 12 when I got my first wooden longbow and a quiver full of then state-of-the-art fibreglass arrows. Living in the country gave me plenty of time and area to hone my archery skills. I practised incessantly, stump shooting at every opportunity. Fast forward a decade and a half, and I became the proud owner of a custom-made 62# Maple takedown recurve handcrafted by renowned Canadian bowyer Jack Kempf. From that bow I also shot custom cedar shafts.

Today, my go-to rig is a 55# Hoyt Buffalo takedown married with Easton carbon arrows, placing me squarely in the contemporary world of traditional archery. While materials and technologies may have changed, traditional archery still demands an entirely different approach—complete with a wholesale shift in shooting form and overall philosophy.

Hunting Guide

The author shooting his 55# Hoyt Buffalo Recurve
The author shooting his 55# Hoyt Buffalo Recurve

Traditional vs. Modern

Bowhunting legend Fred Bear is famous for pointing out that “the history of the bow and arrow is the history of mankind.” Indeed, every culture has employed the stick and string since the beginning of time. Archery has been used to defend and overcome enemies, but it has also been universally implemented to hunt game.

Only in the past 50 years has technology changed the bow and arrow so dramatically, however, that most of us have all but abandoned our roots. Market trends reveal that the majority of today’s bowhunters favour technology and precision over tradition, and for good reason; contemporary compounds and crossbows are faster, easier to shoot, and require less practice to achieve proficiency.

There are still purists in the bowhunting community, however, who value the added challenge of working with the most rudimentary of traditional equipment, namely the use of either a longbow or recurve. Like so many other aspects of hunting today, [K1] one can argue over varying degrees of tradition, as archery as a whole has evolved unimaginably over the last century.

Indeed, today’s traditional longbows and recurves look very different than they did just 50 years ago. Few traditional bowhunters still carry a hickory bow with a sinew string, for example, or rough-hewn arrows with feather fletching latched on one end and a bismuth arrowhead tied to the other. But they do still adhere to the principle of relative simplicity.

Start with a Recurve

If you’re looking to buy a traditional bow, I recommend starting with a recurve. They are a bit more forgiving to shoot and therefore easier to learn, than a longbow. A number of manufacturers make recurve bows. Similarly, there are bowyers who make custom bows as well. In my opinion, Bear Archery makes some of the best all-around commercial recurves available today. Start by checking out Pyramyd’s Bear Grizzly Traditional Bow and the Bear Super Grizzly Traditional Bow. Both are great options for archers of all shooting skill levels.

As with all archery, you’ll need some accessories – most basically, either a shooting glove like the Fred Bear Master Glove or a tab like the Bear Leather Finger Tab. Add a limb quiver like the Bear Archery Kodiak Leather Quiver, a few arrows, and you’re all set to begin practicing. Know that while many purists often prefer to shoot cedar shafts, several companies do manufacture carbon or aluminum shafts that can be shot from trad bows as well. A great choice is the Gold Tip Traditional Classic XT 600 Spine arrows, aslo available in 340, 400, and 500 Spine as well.

Bear Archery's Kodiak Leather Quiver
Bear Archery’s Kodiak Leather Quiver

With your equipment in hand, practice is key. It can take a bit to dial in your shooting, so be patient and know that it’s all about consistency and concentration.

Gold Tip Traditional Classic Arrows - 6 pack
Gold Tip Traditional Classic Arrows

The Art of Concentration

The various shooting styles and methods used by traditional archers, along with the biomechanical requirements of shooting a recurve or longbow, are different than those of shooting a compound. Even still, the basic principles of drawing, anchoring, aiming, releasing and following through are similar. In both cases, you need concentration. To be a proficient traditional archer, however, you must have absolute concentration. 

Shooting styles vary from using one, two or three fingers below the nock, but arguably the most common method employed by traditional bowhunters involves instinctive snap-shooting. Unlike compounds, there is no let-off with traditional bows, making it very difficult to hold at full draw. But with snap-shooting, the arrow is released as soon as the bow is at full draw.

Accordingly, you must completely concentrate on the specific area of the intended target as you raise the bow and pull back the string. Instinctive snap-shooters are less concerned about distance in yardage, and more focussed on how the distance “feels” and how the shot is executed. (While competitive recurve target archers will often use a sight system, relatively few traditional bowhunters will use one.)

After years of practice and by following the sage advice of several of my accomplished trad archery peers, I have learned to adopt my own relaxed shooting style. Most importantly, I have learned to anchor consistently and to focus on the precise spot to which I intend to deliver my arrow. If my concentration fails, so does my shot. If it remains intact, the arrow flies as true as if I were merely drawing a line from my pointer finger to the target.

In the end, traditional archery involves the development of an absolute kinesthetic connection between one’s body and the bow and arrow. Much the same as developing a proficient golf swing, achieving this oneness with a recurve or longbow demands plenty of practice and intense concentration—and, of course, the desire to go traditional.


Compound bow sitting on the lap of the archer focused on the arrow knocked on the string.
Every culture has employed the stick and string since the beginning of time.

author avatar
Kevin Wilson
Kevin is an award-winning outdoor writer for over 30 years, team member on Wild TV’s popular Bowzone Live show, and operates Alberta Hunting Adventures. He currently lives in Alberta, Canada where he shares a passion for the outdoors with his family. As a professional outfitter and guide, Kevin offers his perspective on what it takes to have a successful hunt and shares his outdoor adventures.

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