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What to Look for in a Longbow

By: Dale Karch and Todd Smith

What to Look for in a Longbow
If you know what to look for in a Longbow, you'll find a trustworthy, lifelong hunting companion.

About 15 years ago I thought all longbow shooters were a little "off the wall." They had to be, because no one would want to shoot a bow with all the hand shock! How could anyone shoot a bow with a 68" length from a tree stand? This was just the beginning. The hand grip was square and unfriendly. The shelf was the side of your hand or very slightly cut into the riser. And talk about speed or lack there of. I honestly figured I could out run one. Of course, this was a LONG time ago! I'm not as fast as I used to be, just a little smarter.

(Click Arrow for Longbow Video)

Then I attended a traditional shoot in Coon Rapids, Minnesota and was invited to shoot the course with a good friend of mine, Dick Boss of Boss Bows. All he told me was to show up and he would have a bow for me to shoot. He said it was a new design he had been working on. I assumed he meant a recurve because he knew that was all I shot. When I met Dick that morning, he was standing there with not one, but two longbows. I asked him where my bow was and he handed me one of the longbows. All I did was laugh. I tried to explain to him my thoughts about longbows and as Dick always does he just walked towards the first target and asked me if I was going to whine all day or shoot? I had no idea how to hold this thing or how to aim it. So I asked for a little help, which given the "Alpha Male" mindset many of us hunters have, was rather difficult.

The first thing I noticed was the grip because it fit my hand, which I thought, was different. It had a little bit of a dish to it so that I could grasp it in the same spot each and every time I picked it up. This is important to me for good shooting form.

I thought the length was pretty short, at only 62 inches. I did not believe this could possibly shoot with any accuracy. As I started to nock an arrow, I was surprised to see the shelf cut in so deep it was about 3/16 of and inch from center. I remember thinking, "Wow! Dick must know something! This is not just a fluke."

I approached that first target and took a stance that was my recurve stance. Dick spoke no words, he just watched. I just picked a spot and pulled back to my 28" draw and was amazed at how smooth and easy this longbow pulled.

It is important to note that a good longbow should pull about 2½- 3 pounds per inch of draw. When the pounds per inch start to add up to where you've started to store too much energy in the limbs, this is what is referred to as stack. My choice weight for hunting and target shooting is 55#.

So as Dick quietly watched, I anchored and released. The arrow flew straight and true. The shelf, being cut so close to center, allowed the arrow to clear the riser, fast and clean. This is a very important feature to look for in a longbow. The closer to the center of the bow that the shelf is cut, the easier it will be to tune your bow. This will allow you to shoot two or three different arrows from the same bow instead of just one size.

To my amazement, my first shot landed right behind the shoulder. Quite a nice shot! Or was it just luck? After all, I had never shot this particular bow before. Plus, I was used to shooting a recurve.

On the next target I once again drew back and released. Another good hit! Now I had to ask Dick: "What did you do to get this bow to shoot so easy?"

In addition to the points that I just covered, Dick and I talked about all the new designs available in the current longbow market. The hybrids that add some reflex into the limbs have been a big influence. This has allowed the longbow to become a little shorter than in the past. This brings up the question, what is too short?

In recent years, my Tomahawk line of bows have introduced a 58" longbow available in a one-piece model, and a takedown available in a maximum draw length of 27". Now that is considered a short longbow. However, we have to limit the draw poundage to 60# and under to reduce the stress on the riser. For the heaver weights, a 62" longbow is starting to become a common length.

Tomahawk Bows Thunderstorm II Longbow Tomahawk Bows SS Longbow Tomahawk Bows Woodland Hunter Longbow
Tomahawk longbows come in a variety of sizes and styles for the modern archer.

What about the old style longbows? They are still around and holding their own with the new hybrids. There is a core of longbow shooters that want the long length and straight grip bow like Howard Hill's. Hill was such an incredibly accurate archer that he is still admired and emulated today. This type of bow still has its place, and has its followers.

Bear Archery Montana Longbow Sky Archery Trophy Hunter Longbow
Old style longbows (like these offered by Bear Archery and Sky Archery) are very popular with fans of Howard Hill.

There are some longbows out there that are just as fast as most recurves. With current designs and woods you can have both smoothness and speed. The bow that Dick let me shoot could handle high performance Fast Flight strings that allowed me to get a little more speed. The nice idea about having a bow geared for Fast Flight is that you can shoot the bow with Dacron B-50 or Fast Flight strings. Make sure the tips are built right to handle both. If you're not sure, ask the bowyer before trying Fast Flight. Otherwise, you'll probably void your warranty.

Fast Flight Plus Flemish Twist Bow StringB-50 Flemish Twist Bow String
Many Longbows can handle B-50 and Fast Flight bow strings without difficulty.

The exotic woods available on the market today, allow us to build a bow with any combination of woods. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder and the wood combinations are unlimited. Clear glass has become the norm just as it is in the recurve, so that you can have can have your cake and eat it too.

A quick recap on what to look for:

  • Smooth pulling - About 2½ to 3 pounds per inch of draw. After that you will feel stack or more weight per inch of pulling the bow back.
  • Bow length - Today you can have a 62" bow that can be pulled all the way back to 28 inches smoothly. This has become possible with the style we now call hybrid's because they work that well.
  • Clear glass - This is almost a norm in the current bow building market. This will show off the beauty of the woods being used to build your bow.
  • Woods - From the riser to the limb tips you can pick just about any wood that you can think of.
  • Shelf - Make sure it is cut as close to center as the bowyer feels safe doing. The closer the better. Just a note, both the shelf and window should be crowned or radius to allow for arrow clearance.
  • Limb tips - Bomb proof tips are a plus. Make sure the bow can handle both fast flight and B-50 strings. This can eliminate a return later. I have seen fast flight strings actually cut into the glass on bows that did not have the right limb tip material.

Apparently we're never too old to change our ways. I changed my mind 15 years ago when my friend put his longbow in my hand. And I've been fortunate enough to harvest a few big game with my 51# longbow.

Dale Karch with Big Whitetail Buck
Dale Karch has found switching from recurve to longbow a rewarding and satisfying change.

The last thing you need to know is that a longbow should feel comfortable in your hand and shoot right where you are looking. If it does, BUY IT! Don't hesitate! No two bows are exact. If you find a good one for you - make it yours.

Keep Hunting
Dale Karch & Todd Smith

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