Monday, August 30, 2010

Patrick Went Shooting With A Stick Of Wood

It all comes down to a bent stick, a string, and an arrow. A few weeks ago, I purchased a wooden recurve bow, after having been so enchanted with the little plastic "Youth" bow, the PSE Snake. After doing a good amount of research, I went with PSE's Blackhawk bow. It's got a cherry and hard maple riser and maple/fiberglass limbs. It's a real looker, and a fast shooting bow, as well.

Now, the reason that I'm just writing my review of it is that there have been a few issues, none of which I can blame on the bow. First, the string that was provided with the bow (not the PSE stock string, I don't think, but just a random string that was hanging around the Pro Shop at Cabela's) was too long, and of poor quality. I had only shot a few hundred arrows before the string started to punk out on me. That, and the low brace height (distance from the body of the bow to the string) made for a rough shooting experience, with more shock to the hand and bow noise than seemed reasonable.

I ordered a new string, some string dampeners (marketed as "brush guards"), and covered the bow shelf and undershelf with self-adhesive felt I happened to have hanging around.

After the new string was on, the bow tuned, the nock set placement figured out, and things generally going in a straight line, I was finally able to evaluate the bow under fair circumstances.

The evaluation is as follows:

1) Value: The PSE Blackhawk is a beautiful bow (I'll post pics some time soon). For the money ($200), it is built well, and has sinuous, classic lines that just make you want to touch it and hold it and make it yours.

2) Power: This is an efficient little bow. At 45 pounds of draw, it still really throws an arrow with authority. I use carbon arrows of between @400 and 435 grains, and they get to the target with a lot of power and speed. Now, because I have a long draw, at 32 inches, this adds to the amount of power the bow can create, but I want to stress that, even with the modest draw weight, these little recurves can do serious business. With an Innerlock broadhead, I got about 11 inches of penetration on a foam target from 20 yards away. That should be sufficient to your purpose for most hunting situations.

3) Smooth shooting: With the brace height set properly (around 7 inches), the Blackhawk has almost no hand shock, and is very nice to shoot, even up into the 100 shot range for a session, provided your draw weight is selected to match your level of strength. I found it advantageous to put some heavy felt on the bottom side of the arrow shelf, so that my thumb joint wasn't right against the wood, which seemed to help, too. Different grip techniques and hand shapes may have differing mileage. As to the process of taming string noise, my sense is that the best way to go is to just pick up a pack of those self adhesive felt circles at your local hardware store, and mount them so that they just touch the string where it lays against the limbs. That should dampen the string, and decrease slap upon shooting. Use the left over felt for feet on heavy furniture, or just tuck them away against the possibility that you'll lose one off your bow.

4) Handy: At 60 inches unstrung, the Blackhawk is a handy size, allowing for easy kneeling, bent, or seated shooting, should that be required. I've tried all of those things with good success. The bow is also very light, at less than two pounds altogether. You should have no concerns about getting arm-weary if you're going to take this bow into the field. Across your back, you'd hardly know it's there. Even shooters of modest stature should have no issues with this bow size. In reality, it's probably a bit short for me, but that has yet to lead to any problems. It may be that I will wear the bow out sooner than a person with a shorter draw, or that the bow will "take set" at shoot with slightly less authority after a while, but I see no evidence of that happening, and I'm probably nearing a thousand shots already.

5) Accurate: Now, this is where your mileage will vary most. Traditional bows aren't necessarily easy. You have to learn what they respond to, and where they tend to shoot at various ranges. How much cant should the bow have to shoot straight? How much gap at a particular range (if you're using the gap method)? Then there are all the technical aspects, like stance, posture, head position, anchor point, and so on.

Now, I'm not the world's foremost archer, and I'll admit to being very early in my development, but I can tell you that the Blackhawk will give back what you put in. If you're a good shooter, you'll hit well, once you learn your way around the bow. On a good day, I can go nine-of-ten on a half gallon milk jug from ten or fifteen yards away. With some concentration, it only falls back to maybe seven or eight out of ten when I step back to 20 or 22 yards, and I'm sure that any falloff is primarily my problem. I have, on one occasion, done the "Robin Hood" trick to an arrow. Ouch. There's $6.50 down the tubes. I doubt it'll be the last time, though, as it's not uncommon to have arrows "stacked" touching shaft to shaft in the target.

I'm not saying I don't have my poor performances, but that's not the bow's fault. I'm confident that, with practice, I'll be able to get very close to handgun-like accuracy out of the Blackhawk. Here I'm talking about the accuracy of target-type handguns over iron sights from a standing position. I don't believe it's fair or reasonable to compare bows to firearms shot from a rest, as there's no practical analog for archers. You simply have to hold steady.

6) In Summation: I really dig this bow. It has a wonderful tactile feel, is fun to shoot, and functions well, all at a very reasonable price.

Things you'll need:

a) Protective Gear: With any traditional bow, especially when you're learning or experimenting with a new technique, you'll want to have an arm guard for your bow arm, either a shooting glove or a tab for your draw hand, and some safety glasses. Corrective lenses with polycarbonate lenses will do.

b) Quality Arrows: You'll want some good, matching arrows for your new bow. Your choices are Aluminum, Carbon, or Wood. I've shot all of them, but mostly carbon. Aluminum tend to be a little heavier and thicker than carbon, but extra heft is good for a traditional bow, as they tend to be a bit more efficient in transmitting power to a heavier arrow, and shoot more smoothly. Carbons will tend to be lighter for the same about of stiffness, easy to find, and fly a little faster, with the downside perhaps being a little more harshness in the recoil of the bow upon release.

Wood arrows are generally made of cedar, and tend to be harder to find. They are the traditionalist's choice, and are the heaviest of the three types, in most cases. Many people claim that the cedar arrows are the most forgiving and smoothest shooting, but their level of straightness is not as great as aluminum or carbon. Whichever choice you make, you'll want your arrows to have the correct "spine" or stiffness, for your draw weight. Arrow manufacturers have charts to help you decide if a particular model is right for your bow. I'd recommend that you get an arrow that weighs at least seven grains for each pound of draw weight. Some claim that ten or even fifteen grains per pound is better, but anything above seven should be safe for your bow.

You'll probably also want a quiver. These can either clip or thread onto your belt, or actually hang on your back, like the old style quivers did. Prices range anywhere from maybe seven bucks, up to darn near one hundred, depending on how fancy you want to get. I'd say go for one of the cheaper ones. I've had good luck with those made by Neet. As to arrows, any of the big companies will give you a good product. I've especially liked the Gold Tip Pro Hunters that I've purchased. Sportsman's Warehouse has a killer deal on them, but they are normally very spendy, running over a C Note for a dozen. A less expensive alternative may be to go with aluminum, and for those, I'd go with Easton arrows. The XX75 Camo Hunters can be had for between $55 and $75 per dozen, and are proven, mega-tough arrows that can be had in any spine stiffness you should require.

c) Maintenance Supplies: As you shoot, you'll ding up your arrows, and need to fix them. The fletching (which should be feathers for a traditional bow) will detach or get manky. The tips will hit something hard and grow dull. The nocks will break. If you're shooting a lot, you'll want a fletching jig, appropriate fletcher's glue, replacement nocks, replacement field tips, feather fletchings, and either a knock-around jack knife or a fletching remover tool (I use an ancient butterfly knife). Your arrows aren't the only things that needs to be kept up. You'll need some string wax for your bow string, a bow stringer (to ease un-stringing/ shouldn't leave a bow strung over the long haul), and a bow case to keep it from clattering around in the closet. Having a little toolbox for your bow stuff is good, too. I got a cheap one at Harbor freight, but if you have, say, an old tackle box, that works great, too.

d) A Safe Target: There are archery clubs and ranges in most big towns. The absolute safest way to shoot is to take your bow to a range, where the backstop, target and all that jazz has been figured out for you. There will also be people there who can give you pointers on form, equipment, and so on. There will also be some sort of camaraderie, in most cases. The safest bet is to go this way, but you'll have to pay for a membership or some form of range fee, as well as shooting within the hours of the club/range. They will also probably have rules, mostly for your own good, against things like shooting at milk jugs, which I think is maximum fun.

If you're going to shoot around your home, you'll want to remember that bows are potentially deadly weapons. They used to fight wars with these babies. Soldiers with rifles have had their tickets punched by good archers. Hunters have killed just about every land animal on the planet with bows. Elephants included. Even a target bow of 35-50 pounds of pull has plenty of power to take down something of, say, deer or human size. You will want to be sure that your arrows won't end up wandering into a populated area. This requires you to shoot with caution, and also to create a strong backstop.

There are a variety of targets you can buy, both made of foam, and in the form of target bags filled with mystery material. I've used both, as well as creating my own out of cardboard and a variety of stuffing materials. I've found that the "squishy" foam that comes as packing material for some products, used in combination with cardboard, carpet scraps, and so on, work pretty well if stuffed into a big cardboard box. You can create a somewhat weather-proof target box by wrapping a small tarp over said box and duct taping it on.

Details about my idea of a good backstop are provided in an earlier entry. If you happen to have ten or twelve hay bales, that's probably the easiest way (short of having a handy upslope that obviates all building requirements. Remember, though, that very powerful bows, like compounds, will shoot right through a hay bale. You'll want hard fortifications for anything over a 60 pound draw, or for a compound. Then again, a well-tuned compound shouldn't have as much variation. They're as accurate as all get-out in most cases. Still, sight pins slip, arrow rests fail to lift the arrows up to level, and (perhaps most frightening) release aids let go of the string prematurely. Do yourself a favor and break the habit of aiming high while drawing your bow, and always aim low the first time you test a new setup. Arrows that hit the ground are a little embarrassing, and can even get damaged, but they generally don't cause friendly-fire incidents.

--Thanks for reading another of my great-big posts. I hope that I've provided some good information for any of you who are thinking about getting into archery. There's a lot of great stuff out there on the net, and also some fine books to read. I can't speak too highly about the mystique of archery. There's just something magical about the arrow flying straight and thunking into a target. It's addictive. I highly recommend the disease.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

That was a fun & very informative article. I really enjoyed reading it. As an archery buff myself, I consider it very sound advice regarding safety & maintenance.
Indeed, the student has become the teacher.