While watching footage from the most recent Olympic archery competitions, I started to get curious about how the sport would be different with barebows instead of the well equipped Olympic recurve bows used by the Olympic archer.
Is barebow archery in the Olympics?
The Olympics do not offer a barebow archery event, but there is also no rule prohibiting the use of a barebow during the Olympic archery event. You won’t find any Olympic archer doing so, however, as it would not be very practical to do so.
Continue reading to find out why archers don’t use barebows in the Olympics and what kind of competitive opportunities ARE available to barebow archers.
Barebow Archery and the Olympics
The rules that govern Olympic archery are strict about the kinds of items a competitor can add to a bow, but they do not require that a competitor use equipment that they do not want to use.
While there are no regulations that would prevent a competitive archer from shooting with a barebow in the Olympics, you’re unlikely to see it happen. Allow me to explain.
What is Barebow Archery?
Barebow archery is a form of archery that stands somewhere between traditional archery and Olympic recurve archery in terms of the amount of equipment that it uses.
Traditional archery is archery that uses traditional style wooden bows. It offers an intuitive, organic shooting experience without any bells and whistles. Traditional archery is how archers used to shoot arrows for hundreds of years before modern equipment became involved in the sport.
Barebow archery is typically shot using a modern recurve bow that is not made of wood, although you could use a wooden recurve in theory. The risers are often made of aluminum or carbon risers.
In barebow archery, archers frequently use a finger tab, a plunger, an arrow rest, and weights, but not the more advanced equipment used by Olympic archers.
Olympic archery is shot using a recurve bow that uses a variety of equipment that helps the archer be more consistent.
This equipment includes a modern bow and other equipment used by barebow archers, but unlike barebow archers, Olympic recurve archers also use a clicker, stabilizers, and a sight.
Why Don’t Olympic Archers Use Barebows?
In competitive archery, you need to have an unshakable stance that allows you to aim the bow and draw the string in a precise way so that the arrow hits your target.
The equipment added to Olympic recurve bows like the sight, clicker, and stabilizers help competitive archers be consistent, and consistency is how they score as well as they do.
The sights used for Olympic recurves do not involve any electronics or magnification. Typically, the sight consists of a pin or pins set into an aperture as well as a mounting device that allows you to adjust the sights position.
Depending on the shooting conditions and distances, the archer can make small adjustments to the sight to help make their shots more accurate. Sights will only help if you already have a consistent form.
The sight makes a huge difference in an archer’s ability to be accurate.
Barebow archers typical use the arrow to sight and then use a technique called string walking to adjust how the arrow will fly. This method is more intuitive than using a sight, which means it is more subject to human error.
The clicker is a small bar that sits on top of the arrow that makes a click sound that tells you when to fire the bow. In addition to hearing the click, you can also feel it. A clicker allows the archer to know how far to draw and when to release the bow.
Without a clicker, it is more difficult to draw the bowstring to a consistent length and with a consistent timing. The sound the click tells the archer that they have drawn the bowstring far enough and also that it is time to release.
Stabilizers are weighted bars that stick out straight from the bow and add weight to the lower part of the bow. The stabilizer improves the balance of the bow, helps reduce vibrations and encourages the bow to stand up straight as you are firing it.
Side rods are another kind of stabilizer that stick out on one or both sides of the bow depending on your preference. They add weight and to the sides of the bow to provide more stability. They are also sometimes used to balance the weight of the sight.
The length and number of stabilizer that a person chooses is unique to them. While any stabilizer will likely improve the stability and balance of a bow, the right amount depends on how you want your bow to feel.
A barebow does not use stabilizers, but most archers use weights in the bottom of the risers to help with stability, but this isn’t quite as effective as stabilizers.
If all the other Olympic competitors are using these pieces of equipment to help them be consistent, you would be at a major disadvantage if you ignored them.
Making it to the Olympics using a barebow would be virtually impossible.
That being said, many archery fans wish that a different category would be made for competitive archers who use barebows as it requires the use of different techniques like gap shooting and string walking to shoot precisely.
You can find barebow competitions outside of the Olympics through just about any local archery club. Different archery organizations that host tournaments have different definitions of what they mean by barebow.
If you’re looking to participate in a barebow competition, check with the rule book or someone who is familiar with the organization for more details.
The Changing Definition of Barebows
The rules used by World Archery, the international governing body for the sport of archery, are often employed for competitions including the Olympics, but World Archery doesn’t just make the rules for modern Olympic recurve bows.
There are several different types of competitions they offer regulations for, and you can compete in including compound bows, longbows, instinctive bows, and barebows.
According to World Archery, barebows do not use clickers, stabilizers, or sights. In all other ways, they are typical bows. They can have weighted lower risers and adjustable arrow rests are still allowed.
The definition of barebow that World Archery uses is commonly adapted to the purposes of most competitions, but the rules set forth by the National Field Archery Association allows its barebow competitors to use clickers and stabilizers.
With the additions of clickers and stabilizers, the barebow becomes more accurate, but the sighting method is still a major factor related to accuracy.
The sight method used in Olympic recurves is highly accurate, almost mechanically so, while the string walking used in barebows is more of an intuitive process.
The varying definition of what a barebow is at the competitive level can sometimes make it difficult for competitors to get accurate information on what they need to compete.
Regardless of the rules, at almost every competitive archery event, you will find at least a few events that feature barebows. Barebows and Olympic recurve bows do not usually compete against each other as they require different skill sets and different equipment
Additionally, the consistency and accuracy you can get with an Olympic recurve bow would make it difficult for a barebow user to compete in the same division as an Olympic recurve user.
Barebow Target Archery
Target archery is the kind of archery you see in the Olympics, the only difference in a barebow archery competition is that the bow does not use special equipment.
The distances to the target can even be the same, although some barebow competitions will favor slightly shorter target distance as it is more difficult to be accurate over long distances with a barebow.
To see what you can expect from an indoor target barebow competition, check out this video from the 2019 Lancaster Archery Classic.
Barebow Field Archery
But the beauty of the barebow is that it is not limited to target archery. Field archery competitions add a new level of complexity as it attempts to recreate conditions that archers would traditionally be shooting in. Barebows shine in these competitions.
This video shows highlights of the 2018 Cortina World Archery Field Championships. The first 13 minutes of the video shows the men’s compound bow final, but if you skip ahead to that 13 minute mark you will get to see the women’s barebow final.
You can see that field archery requires a completely different skill set from target archery. There are a variety of factors that need to be faced and challenging shots to make.
An Olympic level field archery event would be incredible, but there is likely not enough international interest as of yet to get the event into the Olympics.
Barebow 3D Archery
Barebows are also commonly used for 3D archery as well. 3D archery attempts to mimic a hunting experience by using life sized replicas of animals as the targets. They can be done indoors or outdoors.
I wrote an article all about 3D Archery and why it’s so awesome. You can read it here!
To see 3D archery in action, check out this video that shows a glimpse into what a 3D archery event looks like.
Is an Olympic Recurve Better than a Barebow?
Like most things, whether an Olympic recurve or a barebow is better depends on what you’re trying to do. It is all about using the right tool for the job at hand.
Barebows are better than an Olympic recurve for hunting because it is lighter and easier to maneuver than the bulky Olympic recurve.
Additionally, some archers like and appreciate the intuitive nature of shooting on a barebow. String walking is a fun and useful skill to learn.
Barebows are also better learning on. All the equipment on an Olympic recurve will get in the way or is basically useless if you have developed top notch, consistent form. A sight isn’t going to help you very much if you do not shoot from the same stance.
However, once you have perfected your form, using a sight and a clicker will help you accurately aim and consistently draw your bow. Experienced archers using an Olympic recurve can shoot with more accuracy from longer distances because of this.
This is very useful in a competition setting. It really comes down to a matter of preference and application.
Hunters will prefer a barebow to an Olympic recurve, but competition archers tend to favor the Olympic recurve. At another level, some people think that barebows are more fun, but this is just a matter of taste.