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Traditional Archers have many reasons why they choose to shoot a longbow. Some love its history and others love its simplicity. Whatever the reason for loving traditional longbows, it can be quite challenging to select a longbow that is right for your archery style and goals. Many people want to know how to choose a longbow.
Ultimately the longbow that is right for you will be one that is sized appropriately according to your body measurements, is comfortable for you to shoot, and is suitable for your intended use.
Now you know, generally, what to look for, but what factors go into finding the perfect longbow for your size, strength, skill, and preferred archery sport? Below is a guide to help you navigate your longbow selection process.
Which Longbow is Right for Me?
Longbows are simple tools; by this, we mean they are constructed using fewer components than modern bows. Despite their simplicity, there are a few different types of longbows, each suited to different kinds of archery. Figuring out which type of longbow is right for you is about knowing what you need from a bow and what you want to do with it.
There are three main types of longbow: English longbow, American longbow, and Horse longbow. Each of these three types has its own evolutionary history, and because of this, they tend to each suit different kinds of archers.
The English Longbow
The English longbow is the most recognizable type of longbow due to its long history and prominence in the film industry. As you might gather from its name, the English longbow is native to England, where Welsh Archers used it to fight off Anglo-Norman invaders during the Hundred Years’ War in the 14th Century.
The English longbow is, well, quite long, even for a longbow. With an average length of 1.98 meters (about 74-78 inches), these bows can accommodate people who need longer bow and draw lengths.
Historically, these bows were used in battle or hunting and had high draw weights that required a considerable amount of strength to shoot. Nowadays, most people who shoot an English longbow tend to prefer them for target practice because they can be manufactured to have lower draw weights, making them great for the repetitive nature of practice shooting.
English longbows are also advantageous to use if you are new to shooting traditional or “trad” bows; this is because you shoot the arrow directly from your hand, which forces you to focus on proper shooting form, breath control, and aim.
Check out the article I wrote all about What Makes the English Longbow so Awesome .
The American Longbow
The American longbow is a relatively new invention, dating back to the 1930s. The American longbow is more or less an evolutionary form of the English longbow mixed with the American flatbow commonly used by indigenous peoples throughout the North American continent.
The American longbow is shorter than its English forefather. With an average length of 1.7 meters (68-70 inches), these bows may be more suitable for people who need shorter bow and draw lengths.
Unlike the English Longbow, which has been adapted to have lower draw weights, the core of an American longbow is often constructed out of hardwearing materials, like fiberglass, which helps it stand up to high draw weights. The added force you gain from a higher draw weight makes the bow better suited for hunting than modern English longbows.
The American longbow also features a notch designed to hold the arrow, which lends archers a little added stability over the English longbow. This feature is also appreciated among hunters.
The Horse Longbow
The Horse longbow is the descendant of a bow used by nomadic hunters in Central Asia during the Bronze Age (between 3000 BC and 1200 BC) and was put to the test in the battle against the Europeans in the Middle Ages.
The modern iteration of the Horse longbow is sometimes referred to as a “reflex/deflex” or “hybrid” longbow because the bow curves slightly towards the archer at the center before turning away from the archer at the end of the bow. The horse bow is a longbow that behaves slightly like a recurve bow, giving the archer the power that comes with a recurve bow and the forgiveness of a longbow.
Size-wise the Horse longbow is the shortest of the longbows, coming down to an average length of 1.6 meters (65-68 inches).
When you go shopping for a Horse or hybrid longbow, you will notice quite a bit of diversity among the building materials because, historically speaking, this bow design traveled the world. Each new culture that adopted the Horse bow added its own unique features and flairs. This is why you will see Hungarian, Japanese, or Polish style Horse bows. The resulting flexibility and diversity of this bow make it great for both hunters and target archers.
How to Choose a Longbow
No matter what type of longbow you decide may be right for you, it must be in sync with your body. When it gets down to choosing a longbow, the most important details will be based upon you, the archer, rather than the bow itself. The most important things you will have to know about yourself when investing in a longbow include:
- Eye Dominance
- Draw Length
- Bow Length
- Brace Height
- Draw Weight
Let us explore these things a little closer, so you feel confident talking about them when you go to purchase your longbow.
If you are a veteran archer, you should already know what your ocular dominance is and how to use this knowledge when it comes time to choosing your bow.
If you are new to archery, ocular dominance simply refers to your dominant eye, or the eye your brain trusts more. Figuring out which eye is your dominant eye is the first thing you have to do when choosing a bow. This video can teach you how to identify your dominant eye in just 38 seconds.
Knowing your dominant eye is crucial because it will determine which hand you use to shoot with. For example, if your dominant eye is your left eye, you should be shooting with your left hand.
Most people’s dominant eye will match their dominant hand, but it is still good to do a test to know for sure.
The next thing you have to know is your draw length. Your draw length is a measurement of how far you pull back your bow when you go to shoot an arrow. You can measure this with help from a friend, or you can go to an archery retailer and have them help you.
To find your draw length: measure your wingspan, or the distance between your middle fingertips when your arms are outstretched, and then divide that measurement by 2.5.
This video shows you step-by-step how to find your draw length. It also explains how an archery shop may help you get an even more accurate measurement.
Once you know your draw length, you can easily figure out your bow length or bow size. Bow length is a measurement of the distance between the tips of your bow.
The longer your bow length, the smoother your shot will be because longer bows will give you more stability and be more forgiving. That said, if your bow is too long or too short, you will limit yourself.
You can use this Longbow length chart below to help you select an approximate bow length, but the best way to figure out your preferred bow length is to visit an archery shop and try out a few different bows.
|Draw Length||Bow Length|
|Under 24’’ (60 cm or shorter)||64’’ (1.6 m)|
|24’’ to 27’’ (60 cm to 68.5 cm)||66’’ (1.67 m)|
|27’’ to 28’’ (68.5 cm to 71 cm)||66’’ to 68’’ (1.67 m – 1.72 m)|
|28’’ to 30’’ (71 cm – 76.2 cm)||68’’ to 70’’ (1.72 m – 1.77 m)|
|31’’ and up (78.7 cm and longer)||70’’ – 72’’ (1.77 m – 1.82 m)|
Draw weight determines the force and velocity of your shot. The higher your draw weight, the faster your shot will be, but you have to understand your limits when selecting your draw weight. Your draw weight should match your strength so that you can maintain proper form.
If you already use a compound bow, you will need to reduce the draw weight you typically use when you switch to a longbow. One expert recommends that experienced compound bow archers reduce their draw weight by at least 15 pounds when switching to a longbow.
If you are new to archery, you will want to start with the lowest possible draw weight. With few exceptions, 35 pounds will be the lowest draw weight you can find in a longbow. If you cannot maintain proper shooting form at this weight, you may wish to practice on a different type of traditional bow first.
Finding your preferred draw weight will be a process of trial and error; this is why it is essential to visit an archery shop to test potential bows before purchasing one.
Figuring out what brace height you prefer is less about your own physical characteristics and more about your preferences as an archer. Brace height is a measurement of the distance between the deepest point of the grip and the string of your bow. The brace height will influence the speed and forgiveness of the bow when you shoot.
It is easy to adjust the brace height on a longbow. All you have to do is twist or untwist the bowstring until you obtain your preferred brace height. Like with the draw weight, finding your preferred brace height will be a process of trial and error.
You do not necessarily need to know your exact preferred brace height when you choose a bow, but you should always remember to check the manufacturer’s suggested brace height range before purchasing one.
Purchasing a Longbow
Now that you know which type of longbow best suits your needs and how to pick out one that fits your body and skill level, it is time to make one final important decision, will you buy a custom bow or a stock bow?
- A custom bow is exactly what it sounds like; it is a longbow that has been either custom-built entirely for you, or incorporates custom elements. To purchase a custom bow, you will work directly with a bowyer, and the price of your bow will depend on the cost of your materials and their labor charges.
- A stock bow is a prebuilt or predesigned bow that is mass-produced. To purchase a stock bow, you can visit pretty much any archery supply shop. You can even buy one online, although we highly recommend testing a bow in-person before purchasing it.
Custom Bows vs. Stock Bows
There are advantages to both custom and stock bows; the key is to figure out which purchasing option suits you, so we boiled the advantages of each down into an easy pros-pros list:
|Pros of Stock Bows||Pros of Custom Bows|
|Instant Gratification: for the most part, you will go home with your new bow the same day you buy it.||You Get Exactly What You Need: You can tweak every detail of your bow to make sure you precisely get the draw length and weight you need.|
|Affordability: Stock bows are usually more affordable, and you can often find discounts and promotions offered by the manufacturers.||Performance Boosters: When purchasing a custom bow, it is really easy to upgrade your materials to increase your bow’s stability.|
|What You See is What You Get: It’s easier to comparison shop if the bow already exists. You will also know exactly what you are getting when you buy stock bows.||The Aesthetic: If you are looking for a bow with a particular aesthetic, custom bows can accommodate this. (Lord of the Rings archers, we’re looking at you!)|
Types of Bow Customization
When you think of getting a custom bow, you probably imagine a bowyer making a bow from scratch based upon a unique design. While that is one type of custom bow, it is on the extreme end. There is a wide range of options for getting a “custom bow.”
Knowing the different types of customization available will help you better articulate what you are looking for and find the right bowyers/manufacturers to work with.
- Fully Custom Bows: This is the kind of bow a bowyer makes from scratch based on a unique design. (However, this could be disadvantageous because that design won’t be tested.)
- Handmade Bows: Handmade bows use a pre-set and tested design, but you have the power to customize materials or include custom options.
- Factory Bows: Some stock or factory-made bows can be specially ordered for you, and in this case, you can elect to include or leave-off specific custom options.
Longbows, due to their simplicity, are not nearly as customizable as other types of bows. Part of their appeal is the fact that they are not burdened by some of the bells and whistles that come with modern bows, but some things can still be customized, including:
- The Hand Grip: Some longbow bowyers will take an outline of your handprint to make you a custom grip.
- Embellishments: You can add aesthetic embellishments to a longbow, like a veneer or etched designs.
- Core Upgrades: This is especially true of American Longbows, which can be made with fiberglass cores, as mentioned above.
Accessories for Your Longbow
Longbows are meant to be minimalistic bows, but there are a few accessories you should consider purchasing for your bow in addition to the obvious bowstring and arrows. These are the accessories recommended by the good folks at The Longbow Shop:
- A Bow Bag: Bow bags are great for storing your longbow in. They protect it and make it easier to transport.
- A String Silencer: This is an excellent addition for hunters because it dampens the vibrations made by your bowstring when you shoot.
- A Bow Quiver: Another great accessory for hunters, this will keep your bows secure and quiet while hunting.
- A Tip Protector: These go onto the bottom tip of your bow, so you can safely rest it on the ground.
When investing in longbow accessories, make sure you don’t go overboard; still, you want to keep your blow light and unencumbered, and there are performance advantages to some of these helpful add-ons.
Figuring out which longbow is right for you is simply a matter of figuring out what you need from a bow in terms of size, draw weight, force, and forgiveness, and considering that alongside the type of archery you intend to use the bow for, be it hunting or target shooting.
Once you know these things, it is relatively easy to know what type of bow you are in the market for. Then you simply have to decide if you are going to get a stock or a custom bow and what custom options you will spring for.
We hope that this post has left you with a sense of confidence, knowing that you are now well equipped to select the right longbow for you.
I live in Alberta, Canada where I enjoy indoor and 3D archery with traditional bows and compound bows. On this site, I share everything I’ve learned about archery along the way.