Buying your first olympic recurve bow, what you need and tips

Most archers that start with archery, start with an Olympic recurve bow. The advantage of an Olympic recurve bow is that you can easily switch from Olympic to a barebow shooting. Archery coaches often say that it’s better to start with recurve shooting since the bows tend to be more forgiving than fully traditional wooden bows. But they are also less complex than compound bows. This basically makes Olympic recurve archery ‘’the middle option’’ of the 3 classes.

If you want to get started with Olympic recurve archery, you need the equipment to do so. There is quite a lot of gear that you need and you don’t want to find out on the range that you missed anything. Therefore I will provide you with a complete shopping list in this article. I will also mention important lessons that I learned while buying my first Olympic recurve bow, and I will give some quick tips to save money.

Short answer:

If you want to start with Olympic recurve archery, you will need the following products: riser, limbs, string, nocking points, arrow rest, sight, stabilizer, button, arrows, armguard, tab, bow stringer, bow case, string, and wax. If you choose cheaper unbranded products the total cost less than $400, if you want branded products the total will be about $650,-.

What is an Olympic recurve bow

Before we start, you might wonder, what do I mean with ‘’Olympic’’ recurve bow. Most starting archers know what a recurve bow is, but for completeness, I will explain it shortly. The difference between a recurve bow and a ‘’standard bow’’ is that limbs of the bow are recurved, meaning they are bent forward when not under tension. I general the bow can be shorter because of these curves. There are other advantages but that’s a topic for another article.

So what does the word ‘’Olympic’’ mean? In short, Olympic stands for the shooting style that is used in the Olympic games. In Olympic recurve competitions you are for example allowed to use: a stabilizer, sight, and carbon arrows. These aids are not allowed in many more traditional classes. So if you want to shoot with a stabilizer and/or sight an Olympic recurve bow is the right choice for you. There are many nuanced differences between these classes which I can't all discuss in this article. So I would recommend reading the article below, if you want to know more:

''What is Olympic recurve archery?''

Before you buy anything

You have a lot of flexibility with an Olympic recurve bow because you can remove all aids from your bow and start shooting in a more traditional sense. Still, it’s good to consider what class you really want to shoot in: compound, recurve, or traditional. For compound archery you really need a compound bow and for traditional archery, you need a traditional bow, so make sure that you want to focus on recurve.

I would advise you to try out recurve archery at least a few times if you can. Most archery clubs allow you to lend a bow and sometimes you can hire equipment. If you are still on the fence whether you want to shoot traditional you can always decide to buy only the essentials of your bow: the riser, limbs, string, arrow rest, and arrows (of course don’t forget to get finger and arm protection). This will allow you to get used to archery, before investing in the complete package.

Your shopping list

If you want to get started with Olympic recurve archery you need quite some equipment. I will talk about the equipment in more detail in this section. I will sometimes refer to Amazon product pages, not because I think that is the best product. It is more a suggestion so you know what to look for.

Your bow

As I mentioned before the essentials of your bow exists out of the riser, limbs, string and arrow rest. Without these components you can literally not fire your bow.

Riser

The riser is the part that connects the lower and upper parts together. It also connects to all your aids: sight, stabilizer, arrow rest, button and clicker. Therefore the most important thing to check is whether your riser has connections for all these ads. For example, there are many wooden risers that do not have a way to connect your stabilizer and sight. Most metal risers do have connections for these devices, but you should check it.

Another important point about the riser is with what type of connection your limbs attach to your riser. I would advise any starting archer to go for a bow with an ILF fitting (stands for International limb fitting). Most limb manufacturers use this type of fitting, which makes that you have a lot of flexibility. There are many proprietary fittings that are used by just one manufacturer and this can really limit your choice, which I think is a bad choice for a starting archer.

Risers come in two lengths, 23 and 25 inches. The length of your riser and the length of your limbs combine to make either a 64, 66, 68 or 70-inch bow. I would recommend any adult to buy a 25-inch riser since this is most common for adults and gives you the most flexibility. For small children, a 23-inch riser is more suitable.

Riser length Short limbs Medium limbs Long limbs
Short 23-inch riser 64-inch bow 66-inch bow 68-inch bow
Long 25-inch riser 66-inch bow 68-inch bow 70-inch bow

Limbs

Another essential part are the limbs of your bow. The first important thing to take into account is that you of course buy the same fitting limbs as your riser. Again I would advise ILF limbs since these are most common and give you the most flexibility. Limbs are commonly made of wood, bamboo, and carbon. Although I generally like carbon limbs because they are less likely to break, I think a wood or bamboo limb will do just fine. Carbon limbs tend to be really expensive and I won’t recommend buying really expensive limbs when you just start.

The next important thing to decide is the length of your limbs. The length of your limbs decides how far you can safely draw back your bow, without potentially causing damage. In order to decide what limbs you need, you should measure your draw length and use the table below to find the right bow length. If you are unsure about your draw length and you are unsure whether to buy the longer or shorter limbs, I would advise the longer limbs. Having longer limbs doesn’t affect your bow negatively. If you however have a long draw length and shoot a to short bow, you might damage the limbs in the long run.

Draw length Bow length
24 inch 64 inch
26 inch 66 inch
28 inch 68 inch
30 inch 70 inch

Your next decision is the poundage of the limbs, this tells you how hard the bow is to pull back and with how much force your bow shoots. You can buy limbs anywhere between 16 and 50 LBS. There are even some limbs that are heavier or weaker than is but they are quite rare for adults. This is the part where a lot of archers make a mistake. Most beginning archers want to have a heavy bow because the bow will shoot a lot harder. But your muscles are not trained when you are just starting and therefore the bow will be way too heavy, resulting in having to switch to weaker limbs. Therefore I would always advise buying weaker limbs if you are unsure about the draw weight. You can use the chart below for an estimate about what fits you. It really depends on your physical fitness, so if you are really fit you could decide to buy a little heavier bow. Just be sure to not overestimate your abilities, it can really kill the joy in archery if you start with a too heavy draw weight.

Archers profile Draw weight
Small children 16 LBS or less
Larger children 16 till 18 LBS
Teenage female 18 till 22 LBS
Teenage male 20 till 24 LBS
Female 20 till 26 LBS
Male 22 till 30 LBS

Read the following in-depth article for a step by step process to choosing the right limbs and important features to consider:

Buying the right limbs for your bow

String

Although there are huge differences in the prices and quality of string, I would not buy an expensive string when you are just starting. Cheaper string tends to stretch more, which isn’t a big deal because you can just add more twists to keep the brace height consistent. Make sure though that the string fits your bow length and that the serving is not to thick for the nocks on your arrows. See the article below for some frequently asked questions regarding strings:

10 questions about bowstrings answered

Nocking points

Depending on where you buy your string, you might have no nocking points on your string. If you for example buy your string online, you will probably have no nocking points. If you however buy a complete package you probably will. If you go to an archery shop, the seller will always ask if you want nocking points.

If you need nocking points there are two options. You can for example use metal ones like this. But many archers prefer to use serving to make nocking points. If you want to learn how to tie nocking points, you can watch this video by MerlinArchery.

Arrow rest

There are metal and plastic arrow rests for Olympic recurve bows. Most arrow rests are attached to your bow with an adhesive tape There are also arrow rests that are screwed on, next to the button. I would advice to not buy a plastic arrow rest. There are quite some cheap arrow rests available so I would advise one of those.

Sight

The sight is one of the first components I upgraded when I was just started with archery. If you buy a cheap sight I will cost you around $10 - $20, while more expensive sights cost more than $100. Although I bought another sight in my first year I would not advise buying a really expensive sight when you are just starting. When you just start, you don’t know your preferences yet and therefore you will probably opt for another sight no matter whether you bought a cheap or an expensive one. I would however choose a sight with a thin black roundel because this makes aiming easier.

Stabilizer

Many rental bows or club bows don’t have a stabilizer, therefore you might think, do I even need one when I start. The answer is no, you don’t need a stabilizer when you are just starting. This is, however, one of the aids that really helpful, it removes a lot of vibration and really helps with aiming. I would at least buy the long stabilizer, the (little) stabilizers to the side also reduce vibration but those do not make a huge difference in my experience. In my opinion, you can buy a cheap stabilizer. I have tried expensive and cheap stabilizers but I don’t notice much difference.

Button

The button, which is also often called the plunger, screws in the side of the bow near the arrow rest. Depending on the type of arrow rest you chose you might need a button to be able to even safely fire your bow. Many plastic arrow rests have some sort of ‘’built-in button’’, which consists of a little plastic flap. Even though you don’t necessarily need a button when you have a plastic arrow rest, I would still advise it. A button allows you to provide you with control over your left and right orientation of your arrow, which is essential to optimally tune your bow. If you have a plastic arrow rest you can snip off the build-in button with some pliers, if you use a ‘’real’’ button.  If you have a metal arrow rest you could technically shoot your bow, but it will be really inaccurate and dangerous. Metal arrow rests are build to be used in combination with a button.

Clicker (optional)

The clicker is not really essential when you start shooting. I would also not advise to start shooting with a clicker at least the first 3 months, because it makes the shooting process more demanding and you need to be really consistent to make it work. Therefore you could decide to skip the clicker when you just start and buy one later. Clickers are really cheap, and I don’t see any reason to buy an expensive one, because they all do the same thing.

Arrows

Before you can shoot your bow you of course need arrows. For someone who is just starting it might seem that any arrow will do, but this couldn’t be farther from the truth. Your arrow exists out of the point, arrow shaft, fletching, and nocks. All these components need to be a good fit together and with your bow. I would, therefore, suggest buying readymade arrows when you are just starting. Manufacturers select the components for these arrows that are most suitable for most archers. You can of course assemble your own arrows, but this is quite a complicated process and I believe it’s better to learn about that when you are already shooting for a while. The best way to make sure that your arrows fit your bow is to buy the arrows at the same shop where you bought the bow and ask for advice. You can also buy your arrows at a different shop, but they might not be familiar with the bow, and they will need more information about it. Sometimes sellers also explain what arrow fits with the bow on their listing, this could also be helpful when selecting the right arrow.

Protection

When you are firing your bow you need protection. Although not all archers need a chest guard, at least an armguard and a tab is mandatory in my opinion.

Armguard

If you are just starting at an archery club you might not see a lot of archers wearing an armguard. To be honest, I also often forget my armguard, because I don’t tend to hit it anymore. This was different however when I just started and this is different for most archers. When you are just starting, your movements are less controlled and you are more likely to over-stretch your arm, which results in the string hitting your arm. Therefore I believe every beginning archer should buy an armguard and honestly actually all archers should still wear theirs.

Tab

The armguard is really for protection, the tab is more for comfort and accuracy. There are many different tabs but the most distinctive feature it whether it has rest for your thumb. I like to have a place to rest my thumb, which makes that I can use my cheekbone as an anchor point. Some people also place the thumb rest in the most upper position and us that to anchor. This just depends on your preference.

Finger or arm sling

The finger and arm sling make sure that you don’t drop the bow when you shoot the arrow. You might think, I will just grip the bow firmly, then I don’t need a sling. That is however not a good idea, proper archery technique is to relax your hand and only grip the bow firmly when the arrow left the bow. Therefore you can either use a finger or arm sling to catch your bow, in case you are too late. Most people use the finger sling, but some prefer the arm sling. If you have sensitive fingers I would advise the arm sling, because with the finger sling the weight of the bow is entirely caught by two fingers. If you want to use a finger sling by using a piece of rope or shoelace. Click here if you want to see a tutorial on how you could do this.

Chestguard (optional)

The chest guard is a piece of equipment that I wouldn’t buy if you don’t notice any issues. Many archers shoot without a chest guard and never need it. If you however notice that your string scours your chest you could decide to use a chest guard. I honestly never needed it and I haven’t seen any archers at my local club that had major issues with it. But if you do, now you know how you can protect yourself.

Gear and accessories

Apart from your bow, arrows, and protective equipment you also need some accessories, depending on your situation. I will discuss these parts below.

Bow stringer

A bow stringer is used to string your bow. When you store your bow, you should always unstring your bow. Keeping your bow strung can harm your limbs in the long run. At clubs, there are often bow stringers or even tension benches that you can use to string your bow. If you, however, don’t have these options you need a bow stringer. I would go for the cheapest option here since they all do the exact same thing.

Quiver

Before you are shooting your arrows you need to keep them somewhere. Therefore most recurve archers use a quiver which is most often attached to a belt. There are many options and mainly differ in terms of storage compartments and how comfortable they are to wear. I am still using the old quiver that I bought when I just started, so you don’t really need an expensive one when you are just started.

A bag or case

This is only relevant if you are transporting your bow. If you shoot in your backyard, you won’t need a case or bag. I transported my bow a few times without a bag and I wouldn’t recommend it. Not only can you damage your bow, but it’s also impractical since you also have to carry all your gear in another bag. You can buy a really cheap or expensive bag or case, as long as it protects your bow decently.

Bow stand

I think it’s essential for every archer to buy a bow stand. If you don’t have a bow stand you will always have to put your bow on the ground, which could scratch your bow. If you shoot outside your bow could also get moist, which is bad for your string. The archery club I am a member of has hooks where you can hang your bow, but I wouldn’t recommend those either. Your bow could drop and it could damage your limbs.

String wax

In the first 3 months, you won’t need your string wax because a new string will take a while before it needs waxing. I would advise you to buy string wax and to regularly apply new wax to improve the lifetime of your string. If your string gets ‘’hairy’’ it’s in need of a new layer of wax.

How expensive is it?

Below I made a list based on the products of Amazon that I would recommend for a beginning archer. I didn't add the product links because that's against their terms of service. It is more to give you a general indication, than a precise total.

Part Price
Riser $106.99
Limbs $99.99
String $9.99
Nocking points $4.99
Arrow rest $5.99
Sight $14.99
Stabilizer $19.99
Button $14.99
Arrows (12) $21.49
Armguard $2.89
Tab $15.59
Bow stringer $0.99
Bow case $25.99
String wax $4.99
Total $349.89

As you can see the total is $349,89, which is on the low end. Many starting archers spend about $650.-. This is a lot more because most archers buy established brands. The list I provided is mainly from cheaper alternatives. You can of course always decide to buy from established brands, but personally I don’t see a huge quality difference.

What’s next?

I hope I provided you with a complete list of all the products you need when you start shooting. If you have any questions, you can always leave a comment. I will get back to you as soon as possible. If you are an experienced archer, please leave your feedback and tips!

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