October 25, 2021
By Fred Eichler
Back when i managed an archery shop, it seemed every week a customer would come in all excited to start the sport of archery with the new bow they had picked up. Usually, the stories were all very similar. The bow had only cost $20, and it came from a neighbor, friend, garage sale, or pawn shop. It was always sad to me because they were so excited, but unfortunately the condition of the vast majority of these bows made them unsafe to shoot.
It’s not always just the archery neophytes who make this mistake. I have seen experienced compound shooters who thought they would dip a toe into traditional archery get fooled as well. It’s the alluring thought of trying traditional archery without investing much.
To be completely honest, even I got duped once. I bought an old bow with no string that looked good at the time of purchase. I bought the right string for it, but when I started to string it, one of the limbs collapsed. I can’t remember if it was the top or bottom limb, but either way, a one-piece bow with a ruined limb means game over. Fortunately, I think I only paid $20 for it.
So how do you know if you are getting a deal or not on an old or used traditional bow? The first thing to consider is the reasons to purchase one. If it’s to shoot the bow and use it for target shooting or hunting, it’s paramount to shoot the bow several times. I also advise drawing it past your normal draw length to make sure it can take it. I would also advise giving it a visual inspection first before drawing it, to confirm that the limbs and riser aren’t cracked or torqued.
Some small surface cracks in the fiberglass or paint are fine, and often common in older bows. Cracks that go into the laminations of the limb, or cracks in the riser or handle past the surface, need to be looked at closely before risking drawing the bow. A slightly twisted limb can sometimes be gently worked back into place, depending on the severity. But a seriously torqued limb will usually render the bow useless to shoot and can cause the string to come off the limb when drawn. This can result in injury.
Poundage is another thing to consider. Most manufactured bows have the poundage marked somewhere on the bow. That poundage number usually means that the bow will be that weight when drawn to 28 inches. Older recurves often stack or gain anywhere from three to five pounds per inch that they are drawn over 28 inches. So, if it says #50 on the bow and you draw 30 inches, prepare for the bow to be closer to 56 to 60 pounds.
If you are purchasing for an investment and are married, then congratulations are in order. If you can convince your significant other you are buying any traditional bow for an investment, I am impressed.
If you are looking for a collector’s item, I would advise looking at any of the older recurves or longbows by larger companies. Depending on the model, old bows from Bear, Ben Pearson, Howard Hill, Hoyt, Wing, etc. are all usually good bets. So are older custom bows from prominent custom bowyers. Recurves and longbows, especially ones made or used by archery legends of the past, are also super collectible — like a bow proven to have been used by Fred Bear or Howard Hill, for example.
Two of my prized stickbows in my collection are Easton longbows made in the late 20s or early 30s by Doug Easton. What many don’t know, and what makes them collector’s items, is that Doug Easton started out handmaking and selling longbows before he started making and selling arrows.
Sometimes, the most random things are where the value lies. For example, some of the old Bear Archery medallions that were inserted in the risers of the older Bear bows are worth as much, if not more, than the bow itself. So do some homework and buy smart. There are still some good deals out there for $20. Just make sure you know what you’re getting before you reach for your wallet.