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Keeping your bow strung refers to leaving the bowstring in place for a protracted period — e.g., days, weeks, or months — following a hunting trip or shooting session. In compound bows, you don’t need to remove the bowstring. However, is it safe to leave your recurve bow strung?
Leaving Your Bow Strung
Archers and bowhunters who shoot recurve bows or longbows will often ask whether it’s acceptable to leave their bow strung and, if so, for how long. This refers to whether the archer should remove the bowstring before storing the bow after hunting or archery practice. The answer is that it depends on several factors. “Why is this important?” you may ask.
Is it OK to Keep a Recurve Bow Strung?
While a modern compound bow can be left strung for an indefinite period of time, a recurve bow is another matter entirely. How long you can leave your recurve bow strung following a shooting session depends, primarily, on what material it’s made from.
When you string a recurve bow, you place the limbs under a constant load. The belly of the bow compresses, and the back of the bow — the side facing the target — tenses.
As you draw the bowstring of a recurve bow, you increase the load on the limbs, which flex to store potential energy. This potential energy, once converted to kinetic energy, is what propels the arrow. Loading and unloading the bow repeatedly causes the limbs to weaken over time.
The material that your bow is composed of plays an important role in the rate of fatigue. Wood is by far the most common material bowyers select when crafting bows. The traditional bow material, wood, is favored for its elasticity, aesthetic appeal, and availability.
Wood, however, must maintain a specific moisture ratio to avoid cracking or permanently deforming when bent. When wood decomposes and dries out, it becomes brittle. This brittleness leads to weakening and eventual cracking.
This is why many wooden bows are laminated — to hold in the necessary moisture and slow down the decomposition process.
Leaving a wooden recurve bow strung for a prolonged period of time risks warping the limbs, ruining the bow in the process. Ideally, if you have a wooden recurve bow or longbow, you should unstring it immediately following your hunt or shooting session. This will allow the bow to rest, extending its lifespan and delaying the decomposition process.
A composite bow is composed of at least two different materials. Sometimes more. Composite bows are typically composed of wood and fiberglass or another synthetic material. This composition increases the durability of the bow relative to one made strictly from wood. However, if a composite bow contains wood, it’s still susceptible to accelerated wear and warping. The primary difference is that the composite construction delays the weakening of the limbs.
Recurve bows made from synthetic materials can be left strung for longer periods of time — up to three weeks following a shooting session. These materials, such as carbon fiber and fiberglass, do not degrade in the same way that wood does and are more environmentally resilient.
How to String a Recurve Bow
As an archer or bowhunter, you should know how to string a recurve bow. Keeping the recurve bow unstrung will allow it to “rest,” extending its usable life. While you can have a professional perform this task for you, every archer should understand how to do it themselves. There are two methods of stringing/unstringing a recurve bow: manual and assisted.
To string or unstring a recurve bow manually, place the bottom limb on the ground and, assuming you’re a right-handed archer, place your left leg through the space between the bowstring and the belly with your left foot flat on the ground.
Next, with the belly of the bow pressing against the inside of your left thigh, flex the upper limb forward, keeping it close to your chest. This should allow you to exert sufficient leverage to attach or remove the bowstring.
Although conceptually simple, this is not a foolproof method and can prove strenuous, depending on the peak draw weight of your bow.
The second method is to use a bow stringer. A bow stringer is a string-like tool you can use to help you attach the bowstring safely and effectively. To string your bow using a bow stringer, first, place the bowstring on the bow. The bowstring has two loops: one big and one small. The big loop fits over the top limb, sliding downward. The small loop fits over the bottom limb and into the string groove.
Bow stringers vary in design, but there’s generally a saddle at one end and a pocket at the other. Slide the saddle over the top limb and below the position of the bowstring. Place the bottom of the bow stringer — in this case, the pocket — over the bottom limb.
When the bow stringer is in place, hold the bow horizontally, allowing the bow stringer and bowstring to hang freely toward the ground. Place your foot on the center of the bow stringer and lift the bow to apply tension. Now slide the bowstring into the string grooves at both ends. Pluck the bow to ensure that it’s properly fitted.
Now that you know how to string a recurve bow both ways, you should always be able to ensure that your bow rests between uses, prolonging its life and preserving its efficiency.
The question of whether you should leave your bow strung, and if so, for how long, is an important one that every archer or bowhunter should ask. Stringing your bow can be a labor-intensive activity, so it’s natural to want to avoid that process if you can.
However, by leaving your recurve bow strung for extended periods of time, including those composed of synthetic materials, you shorten the life of your bow. As a general rule, remove the bowstring from your recurve bow when you intend to store it. This will preserve its structural integrity and ensure that your bow remains functional for years.