The plunger is one of the smallest, yet most important pieces of equipment on Olympic recurve bows.
Barebow archers (not to be confused with traditional shooters) also use plungers on their bows. The plunger, which is also called a “cushion button,” serves two purposes: It guides the arrow down the bow’s centerline during the shot, and moderates (within reason) the arrow’s flexing upon release.
Plungers consist of a tube that encases a spring, which has a plastic “head” that sticks out of the tube. The plunger almost looks like a spark plug. It screws into the riser just above the arrow rest, where the head contacts the arrow horizontally.
When recurve shooters release an arrow with their fingers (as opposed to a release aid), the arrow flexes horizontally because the bowstring goes around the fingers. It’s physically impossible to open your fingers fast enough to let the bowstring travel in a straight line. This horizontal flex, called the “archer’s paradox,” turns the arrow into a self-contained vibrating system once it leaves the bowstring. The plunger ensures the arrow leaves the bow in a straight line despite all of its bending, which helps it fly straighter and more accurately.
Plungers can be adjusted left or right of center to ensure the arrow is “center shot.” Note that setting the center shot directly down the bow’s midline won’t always launch arrows from the bow in a straight line. Consult your coach or a shop’s pro to learn how to set your bow’s center shot.
After setting the center shot, you must adjust the plunger’s tension by systematically adjusting the spring until you shoot groups at your desired distance. By making patient adjustments, you’ll find a sweet spot for the plunger tension that delivers tight groups and makes your setup more forgiving. That is, your shooting mechanics might be slightly inconsistent, but your arrows will still group tightly. That’s important for competitive archers who make small errors while dealing with stress and nerves. A properly adjusted plunger helps guide the arrow back to the middle, but it can’t correct horrible shots.
Plunger tension can also help solve small tuning issues in arrows that are slightlystiff or weak. Reducing plunger tension for stiff arrows, and vice versa, can help put your shots into the 10-ring consistently, but it can’t fix badly tuned or improperly matched arrows.
Nearly every competitive recurve archer will need a plunger after completing introductory lessons. The right plunger increases consistency and can last years, maybe even decades. It helps make your bow more forgiving, but don’t ask it to fix every shooting problem. You still must consistently execute good form while honing your technique.