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This Old Bow

Old bows often are beautiful pieces of handiwork. When they were made, they were made to be shot. Can they still be shot today? Let’s say you inherited one or were given one as a gift. How can you know if it’s safe to shoot?

The best place to get answers is at an archery pro shop. There, you’re likely to find workers who might know the bow you’ve picked up. Even if they don’t, they know what to look for in determining if a bow is safe to shoot.

Most pro shops today will have technicians with the knowledge to work with compound bows. If you have a recurve or longbow, make sure you find a shop that has someone with expertise working with traditional bows. Not all shops have someone with that expertise, but it’s critical for working with these types of bows. 


One of the primary issues that affects old compound bows is that they remain strung at all times. If the strings and cables are intact on the bow you’ve got, they could be as old as the bow. That means they’ve been under tension for years. The first shot you take with such a bow could be the one that causes a break.

What usually happens with old compound bows that sit around for years is the string or a cable dries out and then breaks. When it breaks, the sudden release of tension could crack a limb or otherwise damage the bow. 

If you have an old compound with a broken string, you really must find a pro shop to check it out and to determine whether it was damaged when the string broke, and whether it can be restrung. Old compounds can be tricky when it comes to restringing. There was a time when most bows were equipped with steel cables, and it won’t be easy to find someone to make new cables for such a bow, if you can find anyone at all.

Also, strings and cables for compound bows must be a certain length to fit a given bow. If the bow is old enough, there might not be information available for a string builder to know what the right lengths are for your bow.

Parts for old compounds also might be difficult to find. That might be an issue if you need to make a modification, like swap a module or cam to change the draw length of your bow, or replace a limb that’s splintering. Manufacturers quit making parts for discontinued models after a certain period. Also, there are lots of bow manufacturers that made compound bows in the 1970s and 1980s that don’t exist anymore. Oregon, Browning and Golden Eagle are a few examples.

All of these scenarios, of course, assume that you don’t know the history of an old bow. Maybe the old bow you’re now holding was passed down to you by a relative, and you know it was used without issue recently. By all means, then, nock an arrow and let it fly.


Old recurves and longbows present some unique challenges and, as mentioned before, are best looked over by a pro shop that has expertise with those bows before you shoot them. It’s not uncommon for someone to get an old recurve or longbow that has no string with it. Knowing what length of string to put on such a bow is key to safely shooting that bow. A recurve and longbow specialist will know how to determine the correct string length.

And while we’re talking about strings, older bows tend not to be able to tolerate modern string materials. They need strings made from softer materials, which are still made today, but you’ll need an expert to determine what material is best for your bow. Choosing the wrong material can result in damage to the limb tips.

Something else that frequently happens to old recurves and longbows is the limbs can twist after years of not being shot. And bows constructed of laminated layers of materials can start to experience delamination, which weakens the bow.

If you are set on having an old recurve or longbow strung so you can shoot it, don’t be surprised if the bow breaks the first time it’s strung. Remember, this is an old bow. Materials deteriorate over time. It’s not uncommon for an old bow that’s been sitting around for decades to snap at the limb the first time it’s strung.

The most important message here is that if you come across an old bow and you’re not too familiar with its history, nor are you an expert on old bows, take it to an archery pro shop and have them assess it. That’s the best way to know if this old bow is safe to put into service, or if it’s best to just take it home and hang it on the wall to admire.



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