BOWHUNTING: Time for a Rest
by Chuck Adams
Refine your accuracy with one tiny piece of gear.
In the old days of primitive longbows, archers often launched an arrow by sliding it across the top knuckle of their bow hand. When the bow was tipped at an angle, the arrow was cradled between the knuckle and the bow itself. This was a crude but adequate way to direct the projectile.
When I began bowhunting in the 1960s, recurve bows had replaced longbows as the shooting tools of choice. Most recurves had a “shelf” carved into the wood above the grip to support the arrow during the shot. This shelf was usually covered with moleskin or short-knap carpet to cushion the shaft and produce a quieter shot. Leather or moleskin was also glued above the shelf to form a silent “plate” against the side of the bow. For many years, simple shelf-and-plate rest configurations were standard equipment.
With the growing popularity of compound bows and mechanical bowstring release aids, arrow rests became a good bit more sophisticated. Today, there are a number of things you should consider before you select the perfect arrow rest for elk hunting. Here they are.
Super-slow-motion photography has proven that arrows launched in different ways bend and vibrate in different directions. A traditional finger release causes an arrow to bend from side-to-side, with an average of 2½ back-and-forth bends occurring before the arrow clears the bow. This bending is called “archer’s paradox.” By contrast, a mechanical string release causes an arrow to oscillate up-and-down at least 3 revolutions before it leaves the bow. These very different arrow dynamics require very different arrow rests.
A finger rest requires a shelf plus a plate to control the shaft from below and from one side. A side plate is key to dampening shaft bending (paradox) and preventing arrow scattering left or right. Arrow rests that properly perform this function include the shelf-and-plate setup on old recurve bows and more modern, more accurate designs like the springy rest and flipper/plunger rest from companies like Cavalier.
By contrast, a well-designed release-aid rest cradles the arrow from below with double prongs, a plastic “V,” or a tight circle of nylon bristles. This controls the up/down flexing of a mechanically released arrow.
You should note that a finger rest can be adequate for use with a mechanical release because it controls launching both from below and from one side. But a release rest is worthless for finger shooting because it controls launching only from below. Finger released arrows always scatter horizontally when launched from a bottom-cradling release-aid rest.
Every archer, finger shooter or not, is prone to twist or torque the bow handle at least a little bit during a shot. Accuracy-degrading torque can be reduced with a small-grip bow and a bow stabilizer affixed below the grip. But torque still occurs.
For the finger shooter, two things can reduce this problem. First, use a rest with two narrow arrow-contact points. Second, place the rest directly above the bow grip so torque moves the arrow rest the least.
A wide-platform arrow rest like old rug-and-plate setups on recurve bows can hugely amplify the effects of bow torque. Arrows scatter badly from side to side as the rest rotates and whacks the arrows in different ways. By comparison, a finger rest with a narrow wire shelf and equally narrow wire or button plate reduces accuracy troubles caused by torque.
Even a narrow-platform launcher like the springy or flipper/plunger can ruin accuracy if it is not installed directly above the bow handle. So-called “overdraw rests” became all the rage a number of years ago. These rests allowed the use of very short, very fast arrows because they were affixed several inches behind the bow grip. At full draw, the arrowhead was well behind the archer’s bow hand and wrist. But the slightest bow torque wagged these rear-placed rests from side to side a lot. The longer the overdraw, the greater the wag. To make matters worse, the typical 2½-times flexing of a finger-released arrow slammed fletching directly into the overdraw rest. Speed and trajectory were excellent, but finger accuracy suffered.
Overdraw arrow rests work better with a mechanical bowstring release, because arrows flex up and down as they leave the bow. Bow torque affects shaft movement less. But narrow shaft contact points on a rest are still best for accuracy no matter how you release the string. The more surface area an arrow has to slide across, the more chance that small shooting mistakes can cause large accuracy errors.
Testimony from experienced archers and tests with sophisticated bow-shooting machines support those facts. An arrow rest with flexible, cushioning components improves accuracy. Even a simple, old-time rug rest cushioned shaft vibration and produced better arrow groups. Today, spring-loaded or flexible synthetic launcher arms do the same thing in a much more effective way.
When you buy an arrow rest, make sure that arrow contact points are not rigid. Flexible rest components greatly enhance accuracy, and they also dampen shaft vibration and elk-spooking noise.
Bowhunters know all too well that a noisy bow scares animals, resulting in misses or poor hits. One main source of bow racket can be the arrow rest.
Flexing rest components reduce noise, but so do specially designed arrow launching surfaces. For best shooting consistency, arrow rest parts are usually made of metal or hard synthetics. But durability must always be balanced against silence. In most cases, this is accomplished by coating launcher arms, flippers, buttons, and other contact points with Teflon or synthetic felt. A wood, metal, or carbon arrow shaft is always hard and noisy. To counteract this, your arrow rest must have silent surfaces to prevent scrapes or clangs as you draw and release. If you can hear your arrow slide across the rest, an elk can hear you!
While stealth is key, one of the sneakiest accuracy troubles for hunters is collision between arrow fletching and the rest. The only way to counteract this in older-style bows is shooting arrows with feather fletching. Feathers flatten as they pass a shelf-and-plate setup, thus preventing the rear of the arrow from deflecting and wobbling wildly.
Today, compound bows are “centershot” in design. The bow handle is well away from the arrow rest, and only the rest itself can make contact with fletching. If you install a complete-clearance rest to such a bow, even rigid plastic fletching can fly like a dream.
Some arrow rests are better than others when it comes to fletching clearance. Traditional two-arm launcher rests like the TM Hunter style and finger-shooter’s springy rest can produce complete fletching clearance, but only if a shooter experiments extensively with arrow nock rotation until fletching sneaks past the launcher arms. Better, easier-to-use choices include the flipper/plunger for finger shooters and the drop-away rest for release-aid users. The lightly spring-loaded shelf wire on a flipper rest wags out of the way on contact with fletching to produce a superior shot. In my experience, the many drop-away rests on the market are best for release-aid shooting because they fall or spring downward and out of the arrow’s path the instant you release the string. The shaft receives brief dampening control, but fletching clearance is always complete. Of course, all of this is nil if you can’t keep an arrow on your rest.
Nothing is more frustrating than dropping the arrow off the rest just as an elk moves into range. At best, this will slow your ability to shoot. At worst, it can scare a bull into the next county.
A good bowhunting rest must securely hold the arrow no matter what. If the wind blows or you jiggle or tilt your bow, the last thing you need is an arrow that rattles off the rest.
Finger shooters have an advantage here. An expert applies pressure to the arrow nock with his fingers as he draws—pressure that forces the shaft against the bow. No amount of breeze, nervous jitters, or bow-bumping against twigs can dislodge a properly finger-drawn arrow.
By comparison, some itty-bitty target rests absolutely invite arrow fall-off when drawn using a release in hunting situations. A drop-away release rest with a deep arrow “V” is among the most secure in the elk woods. You can hang your bow from a hook in a tree stand or ground blind, fidget before you draw, or aim in a severe crosswind without a bit of worry.
Even more secure is a “whisker” rest that surrounds the shaft on all sides with stiff synthetic bristles. You absolutely cannot drop your arrow off such a rest, making it one of the most popular with beginning and intermediate archers. In my experience, whisker rests are not as accurate as double-arm launcher rests or drop-away rests for a release-aid shooter, and they quickly damage fletching as it pounds past the ring of rest bristles. But whisker rests are popular with archers who have trouble keeping the arrow on the rest, and these are reasonably accurate at close range.
In addition, the best arrow rests are easily adjustable from side to side for precise bow tuning. If arrows are leaving your bow tail-right, you must move the rest to the right. To correct tail-left arrow flight, move the rest to the left. Tail-high or tail-low arrow flight can be corrected by moving the nocking point on the bowstring down or up. By doing these things, you can achieve perfect arrow flight and incredibly good accuracy. A horizontally adjustable arrow rest is essential.
There are dozens of arrow rests on the market, but all are not created equal. You must select a durable, adjustable and quiet design that matches your shooting style and level of proficiency with a bow. The wrong rest can ruin your day. The right rest can make target shooting a pleasure and bagging elk a much easier proposition.
Life member Chuck Adams has written 10 books about bowhunting—including Super Slam, detaining his adventures with all 28 species of North American big game.