A recurve bow is a thing of beauty for its simplicity, clean lines and the effective way it releases an arrow. When you pick up your bow for the first time you might notice the shelf above the grip and wonder, do I use it as is or should I add some type of arrow rest?

This is very much a matter of personal opinion.

Sometimes, whether or not you use an arrow rest or shoot off the shelf comes down to the recurve bow itself. Over the years, not all recurve bows were built with a shelf or, if they were, it wasn’t necessarily wide enough to accommodate an arrow.

You can figure out which recurve bows were built to be shot off the shelf by taking a closer look at the shelf itself. If the shelf has a hump in it (rather than just flat) the intention was to shoot it off the shelf.

The intention with a bow with a flat shelf was to use an elevated arrow rest.

Many traditional shooters shoot straight off the shelf and enjoy a lot of success doing so. The rest prefer to add a simple shelf rest, an elevated rest or even a flipper to do the job.

It might depend on your equipment, the bow you use or how one feels compared to the other.

There is no right or wrong or better or worse.

Pros and Cons of Shelf and Arrow Rest Shooting

There are reasons why some people prefer to shoot straight off the shelf while others like to use an arrow rest.

We’ll take a closer look at the pros and cons of each to get a better sense of which might be more appealing to the way you want to shoot your traditional bow.

Advantages of Shooting Off the Shelf

It is a simple set-up

Off the shelf places the arrow close to the hand and this helps with instinctive shooting.

Can make it easier to correctly position the arrow when stalking

It allows you to more effectively take a quick shot or multiple shots.

It feels more natural to traditional shooters

Disadvantages of Shooting Off the Shelf

Can cause damage to the bow through repeated contact from arrows

Can be less consistent which affects accuracy

Can cause damage to the arrows with fletching becoming torn or ripped from the shaft

Gives you less scope for tuning because it is not as adjustable

Advantages of Using an Arrow Rest

Makes it easier to keep the arrow in place while drawing the bow

Moves the arrow off the shelf protecting it from wear

Prevents the arrow and fletchings from striking the shelf during the shot

Increased accuracy and consistent point of contact

More forgiving if your form isn’t perfect

Disadvantages of Using an Arrow Rest

Adds more equipment to your bow

They can break or come loose

Some people consider it less traditional

Dealing with the Disadvantages of Shelf Shooting and Arrow Rests

Seeing as how we’ve called out the disadvantages of both types of shooting, let’s see if we can’t come up with potential solutions for each.

Not all disadvantages necessarily have simple solutions but at least it will provide some food for thought.

Off Shelf: Damage to the Bow

Some people are not concerned by the fact that their bow might become scuffed or marked by the process of shooting arrows straight off the shelf.

To the traditional shooters, this is like a badge of honor, a testament to the hours of shooting that have gone before.

Over time, it can also be a useful indicator of where to place the arrow each time you take your shot.

If, however, you’re truly concerned about marking your beautiful new bow, you can place a small piece of tape or a rug (which is, arguably, considered to be a shelf rest) on the shelf to protect both the vertical and lateral contact points.

Off Shelf: Reduced Accuracy

As with any new pursuit there is going to be a learning curve involved in shooting accurately. Becoming an instinctive shooter means putting in the hours and learning properly through repetition of actions.

Shooting off the shelf may seem difficult to start with but by perfecting your form, you will be learning how to do it right under the most challenging of conditions.

Off Shelf: Damaged Arrows

It’s true, the repeated contact of the arrows with the bow is mainly via the fletching and this means there will be some damage.

Knowing that this is the price you’re going to pay softens the blow somewhat, and traditional shooters are prepared to replace their feathers more often.

The good news is that torn and damaged feathers will still stabilize an arrow. So, although they may become damaged more often, the feathers will still do the job while they’re attached.

Off Shelf: Tuning

While lateral tuning can be a little more difficult when shooting off the shelf, vertical tuning is a relatively straightforward matter.

As long as you adjust your nocking point so that it is high enough so that the arrow pressures the shelf just past center the tuning process will go well.

As with other aspects of shooting your bow, the frequency of repetition will make the process easier.

Arrow Rest: More Equipment

This is a minor problem to deal with, at worst.

Shelf rests and stick-on rests are very simple little devices that neither add a lot of weight nor introduce complex moving parts.

The arrow rest will provide a far greater benefit to your shooting accuracy and consistency than any perceived downside.

Arrow Rest: Break or Loosen

Even the most basic pieces of equipment have their weak points and when they fail they can leave you in the lurch.

A simple stick-on arrow rest is comprised of a small shelf or hook on which the arrow sits. It’s the fragile part of the rest and can be prone to snapping off.

Similarly, the stick-on adhesive can deteriorate or the magnetic strip of a magnetized rest can degrade and you suddenly have no rest where once one sat.

The answer is to always have a supply of backups available. And, fortunately, these types of rests are very inexpensive and can be replaced with little fuss…as long as you’re diligent in stocking replacements.

Arrow Rest: Less Traditional

If you’re not trying to impress anyone with your bow, the fact that using an arrow rest is not considered traditional should not concern you at all.

I would consider this to be not so much a disadvantage as an alternative view. The aim should be to get the best out of your bow rather than conforming totally to the traditional look at the expense of performance.

Some Basic Differences Between Shooting Off the Shelf and Off an Arrow Rest

You should be shooting feathers off the shelf and vanes off an arrow rest.

Feathers are pliable and will move over the shelf causing less deflection as a result.

Plastic vanes are stiff and when they come in contact with the shelf will cause the arrow to hop, affecting the arrow’s flight.

Something to note about using vanes over feathers is that they are more resistant to wet weather than feathers.

Recurve Bow Arrow Rest Options

Fashion a Homemade Arrow Rest

There are a number of very simple options you can use to fashion your own arrow rest or shelf rest if you’re simply trying to protect your bow.

The protective felt pads you place on the bottom of chair or table legs make suitable shelf rests. These pieces of felt already have an adhesive backing and they can be cut to the size and shape to suit your bow’s shelf.

Another popular option is the Velcro arrow rest. In this case you use the soft loop half of a piece of Velcro. Like the furniture felt, you can get Velcro with an adhesive side so you can simply peel and stick.

Shelf Rests

These simple rests protect the bow from being marked, scuffed or otherwise defaced but they also help to steady the arrow as you draw the bow.

They might be made from animal fur of one kind or another or a synthetic product that approximates real fur.

A similar product is the Bear Rest with a strike plate which performs the same task but with a more durable plate on the riser.

Stick-On Rests

Stick-on rests are ideal for recurve and target bows. They are very inexpensive and are simple designs featuring a basic hook that the arrow rests on.

You can use arrows with either feathers or vanes because they are usually made from pliant plastic that has enough give to allow the vanes to pass over.

A great example of a stick-on rest is the Hoyt Easton Archery Bow Arrow Rest.

A note to remember, though, is that they are hand specific. In other words, if you are left-handed you must get a left-handed arrow rest and vice-versa with right-handed versions.

Screw-In Rests

Some recurve bows are drilled to accept a screw-in style of arrow rest and these types will provide the most secure point of contact for the arrow.

Once again, though, these arrow rests are simple, straightforward and simply elevate the arrow off the shelf, helping to provide consistency with the arrow position.

The example we have illustrated here is the Southland Archery Supply Screw On Arrow Rest. It is tough and durable and is flexible enough to cause minimal damage to arrow vanes or features.

Final Word

Whether you wish to shoot your recurve bow off the shelf or using an arrow rest, the choice comes down to a matter of personal preference.

As already has been pointed out, there is no right or wrong answer here. Some people shoot better with an arrow rest while others don’t.

The nice thing is that even if you choose to experiment with a variety of different arrow rests, your outlay is very small and you lose virtually nothing should you choose to go back to shooting without one.

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