How do archery stabilizers work? Do you need one?

When I started practicing archery, I used a wood and PVC bow, as most new people to archery will as well. We used them while we were learning the basics, but next to our small shooting zone, there was a huge line of targets with several archers. They were club members, archers with their own Olympic bows and several participation pins from the various competitions they had entered with the club. The first thing I noticed, was that most of them had a huge stick on the front of their bows, this was a long way from my Robin Hood movies! They explained to me what it was, and why most of the archers had different arrangements. That stick is called “Stabilizer”.

A stabilizer is a name for various types of weights mounted on the bow. The weights are added to increase stability and precision by reducing the movement and vibration from the release.

Do bow stabilizers really work?

Yes, they do. Since you are not supposed to hold the raiser, the bow is meant to follow the path of the arrow. Without some weight on the front, without the stabilizer, the bow will try to go back to your shoulder instead of ahead as the arrow does.

At close range you might not feel the difference, but as you get further and further from the target, the absence of the stabilizer is felt. One day, at practice, I forgot my stabilizer and arrows; sadly they were in the same holding that I left at my house. The club lent me some arrows but there were no stabilizers left, so I had to shot without one. My shots where all on target but it was one of my most inconsistent days. No shot was like the last, as the bow wasn’t steady on, and just after release.

Using a stabilizer feels weird at first since, it is more weight on the arm that holds the bow. But believe me, you’ll get used to it. In fact, if you forget to pack it when heading down to the range, like me, you’ll suddenly have a much better appreciation for this simple piece of kit!

What does a longer stabilizer do?

A longer stabilizer requires less weight to prevent the vibration from the shot, while a shorter stabilizer requires more weight to actually stabilize the bow. It all depends on what makes you feel more comfortable. My recommendation is that you try your friends bow and stabilizer before you buy your own. Talk to your teammates, ask for their recommendations. Many of the more experienced archers will have tried a few different combinations and be able to explain why they like different arrangements.

Some archers also prefer to use additional stabilizers which splay to the sides making a V shape next to the long stabilizer. It all depends on what you’re comfortable with and if your arm is ready to hold that much weight. In my case, I have a medium size stabilizer and that’s it. One of my friends with the same stabilizer and the lateral ones, lent me his equipment to place it on my bow and give it a try, to be honest, my arm is not ready for that much weight. My shoulder couldn’t hold the bow for as long as I needed, and made me realize I need to strengthen my shoulder, especially as I look to move towards shooting at 40-meter targets.

Do compound bows have stabilizers too?

Yes they do. They tend to be smaller, and they work just as well as a recurve stabilizer. Compound stabilizers are several inches smaller than the ones for a recurve bow and that’s why they weigh a bit more. The velocity that a compound bow can shoot at is amazing, I didn’t think they needed a stabilizer until I saw the national indoor competition. The target feels so small, and even breathing could move the arrow from thudding home to the perfect 10.

How does an archer properly anchor their arrow?

Besides having a stabilizer to ensure consistency with your shot, you also need to have a properly identified anchor point. There are several ways to anchor your shot, but I will explain the way I anchor my arrows.

Firstly, you must draw the string until you can place your chin over your thumb. Make sure the string touches your nose, right in the middle and your lips.

Keep your holding arm steady and draw until reaching that point. In my mind, if I’ve got my stabilizer properly attached and my hand always reaches the same point were my nose is feeling the arrow, most of my shots should go to the same place. The combination of the anchor point properly identify and a comfortable stabilizer will ensure your shots are consistent.

Here is an example from World Archery which is really helpful. Try practicing without an arrow in front of your mirror.

How much should a bow stabilizer weigh?

In the case of recurve bows, with a stabilizer of 24 to 30 inches, it should weight around 4 to 6 ounces. If you add the V splay bars on the side, it could get another 3 to 6 extra ounces on each side. Once again, talking about the weight, you should make sure that it allows you to stay shooting for several hours without over stretching your muscles. Generally, the more weight, the better; since it will make sure that the bow is stabilized. But truth be told, I prefer to be comfortable and to last an entire competition than have pain in my shoulder!

The best way to get ready for more weight on your stabilizer is to work on your arms. Outside of your archery training, you should lift weights and train your fore arms as well as your shoulders. The strengthening of those areas of your body will help you perform better once you decide to increase the weight of your stabilizers.

Do I need the Side Rods?

The side rods are a type of the stabilizers mentioned before, they are typically the ones on a V shape splaying in the opposite direction from the main stabilizer. They are a personal choice; I don’t use them because it’s too much weight for my slim arms; but if you have the strength, they are helpful for adding lateral stability to your bow. Once you get to longer target competitions, the V bar Side Rod is great to maximize accuracy. As you get further, the target becomes more and more tiny for your eye; it’s in these kinds of situations when you need the bow to be as still as possible.

There you go. Now you know what stabilizers are, and how they’re something really useful to ensure consistency on your shooting. The length and weight of the stabilizer is completely up to you. Try to look for the one that makes you feel more comfortable and not the one recommended online, it will feel different in your hands than in the one from the person writing the review as you’ll have different strengths. That’s why I prefer not to recommend any here, go out, try your friends’ stabilizers and choose the one that fits you.

Go out there and focus on your consistency.

Happy shooting!