arrow rests recurve bows traditional archery

Do Recurve Bows Need an Arrow Rest? (A Simple Guide)

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As I was looking at my recurve bow I started thinking about how I use a rest and realized a lot of people might not know if they need a rest for their bow or not.  So I thought I’d put together a simple guide for you.

A recurve bow does not need an arrow rest as it’s perfectly acceptable to shoot off the shelf.  However, even if shooting off the shelf, it’s recommended to use a “shelf rest” which protects the wood on your bow.  There are however some advantages to using other types of rests.

So now you might be wondering if it would be a good idea to have an arrow rest, even if it’s not needed.  There are a few different options when it comes to putting a rest on your recurve and I’ll walk you through what you need to know.

Should Your Recurve Have an Arrow Rest?

It’s perfectly acceptable for you to shoot a recurve bow without an actual arrow rest on it.  Most traditional recurves are designed to allow you to shoot the arrow off the shelf. This simply means that the arrow rides on the shelf of the bow which is located in the middle of the riser above the handle.

There are a few problems with shooting off the shelf however.  The first issue that comes to mind is that it can cause some wear to the bow after many times of the arrow sliding across the shelf.  This can develop some ugly marks and even start to wear away at the bow.

In addition to wear on your bow, shooting off the shelf is less accurate.  As the arrow passes over the shelf on the riser of the bow the vanes (or feathers to a lesser degree) will cause a slight kick to the arrow. You could compensate for the kick of the arrow by adjusting your aim, or your sight if you use one.

Although less common, shooting off the shelf can also cause issues with your arrows themselves.  Some people report that over time their vanes or feathers tear or start to lift from the arrow shaft.  In fact, if you choose not to use a rest you should really be using feathers and not vanes.

You can combat some of these issues by using a “shelf rest” which helps to protect both your bow and your arrow, more on that later. 

Why Use an Arrow Rest?

So as you can imagine, using an arrow rest will solve some of the issues you just read about shooting off the shelf of the bow.  There are a few different types of rests you could use and I’ll get into that more below.

First let’s have a quick run down of the pros and cons of using an arrow rest on your recurve bow.

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

Disadvantages of using an arrow rest

  • Adds more equipment to your bow
  • Some people consider it less traditional

So really, unless you want to remain as traditional as possible I would highly recommend shooting off a rest rather than off the shelf.  The advantages far outweigh any disadvantages in my opinion.

Even if you decide not to use a rest, it’s a good idea to add some protection for your shelf.

What Type of Rest Do You Need?

There are 3 common types of rests available for recurve bows, let’s have a look.

Shelf Rests

A shelf rest is the simplest type of rest which isn’t quite like other types of rests.  It’s more like protection for your bow. Some of them do provide an elevated point of contact for slightly better arrow flight.

There are a number of options when it comes to shelf rest material.  This is mostly personal preference for look and feel. The material is typically applied to both the vertical and lateral points of contact.

 A very common option is to use felt.  This is an inexpensive material and provides a soft surface for the arrow to contact.  Similar to felt another common option is called a rug. It’s made of thicker material and in fact some people simply use the loop (soft) side of sticky back velcro.

If you’re really into the traditional look and feel, you can get actual animal hair to use as a shelf rest.  This creates a real authentic look for your bow and provides the same protection and function as other material.

Stick on Rests

Stick on rests will work with any recurve bow and as the name implies they simply stick on your bow via some type of adhesive or double sided tape.  There are plenty of styles and manufacturers making stick on rests and most are very affordable.

A stick on rest has an arm that extends for holding up the arrow.  You can use either vanes or feathers with this type of rest. If your bow isn’t drilled out to accept a screw in rest then a stick on rest may be right for you.

Screw in Rests

If your recurve is drilled for a screw in type rest then this will provide the most secure point of contact for your arrow.

This type of rest works similarly to a stick on by providing an arm for the arrow to contact.  Very inexpensive versions are usually made entirely of plastic while nicer options are composed of a combination of plastic and metal.

If accuracy and function are you main concern, a screw in rest is definitely going to be your best choice.

Related Questions

What Arrow Rest do Olympic archers use? Olympic and other competition archers favor more advanced rests such as a rest plunger combo or prong style rest.  These types of rests are typically precision manufactured and offer micro adjustment for maximum accuracy and consistency.

How does an Arrow rest work? An arrow rest provides a consistent point of contact for your arrow as you draw the bow and release.  Some rests move or even drop away as the arrow is released giving the arrow the freedom to flex and pass over the rest with minimal interference.

Jason Brooks

I've been involved with archery for over 25 years off and on and am always interested in learning as much as I can. I've taken part in local tournaments and even 3D course setup.