It’s one of the age-old questions in archery- do you shoot ‘off the shelf’, or use an arrow rest? A quick glance at any of the many archery forums on the internet will reveal this to be a controversial topic. Is one method of shooting really superior to the other?
You’ll find proponents of both shooting methods in the archery world, so the answer is really ‘it depends’. Much of it comes down to personal preference, but there are certain set-ups and uses that suit one method or the other.
So, if you’re confused about whether you should be using a rest or shooting off the shelf, this is the place for you. In this article we’ll walk you through shooting off the shelf, shooting using a rest, and all the pros and cons of both!
What Is ‘The Shelf’ On A Bow?
Before we go any further, it might be useful to clarify exactly what the shelf is on a bow. Put simply, it is the little ‘cut out’ bit above the bow’s grip, designed to rest the arrow as you shoot.
There are 3 common types of shelf design: radiused, flat, and ridged. The radiused is most common on longbows and recurve bows these days, though the flat style is still pretty common too, especially on older-style recurves.
The design of the shelf significantly affects arrow flight: a well designed shelf will give the bow the capability to accurately shoot a wider range of arrows.
This is because it can prevent too much contact with the bow riser, which will avoid unnecessary drag.
What Is An Arrow Rest?
The clue is in the name, really. An arrow rest is a device that helps stabilize the flight path of an arrow during shooting by giving it somewhere to ‘rest’, e.g. helping to hold it in place. The purpose of an arrow rest is to provide consistent accuracy from shot to shot.
Arrow rests come in various sizes and shapes, depending on their intended use. Some are designed to fit into a specific type of bow or archery equipment.
Others are meant to be portable and adjustable. On a recurve bow, for example, the different types of arrow rest include shelf rests, stick on rests, screw-in rests, and the ‘rest and plunger’ variety. We could spend all day talking about the different types of arrow rest and their unique pros and cons, but that’s not the point of this article.
We’re here to discuss arrow rests in general, and whether using one is any better, or worse, than shooting off the shelf.
The Advantages Of Shooting Off The Shelf
There are good reasons why some archers prefer shooting off the shelf to shooting with an arrow rest. The first, and a factor that shouldn’t be underestimated, is that shooting off the shelf is the ‘traditional’ or even ‘authentic’ archery experience.
Of course, you could argue that the shelf itself is a technical innovation, since if you go back far enough historical bows, like the medieval English Longbow, did not have rests. Instead, the arrow would rest on the archer’s hand. However, shooting off the shelf strikes a nice balance between practicality and ease of use and an authentic archery experience.
Another advantage of shooting off the shelf is that it allows you to shoot quickly, and to rattle off multiple shots in quick succession.
This is because it is very easy to simply place an arrow on the shelf and shoot- unlike arrow rests, which are a bit more fiddly and generally require more effort to set up the shot. An added benefit of shooting off the shelf is that traditional archers and archers in general tend to say that it feels more ‘natural’ to them, especially when taking instinctive shots.
Many people say that the fact the hand is kept closer to the arrow allows them a better ‘feel’ for the arrow when shooting. You can therefore see how what you intend to use the bow for more might affect your decision whether to shoot off the shelf or not.
Ease of preparing a shot, the ability to shoot quickly if required and the instinctive feel of shooting off the shelf are all factors that make it a good fit for hunting, for example.
The Disadvantages Of Shooting Off The Shelf
There are disadvantages of shooting off the shelf, though. The first and most obvious is that shooting off the shelf is not as consistent as shooting off an arrow rest.
After all, arrow rests were invented to improve accuracy and consistency. So, if accuracy and consistency is your aim, you’ll probably prefer an arrow rest.
Another important factor to consider is that shooting off the shelf can cause damage over time, both to your bow and your arrows. The repeated friction of firing your arrow can wear down the shelf itself, whilst the shelf can damage your fletching, with feathers becoming damaged or torn from the shaft.
On that point, you should use feathers and not plastic fletching when shooting off the shelf. The feathers can make contact but pass over relatively smoothly, but plastic will catch on the shelf and jolt the arrow, affecting the arrow’s flight.
The Advantages Of Using An Arrow Rest
The advantages of shooting off an arrow rest practically all come down to accuracy and consistency. This makes it perfect for target practice.
The arrow is held in place whilst you draw, which is something that new archers will find particularly helpful. If your form isn’t quite perfect an arrow rest is also significantly more forgiving than shooting off the shelf.
The added bonus is that by moving the arrow off the shelf you are protecting it from wear, and also protecting your fletching from contact damage. You can also shoot rubber/plastic fletched arrows from an arrow rest, which is not something you can reliably do off the shelf.
The Disadvantages Of Using An Arrow Rest
The disadvantage of using an arrow rest essentially boils down to two interlinked points. Firstly, it complicates what is a very simple piece of technology in the bow. Some people dislike this fact, especially as it makes nocking (think loading) an arrow and loosing it slower and more complicated.
For that reason, some archers consider using a rest as a less authentic method of archery, and prefer to shoot the ‘old-fashioned’ way. They consider the development of high-tech precision arrow rests to be damaging to the skill of archery, making it less difficult.
Basically, whether to shoot off the shelf or use an arrow rest comes down to preference. If your primary concern is improving the accuracy and consistency of your shots, using an arrow rest might be for you.
If you’re someone prepared to sacrifice a little consistency for ease of shooting and being able to rattle off multiple arrows in quick succession, you might well opt to shoot off the shelf.
You might be drawn to shooting off the shelf as a traditionalist, too! The only factor to really bear in mind is that if you do decide to shoot off the shelf, you will have to use feather fletching, and not rubber or plastic.