Bowhunting: Choosing The Proper Arrow Rest

The arrow rest is a lot like Rodney Dangerfield — it just doesn’t get any respect. Most archers have a devil-may-care attitude about their rests, not giving them a second thought. But few accessory items are more important.

Using an arrow rest that has not been designed specifically for your style of shooting and hunting, that doesn’t fit precisely onto your bow or that has been built cheaply, leads to disaster.

Before choosing an arrow rest, you should understand the basics of how arrow shafts bend, or oscillate, when released. High-speed photography shows that arrows bend a surprising amount during the shot, the amount and type of bending a direct result of both shaft stiffness and the way the shaft is released. The shaft does not recover from this oscillation until it has traveled downrange several yards. Despite this oscillation, clearing the arrow rest — both the shaft itself and its fletching — is crucial to accurate shooting.

Arrows Flex Upon Release
When you release an arrow with your fingers, it oscillates from side to side, the first large bend being away from the bow’s handle. This type of release lends itself to the cushion-plunger style of arrow rest because as the shaft bends away from the bow, it also bends away from the arrow rest. Conversely, a shaft that’s released with a mechanical release aid tends to bend up and down, not side to side. This lends itself to the use of a “V”-launcher or prong-type arrow rest. That’s because when the bowstring is released, the shaft first takes a large upward bend away from the rest’s two metal prongs.

Prong arrow rests are the most popular design among today’s bowhunters. Prong rests work beautifully with release aids.

Surveys by leading arrow rest makers indicate that 80 percent to 90 percent of today’s archers, including both bowhunters and target shooters, use some type of release aid. That means most of them should be using the basic shoot-through, prong-type arrow rest design. To that end, the industry directs most of its arrow rest research and development efforts toward this type of rest.

But the cushion-plunger style of rest has not been forsaken completely. Finger shooters still prefer this basic design, and a few ardent release shooters use a cushion plunger that also permits some sort of downward movement at the shot by the rest arm.

Design Features Of Rests
If you examine the different arrow rests available today, you will find rests ranging from simple to complex. Some rests have few adjustment features, while others — notably those designed with the serious target archer in mind — have more screws and adjustment knobs than the space shuttle.

Microadjustable arrow rests are the rage today. These rests permit vertical and horizontal adjustments that can be made in minute increments, permitting precise adjustments that allow archers to tune their bows perfectly. But many of these rests ultimately disappoint bowhunters who find the complex adjustment systems difficult to work with. In addition, the many tiny adjustment screws and knobs often rattle loose or slip during hunting season, which of course destroys accuracy.

Manufacturers have taken a cue from bowhunters, who want simpler designs that require less maintenance during the course of a hunting season. Bowhunters demand reliability but also need to be able to make both vertical and horizontal adjustments easily. The best arrow rests today are simple to set up, quick to dial in and built to last through tough field use and to hold up in extreme weather conditions.

The most complex arrow rests tend to be the “V”-launcher and shoot-through types. Cushion-plunger rests remain the most simple, although today’s versions are much more complicated than the first designs. With several dozen companies building and marketing arrow rests today, finding the right rest for your shooting and hunting is simply a matter of looking over several different designs, then test-driving as many as possible at your local pro shop before making a final decision.

Carbon Arrows: A Unique Challenge
While aluminum arrows are still the No. 1 seller for both target shooting and bowhunting, each year a growing number of archers are discovering the benefits of small-diameter carbon arrow shafts. They’re also discovering the challenges posed by these small-diameter shafts in terms of choosing and using an arrow rest.

A big challenge for carbon shaft shooters: finding arrow rests that allow proper fletching clearance.

Due to a carbon arrow’s much smaller diameter compared to an aluminum shaft, its arrow fletches must be closer together on the shaft. Because fletch clearance is the most difficult part of achieving complete arrow rest clearance at the shot, precision in an arrow rest is necessary to allow for the small adjustments needed to achieve this clearance.

Carbon fiber is an extremely abrasive material. Shooting carbon shafts across the arrow rest leads to a high heat buildup, which rapidly destroys the rubber and/or plastic shrink tubing that’s been used for many years to help silence the sound of a shaft as it is drawn and shot across the metal prongs of a shoot-through rest. Because I have not yet found a material that will withstand a couple hundred shots with carbon shafts, one season I tried removing any form of silencing material all together. My pure carbon shafts actually wore grooves in the metal prongs of my shoot-through rest! To date, no manufacturer has solved this abrasion problem; I remedy it by using stick-on felt or moleskin, which will also wear out but is easy and inexpensive to replace.

The bottom line for carbon arrow shooters is to find an arrow rest that is ruggedly and simply built yet offers the microadjustability necessary to achieve fletch clearance with these small-diameter shafts. More and more manufacturers offer arrow rests of this type each year.

How much can you expect to spend on a quality arrow rest for bowhunting? A quick look through several mail-order catalogs and discussions with both rest makers and pro shop owners’ reveals that you should be able to find what you want for $25 to $60. A top-of-the-line rest for the serious target shooter can cost three times that. Anything below that price range will probably be of inferior quality.

While manufacturers continue working to improve existing arrow rest designs, they’ll tell you flat out not to expect any new “radical” designs in the near future. But that’s all right. So many outstanding arrow rests are available at reasonable prices that it’s already hard to sift through them all. Robin Hood would be green with envy.

Shop The Sportsman’s Guide for a fine selection of Arrow Rests!

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One Response to “Bowhunting: Choosing The Proper Arrow Rest”

  1. Harry Garrett

    A great guide on choosing arrow rest!
    Why don’t you mention a little bit about drop away arrow rest? It helps increase your accuracy.
    I totally agree that with budget just around 25 bucks you can find a fine arrow rest. Whisker Biscuit is one great arrow rest and it cost only around $20 (was my favorite one)
    Thanks for sharing!