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What Is a Left-Handed Bow?

By Jim MacQuarrie

The sport of archery has many variables and subtle adjustments; one of the most obvious variables is that there are left-handed and right-handed bows. How do you tell whether a bow is right- or left-handed? If you are left-handed, should you necessarily use a left-handed bow?

Recognizing a left-handed bow

Modern bows (recurve or compound) usually have an arrow rest, which is a plastic or metal support for the arrow; traditional bows, such as a longbow or selfbow, will have a "shelf", which is a flat spot just above the handle, usually covered with felt or another material, where the arrow is placed for shooting. On modern bows, the arrow rest is located inside a cut-out area called the "sight window." When holding the bow, the location of the sight window, shelf, or arrow rest will indicate whether a bow is left- or right-handed.

Holding the bow

A right-handed shooter will hold the bow in his left hand and draw the string back with his right, so that the rear of the arrow is below the right eye. The rest or shelf will be on the left side, so that the arrow is on the same side of the bow as the arm that's holding it. A left-handed bow is the reverse; the bow is held in the right hand so that the arrow is drawn back to the left side of the face and the left eye is used for aiming.

Left-eyed, not left-handed

The determining factor in whether to use a left- or right-hand bow is not the hands at all; it's all about the eyes. In addition to being right- or left-handed, everyone is either left- or right-eyed. This means that one eye is dominant. This is not necessarily the strongest eye or the one with the best vision; it's the one that the brain uses for targeting.

Testing your eye dominance

You can easily test your eye dominance. Find an object some distance away, at least 20 feet or more. Put your hands together, palms away from you, with one over the other so that they overlap and create a small triangle of open space between the thumbs and index fingers. Raise your hands with arms fully extended toward your target. With both eyes open, center the opening around your target object. Now, keeping the target centered in the opening, close one eye. Now open it and close the other. You'll notice that one of your eyes will keep the opening on the target, but the other will cause the target to jump to one side and out of view. Whichever eye keeps the target visible in the triangle is your dominant eye. You can also usually tell by thinking about which eye you use when taking a photo; most people automatically put their dominant eye to the camera.

Choosing a bow

Now that you know which is your dominant eye, you know which bow to use. If you're right-eyed, you should use a right-handed bow, even if you're left-handed. If you use a bow that matches your handedness rather than your eye dominance, you will find that the arrows will consistently go off to one side of the target.

Adapting to the bow

Archery is not a sport requiring a lot of manual dexterity; neither hand will have to do anything very complex. Nonetheless, some people find it very awkward and uncomfortable to use a "wrong-handed" bow. Generally, this discomfort passes with practice. It's better to adapt to the bow that matches your eye dominance than to try to retrain your eyes. If you can't adapt, try closing the dominant eye or wearing an eye patch so that you have to aim with the other eye.

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