When you think about archery, what images pop into your head? For me, it’s a bow, a quiver, and a bracer - sometimes referred to as an arm guard. The purpose of the bow and quiver are reasonably apparent, but what exactly is the purpose of a bracer? There aren’t a lot of accessories that you need to get started in archery, but a bracer is something you’ll probably want to get when you start. Bracers aren't there to make your arm look cool with a piece of leather or plastic on your bow arm.
Bracers are used in archery for two purposes: to keep clothing out of the way and to provide protection from string slap for your forearm. There’s nothing like planning a trip to your range, getting all set up then have to call it quits early because your bowstring keeps getting snagged on your sleeves. I’ve forgotten my bracer when I’ve gone to the range before, and there’s nothing quite like the sting of your string grazing your arm while you shoot. Your bowstring can do quite a bit of damage if you don’t take the proper precautions. The keys of archery are consistency and repetition, and it’s hard to achieve that without having the right equipment.
The proper purpose of an arm guard
This section’s title is a bit redundant as most people by this point know why you would use a bracer. I wanted to use this section to stress why a bracer is so essential, especially when you’re starting out.
First, I want to clarify that a bracer is not a vambrace. Bracers usually are plastic or leather equipment worn by archers to protect the arm from the string and to keep clothing from interfering with the string. Vambraces are part of plate armor worn by knights to shield their forearm. I believe part of this confusion stems from video games that use the term bracer to refer to equipment designed to protect the forearm during battle. The purpose is to protect from external sources of injury to the wearer instead of internal sources - originating from the archer themselves - as I stated previously.
When I’m at the range or watching archery on TV, I rarely see any archers that shoot without a bracer. The few that I know that don’t use one stick to their mantra that you don’t need one if you have proper form. While that can be true to a degree, even when you have proper form you can fall victim to your string lashing out at your arm, especially towards the end of the day as you become fatigued.
I live in a warmer climate where there isn’t often the need for a jacket even in the winter months. Protecting your string from getting snagged on your sleeve is another reason for using a bracer, and if you don't wear sleeves when you shoot, you may not have this issue. If you live in an area where you need to wear jackets, a bracer will be a great choice to help you keep your clothing out of the way.
What you can do if you don’t have one
The price of bracers varies with some of the more budget-friendly ones in the $15-20 price range, and the high-end ones costing upwards of $90. That being said, if you don’t have a bracer or aren’t able to get one, there are some things that you can do to protect your arm and keep your clothing out of the way.
Protect your forearms
I’ve seen some creative archers out there that are able to protect their arms from their bowstrings without a bracer. One way I’ve seen to do this is to use rubber bands to hold sticks made out of wood, plastic, metal or pretty much any other material to prevent the string from striking their skin. However, you need to watch for anything that can snag the string. It won’t do you any good to protect your skin just to have the string get damaged by the strike material.
Another option I’ve seen are people who place plastic or metal inside form-fitting long-sleeved shirts. The idea is that the sleeve holds the material in place, primarily using the sleeve as straps for the material. This solution isn’t one I would recommend as the material has a tendency to shift, especially if your form is terrible and you repeatedly strike your arm with the string.
The last thing you can do is craft your own bracer. There are several DIY bracer plans out there that give you instructions and suggest the proper material to use to construct the bracer. This solution isn’t necessarily less expensive than just buying your own bracer, but there may be some of you out there that want bragging rights that you have a self-made arm guard.
Clothing getting in the way of your bowstring is a bit easier to solve than protecting your arm.
Keeping your clothing out of the way
If you’re using a bulky jacket, try getting one that is more form-fitting. One common recommendation is to look at golf jackets as these usually fit about how you’d want it to for archery.
My wife has a jacket that fits reasonably well, but she’s a bit petite. She has an issue finding jackets that fit her well, and she often has a problem with the sleeves being too long, which causes them to bunch up. This even happens for some jackets that are supposed to be form-fitting. If you find you have this problem, look at getting velcro straps, rubber bands or even tape to keep your jacket close tight against your arm and out of the way of your bowstring.
Using these can help, but you have to make sure you’re using the correct form, or you’ll continue to have problems.
Fix your form
Using the correct form is crucial to being able to perform with consistency. One of the critical components is to use your skeletal structure as much as possible when drawing the bow, which helps to prevent fatigue. This is also important when you’re considering string slap as having the wrong form can make it more likely to have a problem with your string striking your arm.
When you’re shooting, make sure you keep your elbow turned out. The inside of your elbow should point towards your bow, which will help keep your forearm out of the way and help prevent your arms from fatiguing too quickly.
Though using the correct form for your arm can help, your chest can also cause problems with your archery form.
Other Protective Equipment
Looking at the way a bow is drawn, the string is usually pulled about to the center of the chest. The string will need to pas part of your chest as you release your shot. Depending on your form and physical characteristics, you may need to get a chest guard to prevent your string from getting caught on your clothes.
Chest guards are often triangular material that fits over the shoulder of your bow arm to prevent your bowstring from getting caught by your chest or clothing. That being said, I wouldn’t place as much emphasis on a chest guard as I would a bracer since the string striking the chest is usually less of an issue for most people.
There are some archers out there that should definitely look at getting a chest guard. You often see women wearing chest guards to help minimize the impact of their clothing or body interfering with the string. Men can also benefit from using a chest guard to provide a smooth surface for the string to slide against during a shot. However, not all bow types will benefit from using a chest guard. Most archers that I’ve seen using a chest guard are target recurve shooters.
That’s not to say that you won’t benefit from one if you don’t shoot target recurve, but you should look at your form to see if your clothing may get in the way of your string. Using a chest guard is something you don’t absolutely need to get started, but it’s something you may need to get as you get serious with your archery.
Bracers - not to be confused with vambraces - are a piece of equipment used to protect your forearm and minimize interference with the string during your shot. There are other things you can do to get the same benefits as a bracer, such as using straps to attach materials or just using some sort of strap to keep your clothing out of the way. You should check your form to make sure that you shoot with your elbow turned out so that the inside of your elbow joint points towards the bow. Finally, you may need to get a chest guard, which helps prevent your body or clothing from snagging the bowstring.
Do you have anything to add to the conversation? Have you had a bad experience with the string striking your forearm? I would love to hear from you, so please comment below.
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