When you go to the archery range, you may see some archers wearing a strange contraption over their shoulder. These are called chest guards, and archers usually wear them to help prevent problems with their shot.
So, why do archers wear chest guards? Archers wear chest guards for a variety of reasons. The most common reason archers wear these is to keep their chest or clothing out of the way, or protect their chest from the string. If you have a flat chest or the bowstring doesn't come in contact with your chest, you may not need a chest guard. You'll also find that target recurve archers most often use these.
Let's look into why you may need a chest guard.
The Purpose of a Chest Guard
The chest guard serves several purposes, though not everyone who shoots archery will need one. If you shoot a recurve bow, you'll likely need one. Let's look at how a chest guard can help you.
Protect the Chest of the Author
When you're shooting, the last thing you want is to get hurt by your bow. It only takes once for your string to hit your chest, and you'll want to wear protection.
With proper archery form, it is common to draw the bowstring to your chest. Especially so when you shoot a recurve bow. Using a chest guard will help keep your chest out of the way.
I will recommend picking up a chest guard to any woman that is starting archery, especially if they plan to shoot a recurve. However, it is typical for men and women to wear them. It's not only women who are well-endowed or men that are overweight, either. I've talked with a few guys that are in pretty good shape, and some had the string catch their chest.
As I said before, recurve archers - especially target shooters - are more likely to need a chest guard to help protect them from getting injured. If you shoot other bow types, it's still possible you'll want a chest guard for protection. Your best bet is to test your bow out, and if it feels like the bow pulls to your pecs, a chest guard would be beneficial
Provides a Smooth Surface for the String
A chest guard also serves to create a smooth surface for the string. If your form doesn't pull the bowstring to your chest, this may not be necessary, though. The idea is to create as little hindrance as possible.
I've heard from some that if you have proper form, the string shouldn't come into contact with your chest. However, I've heard from many others that they have proper form and they can't get their chest out of the way.
If you are a competitive archer, a chest guard will help eliminate one more variable and help you focus on your shooting.
Help Prevent the String from Catching
Another common problem while shooting is your clothing getting in the way. Even if you're wearing tight clothing - or at least close to it - your clothing can still snag your bowstring. A chest guard will help keep your clothing out of the way so that your string doesn't catch.
I've seen someone who was wearing tight-fitting workout clothes get snagged by their bowstring. It just happened that the way his clothing moved while going through his form caused his string to snag on his shirt.
Your clothing is especially troublesome if you shoot in cold weather. A cool-weather jacket that formfitting will help. If the wind picks up, it can still pull your coat in the way.
I usually keep a chest guard with my kit in case I make an unplanned stop at the range and don't have my typical archery clothing on. For me, it's better safe than sorry.
Compensates for Poor Form
Finally, a chest guard can help with poor form. I must say that I will never recommend someone get a chest guard to deal with poor form. Instead, I would recommend using a chest guard to help deal with the problem while you work on fixing your technique.
If you overarch your back while going through your form, this may be necessary for you. After fixing your form, you may not need a chest guard, but doing so will help while you work on correcting your process.
How to Tell if Your Bow String is Catching
Sometimes it is obvious when your string catches. If you loose an arrow and the arc falls short compared to your regular shots, it may be catching.
Your bowstring may be catching, even if you don't think it is. If you listen to the hum the vibration of your string typically makes when you shoot, it should have a short steady hum. If you hear a quick, sharp smack with your shot, your string may have caught. It may not happen too often, but if your string sounds different when shooting, this is something to check.
Here's a video that examines some of the benefits of chest guards. He also demonstrates the hum of the string compared to the sharp sound made when the string catches — hearing it may be more helpful than me describing it.
Use the Right (or Left) Chest Guard
There are a few things in archery that seem counterintuitive at first glance. Chest guards are one of them.
If you're a right-handed shooter, you need a chest guard that goes over your left shoulder. If you're a left-handed shooter, you need a chest guard that goes over your right shoulder.
If you're a right-handed shooter, you hold the bow with your left hand and pull the string with your right. Your left shoulder will be forward, closer to the bow. It is the opposite if you're shooting with a left-handed configuration.
If You Don't Have One? Improvise!
The good thing about chest guards is that it is possible to create your own. Depending on why you are wearing a chest guard, there is a solution for you.
Wear Tight or Formfitting Clothing
Let's get the obvious out of the way first. If you have a problem with your string snagging on your clothing, try wearing tight or formfitting clothing. Snug clothing will help minimize its interference with your shot.
You need to be careful if you're shooting in windy conditions as if your wind catches your clothing the right way, it can cause it to billow out and get in the way.
It may still be a good idea to pick up a chest guard in case you're like me and sometimes make unplanned trips to the archery range.
Use Velcro Straps
Velcro straps can help to pull loose clothing out of the way. If you infrequently need a chest guard - such as only when you're wearing a jacket - then you might be able to get away with merely using straps to hold back your clothing. Nevertheless, chest guards aren't costly and maybe within your budget even if you only need one occasionally.
If you don't want to go with a chest guard, I'm a big fan of velcro straps. I like to buy rolls of double-sided velcro for various purposes. These are especially handy as you can cut them down the proper size for what you need.
Other Recommended Archery Safety Gear
Chest guards are one of three pieces of gear that I recommend to new archers when they're first getting started. Does that mean you have to buy it? Not necessarily. You may be able to rent some from your local shop or borrow from a friend. Also, if you're a member of an archery club, they may have gear that they will loan you until you know what equipment you want or need for yourself.
So, without further ado, here are the other two things that I recommend archers get when they're new to the sport: gloves/finger tabs and bracers.
Protect Your Wrists and Forearm
If you've never had a string slap you while you're shooting, I hope that you never experience it. It is quite painful. One of the guys I shoot with had a small chunk taken out of his arm from his string. Using a bracer - otherwise known as an arm guard - can help keep you from learning this painful lesson.
If you have good form, you may not need something to protect your arm. Until you know for sure, I recommend you pick up an arm guard to protect yourself.
Protect Your Fingers
Your fingers are another thing that is frequently injured when shooting archery. Whenever you loose an arrow, your fingers slightly drag against the string. After dozens or hundreds of shots, this can make your fingers raw and can make your fingers numb.
If you want to protect your fingers, try either using a finger tab or a pair of gloves. Finger tabs are the most minimalistic way to protect your fingers. Some archers like the feeling of pulling the string. If this sounds like you, then a finger tab might be the right choice. Finger tabs are usually leather or plastic and help prevent the string from rubbing against your fingers.
If you prefer more protection over your hands, gloves are an appropriate choice. These are especially useful if you shoot in a cold environment.
Finally, you could use a release aid. There are many types of release aids, but they all involve a piece of gear to pull the string. Various types include index finger releases, thumb trigger releases, hinge-style releases, and tension releases.
Though many pro archers use hinge-style releases, your choice of release aid is a matter of personal preference. However, they will all do the job if you're looking to protect your fingers from your bowstring.
What do archers wear on their wrists? - Archers wear a bracer - otherwise known as an arm guard - to protect their forearm or wrist. These are usually plastic or leather gear that prevents the string from striking or rubbing against your skin.
Can you make a DIY chest guard? - It is possible to make your own chest guard though it is challenging to ensure a proper fit and a smooth surface. If you need to keep your clothing out of the way, try using velcro straps. If you need a chest guard with a better fit, having one custom made is often better than making your own.