Image of a gloved hand gripping a bow and arrow.

Prevent Finger Numbness when Practicing Archery

By: Mark Jeffreys

When I first started going to the archery range, I used a rental bow and shot without any gear; it was just me and the bow. When I finished shooting, my fingertips wouldn’t have much sensation in them. They weren’t numb exactly, but I had lost most of my sense of touch. I chalked it up to having my fingers’ sensation of touch overloaded from the constant rubbing on the string as I’d pull and release my shots. That’s precisely what was happening, though I wouldn’t find out until later that it could have lasting consequences.

Finger numbness is caused by damage to the tissue or nerves when you're practicing archery and repeatedly drawing the string with your bare hand. For some, it takes longer to experience this than others, but most archers eventually do and turn to use finger protection. There are several types of products that you can use to help protect your fingers from tissue or nerve damage. You can damage your fingers if you don’t use the right equipment when you’re shooting. Don’t wait until you’ve been practicing for years and have had constant numbness before you look at protecting your fingers.

Some archers have tried to wrap tape around their fingers to protect them instead of going with a commercial product. The problem with tape is that you need to be consistent with the type, thickness and texture of the tape or you run the risk of it affecting your shot. If you want to try tape, be careful that you apply the tape the same way every time or you might find it causes more problems than it solves. Fortunately, there are a lot of different types of products out there that you can use to help prevent permanent finger damage such as finger tabs, gloves or mechanical releases.

Finger Tabs

Finger tabs are one type of product that you can use to protect your fingers, and they are quite popular in the archery world. Most finger tabs are made from leather, usually several layers, that you put between your fingers and the bow. Ideally, you should be able to shoot for your whole day - 60-100 arrows - at the range without losing sensation in your fingers, so you need to make sure that the finger tab you use gives you adequate protection. Most archery tabs follow the same design of a somewhat square patch of leather that often has an attachment that allows you to secure it to your finger.

There are also types that have builtin spacing for your finger placement, which is designed to prevent yourself from pinching the arrow. Pinching happens when your fingers squeeze the shaft of the arrow, which can affect the release of your arrow. It doesn’t help to protect your fingers if it negatively impacts your shot. If you think you might be pinching your arrows, give this type of finger tab a try and see if it helps improve your performance.

You should find a finger tab that works well for you, and once you get one that works, you should stick with it. I haven’t experienced this myself, but I’ve heard from others that changing the type of finger tab that they use affects their shot. Luckily, I haven’t had to replace my finger tab, and if I do, I hope that I can find the same tab or a comparable model - to what I'm used to using. If not, switching one with a similar thickness and design should help me from having problems with a different type of finger tab.

Gloves

I live in a mild climate where it’s warm for most of the year, and when I shoot it’s typically at an indoor range. If you aren’t so lucky and you have to contend with the cold, you may find that an archery glove - especially a full hand glove - is better suited for you. Gloves provide similar protection as finger tabs, but you don’t have to worry about holding them, or having them slip off your fingers. Just like finger tabs, there are several types of gloves that you can choose. They come in three different types: full-hand, partial hand and finger-tip only gloves.

If you typically shoot in cold weather, you’ll probably want to go with a full hand glove. Just as its name implies, this type of glove covers, well, your whole hand. If you're just starting to shoot with a full glove, it might take a bit of time to get used to the feel of the glove. While this may be true of other types of finger protection, full hand gloves also change the feeling when you’re drawing your arrow from the quiver or interacting with the environment - which is especially relevant if you’re bowhunting.

Partial hand gloves typically cover your middle three fingers, and enclose the palm of your hand up to your wrist, leaving your thumb and pinky exposed. I don’t see the need for this type of glove, but if you want something in between the other two, this is your option.

Lastly, fingertip gloves can barely be called a glove, but that’s what most retailers call them. Fingertip gloves cover your middle three fingers and have strips of material - usually leather - that run to a wrist strap. These are good options if you like the idea of a finger tab, but want something that gives your fingers more freedom on where you grip the string. Whichever type of glove you choose, they’ll provide you with protection to prevent your fingers from losing sensation. There are some who prefer this type of glove because they protect the fingers without being too hot - like full hand gloves - and without you having to hold or keep track of your finger protection - like with finger tabs.

If you want to remove your fingers from touching the bowstring completely, you can look into mechanical release. Just be aware that there are some instances where you aren’t allowed to use them.

Mechanical Release

With a mechanical release, your fingers aren’t touching the string at all. There are many different types of releases, but they are typically a mechanical device that you use to draw the string and release an arrow. If you’re in archery for the competition aspect, most competitions - including the world archery tournament and the Olympics - don’t allow you to use mechanical releases. You’re limited to fingers, gloves or finger tabs.

The two main types of mechanical releases are triggered releases or surprise releases. With trigger releases, there is a switch that you pull to release the arrow. Doing so allows you to maintain control of the release, which helps for archers that like to be in control of their shot. Surprise releases - such as a hinged or back tension releases - are designed for archers who have problems anticipating the shot. With this type, you don’t know when the arrow will be released, so you need to keep your sight trained on your target as you go through your form. If you find yourself tensing when you release the arrow, try this type of release to see if it helps.

Summary

Finger numbness is the loss of sensation in your fingers from drawing the bow without finger protection. Luckily, there are several different types of products you can use to help prevent finger numbness: finger tabs, gloves, and mechanical releases. Which one you choose will depend on what kind of archery you’re doing, and whether you plan to compete. If you don’t have any of these release aids, you can still shoot bare-handed, be careful if you start to lose sensation in your fingers as you can cause permanent damage.

Thank you for reading my article. I want to hear from and your experience with finger numbness. Did you know before you started archery that it could be a problem? Do you use finger protection or did you find another way to protect your fingers? Please comment below and let me know.

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Mark Jeffreys

Mark has been interested in archery since he was 8 years old and tried to make a bow using a stick and a rubber band. Mark enjoys the challenge that archery provides and is constantly seeking to improve. His mission is to pass on what he’s learned to help other archers.