Image of a notched arrow with archery targets in the background.

What Hand Shock is and How to Deal with it

By: Mark Jeffreys

Have you ever shot a bow and felt like the power of the bow shot through your arm and made it feel like you touched an electric fence? Or maybe it wasn’t so intense, but after shooting for a while it seems that your hand has gone numb from the vibrations of your bow. If you have then you have experienced the unpleasant sensation commonly referred to as hand shock.

Hand shock is the vibration of the bow caused by residual energy left after loosing an arrow. This can be caused by a number of things, including bad bow design, using bad form when drawing the bow or even using the wrong type of arrow. Let’s go over these things and see how they can affect your shooting and what you can do about it.

Hand Shock with Traditional Bows

For this part, I’m going to narrow my discussion to flaws in design for traditional bow types. Although all bows experience hand shock to some degree, a bow that was not designed or built properly is the most common cause of bad hand shock. The amount of hand shock varies depending on what flaws were made in the design. Bows where the tips are too heavy, flex at the wrong point of the limb, have a low brace height or having a riser that is too small compared to the limbs.

Before I go into the reasons these design flaws cause hand shock, I want to clarify why hand shock occurs in the first place. When drawing a traditional bow, energy is stored in limbs. When the arrow is loosed, the energy stored in the limbs is released and most of it is transferred to the arrow. The energy that is not released with the arrow will vibrate through the bow causing hand shock.

Problems with Heavy Tips

When you loose an arrow, the limbs release their energy and return to their resting position. If the tips - the end-points of the limbs - are heavy compared to the limbs themselves, they have a tendency to return past their resting position. Unless you have a takedown recurve bow where you can replace the limbs, there isn’t much you can do about this problem. I’ll discuss some of the options below, but in this case, it might be best for you to find another bow.

When Limbs Don’t Flex in the Right Position

Limbs that flex closer to the riser will cause problems, too. This problem is nearly the same as the problem with heavy tips, essentially giving the bow longer tips. If most of the flex is close to the riser, the tips will be large, compared to the part that is flexing.

This problem mostly occurs from bad bow design where the wood of the bow is stiffer as you get closer to the tips. Just like heavy tips, there isn’t much you can do about this besides replace the limbs or replace the bow entirely. Most modern bows you can buy from an experienced bowyer or a reputable archery shop shouldn’t have this problem.

Low Brace Height

Brace height is the distance between the riser and the resting position of the string - this used to be called the fistmele. When you have a bow with a low brace height, the limbs will travel to a straighter position. This leaves the arrow on the string longer and usually results in more energy being transferred to the bow.

With most bows, you can increase or decrease the brace height within about 1/2” in either direction by twisting or untwisting the string. This will cause the string to be slightly longer - decreasing brace height - or to be slightly shorter - increasing brace height.

Adjusting the brace height can have more consequences than just reducing hand shock, so proceed with caution. Make sure that when you adjust the brace height, you stay within the manufacturer’s recommendations so you don’t put too much stress on the bow.

Typically, if you have a lower brace height, the bow will have a slightly lower draw weight, but will shoot harder - more energy will be transferred to the arrow. If you raise your brace height, you will have a slightly heavier draw weight but will resolve in a softer shot. Also, bows with a higher brace height will be more forgiving that bows with a low brace height - meaning that with a lower brace height, mistakes are usually magnified. Under most circumstances, you will be better off increasing the brace height.

When the Riser is Too Small

When you have a small riser compared to the limbs of the bow, you will feel much more hand shock. Small risers don’t cause hand shock, but you will notice it far more. Large risers have more mass that can absorb the energy being transferred from the limbs of the bow when it is released, which can make your shooting experience more pleasant.

Hand Shock with Compound Bows

Most compound bows have far less hand shock than traditional bows. This has to do with the design of compounds bows where most of the energy for the release is stored in cams. These release their energy by rotating, and there is generally very little movement to the limbs of the bow.

Some compound bows have more hand shock than others. In the early 2000s, there was a new design of compound bows known as parallel limbs that greatly reduced hand shock. The design is to have the limbs of the bow positioned so that they are parallel to each other, resulting in virtually no movement of the limbs when it is fired. Compound bows with parallel limbs are one of the best bows you can buy if you want to avoid hand shock.

What’s the Big Deal with Hand Shock Anyways?

Most archers agree that hand shock doesn’t affect accuracy, so why should you be worried about it? If you’ve shot with a bow that has a lot of hand shock, you know how unpleasant - even painful - the experience can be. If you’re out shooting for any length of time, dealing with hand shock will become a big problem.

Contributing Factors to Hand Shock

There are more things that can cause hand shock beside a poorly designed bow. Though everything in archery is connected, when it comes to hand shock, there are two things that you need to be concerned with: proper form and using the right arrows.

Proper form is a fairly loosely defined term as it differs from person to person, depending on what is comfortable for them, and just what works for their style. However, there are some general concepts you should be aware of that can result in less energy being transferred to the arrow.

When you release your arrow, if the limbs don’t return to their resting position at the same time, it can cause quite a bit of vibration through the riser. When the limbs of the bow return to their resting position, the energy that is not transferred to the arrow are sent down the body of the bow. If one limb returns to its resting position before the other, this will amplify the amount of vibration experienced. Be sure to notch your arrow correctly on the string to reduce the chance of this occurring.

When you’re shooting, make sure you use arrows that have the correct weight. If you’re shooting with a heavy traditional bow, chances are that using a carbon fiber arrow will cause quite a bit of hand shock. Although the arrow will be released with a tremendous amount of energy, the weight of the arrow does not require much energy to be released. This results in more energy being retained in the limbs, and, well, you should know the story by now of what happens with energy that is retained in the bow.

Reduce Hand Shock

If you’ve made it this far, chances are that you want to know what you can do to reduce hand shock when you’re shooting. Obviously, replacing your bow will change your shooting experience, but not everyone can afford to go buy a new bow. If you don’t want to replace your bow, here are some things you can try to reduce hand shock.

  • Buy anti-vibration tape. This is tape - usually self-adhesive - that absorbs vibration. You can usually find this type of thing at your local hardware store.
  • Avoid stacking on your bow. Stacking happens when you overdraw your bow past its optimal draw length. If you’re interested in learning more about stacking, check out our article on archery stacking.
  • Try shooting with a heavier arrow. Heavier arrows will take more energy to fire, resulting in less energy being retained in the bow.
  • If you’re not doing so already, change your hand grip so that you’re loosely gripping the bow instead of using a firm grip. Besides helping improve accuracy due to micro-muscle movements, this will reduce hand shock by allowing the vibrations to travel through the body of the bow more freely and not down your arm.

Summary

Hand shock is the vibration in the body of the bow from retained energy when shooting an arrow. Though hand shock is usually caused by the design of the bow - all bows experience it to some degree - there are some things you can do to reduce how much hand shock you experience. If you can afford to replace your bow, modern bows are much more efficient at transferring energy to the arrow, resulting in less energy being retained in the bow. Though hand shock doesn’t affect your accuracy, it can make your archery experience a pain in the…arm.

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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.