Arrow Rests For Bowhunting

Not all Arrow Rests are right for everyone. Understanding the basics will go a long way toward satisfying each individual’s needs.

When you look back at the basic bow-and-arrow set-ups we were using to shoot at the game and at targets with just a decade or two ago, then compare them with the hot-rod set-ups so popular today, the differences are astounding.

In just 30 years, as an industry, we’ve evolved from a recurve bow/wood or aluminum shaft/glue-on broadhead/finger tab or shooting glove crowd to a short-axle compound bow/advanced aluminum, carbon, or aluminum/carbon composite shaft/screw-in broadhead/release aid bunch. If you’d been asleep for 20 years and just woke up, you’d have a hard time recognizing one of today’s most popular bow-and-arrow set-ups.

Few archery items have evolved over the years as dramatically as the arrow rest. And while often overlooked by new shooters more enamored with hype about raw arrow speed, using the wrong arrow rest is a formula for consistently mediocre shooting.

Rests In The “Old Days”

In the beginning, archers with longbows did nothing more than rest the shaft across the fist of their bow hand, usually protecting against friction with a leather glove or, sometimes, nothing more than an adhesive bandage or strip of cloth tape.

Then, in the 1950s, the then highly-evolved recurve bows were designed with an arrow shelf that was carved into the grip. Archers covered these shelves with an old piece of low-pile carpet, cloth, or leather, and found that shooting “off the shelf” was a big step up inconsistent accuracy.

It was in the 1960’s

that archers began using the first removable arrow rests. These simply-designed rests were usually little more than a horizontal plastic (or, sometimes, hair or feather) shelf for the arrow to rest upon, and a plastic or nylon side plate for the shaft to rest against.

Soon there were a few of these rests that permitted some horizontal side plate adjustments, which greatly aided in the bow tuning process and made accurate shooting at longer ranges a reality for skilled archers. Most of these rests attached to the bow with double-backed adhesive tape. These types of inexpensive arrow rests are still available today.

Arrow rests took a giant step in the evolution process in the mid-’60’s with the introduction of the Berger Button. Actually invented by tournament shooter Norman Pint, but named for well-known tournament shooter Victor Berger, this button cushioned the shaft as it was released against side-to-side oscillation, which in turn tightened arrow groups dramatically. When used in conjunction with the popular adhesive-backed Flipper or Flipper II arrow shelf, this combination became the standard against which all other rests of the late 1960’s-early 1970’s were judged. While you won’t find any Berger Button-and-shelf rests today, you will find many similar arrow rests, which today are called by the generic name, “cushion plunger.”

A variation of the cushion plunger of the 1970’s was the springy rest, which was nothing more than a threaded brass barrel connected to a coiled, one-piece spring-wire plate-and-shelf unit. Springys were sold in a variety of spring gauges and tension weights to accommodate different bow weights and arrow stiffnesses and could be adjusted horizontally as well. These simple, rugged rests were popular with bowhunters of that era, but they’re as rare as a four-leaf clover today.

In the 1980’s we saw the rise in popularity of the now-popular prong or launcher-type, arrow rests. These rest types were actually invented in 1967 by southern Californian Fred Troncoso, a professional musician and serious tournament archer who founded Golden Key-Futura a year later, making not arrow rests, but the first rope release aids and a nock aligner device. “I was shooting tournaments with Roy Hoff, and he got me started making rests back then,” Troncoso said. “I first just whittled rests out of wood and plastic.

The first prong-type rest came about after I acquired my first Sable center-shot bow in ’67, which had a little wire rest, so I made a prong-style rest to fit this bow. This was before release aids were around, but it worked great anyway. But no one was really interested in them, they were too radical and complicated at that time.”

Troncoso kept tinkering with his new arrow rest design, “just trying to improve my own shooting,” he said. “I just wanted to beat everyone else.” Troncoso’s first patented arrow rest was the Match One, patented in 1973-74, followed by the Pace Setter Vee-launcher type rest a year later. “Even though my wife won three national field championships using this new rest, people still weren’t that interested in this new design,” Troncoso said. “After all, the arrow fell off if you turned the bow on it’s side! Sometimes it just takes a while for a good idea to catch on.”

Troncoso told that it wasn’t until 1982-83 that his Vee-launcher rest first became accepted by a significant number of archers. “We hired some sales reps, like Sherwin Schock, and away we went.” Back then these rest types were commonly called “wrap-around” rests because the rest unit attached to the Berger Buttonhole tapped into the off-side of the bow’s riser, then “wrapped around” the backside of the bow’s handle. Initially, there were two basic styles of this rest. The “Vee-launcher” type, like the old PSE Hunter Supreme and Martin Slide Rest, featured a solid metal post with a Vee-shaped cut-out in which the arrow was rested. The “Shoot-Through” rest featured a pair of upthrust metal prongs, between which the shaft was rested. The Townsend Lodestar and PSE-CF-TM Hunter were two early examples. 

As we approach the millennium, the evolution of the arrow rest continues at a fast pace. While basic design types remain the same, variations on the theme are widespread. Today’s bowhunter and target archer has more different arrow rest makes, models, and designs from which to choose that at any time in history. While such diversity is good, it can also breed confusion. Which rest is the right one for you?

Modern Arrow Rests

Today, arrow rests have evolved into a seemingly endless array of styles and designs that, often as not, confuse the shooter. The questions asked are always the same. Why is the rest category “A” better than category “B”? What features do I need on an arrow rest? Can I use the same rest for target shooting that I do for bowhunting? 

“Our surveys indicate that somewhere between 80% and 90% of today’s archers-and that includes both bowhunters and target shooters — use some type of release aid,” said Bob Mick of New Archery Products. “That means that the basic shoot-through rest design is the basic type of arrow rest that most of them will be using. To that end, you’re seeing a lot of the industry’s research and development efforts in the arrow rest segment directed towards this type of rest.”

“Without a doubt, the biggest part of the business is for bowhunters, and that’s what we concentrate our efforts on,” said Huey Savage of Savage Systems. “They need an arrow rest that’s reliable, quiet, and that will be unobstructed for vane clearance. When you think about it, the arrow rest is an asset only until the arrow is released. After that, if it were totally out of the way we would be much better off.

“And because most archers are shooting a release these days, the shoot-through type rest is by far the most popular and practical for them,” Savage said. “We offer for sale some arrow rest models with cushion plungers in them, but it’s not either a high-ticket or high volume item for us.”

“Bowhunting is where the money’s at in the archery industry,” Troncoso said. “While the target market is there, most arrow rest innovation is heading towards making people better bowhunters.”

Desirable Design Features

A look at the many different arrows rests offered for sale today will turn up everything from simple to complex. Some rests have few adjustment features, while others-notably those designed with the serious target archer in mind-have more screws and adjustment knobs than a rocket ship. 

In recent years, the industry trend has been to try and give all archers a rest that could be micro-adjusted-that is, with vertical and horizontal adjustments that could be made in very small increments-the goal being to permit the very precise vertical and horizontal rest adjustments that need to be made as the archer attempts to perfectly tune his bow-and-arrow combination. However, many of these rests ultimately disappointed bowhunters, who found their complex adjustment systems difficult to work with, and that the many tiny adjustment screws and knobs often rattle loose or slip during hunting season, which of course changes their shaft’s point of impact.

In 1998, the pendulum seems to be swinging back away from complex to simple. Manufacturers have learned that bowhunters-their bread-and-butter customer base-want simpler designs that require less maintenance during the course of a hunting season.

“We feel that basic arrow rest design is returning to a more simplistic style,” said Mizek. “Our conversations with our bowhunting customers show that they want, first and foremost, reliability in their arrow rests. Second, they need to be able to make both vertical and horizontal adjustments easily, but then once they have been made, not worry about it again. They want simplicity without giving up the features. We know we can make everything super-adjustable, but the reality is that often you end up with a bow-and-arrow set-up that, once it’s tuned and the arrow rests set, you never use the adjustment features of the rest it again. We’re trying to make rests simply to set up, quick to dial in, and built so it won’t get beat up during tough field use and will hold up in extreme weather conditions.” 

“The question has become, do you make an arrow rest that is complex or more simplistic?,” said Savage. “I see the trend as being that if a person becomes ‘archery-wise’ and as his knowledge of the sport increases, he becomes more aware of the importance of micro-adjustability in his arrow rest. He needs a set-up he can precisely tune. This may not be as important to the raw beginner, but as he evolves in the sport, you can bet he’s going to want to be able to make any and all adjustments he needs to get his bow shooting right.

“I also see that the more advanced archer-and especially the bowhunter-wants security and reliability, too,” Savage said. “If they can’t count on their arrow rest to perform flawlessly without thinking about it while they’re in the field, what good is it to them?”

“The number one factor in an arrow rest for bowhunting is reliability,” said Troncoso. “Simplicity is also crucial for bowhunters. And yet, savvy bowhunters want the micro-adjustability that permits them to precisely tune their bow-and-arrow set-up. After all, all archers, whether they be target shooters or bowhunters, like to tinker with their equipment, and want to be able to tune their bows as precisely as possible. They’re always looking for a little extra edge in their equipment, and this is one factor that gives it to them.”

The Cushion Plunger: Obsolete?

With 80 to 90% of all bowhunters using a release aid and, therefore, some type of shoot-through arrow rest, is the cushion plunger style of rest now headed for the scrap heap? 

Not necessarily. “I find that, when it’s all said and done, using a reliable cushion plunger rest-especially one that offers a bit of downward give-can be an excellent choice for bowhunting, even with a release aid,” said Lon Lauber, a well-known bowhunting writer, member of the Browning Archery Pro Staff, and winner of several state field and broadhead target shooting championships. “Especially on what I sometimes call a ‘he-man’ hunting trip, like backpacking for deer or elk, hunting in Alaska, and so on, the simplicity of these types of rests, the ease at which they can be adjusted in the field with a minimum number of tools, and their almost indestructible construction makes them a good choice.”

“We’ve found that we can still sell a quality cushion plunger style of arrow rest,” said Mizek. “The Centerrest, for example, with its downward give, sells about 60% to finger shooters, but about 40% to release shooters. That tells us that there are still many, many bowhunters out there who value the rugged simplicity of this type of rest enough to put them on their hunting bows, even if they’re shooting a release aid. So really, cushion plungers aren’t really fading away at all.”

“We don’t find many release shooters asking for our cushion plunger-type rests these days,” said Troncoso. “By far the prong-type rests are what they’re buying. The closest thing we have to a cushion plunger that’s a large seller for us to the release crowd is one of my earliest designs, the Star Hunter, and our new 1998 version, the Rising Star Hunter.”

The Carbon Arrow Challenge

Although large-diameter aluminum arrow shafts continue to dominate the market, more and more archers are discovering the benefits of small-diameter carbon arrow shafts for both target shooting and bowhunting. They’re also discovering the challenges posed by these small-diameter shafts in terms of choosing and using an arrow rest.

“Tuning a bow with a hundred different arrow rests when using aluminum arrows is a pretty straight-forward task,” said Savage. “But when using the small-diameter carbon shafts, shooters are finding that they need to make precise adjustments both with their rest, and in the way they position their arrow nocks. It takes the right rest to shoot carbon shafts well.”

“Carbon arrows are selling more and more units every year,” Troncoso said. “The challenge to making them fly straight and true is the same as it is for any shaft-fletch clearance. With the reduced space between the fletching on the shaft, it can be tough. One thing we’ve done is made some thinner prong arms, and designed different arm shapes to help accommodate these shafts.”

“No doubt about it, carbons are coming on,” said Mizek. “And with them comes a fletch clearance problem. We’ve also seen trouble with the highly-abrasive carbon material rapidly destroying the shrink tubing used for many years to help silence the sound of a shaft as it is drawn and shot across the metal prongs of a shoot-through rest. We are about six months to a year from solving that problem, although using stick-on felt seems to work well now, and it definitely holds up better than shrink tubing. 

“One other thing we see that is starting to make a difference with fletch/arrow rest contact problems is that the smallest-diameter carbons are beginning to fade somewhat in popularity, with the larger-diameter shafts like the Easton A/C/C, Gold Tip, Game Tracker, and Beman ICS with internal components instead of overserts, coming on in popularity. This slightly fatter shafts help tremendously in eliminating fletch clearance troubles.”

“We have the largest selection of ‘quiet’ launcher-type arrow rests available today, with over 76 different variations available,” said Savage. “Our Teflon launchers are a unique product in this regard. There the end of the prong is solid Teflon, made with a plastic injection molded process. We selected Teflon because of it’s smooth, slick properties, and it’s soft enough to give you some forgiveness, which translates into quietness. The high-temperature properties of Teflon also make it an excellent launcher rest material. This keeps it from degrading from the friction of arrows going over it, making it a superb choice for carbons. While the carbon material will wear everything a little bit, the Teflon will last much longer.”

“I experimented with Teflon launchers back in the late 1960’s,” said Troncoso,” but found the material too soft to really be of value. Today, though, the use of space-age plastics is helping solve the abrasion problem of carbon, and helping quiet the rest as the shaft is drawn and shot over it. We look for improvements in this regard in the coming years.”

Arrow Rest Costs At Retail

“While there are several price categories of arrow rests, we believe that today’s archer that’s not a beginner won’t get sticker shock if a quality arrow rest falls into that $25-40 price range,” said Mizek “Beginners may buy something a bit cheaper, but much higher than that and you’ll find some resistance.”

“Most rests sold by dealers probably fall into the $21-$24 range,” said Savage. “Our second-most popular rest, the Easy Rest-which can be micro-adjusted in all directions and has Teflon launchers-sells for around $40 at retail. We don’t find that the majority of shooters have any problem paying that kind of money for a reliable, easy-to-adjust arrow rest that will not give them grief as time goes by.” 

“Top target shooter will pay anything for a rest, because they want the ultimate in performance,” Troncoso said. “But with the mass market, and that includes bowhunters, rests selling in the $20-$40 range is the mainstay of the business. The key for us as a company is to have a quality rest that falls into every price category, so the shooter can spend as much or as little as they want and still buy our products.”

Down The Road

What’s down the road for arrow rests, in terms of design?

Manufacturers tell us not to hold our breath waiting for a new “radical” design anytime soon.

“There is a tapering off point for everything, just like the efficiency of bows,” said Troncoso. “Most all quality products are built on a variation of some tested theme. But creativity will tell. For example, we have some arrow rest designs that we’re working on right now that, while we could bring them to market today, we don’t want to saturate the market with too many new products at once. You also have to educate the public to the benefits of a new rest before it will sell well for you, which both takes time and some of the focus off your existing product line.”

“We’re always working to make our existing products better, and to design new products we know will both work and sell for us,” said Mizek. “But right now there’s nothing on the horizon I can see that will set the industry on its ear.”

“I think two things are important in any archery product design and development, not just arrow rests,” said Troncoso. “First, for dealers to be able to sell the product, customer awareness is critical. The best manufacturers support their product lines with advertising and promotions. And two, you have to be a shooter to design quality new products. Our family goes hunting primarily to think and brainstorm about how we might tweak this or that to make it better. 

“So who knows? Maybe on our next trip to the woods, one of the boys will come up with some crazy idea that will work, like I did with the prong-type rest back in the ’60’s,” Troncoso said. “We’ll all just have to wait and see.”

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