In my relatively short bowhunting career, I have had three wildly different bow shopping and/or tuning experiences at three different locations. I purchased my first bow from a big box store (I don’t want to name names, but it rhymes with “Majellas”). A couple years later, I took that same bow to get restrung and tuned at the local shop that was closest to my house (more on that disappointing experience in a bit). Finally, I purchased a used bow that was a significant upgrade over my first one, and took it to a different local shop to get restrung and tuned before I would fire it (I was blown away!). Having now experienced some of the worst in the bow-world as well as some of the most amazing archery professionals, I am firmly convinced that EVERY archer needs to have an ongoing relationship with a really good bow shop. Here’s why and how to identify one…
Access to quality gear
I don’t want to stir up a massive debate on brand-loyalty, but my experience has been that - in general - a “mom-and-pop” bow shop (hey, that rhymes) has a better inventory of high-quality bows and accessories. Every time I peruse the archery rack at a big box store, I’m always shocked at the minuscule number of quality bows they have hanging up there. Tons of entry-level bow packages, a couple middle-of-the-road offerings, but really nothing much if you’re looking for a top of the line bow. I get it, these stores are simply following the marketing/inventory playbook they have deemed most profitable…everyone has to make a living. However, if you are looking for a nice bow that will provide years of hunting success and shooting enjoyment, you will be hard-pressed to find it hanging on the wall at one of the major outdoor warehouses.
That being said, if you are on a tight budget and actually in the market for a less expensive, entry-level bow, I have ALWAYS seen a reasonable selection of those at independent bow shops as well. The refreshing thing is that their selection is generally more balanced than the big stores, and it comes with terrific, knowledgeable advice from their staff (more on that later), regardless of whether you’re buying the cheapest or most expensive bow on the wall. When you start digging into sights, arrows, stabilizers, and the thousand other accessories the sport seems to require, they again have better-quality options to offer. In general, I have simply found a better-balanced selection at independent bow shops, with many more offerings in higher quality bows than at any big box store.
Furthermore, an independent bow shop will generally spend a lot more time making sure you are getting into the gear that will meet your needs. You may walk in knowing exactly what you want, and they’re happy to oblige, of course. But if you’re on the fence between a couple different bows, or you just have a fixed budget and want the best bow for that money, they will take the time to set you up. They’ll generally set up a few bows and let you run some arrows through them so you can see which one feels best to you. They’ll talk you through the pros and cons of each potential choice, and they’ll do whatever they can to have you walk out of there with the best gear for you and your price range.
Great advice from knowledgeable personnel
I personally believe one of the most under-appreciated benefits of a quality bow shop is the terrific advice and education you can get from their salespeople and technicians. Of the three bow retailers I mentioned at the top, I have only found this consistently in one place. At the big box store, I typically found overwhelmed salespeople who had been assigned to the archery department for the day, and didn’t seem to really know what they were talking about. At the time, I was a pure beginner, but honestly felt I knew more than them just from my basic internet research. They just weren’t archery people. And because of that, I walked out with a bow that really didn’t suit my needs well, and that I was quickly underwhelmed and frustrated with.
That being said, just because the personnel really knows archery doesn’t mean you’ll get helpful advice every time. The first independent bow shop I went to was staffed by guys who clearly knew their stuff, but had the people skills of a root vegetable. Any question was met by that exasperated “you’re a moron” look, and every time I was in there it felt like I was bothering them. More than that, they kept my bow longer than promised for re-stringing, and when I finally called to track it down, they said it had been done for a week and they must have had the wrong number listed for me (I checked, it was the right number). In fact, that same shop is currently doing the same thing to my father in law…he is missing valuable days of archery season because his bow is trapped in re-stringing purgatory. But I digress…
The point is that you will generally find more knowledgeable and helpful personnel in an independent bow shop, but that isn’t a guarantee. I would recommend reading some Google or Yelp reviews (I should have…that first bow shop had terrible reviews for the same reasons I experienced), and ultimately just heading in there and talking to some people. What you’re looking for is bow techs and salesman with the attitude of a teacher – they’re happy to explain, to tell you the “why” behind things, and are willing to take some time out of their day to answer your questions. If you’re already an expert yourself, I’d even recommend asking a few rookie questions just to get a feel for the guys at the shop. Frankly, prices at independent bow shops are often a bit more expensive than a box store or Amazon (as with any small/local business), but I like to look at it as a small upcharge to cover that expert advice I am so grateful for.
Quality workmanship and great results
Let’s face it, the best gear and the best advice doesn’t amount to much if your bow is tuned like crap, doesn’t fit you, or just doesn’t meet your needs for some reason. You wouldn’t keep taking your car to a mechanic if it always came back still having problems – the same is true for your bow. At some point, you’re going to leave the shop with your new bow or have to bring your existing one somewhere to get re-strung, repaired, etc., and this is where the rubber meets the road. You can read reviews and get recommendations, you can chat with the techs and salesmen for a while and have a good feeling, but you won’t fully know if you’ve found a good bow shop until you let them work on your bow and see the results. I know that feels like leaving your kids with a new babysitter for the first time, but it’s a jump most of us will be forced to make at some point.
Obviously, you want to leave the shop with your freshly tuned bow and have it driving tacks right out of the gate, and it often will when you have a good shop working on it. But, I think it’s just as important to find a shop that stands behind their work after that initial tune. Typically, a new string breaks in after about 200 arrows, and often that results in some slight adjustments in string twist, peep location, or your arrows might start to fishtail a bit. You want a shop that is happy to see you back in with your bow a couple weeks later so they can readjust that new string to make it shoot just as well as the first time it left the shop.
Full disclosure, I am as big a fan of DIY as anyone I know…I HATE paying someone to do something I’m capable of doing myself. I’m sure the day will come when I invest the time and money in being able to work on my own bows, but that is not the case right now. If I want to be an archer (which I do) and I want a bow that shoots well (a must), then I am at the mercy of a good shop. If you’re in the same boat, do your homework, look for these three characteristics, and find that one shop you will go back to again and again. Every good archer needs a great bow shop in his or her corner! A little research, a couple conversations, and you can never worry again about where to take your bow when it needs help.
If you are reading this and happen to live in the Phoenix, AZ area, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention my new favorite bow shop, Ross Outdoors. I’m not endorsed by them, and they didn’t give me anything for mentioning them…I just believe a great bow shop is hard to find, and I want to help point any other local archers in a good direction. I rolled the dice buying a used bow sight-unseen from a dude on Facebook because it was a great deal, and so I took it straight to them to get restrung and inspected. They had it done quicker than promised, and it was shooting perfectly. They gave me great advice on arrows, and of course cut and set them up for me. Then, after the string broke-in and I was having a couple small problems with the bow, they dropped what they were doing (I happened to show up at lunch time) and fixed my issues immediately for free. They always answer my questions without a hint of condescension, and they’ve even been super patient with the fact that I always seem to end up in there with my three small children. I would recommend them to anyone without hesitation, and anyone needing bow work or in the market for some new gear should head over there today!