Arrow rest buyer's guide
Author: Frank Ross
One of the great things about archery is that individuality is not only encouraged, it’s catered to, even celebrated.
While there may be a few knuckleheads who are overbearing about espousing their approach as not only the best, but also the only way to shoot, the majority of passionate archery enthusiasts will tell you that if you want to shoot a bare bow with fingers, have at it.
Archers also tend to try a lot of different things, looking for the right combination of components that fits their particular style of shooting.
The two archery components most often replaced in the off-season would be the sights and rest. The quest for the ultimate combination of bow, arrow, sight and rest has left me, and probably most archers, with quite a collection of all of the above. Now, I’m quite convinced that frustration for many archers results from picking the wrong piece of equipment and trying to make it work.
An understanding of archery involves a curiosity of the laws of physics known as the archer’s paradox, which dictates this simple rule: What works great for one style of shooting is horrid for another. Here’s how it works.
When you sight down a right-handed bow and look at the position of an arrow in relation to the target, it appears that the arrow will strike to the left of the bull’s-eye, however, when released the arrow strikes home. That’s where the paradox comes in. Arrows fired using a mechanical release tend to oscillate vertically, while finger-released arrows tend to oscillate horizontally. High-speed cameras have documented these phenomena, first described by Dr. Robert P. Elmer, a well-known archery writer who coined the phrase, archer’s paradox, in the 1930s. When an arrow leaves the string it flops like a carp on the beach. Although the arrow recovers quickly, looking at one just leaving the rest, it’s amazing that any consistency can be achieved. By matching the right rest with the right technique, you can eliminate needless frustration.
Selecting the perfect arrow rest is somewhat of a misnomer, since perfection is an illusive quality, especially when it comes to archery. Everything designed by man has strengths and weaknesses, and this principle applies to both individual rests as well as broad categories. The rest that has more pros and fewer cons will depend on your shooting style and, to some degree, personal preference. Here’s a breakdown and some general recommendations for narrowing your search.
Three designs dominate the field, with two of those three making up the lion’s share. Shoot-through rests remain popular, but it’s the capture or containment rest and the drop-away rest that are most frequently used.
At one time the shoot-through arrow rest was the most common type of rest. Installation is simple, because the design is simple, easy to use and reliable. This style of rest consists of two prongs with spacing that is adjustable to about two thirds of the diameter of the arrow and works well for most applications. The arrow rests in this pronged cradle, settled in the gap between the prongs. These prongs are generally spring-loaded. At the instant of the shot, they tilt down and forward, creating added clearance as the arrow passes over. Once the arrow passes, the spring-loaded prongs flip back to their original position for the next shot.
Arrow orientation for this rest requires the cock feather or vane to be pointed down, so it can pass between or shoot through the two prongs. Ergo, the moniker, "shoot-through" rests. With proper tuning and alignment of arrow, nock and rest prongs, the cock-fletch will pass cleanly and fly true. It’s the simplicity of this design that makes it popular, but the price is also attractive. A good shoot-through rest can be had for a base price around $20. The price moves up with added features such as microadjustment and other refinements.
Here are the disadvantages of the shoot-through rest. The first and most common is a vane or feather coming into contact with one of the prongs in flight. This causes a noticeable disruption in arrow flight and possible damage to the fletching. Usually this problem is minimal or nonexistent with straight vanes, but helical or offset fletchings require more tweaking to achieve good flight.
The second challenge with this style of rest is the difficulty of keeping an arrow on the prongs from draw to shot. An inclined shot, canted bow or shaky stroke on the draw created by nervous hands can cause your arrow to fall from the prongs, delaying your shot or spooking your quarry. Some shooters have constant difficulty using this type of rest, while others have no difficulty at all. Refinements to the basic concept, and add-on products that serve as arrow holders, have minimized the problem for those who prefer this type of rest, but true containment-type rests have become very popular in recent years.
Shoot-through rests work well with a mechanical release since the slot in the prongs and the arrow’s oscillation are both vertical.
This type of rest eliminates the problem of arrows coming off the rest by totally encircling the shaft or "capturing" it on at least three sides and containing it until the release. These two terms are used interchangeably, and for the sake of clarity I will refer to them as capture rests.
The capture rest is a good choice for new or young shooters, and anyone who wants to minimize the chance for errors their shooting process. When you don’t have to worry about the arrow coming off of your rest, you can concentrate on your form and the ultimate goal: placing the arrow in the kill zone. Capture rests will work with any type of arrow or release technique.
The downside, according to some shooters, is a less-forgiving nature when it comes to flaws in shooting technique, a slight reduction in speed and the possibility of fletching damage for those rests that come into contact with the arrow’s fletching. In particular, this concern would most apply to the very popular Whisker Biscuit; however, improvements in the bristles with new models virtually eliminate this potential problem. Certainly, the Biscuit’s positives far outweigh the potential for fletching repair.
Other capture rests are designed not to touch the fletching, but they require a bit of tweaking to ensure that the fletching and nock are aligned properly, similar to a shoot-through rest. Three-point capture rests also have tight tolerances that limit you to straight alignment of fletching, since helical fletching would come in contact with the rest in flight.
While it is less of an advantage to target shooters, bowhunters will benefit greatly from using a capture rest.
Sometimes they are referred to as fall-away rests, but both terms refer to the same style of rest that drops or falls out of the way and does not touch the arrow after it has been released. This type of rest totally eliminates any concerns of fletching clearance, and even the most radical helical slips by untouched. Improved and lengthened prongs on most drop-away rests provide deep notches that cradle the arrow, eliminating the problem of arrows dropping off, and some manufacturers have added an ingenious twist that provides the best of both concepts. By adding a containment arm that is positioned above the cradle, your arrow is secure until release.
Drop-away rests are raised into position, and most use a nylon cord or cable to accomplish this task. Once the arrow is released, these rests drop when actuated by movement of the bow’s cable slide or buss cable, and some are triggered by the forward inertia of the shot. The timing of the drop is critical, since the rest must stay in position until the arrow establishes a stable flight, and drop before the fletching arrives. Naturally, the speed of your bow will have an impact on this timing, with faster bows narrowing down the gap. It can take quite a bit of fiddling to get them set, so if you’re inexperienced in setting up a bow, you can seek professional help or take the dive into the learning process.
The rest of the rests
Finger shooters are very familiar with the pressure rest. Some refer to it as a shoot-around rest. This specialized rest pushes back from the side to help counteract the horizontal arrow oscillation created when fingers are the chosen method of release. While mechanical releases are by far the more popular choice of release, there are still a few dedicated traditionalists and manufacturers that meet those needs. Intended for use on bows with a center-shot cutaway riser, this style of rest is tuned by adjusting the amount of tension or pressure exerted on the arrow shaft.
Older bows, without the center-shot cutaway riser, should use a standard flipper or spring rest, since some pressure rests do not have adequate horizontal travel to accommodate the center-shot style of older bows.
Hopefully this information has given you an overview sufficient enough to make a decision on which rest will work for you. Just keep in mind that selecting a rest isn’t akin to picking a mate. It’s not a lifetime commitment. As shooters’ abilities evolve, so do their preferences in accessories. We all have our quirks when it comes to what we like and what we find irritating. For some it’s dropped arrows, for others it’s a passion for perfection. Find your itch and scratch it.