What Should I Buy First?

It is hard to know what archery gear to buy first!

A 25″ length riser is the standard size, and most archers use that and modify the length of the bow to accommodate their draw length by choosing either a short, medium, or long set of limbs.

It helps to know a fundamental aspect:  Bows are rated in resistance to drawing (aka, the “draw weight”) in pounds at a specific distance of draw, stated simply as “30 pounds at 27 inches”.
If you pick up a medium length bow (68″ total length of riser and limbs combined) that is rated at 30 pounds@27 inches, and if you draw it back to 28 inches, expect the draw weight on your fingers to rise to perhaps 32 pounds or so.  If you draw to only 26 inches, expect the draw weight to be less, say 28 pounds (or so).  The weight will always vary from limb to limb, as limbs are by nature NOT physically identical even when made by the same craftsman with exactly the same technique.  Just a fact of life.

The increase in weight beyond the labeled amount when drawing more than 27 inches is called “stacking” and varies widely between brands and levels of quality of limbs.  Cheap limbs tend to stack more, as do shorter limbs relative to longer limbs for a given draw length.  That is, a 68 inch bow consisting of a 27″ riser and short limbs will usually have more stack (and more limb tip lateral stability AND more vibration) than a 68 inch bow with a 23 inch riser and long limbs.
The reason why “stack” becomes clearer if you examine the modern recurve limb.  If you consider the cross section of the limb as you move from the base at the limb pocket out towards the string notch area/tip, you will see that the limb gets smaller (lighter per unit of cross-sectioned distance) the further out to the tip you look.

As you draw a bow back, the limbs bend under the energy you invest in them.  But the bending is not uniform, meaning the tip area (the “recurve”) bends differently than the limb nearer to the limb pocket.  The parts of the limb also move in different directions!  The tips move towards the center of the bow much more than the thicker base parts of the limb, which mainly moves towards the archer’s string hand.  It has a lot to do with leverage and angles.

Why such a long explanation?  It makes an incredible difference to the success of the archer, the choice of how to make the bow long enough.
1. Archer A shoots 5 days a week and has lots of time for cross-training, bulks up muscles and is very fit.  Archer A  LIKES the stacking effect as a way to get feedback the closer to click the arrow gets.  Archer A also thinks it is easier to make a good release with higher poundage, so to get that stacking feeling, a 25 or 27 inch riser with SHORT limbs is A’s choice.
2. Archer B is the same draw length as “A” but cannot maintain the same level of fitness and training effort.  Limb stacking for “B” makes it very hard to maintain excellent form through the click.  “B” needs to cast the arrow the same distance, but perhaps wants more control and feeling and less raw power, so less stacking is a good thing.  “B” therefore chooses a 23 or 25 inch riser with medium or even long limbs.  The limbs will be springier, not stressed as much, and the shot will have less short-frequency vibration (the “thunks” or “clanks”) and more long-frequency good vibration (the “strums”).  There will be less stacking, so the archer will get through click easier with the same amount of effort expended over each inch of drawing done  relatively speaking.  I view “B” as being closer to the sweet spot.
3. Archer C fears stacking and goes with a 27″ riser and long limbs, and ends up with a bow that is very easy (compared to “A”s and “B”s bows) to draw back to anchor and through click, as it never stacks.  But the bow is so long that the recurve part of the limbs never gets the same amount of deformation(stress) that happens in A & B.  The bow simply cannot cast the arrows as far as A & B’s bows would in the hands of archer “C”.
So depending on a lot of variables, there is “too short”, “just right with short/long”, “just right with long/short”, and “too long”.  YIKES.
Now you ask in frustration, “well how do I know what I need?”   Don’t panic and don’t assume you can’t get it right. As a beginning or even intermediate archer, you can get in the right ballpark and not even realize it could be better, because it will still feel great, such quality are the current products on the market compared to the bows of yesteryear!
A few general rules of thumb:
If you can afford it, buy the most expensive thing of each category and you will at least look good (until you shoot your arrows).
Otherwise, (and all of this is just one opinion – get several and decide for yourself…
For your first gear purchase, get the best riser you can afford, and get the cheapest limbs you can get by with in the general weight range you think you can handle.
After the riser and limbs, get the best sight you can afford.  A Sure-Loc can last you your lifetime.
Likewise, get a Beiter Plunger rather than a cheap one for the durability and especially the reliability.
These parts also are completely independent of your strength in drawing the bow and your skill level.
These are “one-time” purchases, as is the riser in all likelihood.  The two things that vary a LOT will be your limbs and your arrows so you want them last.
You should review the stabilizer market, and purchase something “not the cheapest” and “not the most expensive”.  Stabilizers need to perform some basic functions of mass/weight distribution and a LITTLE vibration absorption, and inertial resistance, and it is not rocket science so don’t pay for rockets, until you have the best everything else.
Adolescents who will grow will obviously need different length arrows.  Those archers who increase in strength through training and exercise and technique enhancement will also need different length as well as differently spined arrows (spine is the rigidity of the arrow and has huge impact on arrow grouping on the target and clearance).
BTW – never sell your old limbs – you may need to fall back to them if injured or if you make substantial form/technique changes.
I favor a shorter riser and longer limbs to achieve any given bow length yet there is a lot of flexibility in any chosen pairing of riser to limbs.  Eventually, you do want to buy the best limbs you can afford as well, because the more advanced limbs DO make an impact on you each and every time you loose an arrow.
Arrows come last because the riser and the limbs make the arrows behave a certain and different way.

Your technique, your fundamental method, makes your arrows behave a certain way.  During the initial learning phase, you are changing (hopefully!) so much that making an arrow investment is just not smart.  I consider Easton X10s an investment, and for many even ACEs are an investment.  Navigators and ACCs are a great balance of price and performance, many archers will never need to shoot anything more refined than Navigators or ACEs…Though X10s are the most shot-arrows at every Olympic since their introduction, and I recall a statistic that every medal in singles competition since they were first introduced has been taken with X10 arrows.  If you can afford X10s then certainly enjoy.  But first secure the best riser, limbs, sight, and plunger. THEN and only then splurge on X10s.

Lessor considerations:
Don’t use spinwings until you can (mostly) stay on the bale at your competitive distances.  Instead, start out with a durable vane such as the Easton or Arizona vanes, until you are shooting competitively. And before you switch fully, go half-and-half with a new kind of vane and compare your groups to make sure you are moving towards better.
Big arrows: Shooting indoors is pretty much what archers do when it is too cold to shoot outdoors, and for such short distances many archers feel they need a bigger arrow-diameter-to-target-size ratio to straighten out the arrow in a shorter time/distance, and they perceive an advantage to “line-cutting” score getting so they go with a FAT arrow.  Fat doesn’t matter so much indoors because there is rarely a cross-wind to blow the shafts sideways off of center target.  If you do choose to get a fat aluminum arrow for indoors, realize that you will have to re-tune/re-setup your entire bow and tune each season.
Unless you are headed to the world indoor championships, the Face-to-Face in Europe, or some such fancy hooraw shoot (that means the Vegas Shoot) where you absolutely must have every extra point AND you are not shooting at an elite level already, fatboys might be worth the hassle (and experience) of retuning frequently.  You might notice that most elite archers stay with their serious (outdoors) arrow, which requires only slight tuning adjustments for shooting at 18 meters instead of 70 meters.

Tuning?  Tuning is the adjustments to the bow’s physical parameters to match the way your fingers leave the string and your hand holds the bow and your arrows flex.  Pure and simple. No, not simple.  COMPLEX.  but that’s tuning in a nutshell – adapting hardware to the software(that’s you, archer) so that the pattern of arrows falling on the bale are as closely grouped as possible.  Tuning is a lot of fun, and is an ongoing challenge for the improving archer.  Some say tuning is never done.  Others tune once and then don’t make a change in their setup no matter what, till they can’t stand their performance any more and decide to “change up” everything.  Whatever.

I’ll end this with: “rarely will an archer shoot UP to his bow’s potential. The weakest link in the arrow delivery system is typically the grey matter.  But the effect of pride and excitement in one’s gear cannot be discounted – there IS a placebo effect.  Shiny gear helps you to believe in the force…and the force can be powerful indeed.
Ok, one more thought: give a man (or woman) a fish and he’ll eat for a day.  Teach her to fish, and she’ll feed herself forever.  Buy a bow and you can shoot an arrow.  Learn how to shoot that bow and you’ll hit what you aim at.  Another way of saying, investing money with a good coach is better than simply throwing money at your bow and flinging arrows in a sad hope of getting good at it.