Finger Protection – Tab or Glove?

A lot of new archers have this idea where shooting with bare fingers is OK. Now, if you’re shooting a single shot, that’s not bad. If you are shooting a light kid’s bow, it’s not that bad, but if you’re doing any serious archery with a real bow, then you must protect your fingers! The minimal damage is just blisters and a strange numb feeling, but the long-term damage will kill your nerves! You will experience very sharp pains, and that will completely stop you from doing archery as well as other everyday activities. You can’t overlook finger protection!

Let’s look at the options you have, Glove or tab?

Before that, a special mention goes to these no-glove finger guards or finger savers. These are usually made from rubber or plastic and are placed on the string. They can normally be moved to be shot both as split finger and three under and allow you to shoot freely without having to mess around with anything on your fingers.

These are very convenient, though I wouldn’t actually suggest using them for your personal bow. The reason is because these add weight to your string, slowing it down. This is OK for beginners shooting at close distances, but it does affect your performance and accuracy, and you really want to remove this variable.

These finger guards can be useful for club bows or youth camps that deal with many different users regularly as they can speed up instruction without worrying about issuing or losing finger tabs. That said, most clubs and beginner kits will get shooters started on a tab right away. So this is really something you see done more out of necessity for a club than for functionality. It’s also useful if you’re sharing one bow between many people, such as the kids sharing a youth bow. It gets you shooting, but that’s about it.

Assuming that you’re using your own bow your two main options are basically a finger tab or a shooting glove.

If you’re completely new to archery you are likely to recognize the glove. Many forms of traditional archery make use of the glove, and modern shooting gloves have a streamlined design that covers the essentials.

Gloves come in a variety of shapes, colors, materials, and sizes. Most clubs designed for modern western style archery feature protection for the three fingers used to shoot, although you can get gloves designed for thumb release. The actual design and coverage varies with the model, but typically look like this.

This particular glove is 3 finger leather glove which features reinforced fingertips and a velcro strap for the wrist. Using the glove is very intuitive. The fingers go over the string. You draw, anchor, release, and everything feels fairly natural.

Finger tabs are more commonly used but may seem odd to people who have never shot before. Tabs vary based on their design and price. Cheap tabs are simple pieces of leather or calf hair with holes cut out for the fingers, sometimes with plastic spacers that prevent fingers pinching the arrow. More advanced tabs have more customization, such as adding ledges or adjusting the size and shape of the palm plate. Using a tab is also easy, but new archers sometimes don’t realize that the leather is meant to protect the fingers and occasionally will flip the tab away while shooting with bare fingers. The string goes over the tab providing a protective surface. The fingers hook around the string, and you do your shot process.

So, the most common and obvious question is which one is better? I can’t really answer this question because a lot of this is subjective, and it really comes down to your preference. What do you feel more comfortable with? To help guide this decision I’m going to identify several criteria.

The first criterion is protection.

Shooting will hurt your fingers, especially if you do it very frequently and for long periods of time. So, you want to give your fingers enough padding so that it doesn’t hurt while you are shooting. Now, most finger tabs are relatively thin. You can get thicker tabs like this Cow Leather Tab.

The more high-end tabs tend to be better protective with multiple layers. That’s pretty good, too, but generally speaking there is a thinner amount of leather on each tab, so it won’t feel as if your fingers are a hundred percent protected. It’s not bad. I mean, you still get a lot of protection from a finger tab. It’s better than nothing, but a lot of people will feel that the finger tab isn’t enough for their fingers. This is especially the case if you’re using heavier draw weights. For light bows it won’t matter too much, but for heavier bows you will definitely feel the pressure against your fingers. The tab will conform to the shape of the string and your fingers as you hook the string, so on a heavier draw weight, it will pull against you, and you will find that even with a tab you’ll have some rough skin on your fingers.

Gloves, on the other hand, fully encase your fingers. Now the actual design will vary. Some just cover the tips, and that’s fine. The important thing is that you get one that fits, because if you have the right fit, then your fingers feel fully protected. The tips are normally reinforced with extra leather or extra material, which means that you can hook the string and feel a lot more confident that you will not feel a single thing. This is great because even after shooting for hours, you generally wont get that strain and that numbness which you get from using a thinner tab. So, in terms of protection, the glove generally gets the edge.

Sensitivity is another criterion.

This is kind of the opposite to protection. Because finger tabs are generally thinner, you get more feedback while using it. This is because you have more of a feeling of where the string is on your fingers and how it comes off your fingers. This allows you to reflect on your release and fine tune it to have more finesse. The glove is a bit more of a crude, brute force kind of thing. The thick protection gives you confidence. You can hold the bow at full draw and not feel pain or strain. At the same time you can be a bit numb to the exact feeling of the release. So, if you want something a bit more of a fine-tuned, finesse kind of thing, then the tab does have a slight edge.

Smoothness is another factor. One of the reasons why shooting with bare fingers is a bad thing, apart from pain and discomfort, is that your fingers are rough uneven surfaces. This means that the string won’t come as cleanly off your fingers. Now, with a glove, you get protection, but you don’t necessarily have a smooth, low-friction surface. This is a good protective tool for your fingers, but the finger tab has that flat smooth surface. Now, to make this even smoother some archers will carry small bottles of talcum powder and smear it on their finger tab to have even less friction. This is a great benefit for a high performance archer. Now, you still can squeeze and pluck the string, but the finger tab generally, and slightly, gives you a more consistent release because even the most minute of inconsistencies can cause big differences on target. So for smoothness of release, the tab has the edge.

My last criterion is practicality, and this depends on what you do.

The main advantage with the glove is that you don’t have to take it off. That means you can still use your hand and fingers to do things like retrieve arrows, pick arrows from the ground, manipulate your bow, scratch your head. That’s still possible with a glove. This is a very convenient factor. In the field, where you might be stumping, you might be hunting, having a glove on your hand means you can shoot and do other things. So, in terms of its practicality, it makes sense to wear a glove.

However, if you are in a situation that requires you to take your glove off frequently, you may find that it’s more awkward to take it off and put it back on each time. In contrast, the finger tab is much simpler to take off and put back on. So, if you’re shooting in a competition, you have your six arrows, you then slide off your finger tab, and put it in your pouch. You go and mark your arrows and score, and pull your arrows, and then you put it back on. It’s very quick and simple to manipulate. Some archers will simply spin the finger tab behind their hand so they can use their fingers to scratch their head, and that’s fine.
So, it’s a very practical piece of equipment, but in the field this is a liability. You might not have a pouch you can easily put things in, and it’s very easy to lose in your pocket or lose on the ground, so, it has it’s advantages on the range, but it might not be right for you in the field. This leads me onto which one you should use, and again, this mostly depends on what you do archery for.

People who spend more time on the range will probably find a tab more convenient. People who spend more time in the field might find the glove more convenient. People who shoot modern Olympic-style bows will find the tab is the universal piece of equipment, whereas people who shoot traditional will probably use a glove. Either way, both do the same thing, and it really depends on what you prefer. You can cross over and shoot a modern bow with a glove. You can shoot a Trad bow with a tab. There’s nothing wrong with that. Just from my perspective, the tab will help you shoot better, but the glove will feel more comfortable, but in the end it’s what feels better for you.
Anyway, this is Huntingdoor Archery. I hope you found this helpful.

Double-deck finger tab