What you need to know about archery tab faces
Leather finger tabs have a couple different faces. When looking for one, recurve and longbow archers might find themselves asking, “Which tab face is right for me?”
By the very nature of how they shoot, traditional and Olympic recurve archers have a much more intimate relationship with their bowstrings, as compared to compound archers.
Recurves and longbows are shot by drawing and releasing the string with fingers. And most archers put something between their fingers and the string for protection.
Some traditional archers wear gloves. Many other trad enthusiasts, and certainly most – if not all - Olympic recurve archers, use finger tabs.
These are hand-held devices that allow for greater consistency in releasing a bowstring than if you were to use a shooting glove.
Think of it this way. If you draw a bow with three gloved fingers, each finger is capable of its own interaction with the string. A finger tab works to flatten or smooth the transition between the fingers and the string. It’s harder for each finger to individually affect the string when using a tab.
Finger tabs are made of a couple different materials, but the vast majority of them are leather. And among the leather varieties, there are three basic types of faces – cordovan, super leather and calf hair.
What’s the difference?
That’s what we’re here to tell you.
Cordovan tabs are the most expensive. That’s because cordovan leather is one of the most expensive and rare leathers in the world.
It’s made from two small circular sections of muscle beneath the hide on the rump of a horse. These shells of very dense fibers are subjected to processing that takes six months to produce cordovan leather.
And there's only one tannery in the U.S. that makes cordovan - Horween Leather in Chicago.
Cordovan is stiff, weather resistant and super slick. A lot of cordovan leather is used to make high-end shoes, because of its weather resistance and because it is very difficult to scuff. Nearly all of the top-tier Olympic recurve archers shoot tabs with cordovan faces.
Super leather can come from a variety of hides, but it is processed in a manner similar to cordovan. It’s used to build a more cost-effective tab that mimics cordovan to a degree, but tends to be rougher and not as stiff. The roughness and flexibility can affect shot consistency.
Calf-hair tabs are just what the name implies. The tab face is covered with calf hair that’s very slick when it’s fresh. The hair will wear off over time however, which can change the tab’s interactions with the bowstring. Of the three types, calf-hair tabs are the least resistant to weather.
To look at them, you might think one finger tab is like any other. Think again. Know the differences so you know what you’re buying and what it can do.