One of the questions we hear from new archers all the time is, “What is that thing sticking out from the front of the bow?“A stabilizer,” we reply.Inevitably, there’s the follow-up question, “Do I really need a stabilizer?”That’s a personal choice. The simplest answer is, “No, you don’t need a stabilizer to shoot a bow. The bow is capable of releasing arrows without a stabilizer attached.”However, there are tremendous advantages afforded by stabilizers. Look to the pros for proof. Professional archers can shoot with or without any equipment they want. They use what they need to win. That’s their job. Except for archers who compete in the classes that forbid them, you won’t find a professional target archer on the shooting line who doesn’t use a stabilizer. Most use more than one, in fact.Now you don’t have to rig your bow with stabilizers like the pros do just to punch targets in your backyard, or chase deer in the woods or even to shoot at local tournaments. But if you want to shoot tighter arrow groups, you might want to try a stabilizer of some stripe.WHAT DO THEY DO?A stabilizer is mounted to the riser back, by screwing it into a threaded accessory hole located just below the grip. Nearly all compound and Olympic recurve bows come from the factory with this accessory hole in place.Stabilizers perform a variety of functions. They absorb vibrations in the bow at the shot, which reduces the shock felt in your hand on the bow grip, and makes the bow quieter. They help keep the bow balanced, by adding weight below the grip. That weight down low encourages the bow to stand up straight, which is critical for consistent accuracy. It also helps settle your sight as you aim at the target.Stabilizers combat bow torque. When an archer releases the bowstring, the riser torques as all that energy hits it. But a stabilizer, which adds weight out in front of the bow, resists that torque.Think of it this way. Stand with your arms at your side and twist at the waist. There’s no resistance. Now hold a broom by the handle out in front of you, with the stick parallel to the ground, and twist at the waist. The broom will resist the twist.HOW LONG SHOULD IT BE?The length of the stabilizer you choose, again, is up to you. If you’re a bowhunter sitting in a ground blind, shooting at game no more than 20 yards away, then you might prefer the light weight and maneuverability of a 6-inch stabilizer. But if you’re a tournament archer shooting at targets 70 meters out, you might prefer the steadying power of a 30-inch stabilizer.Know this. The longer a stabilizer is, the more it’s going to resist bow torque, and the more it’s going to steady the bow as you aim. And the best place for the bulk of the weight is at the very end, away from the bow. That’s what gives the best stabilization.So, maybe a bowhunter heading out West to chase elk, who might have to shoot 40 or 50 yards, would do better with a 12-inch stabilizer, rather than the 6-incher favored by the ground-blind hunter shooting no more than 20 yards. That extra length can help tighten arrow groups at longer distances.In competition, there are limitations on stabilizer lengths for certain classes. The National Field Archery Association, for example, limits stabilizers to a maximum of 12 inches in its bowhunter classes. So that might dictate length for you.WHAT ABOUT SIDE RODS?Adding side rods, again, is a personal choice. Their purpose is to help balance the bow by adding weight behind the riser. A bowhunter, for example, can counteract the weight of a bow-mounted quiver by putting a side rod on the opposite side of the bow from the quiver. Target archers often use only one rod, too, to counteract the weight of their sight and rest. Or, they might put one rod on each side of the bow using a V-bar, which many feel makes the bow rock steady when they take aim.The best thing you can do when making a decision about stabilizers is to think about how and where you shoot – and what you shoot at – and then try different lengths and combinations to see what fits your needs.