S & H Icaro ILF Riser
We get asked a lot of questions here at Archers Review, all sorts of things, but one that pops up time and again is "What's the biggest advancement in archery over the last century or so?". I suspect the answer is obvious to most people, one thing jumping out over all the others, the compound bow was a massive advancement in archery, for literally thousands of years a bow was basically the same, a mix of natural materials, for the most part wood, some form of sting and a form that while more curved in some than others was essentially the same across the world. But then again, would the compound bow be as popular or even exist were it not for the advancement of modern arrow materials, you certainly wouldn't want to be shooting wooden arrows from today's ultra fast compound bows. However here at Archers Review we are more of a traditional bent and so talk of these fancy items is somewhat off limits, so what then would it be on the more traditional side, the use of more modern materials has certainly changed bow performance dramatically, but regardless of the current methods and multi laminate of limbs these days, a laminated bow are certainly older than 100 years, it's only better glues and materials that have seen the improvement. It's possibly better to ask the question in a slightly different way, "What advancement has been the most useful to the archer", if you ask that question then there is a clear winner in my view, Grand Prix fit limbs.
Now I'm sure many of you may well be asking, what are Grand Prix limbs, well they are better known as ILF, Hoyt first introduced their Grand Prix fit limbs back in the 1980s, they were never intended to be a universal fitting, they were simply a mechanism for Hoyt themselves to provide different riser and limb ranges. However the design proved popular and other manufacturers began to provide ILF fittings to their limbs and risers (with admittedly differing results due to slightly different tolerances). This allowed the archer to mix and match the best riser with the best limbs for their purposes, or to purchase a riser and then upgrade limbs in a far easier manner than was previously possible. ILF limb fittings have been pretty standard on target set ups for some considerable time, with only really basic bows not offering it as an option to keep the costs down, however we are starting to see more and more manufacturers offering traditional bows with ILF fitting.
One such manufacturer is S & H, based in Moron de la Frontera in Southern Spain who produce a range of traditional ILF fit risers. Other manufacturers have tended to simply make a shorted version of an Olympic riser, with all the various fixtures and fittings, but not so with S & H the riser is 100% traditional with a very simplified riser that gets back to the very roots of traditional archery. S & H are new entrant to the bow market having only started making bows under that name since 2018. They produce risers only and all of their efforts go in to making the riser as good a possible, it's certainly to their advantage with many manufacturers focusing on both limbs and risers and it's certainly true that those doing so tend to do a better job of one or the other. While S & B do hold stock they see themselves as very much in the custom market, producing risers to customers specifications.
We were very kindly loaned an S & H riser by Andrew Lehane, and a its a true work of art. This particular riser is 21" but it is also available in 19", length will come down to personal preference but shorter risers are always popular from a hunting perspective when shooting out in the field. The riser is made from a high density wood, Bocote and phenolic-cotton micarta with a yellow accent stripe on the back of the riser (back in bow parlance being the section furthest away when held). The sight window is relatively short at just under 8cm (3" in old money), depending on your aiming method this could be a plus or a minus, however there are options to increase the window on the 19" and 21" versions of the riser. The immediate impression you get when you see the riser is it's size it's very large when compared to most risers, traditional or other wise, there has been a trend to make smaller and lighter risers in recent years, but this harks back to the larger size that was popular in bows like the Les Howis or older Border bows. Back then it was out of necessity to get the desired rigidity using wood, but modern bows have slimmed down with materials such as phenolic to add weight and stability. It's also rather weighty at 1.4Kg/3lb 20oz (without limbs), we will come on to the benefit of that later when we start shooting, but it feels nice.
In terms of features it's, as mentioned previously, limited, literally a shelf, small sight window and then the ILF fittings. The fittings are CNC machined and differ to most you might see on other bows, the limb pins, are slotted in to a key hole shaped groove which limits the lateral movement, many ILF limbs have some sort of ridge at the slot end but that is not the case here. There is a single bolt, made of stainless steel, which the limbs grooves fit in to, this gives a really nice look with the limbs almost floating on the riser.. As with many ILF risers when strung the tension holds the limbs firmly in place, but unstrung they feel less unconnected that you might usually see. The aesthetics of the bow suit a nice clean set of limbs, in much the same way that this riser is a more traditional take on ILF there are now limb manufacturers producing some more traditional friendly limbs, clean and simple. For the review we were using a set of Uukha EX1 Evo2 (a bit of a mouth full), we won't dwell too much on those here, but they are monolith carbon and these ones the more garish with loads of labels. Uukha so sell a hunting focused limb, draw weight rated for shorter risers with minimal branding, depending on your preferences they may be a better choice, but regardless these are nice limbs.
I mentioned earlier that S&H offer a full customizable service, the riser is available in three lengths, 17", 19" and 21", the 17" version offers a small window only, however on both the 19" and 21" the window can be cut to small, medium or long. Other customization options include wood choice, grip position, bushings for stabilizers and bow quivers as well as accent strip choice and laser engraving. There is also the option to change one of the limb bolts to accommodate shooting from an elevated rest. The limbs bolts can be wound in or out to allow for tiller adjustment, these are then held in position via the limbs when strung. There is no limb alignment adjustment, however they are guaranteed straight and CNC machined to ultra fine tolerances.
At this point in the review we would talk about the shooting experience, which we will do, however as this is a review of a riser specifically the usual talk of speed and smoothness will take a back seat to the riser itself, something we tend to not spend too much time on with other reviews. The first impression when strung and ready to shoot is the weight, make no mistake this is a heavy riser, far heavier than I'm used to shooting and up there with a fully loaded Olympic set up, at least in terms of feel given there is no additional stabilization. It really did take a bit of getting used to, but once I had the benefits of that weight really started to shine. It is super stable and feels very solid when at full draw, this is aided by the hand position, which on this bow felt really comfortable, it begged to be held and shot. The throat also matches the large feel of the riser generally, but again this gave a great hand position, there was no messing around to find the best way to hold it, there really was a positive and comfortable position.The heavy weight meant that hand shock was non-existent, of course that was in part the over all set up but the riser really did play it's part. I've not mentioned it as yet but the riser is true centre shot, this allows for the arrow to be lined directly with the string and means that a wide spine range can be shot, offering the opportunity to tune the arrows to the bow and shoot a stiffer spine than you might normally.
I have used the riser with a number of limb combinations over the month long test period, shooting it on numerous occasions. Every set up was stable and a joy to shoot and I had no issue at all using lots of different manufacturers ILF limbs.
If you are in the market for a traditional based ILF bow then this really needs to be on your list. The more technical aspects, i.e. the ILF fittings and centre shot meld the traditional with the modern without sacrificing the traditional aesthetic. Obviously you can make your own mind up but for me this really is a stunning looking riser, but more than that it is a joy to shoot. The weight will mean that it won't be for everyone and make no mistake it is very heavy in the hand, but that makes for a stable platform to work with, the rest is up to you.