What size compound bow do I need?

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Have you had a look at the bows but go confused by the different bow sizes? The aim of this guide is to teach you what size bow you need. It will show you how to take your draw length and determine what length bow you should be shooting from.

Bowhunting is a technical activity. In order to stay safe and successful in the field, archers need to understand a variety of data points and measurements, especially in their compound bow. Having a bow that is too light, heavy, short, or long can wreak havoc on your shot.

A common question I get asked is “what size bow do I need?” It is very easy and only takes a couple of minutes to figure out what size bow is perfect for you and your needs. One thing I need to make very clear is that it’s very important that you get the right sized bow.

Having the right compound hunting bow size is key to making the most of your archery experience. By understanding what goes into sizing a bow, along with the necessary measurements, you can hone in your search and take aim with confidence this season.

Draw length and draw weight – why do they matter?

When talking about compound bows, we need to think about 2 measurements at all times: draw length and draw weight. They measure how far you can draw back a bow and how much force is needed from you to get to that length. Having the correct draw length and draw weight for your compound bow is an absolute must.

The draw length of a compound bow describes the distance at full draw from the nocking point on the string to the throat of the grip (the deepest part of the grip) plus 1.75 inches. If you are in an archer’s shop nearby you, you can ask the local technician to help you find out your exact draw length. If you order your bow online, there is a way you can find this out at home: first, spread your arms outward from your side to form a “T” with your palms facing forward. Next, measure your wingspan from the tips of your middle fingers. Divide this number by 2.5 and you should be relatively close to your actual draw length.

Draw weight describes the amount of force required to draw the string back, but the energy required to reach full draw will change throughout the cycle. This is due to the geometry of the cam system that allows for maximum energy storage and comfortability in holding full draw. Draw weight is taken in the middle of your draw cycle, where the energy needed will be the highest.

Compound bows have set draw weights. A compound bow with a 50-pound draw weight at 28 inches will remain at 50 pounds if it’s adjusted to a 26-inch draw length. Compound bows can be adjusted to different draw weights by a bow technician. Compound bows typically have about a 10-pound adjustment range, but some adjust over a huge range in draw weight and draw length.

Your comfort level determines your draw weight. You should be able to repeatedly draw back without becoming fatigued, yet still, have enough energy stored in your bow to ethically and effectively take down game. This is especially important when pursuing big game species.

A compound bow uses cables and cams to store energy and reduce the holding weight at full draw. This reduction in holding weight at full draw is called “let-off,” and is calculated as a percentage of the overall draw weight. For example, a 40-pound bow with a 75 percent let-off would be ten pounds at full draw. Let-off is especially helpful for competition or hunting because it allows shooters to hold a bow at full draw – and place an accurate shot – longer than if they were using another type of bow.

If you are still unsure, you can always try a lower poundage bow and work your way up or down until you find your comfort level. In addition, check with your state Fish and Wildlife Commission on any minimum draw weight regulations prior to hunting.

Why does this all matter?

A correct draw length and draw weight will affect first and foremost the performance of your compound bow. The safety aspect is another important one, you will want to avoid having a bow that you need to extend your reach too much or use an amount of force that doesn’t feel comfortable to you.

A long draw length will mean that you will tend to compensate for this by leaning your head back so that you can still see through the peep sight. You can damage your gear by doing that as well as yourself. By overextending your draw length, your inner part of the elbow may intersect the path of the string when you release it, thus injuring yourself.

A compound bow that’s too heavy can also inhibit your hunting skills. If your bow is too heavy to draw back, a typical tendency is to arch the bow toward the sky to use the downward force to reach full draw. This can compromise your shooting form, leading to inconsistent shooting and potential safety concerns.

In contrast, being “under-bowed” can also be cause for concern. Too short of a draw length can leave you with floating anchor points, sacrificing accuracy and consistency. Also, a low draw weight can be inefficient in placing a clean shot on your target. Not only can this allow your target to evade your efforts, but it can also potentially leave the animal wounded and in distress. The end game in compound bow hunting is to harvest, not harm.

Other measurements that matter

Axle to axle length

While axle-to-axle length isn’t a physical part of a bow, it is something commonly referenced when talking about bows.  Commonly referred to as “ATA” length, this is the distance between the axles that run through the cams and limbs while the bow is at rest.

Most flagship bows these days seem to have about a 30″- 33″ ATA length. Most tree stand hunters will prefer this length and possibly something a little longer as well. And most ground blind hunters and people that hunt out west where there’s more hiking and climbing will prefer a more compact bow, usually around 27″ – 30″ axle to axle.

Many target archers prefer using a bow with a longer ATA length, anywhere from 38″ – 42″ seems to be the norm. The reason they use a longer bow is that a bow with a longer ATA length will generally be more stable when at full draw. So in return, a smaller bow might be more compact and easier to lug around on a hunt, but you are losing a little bit of stability when choosing a bow that has a smaller ATA.

Brace height

Measured as the distance between the throat of the bow grip (the deepest part) and the string, the brace height is often used as an indicator of speed and forgiveness. 

Bow’s with short brace heights (under 6 ½ inches) are generally considered less forgiving, as they can be more sensitive to flaws in the archer’s form.  Bows with longer brace heights, those great than 6 ½ inches, are referred to as more forgiving and easier to shoot.

With these simple tips mastered, you should have no problem nailing your shots next time you shoot a bow. Just make sure you follow this simple guide and you’ll be able to enjoy a lot more your next hunting trip. Stay safe and happy hunting!