By Jay Strangis
A bow that fits improves your shooting.
Whether you are new to archery or have been in the sport for years, one of the best things you can do for your shooting is to insure your bow fits properly. You’re going to be a much better shooter at crunch time with a bow that fits.
It was years before I realized my bow’s draw length was too long. This is a common problem, one best recognized by frequent string slap on the forearm and only “fair” accuracy. A bow with a shorter draw length improved my shooting dramatically.
If you’re new to the sport, let’s assume you’ve already determined which eye is dominant and whether you are a right or left hand shooter. Let’s also assume you’ve chosen a bow with a draw weight that’s comfortable for you (but more about that later).
1) How to Determine Your Draw Length
Determining draw length isn’t an exact science because everyone is built differently. You may be 5′ 8″, but have the arms of an ape, or you may be 6′ 2″ with short arms (e.g. Payton Manning), so formulas based on height don’t work. A better formula suggests measuring “wingspan” – your outstretched arms from fingertip to fingertip, then dividing that distance by 2.5. This should get you close.
Don’t get hung up on the length of draw as if it were something to envy, as if longer were better. The advantage of a longer draw length is a longer power stroke, drawing more speed out of a given bow. The disadvantage is that a longer draw means the arrow will be in contact with the string longer, making a bow less forgiving. That’s why short-draw archers can handle aggressive bows with shorter brace heights better than long-draw archers can.
2) Check Your Draw Length on a Real Bow
Once you’ve estimated your draw length, it’s time to get behind the bow. The bow should feel comfortable and natural in your hand and just as comfortable at full draw. Compound bows, unlike recurve bows, have distinct back walls – the farthest point the string can be drawn. If a bow you are testing feels mushy at full draw, choose another model. A soft back wall erodes accuracy because it allows draw length to vary from shot to shot.
With your release aid attached to the string (or string loop), draw the bow until you hit the back wall. Your left arm (if you are right handed) should be slightly bent at the elbow. If your arm is bent too much, your draw is too short. If your elbow is locked straight, your draw is too long. Locking that elbow also invites string slap.
Your right arm is a good indicator of proper draw length too. Ask someone to stand behind you to judge the angle of your right forearm (the arm you draw with). Your right forearm should line up with the arrow, with the elbow pointed straight back. If the forearm is angling outward (to the right) your draw is too short. If the forearm is pointing inward (your left) your draw is too long. With the proper draw length, all this should come together in a comfortable, natural, unforced, manner.
3) Establish Your Anchor Point
Reference points will become important parts of your regular anchor points, so it’s important to check and establish them now. With your face forward, not cocked sideways, notice where the knuckle on your draw hand touches your ear or cheek, and whether the bowstring ticks the end of your nose or crosses the corner of your mouth. These are important reference points as you establish your anchor point. Having a consistent anchor point is critical to shot-to-shot accuracy.
4) What About Heavy Bows?
Perhaps you’re enamored with speed or power and you’d like to shoot a heavy bow. Most adult males shoot between 55 and 65 pounds of draw weight with compound bows. Some shooters opt for 70 pounds and more. More draw weight means more speed, but a tipping point comes where the struggle to draw the bow will affect your abilities as a hunter.
I’ve long been a proponent of choosing bow weights that don’t wear you out. To me, the 60-pound compound is heavy enough to handle any animal in North America. Recent improvements in efficiency and speed among compound bows increase my confidence in that viewpoint.
Cold muscles stiffened from a long sit on stand and nerves wracked by the excitement of a big deer at close range can limit the body’s ability to draw the bow. That’s not the time to struggle. A comfortable bow weight assures a smooth draw at the moment of truth.
5) Testing Your Bow-Drawing Strength
Still, some guys like the monster 80-pound bows that generate enough horsepower to take out a house. Many of those shooters couldn’t pass a simple test of arm strength that involves sitting flat on the floor with legs outstretched and drawing the bow without raising the bow arm. That’s a great starting point for evaluating your bow-drawing strength. If you struggle to draw and hold a bow, it will affect your accuracy negatively.
Most bows have adjustable draw weights. Factories ship bows at the high end of these draw weights. Bows perform best at or close to their maximum, but by backing the limbs off evenly, the bow can be shot at lighter draw weights. If you’re a new shooter and order a bow with a 50 to 60-pound draw, back the limbs down for practice and build arm strength before working up to its maximum weight.
Whether you’re a new shooter or one that’s been at the archery game for years, take a close look at how your bow fits. Not only will a bow that fits promote better overall accuracy, it will also make you a better killing machine at the moment of truth.
Jay Strangis served as Editor of Petersen’s Bowhunting for 15 years. Jay has bowhunted across North American and on three continents, taking many trophy animals along the way. He has a special passion for spot-and-stalk mule deer hunting.
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