By P.J. Reilly
Why your compound bow should fit even better than a glove.
So you’ve caught the bowhunting bug? Prepare for a lifelong addiction.
Ask a bowhunter to name the three things they love most about it, and he or she will probably give you 50. It’s that exciting. You get to see deer acting like deer rather than simply running from gun blasts. The weather is superb. It’s challenging. I could go on, but you get the picture.
The first things you’ll need to dive into the wonderful world of bowhunting are, of course, a bow and arrows. While crossbows are becoming universally accepted in bow seasons, we’re going to stick to compound bows for this discussion. They’re still the most common choice among bowhunters.
Compound bows come in all shapes and sizes. Figuring out what’s right for you – what fits – is critical. Shooting a bow that doesn’t fit is a sure path to endless aggravation.
PICK IT UP
As you search for a bow that fits, start simply. Go to your local bow shop and pick up a few. I don’t recommend beginners buying a bow online, but if you do, find a friend who has the model you’re interested in. Hold the bow and see how it feels, and shoot it if your dimensions are close to your buddy’s. Many bow-fitting problems start when a bowhunter doesn’t get to feel a bow in his hands before buying it.
All bows are different. Some are short, and some are long. Some have fat grips, while others have slim ones. Some bows are heavier than others.
Pick up a bow and hold it in front of you. Does it feel good? You want one that’s not too heavy, not too light. Although you can change out a grip on some bows, you want one with a grip that feels good in your hand — not too fat, not too skinny.
When gauging the weight of a bare bow, remember you’ll be adding accessories. The sight, stabilizer and quiver add weight. You can get used to the weight by shooting a lot, but if you pick up a bare bow that feels like it’s going to break your wrist, go with something lighter.
Look at a row of new bows from multiple manufacturers and you’ll immediately notice the differences in length. Some are short while others are long. When you find a bow with the correct draw length, almost any bow, no matter how long or short, will feel good.
But that doesn’t mean every bowhunter will be happy with a particular bow.
For starters, long bows are more forgiving than short ones. The shorter the bow, the more flaws in your shooting form tend to be magnified. That’s why bows intended solely for target shooting are so much longer than hunting bows.
Consider this: The Mathews Creed XS, the company’s flagship hunting bow for 2014, measures 28 inches axle to axle. Meanwhile, the Conquest Apex 7, which is Mathews’ top-shelf target bow, measures 38 inches long. Short bows have big benefits for hunters, especially in maneuverability and capability of being shot from less than perfect positions (sitting, kneeling, etc.).
Generally, bowhunters with draw lengths of 29 inches and up are going to find longer hunting bows fit them better. That’s because the angle of the string at full draw is affected by two things, draw length and bow length. The angle gets steeper the farther the string is pulled away from the riser, and also when the two end points of the string are closer together.
Steep string angles exert more pressure on arrow nocks, which can affect accuracy. They also pull a peep sight farther from the shooter’s eye, which can be a problem in low-light situations.
That brings us to draw length, the most important aspect of a bow’s fit. If you get it wrong, you’ll never be as accurate as you could be shooting a bow with the proper draw length.
To determine your draw length, stand with your arms extended out to either side and your palms facing forward. Spread your arms; don’t stretch them. Have someone measure from one middle finger tip to the other, then divide that figure by 2.5. That will give you your draw length. Or you can go to a bow shop, and they’ll check your draw length using a bow with a measuring device attached.
Whatever you come up with, don’t think that number is written in stone. Believe it or not, 29 inches isn’t the same measurement from one bow company to the next. A bow with a 29-inch draw from one company might fit the same as a 28.5-incher from another. You have to draw a bow to know if it fits.
A simple way to determine if a bow’s draw length fits properly is to put a kisser button 1.5 inches above the center of the nocking point. Stand up straight with your feet spread shoulder width apart. Draw the bow, keeping your head and body straight. Don’t lock your bow arm elbow as far as you can extend it; you want a slight bend. If you do all that and the bow’s draw length is right, the kisser button should hit the back edge of your smile line when you anchor the string at full draw.
If you have to shift your head away from the bow to reach the kisser, then the draw is too long. If you have to move your head toward the bow, then it’s too short.
A draw that’s too short will be uncomfortable to shoot, and you’ll likely notice right away. But bowhunters often choose a draw length that’s too long. They don’t realize they’re craning their necks away from the bow at full draw, or that they shouldn’t be anchoring as far back as they do.
Accuracy suffers when you draw too far. You can look in a mirror as you draw to figure out if a bow’s draw fits you, or have someone at your local bow shop watch you draw and tell you what they see. Almost everyone has a camera on a mobile phone, so have a buddy take a picture.
Drawing too much weight is one of the most common problems with fitting a bow. Everyone wants to pull heavy weight – whether it’s for macho reasons or because we think we need a lot of draw weight to punch an arrow through a deer. It also could be that a novice bow shooter doesn’t realize how much harder it is to draw a bow in the woods under stressful conditions compared to standing on level ground in a shop or freshly mowed backyard.
If you hit a deer in the right place with an arrow tipped with a sharp broadhead, 35 pounds of draw weight is plenty to get the job done.
When you consider draw weight, don’t think about whether you can draw once and take a fast shot. You have to practice to develop accuracy. Can you draw your bow 20 or 30 times in a row and be as steady on the 30th shot as you were on the first?
Also, deer have a funny habit of moving just when you get to full draw. If you let down your bow, there’s a good chance you’ll be spotted. You’re better off to stay at full draw, but you can do that only if you can handle the weight.
It can get pretty cold during archery seasons across North America, and that saps your strength. A bow you draw with minimal difficulty when it’s 80 degrees might be really tough to get back when it’s 20.
Regardless of the conditions, you should be able to point your bow at a target and draw the string straight back to your anchor. If you have to point the bow toward the sky to get the string back, you’re pulling too much weight.
Most bows come with draw weights that can be adjusted within a 10-pound range. A bow performs best at the top of its weight range. That is, if you shoot at 60 pounds, you want a bow with a weight range of 50-60 pounds, rather than 60-70 pounds.
Arrows flex as they leave a bow. You don’t want them to flex too much or be too stiff. How much an arrow flexes is a result of its spine, overall length, tip weight and the draw weight of the bow.
Arrow manufacturers have charts that recommend proper spines based on your setup variables. Stick to those charts.
When trying to squeeze out a few extra feet per second, don’t confuse arrow spine with arrow weight. If the chart says you should shoot an arrow with a 340 spine, switching to one with a 400 spine isn’t necessarily going to help you gain speed, and it’s highly likely to shoot poorly.
While we’re on the subject of arrow weight, the minimum recommendation from the International Bowhunting Organization is 5 grains per pound of draw weight. So if you’re shooting a bow set at 70 pounds, you want at least a 350-grain arrow. That’s the minimum. For hunting whitetails, you’re better off with 400-450 grains.
Light objects slow down quicker than heavy objects. It’s best to have an arrow that is light enough to fly fast, yet heavy enough to punch through bone.
Bowhunters should be more concerned with kinetic energy than arrow speed. Explained simply, kinetic energy is the force of an arrow’s impact measured in foot-pounds. You can calculate it by multiplying the speed of your arrow squared, times the arrow weight. Divide that result by 450240 to get the kinetic energy.
Easton recommends a minimum of 25 foot-pounds of KE for hunting whitetails. Anything higher, of course, improves penetration. A 420-grain arrow flying at 290 feet per second – totally possible with today’s bows – would generate 78 foot-pounds of KE. That’s a solid punch.
As for arrow length, the arrow must extend beyond the front of the rest when you’re at full draw. That’s as short as you can go. To eliminate potential problems with broadheads getting hung up on the bow’s shelf or the riser face, cut your arrows so they extend to the front edge of the riser at full draw.
The more time you spend getting your bow to fit right, the more you’ll enjoy shooting, and the more accurate those shots will be.
You won’t regret taking the extra time, but the whitetails surely will.
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This article was published in the July 2014 edition of Buckmasters Whitetail Magazine. Subscribe today to have Buckmasters delivered to your home.