By P.J. Reilly
Are you shooting the correct poundage on your compound bow?
There’s nothing sweeter than watching a nock disappear into a buck’s vitals. When you see that, the odds are pretty good you’ll be picking up that deer’s rack before too long.
Conversely, the sight of a nock flopping up and down as a buck runs off carrying your arrow evokes a sickening feeling.
Bowhunters will do just about anything to avoid the sight of a shot that results in poor penetration. All too often, that means hunting with a bow that draws too heavy.
It’s an easy mistake since higher poundage certainly results in more arrow penetration. Just because you can get a bow all the way back, however, doesn’t mean the draw weight isn’t too heavy.
The biggest downfall of drawing a bow that’s too heavy is a guaranteed loss of accuracy. You’re much better off being able to place an arrow exactly where you want it than relying on kinetic energy to blast through hide, tissue and bone.
In many states, the minimum draw weight for hunting whitetails is 40 pounds. Place your arrow in the right spot, and 40 pounds is sufficient for taking down even the biggest whitetail. I read an internet post last year about a woman killing a huge bull elk with a compound bow set at 40 pounds.
Accuracy — not poundage — is the key to success with a bow and arrow.
Most bowhunters already know that, but it’s still tempting to push the limits for draw weight. Even for the best shooter with perfectly matched equipment, every hunting shot has the potential for error. Deer often move, making it nice to know your arrow has enough oomph to blast through a rib or shoulder bone.
One of my bows is set at 70 pounds and shoots a 375-grain arrow that carries about 83 foot-pounds of kinetic energy. At 60 pounds, the KE in that same arrow falls to about 71 foot-pounds. Both are still well above the recommended range of 42 to 65 foot-pounds of KE for bowhunting whitetails.
But the extra 12 foot-pounds achieved at the 70-pound draw weight might be key if I hit a buck square in the shoulder. In short, I believe the best draw weight for bowhunting deer is the heaviest you can comfortably shoot.
So how do you know if you’re drawing too much?
One indication is that you have to arch your back when you draw. Arching is when you point the bow skyward and draw as you lower the bow. Arching gives you better leverage. You can push more weight up with your bow arm than you can straight out from your body.
Also, if you push your hips into the bow and collapse your upper torso away from it to gain leverage, you’re probably pulling too much weight. You shouldn’t have to contort your body to get the string back to full draw.
There’s a simple test that resembles an oft-experienced scenario from the hunting woods.
The hunting experience goes like this: You’re in a treestand when a buck approaches to within range. You draw your bow and take aim, but before you can squeeze off a shot, the buck steps behind a tree that blocks his vitals. You let down the bowstring, and then the buck steps into the clear again. Immediately, you have to come to full draw.
So here’s the test: Hold your bow straight out in front of you. Try to draw the string straight back. Don’t arch your back or point the bow up at the sky. When you get to full draw, let the bowstring down very slowly, as if you’re trying to do it without being seen by the wary eyes of a mature whitetail. As soon as you let down all the way, immediately draw it back again without raising the bow toward the sky.
How do your arms and shoulders feel? Can you take aim and release a perfect shot? If so, you’re good. If you’re quivering from the strain, you should consider backing down the weight of your bow.
When you’re doing this test, you’re probably in a mild climate standing on flat ground with plenty of room to move. It’s a different world when it’s cold and you’re 20 feet up in a treestand or sitting on a stool in a ground blind.
The cold, for one, saps your strength. According to a Yale University article on environmental health and safety, cold temperatures make muscles less flexible. The less flexible they are, the less power they can generate. So if you’re already struggling to draw a bow when it’s warm, you might not be able to draw it at all when the temperature is below freezing.
In early spring of 2014, I traveled to the Northwest Territories to bowhunt for musk ox. The air temperature was minus 20 degrees with a wind chill of minus 40. That’s extreme. But knowing those were the conditions, I turned my bow down 10 pounds, from 74 pounds to 64. I killed a musk ox with no problem.
Bowhunters who primarily use ground blinds should practice drawing while sitting in a chair. You’ve got less leverage from a seated position, and you might find that a weight that’s manageable for you while standing is a struggle while you’re sitting down. Use the same chair you take hunting since seat height affects the feel of draw weight. The shorter the seat, the tougher it is to draw.
Arching can be a big problem when you’re hunting from a blind. There might not be enough room to raise your bow skyward and keep your arrow from hitting a support pole or blind material.
Here’s another hunting scenario: A buck steps into your shooting lane, and you start to draw your bow. As you’re drawing, the buck turns to face you or takes a quick step behind a sapling that blocks his vitals. The buck’s eyes are in full view and he’s only 10 yards away, so it’s probable that if you let down your bow, he will peg you. You’ve got to hold it at full draw.
Here’s the test: Go to the range and draw your bow. Hold it at full draw for one minute before you shoot. Are you still able to be accurate? Try two minutes. If you can’t hold your bow back for an extended period, or if you can’t do it without shaking like a leaf, the weight is probably too much.
If you can’t bring yourself to drop your bow poundage, keep in mind that you can practice and work into a higher weight.
Drawing a bow is a combination of strength and coordination. The motion required to draw a bow uses muscles we use every day, but it uses them in a unique combination. There isn’t much we do in life that precisely imitates the act of drawing a bow, so the coordination involved is quite foreign to new shooters.
I have seen big, burly men who either struggled to draw my 74-pound bow, or they couldn’t draw it at all. It’s not that they don’t have the strength. It’s that they don’t yet have the muscle coordination. If they start out at a lower weight and develop the muscle coordination associated with drawing, they certainly will be able to increase their draw weight over time.
Established shooters just need to build muscle to increase draw weight. Pushups, pull-ups, bench presses, seated rows, bicep curls, tricep presses, lat pull-downs and shoulder presses will increase upper body strength.
Keep shooting as you train with weights. As you get stronger, increase your draw weight incrementally — just a pound or two at a time. All compound bows are different, but one full clockwise turn of the limb bolts usually equates to an increase of about 3 pounds of draw weight. Use a bow scale to track your progress. To keep your bow’s timing correct, be sure to turn both the top and bottom limb bolts precisely the same amount.
They say adrenaline in extremely tense situations can make people much stronger than normal. Well, your adrenaline is sure to be pumping when a big buck is approaching your stand or ground blind. But at the same time, the sight of that big buck can also make your knees and arms go weak.
Wouldn’t it be nice to know that your bow’s draw weight will not be a concern at the moment of truth? Get the draw weight right, and the bucks will fall.
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This article was published in the July 2015 edition of Buckmasters Whitetail Magazine. Subscribe today to have Buckmasters delivered to your home.