Time to buy your first bow?

When the archery bug bites, it can send anxious beginners clamoring for the latest and greatest gear and equipment to try out their new sport, but the various shapes, colors, and accessories can easily overwhelm someone just looking for the basics to get started.

Knowing a few principles about archery makes the process of finding a starter bow much less intimidating. Most of choosing a proper bow depends on the physical build and interests of the person shooting it, with some personal and economic preferences also factored in.

Draw Length

When selecting a compound bow, draw length will be a major determiner of what options are available. Just as t-shirts are labeled, small, medium, or large, bows have a draw length that will usually correspond to the height of the shooter. Draw length is a measurement of how far the bowstring can be pulled back before it hits a mechanical stop.  Shooters shouldn’t pull the bow back further than the mechanical stop, which is what can happen if the draw length is too short. Too long of a draw is a bigger problem though, and can cause poor shooting form and physical distress to the muscles pulling the bow. When in doubt, opt for a shorter draw length rather than a longer one. Draw length is adjustable in most cases, so new shooters shouldn’t stress over tiny discrepancies. Just make sure the draw length is adjustable when you buy.

To calculate draw length, stretch both arms out comfortably and take a measurement of armspan. Be careful not to overextend the arms. Take the armspan measurement and divide by 2.5. The result is a good starting point for a draw length, although all people are different and it may need to undergo some minimal adjustment in the future.

When purchasing bows for children, remember that their armspan, especially for teenage boys, might change drastically over time, so bows with greater adjustability for a longer draw length might be a better choice than those with less adjustability.

Once draw length is determined, draw weight is a second thing to consider. Draw weight is set in poundage and essentially measures how much force is required to pull the bow back. Small children can usually only pull back 10 or 15 pounds, while a large man might be able to pull back more than 60 or 70 pounds. A greater draw weight means the arrow will fly with more force through the air toward the target.


Physical ability usually dictates what poundage is best for people, although there is another element to take into account: the bow’s purpose. If a person is considering using the bow for hunting, laws might require the hunter to have the bow set at a minimum poundage level to ensure a kill is clean and ethical.

Most states with draw weight requirements set minimum poundage for deer hunting around 35 or 40 pounds, which is usually well within the abilities of most grown men and women. To determine which poundage works best, the shooter should pull the bow back to full draw. If the arms are quivering and can’t hold the bow at full draw, then the poundage should be reduced.

A bow with a less aggressive cam is also recommended for beginners. The more aggressive a cam is, the more it will feel like a bow is pulling an arm out of the socket instead of easing back toward the wall.


Aside from the technical elements, economics also is typically a factor in what a person is looking to buy. Some bows cost well over $1,000, but a solid starter kit with accessories can be bought for as little as $200 or $300, with a mid-quality bow using costing around $400. Buying a used bow usually gives the archer’s pocket book a break, but also doesn’t come with warranties that brand new bows typically carry. Warranties can come in handy, especially when the buyer doesn’t know much about bow repair and isn’t as familiar with ways shooting can go wrong.

With a price range, draw length and ideal poundage in mind, a beginner is still likely to be greeted with some additional unfamiliar options. How many cams should the bow have? Do you want a bow that shoots faster or slower?

A single cam bow, that has an idler cam at the top and single cam at the bottom is usually easiest to tune. Binary cam bows that have two cams and hybrid cam systems are a bit more difficult.


As for speed, faster bows are usually ideal for 3-D target shooting where distances aren’t known. The extra speed provides a bit of compensation for yardage miscalculation. In target shooting speed isn’t as big a factor, and lesser speed and poundage can be beneficial, because slower arrows driven into the target with less force are easier to repeatedly remove than an arrow shot with more force. Hunters usually have a mixed preference. Some want every bit of speed and power they can find to drive arrows into game, but bows that are slower and have a longer brace height also have the benefits of catching on clothing less frequently and not being as much of a hassle in adverse conditions.

Brace height refers to the distance between the deepest section of the grip and the bowstring. Axle-to-axle measurement is also valuable for beginners to know. It measures the length between the two axles on the ends of the limbs. Knowing how axle-to-ale measurement impacts shooting comes in handy if the archer plans to shoot with fingers and a glove. Finger shooters typically need an axle-to-axle measurement of more than 38 inches. Those shooting with a mechanical release don’t have to make this as much of a consideration.

There are tons of additional questions first time archers will have when jumping in to the sport, so they shouldn’t be afraid to ask away to a customer service or sales rep. It is better to be cautious and curious before buying than making an uninformed decision and regretting it later. 

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