|May - June 2004
Volume 2, Number
Cover Photos Donald M. Jones
Back in the good old days of
hunting with a compound bow, bow technology was such that you really had to pull a lot of
draw weight to shoot any sort of fast arrow. In those days (I am talking about the
mid-1980s to early 1990s), it was not uncommon for the average bow hunter to shoot a bow
with a let-off of between 50 and 60 percent, use an aluminum arrow as thick as a tree
trunk tipped with a broadhead that together weighed between 550 and 650 grains, and pull
75 to 80 pounds of draw weight. If so, their raw arrow speed was a blistering
220 to 230 fps.
To wring all the performance possible out of
that bow, you had to shoot the longest power stroke possible. That means you had to shoot
a bow with the longest draw length you could pull and hold. (The longer the draw length,
the more energy the bow can store and transfer to the shaft, creating a faster arrow.)
Remember, these were the days when finding top-quality shooting instruction was almost
impossible. Most folks learned to shoot by the seat of their pants.
I remember those days all too well. As a
fledgling archer, I too tried to learn to shoot on my own. I did know enough to make sure
my bow-and-arrow setup was properly tuned, so at least my shafts were leaving the bow
straight. But the result was such poor shooting technique it took many years to eliminate
most of the bad habits. One of the worst was shooting a bow with a draw length that was
too long for me.
It was a macho thing, I guess. After years of
slaying dragons with a rifle, I thought that becoming a bow hunter who occasionally
killed something made me a superior woodsman to the legions of gun hunters out
there. Also, being young and strong, I tried pulling 80 pounds, which was way too much
draw weight for me, but darned if I was going to pull anything less! I also
guesstimated my draw length at 30 inches, which was way too long. Again, the
MF (Macho Factor) took over. Like pulling too much weight, I thought that telling people I
shoot a 30-inch arrow made me more of a real bow hunter.
We all shot fingers in those days, and in
reality, instead of employing proper shooting form, the too-long draw forced me to cock my
head awkwardly, making a consistent anchor point almost impossible to achieve. When trying
to shoot from the unnatural positions bow hunters find themselves in kneeling and
shooting under and around brush at elk, mule deer and wild hogs, or swaddled in heavy
winter clothes when seated in a tree stand I could hardly keep the bowstring off my
clothing. That I ever hit anything seems like a miracle to me today.
It took me years to learn that when it comes
to shooting an accurate arrow especially under actual hunting conditions a
shorter draw length is the key to happiness.
Most Important Measurement
The number one problem I see when people
buy a new bow is not setting the draw weight too high thats the number two
problem, though its setting their draw length incorrectly, said Derek
Phillips, field staff coordinator for Mathews Archery and one of the countrys top
competitive 3-D shooters and bow hunters. You never see it set too short; its
always too long. And thats a formula for mediocre shooting.
There are many reasons for this. For one,
unless you are an experienced archer, you dont really know how to determine your
exact draw length. Also, in this age of the speed is everything mentality,
even novice archers know the longer the draw length, the longer the bows power
stroke, which adds a few feet per second to their raw arrow speed. However, as Randy
Ulmer, one of the nations very best bow shots and bow hunters, told me one time,
A slow hit is better than a fast miss anytime. A negligible gain in arrow
speed is never worth throwing off your shooting form.
The Archery Trade Association (ATA) defines
draw length as the distance at full draw from the nocking point to a point 1 3/4
inches beyond the pivot point of the grip. This is your ATA draw length.
For bow hunting a good rule of thumb is to set the bows draw length slightly on the
short side, generally by 1/4 to 1/2 inch.
First, though, you must measure your true draw
length. The best way to do this is to pull a light draw weight bow to full draw with an
extra-long arrow on the bowstring, anchor it using the same anchor point youll use
when shooting and have a friend mark the shaft at the midpoint of the bow handle, where
the arrow rest hole has been drilled. (Archery pro shops have a special arrow for this
purpose.) Measure the shaft from that mark to the string groove on the arrows nock,
add 1 3/4 inches, and thats your draw length as specified by industry standards. And
remember, draw length is not arrow length; depending on the type of arrow rest
youre using, youll shoot arrows that are a bit longer or shorter than your
true draw length.
Draw length will vary according to whether or
not you shoot with a release aid or your fingers and can change slightly depending on the
type and model bow youre shooting. Youll also find that your draw length may
change over time, as you become more comfortable shooting compound bows in general. Most,
but not all, modern compound bows come with cams that permit variable draw length
settings, making it easy to set the bow to your exact measurements. On those that do not,
you have to use a specific cam for a specific draw length.
If all you did was shoot at targets with a
relatively low poundage bow while standing on level ground in a short-sleeve T-shirt in
nice weather, setting your draw length exactly right would be the ticket. Bow hunters
rarely have that luxury though. More commonly we shoot relatively heavy draw weights from
contorted body angles while wrapped in layers of bulky clothing.
Bow hunters realize the importance, and
difficulty, of keeping the bowstring off puffed-out jacket sleeves, collars and shirt and
coat fronts. The problem is exacerbated when shooting from a sitting position or at an
extreme downward angle, as we often do from a tree stand or from your knees or around a
corner, as we often do when spot-and-stalk hunting. Throw in the fact that when game
approaches and the adrenaline starts flowing, many bow hunters have a tendency to put a
choke hold on their riser, which causes the forearm to rotate inward toward the bowstring,
ad-ding accuracy-destroying torque and increasing the chance for string-to-clothing
contact at the shot. A draw length a smidgen short will help alleviate these problems
while also helping maintain a consistent shot-to-shot anchor point.
It will pay big dividends over the long haul
to visit your local archery pro shop, have your draw length measured by a professional,
then set your own hunting bow accordingly. Youd think that 1/2 inch difference
wouldnt be significant, but trust me on this one. When you begin to draw shorter,
youll definitely shoot better.