Choosing the Right Bow

Choosing the Right Bow

I have been lucky enough in my life go through the fitting process of selecting a new bow on several occasions. The first time I purchased a bow, I went to a large hunting and fishing retailer and told them what I wanted. Nobody ever questioned my decision or made any other recommendations. The reality was that I had no idea what I needed, and the choice I made was based on the money I had in my pocket. Next, they fitted me to the bow, and 30 minutes later I walked out of the store with a new bow. What I got was what I asked for, but what I got in the field was “just okay” results. I did not know any better; I just thought that this was the way it was done. 

However, the next time I went bow shopping, I wised up. I visited my local archery pro shop. I told the staff what I was looking for in a bow, and they followed it up by asking me numerous questions about what I planned to use the bow for and how much I was looking to spend. Next, I shot five or six different types of bows that fit my budget from nationally-recognized companies before I finally chose a bow.   

I chose the bow based on the way it felt in my hands.  The bow spoke to me: it had a smooth draw and lots of speed. Then a certified G5 staff member fitted the bow and its accessories to me. This process took about three and half hours. While it took a long time, this type of service produced phenomenal results, and I left the pro shop a satisfied customer. The results in the field have also been impressive. I now return to my local pro shop for all of my hunting needs. I might have to pay a dollar or two more over the large chain stores for some things, but I have a great relationship with the pro shop staff, and they go out of their way to look out for my best interests.

There are many different types of bows on the market today, but choosing one is not an easy undertaking. The bow-manufacturing industry has been flooded with new innovations and developments in the last decade. Compound bows have gone through many alterations in appearance and design, with a number of drastic changes occurring in the past few years. Justifying the purchase of one bow over another these days requires more than just a large wallet filled with greenbacks and plastic: it requires time, patience, research, and knowledgeable staff. Fortunately, there are a few guidelines and procedures to follow that will help you simplify the process. As I stated before, they all start at your local pro shop. 

Choosing the latest advancements in archery hunting begins with a decision to shoot a certain type and brand of bow. Draw length, draw weight, accuracy, wheel and cam design, brace height, let-off, speed, and price are all things to take into account when selecting a particular bow. Other factors to consider are its use. Will it be a hunting bow or a target bow? If it is going to be a hunting bow, what type of animals will you be targeting? Do you primarily hunt from the ground or from a tree stand? Will the majority of your shooting be indoors or out? Will it require a camouflage finish or not? 

Once you have come to these conclusions, the next step is to visit a local pro shop or surf your favorite web sites to obtain more information. A bow must “fit” its shooter. Having a qualified individual measure your draw length is the most important aspect of deciding to purchase a particular bow. Most bows offer multiple draw length options and adjustments. Your local bow shop professionals have a vested interest in your hunting success. The happier you are, the more likely you are to return for future purchases.  

Draw weight is another matter of importance. Draw weights are adjustable and allow for various settings in 3- to 5-pound increasing and decreasing increments. Peak draw weights normally range between 45 and 90 pounds. What draw weight you choose largely depends on what types of animals you plan to hunt. Taking the time to shoot several bows will provide answers, and can help determine the significance of each of the aforementioned considerations. You should be able to sit in a chair with your feet off the floor and draw the bow smoothly. If you can’t, you need to reduce your draw weight.

I cannot emphasize enough the importance of shooting several different bows. You cannot determine the feel of a bow unless you shoot it. You need to shoot several bows before picking one to take home. Find one that fits you. You will know when you have found the right one.    

The current trend in manufacturing designs is to create bows with short axle-to-axle dimensions, reduced mass weight, low brace heights, and high let-offs. This is a result of the number of hunters that are now hunting from tree stands.  Many companies have shied away from producing bows that feature round wheels, moderate let-offs, or measure over 40 inches from axle-to-axle. This is an indirect result of the present demand for more compact bows that possess the ability to boost arrow velocities, increase kinetic energy levels, and extend downrange efficiency.  In laymen’s terms, people want bows that can drop big game out to 50 yards away from them.  Let me tell you, today’s bows do it with ease.   

Of all the different makes and models of bows in existence, compounds certainly offer the widest variety of choices for today’s archer. Single-cam string and cable harness configurations, split limbs, and ultra-modern risers forged from high strength multi-composite alloys are just a few of the available upgrades available to the hunter today.   

There are many advantages to owning one of the new modern bows. As mentioned previously, split-limb and single-cam models significantly reduce mass weight. This quality is beneficial to those adventurous hunters who hike into remote backcountry in search of elk, sheep, moose, and Mule deer. Also, in comparison to their two-cam and two-wheel counterparts, single-cam bows are relatively easier to tune and maintain. 

In addition, the lightweight aluminum and carbon material used in the limbs, handles and risers, and the fabric used in the strings and cables of new age bows contribute to overall speed and weight reduction. If speed and weight reduction are the determining factors, choose your bow accordingly. These types of bows are better suited to those who utilize a shooting release, due to the sharp angle created in the string when a short-limbed bow is fully drawn. 

On the other side of the equation, longer axle-to-axle bows are more accurate and forgiving, although this trend is starting to change with ongoing improvements in bow design. If the main concern is supreme accuracy, choose a bow that offers a longer brace height, a moderate to low let-off, and has as long of an axle-to-axle length as possible.  A low to moderate let-off will also yield more accuracy. 

Compound bows have one distinct advantage over all other bows: let-off. Let-off is measured by a percentage of the draw weight that is reduced when the wheels or cams roll over at or near full draw. During this process, a fraction of the peak draw weight is decreased or “let-off.” The amount of let-off will not only affect accuracy, but will also affect the personal satisfaction of the shooter, and quite possibly, trophy book consideration. Much controversy has arisen from the limitations that the Pope and Young Club has placed on the amount of let-off a bow can possess. 65 is the cut-off point. Any amount of let-off over 65 percent disqualifies an animal from being entered into the archery record book. Some bows offer higher let-offs in the 75 to 80 percent range. 

Be aware that a legitimately harvested trophy may not be eligible for record book recognition if the bow you choose has a let-off that is prohibited by the club. 

Though the Pope and Young Club currently lists animals taken with bows having a higher let-off than 65 percent, an asterisk is placed next to the name of the individual who harvested the animal. The asterisk denotes that a bow with a higher let-off than 65 percent was used to harvest the animal. 

Limb selection is no longer limited to solid one-piece models. The appearance and performance of bows changed dramatically with the inception of split limbs. However, both types of limbs have advantages and disadvantages. Solid fiberglass and carbon limbs are inherently more durable than two-piece limbs. Nevertheless, split limbs not only reduce weight, but also transfer and distribute energy from the bow to the arrow more evenly. Some archers appreciate the appeal of a split-limb bow, while others favor the traditional shape of solid limbs. The option of choosing straight limbs or recurved limbs is also available on most bows in production today. Straight limbs are generally faster, while recurved limbs are more forgiving. With the overall differences minimal in comparison, personal preference normally plays the biggest role in limb selection. 

These are just a few examples of what state-of-the-art engineering has to offer in bow design. It also illustrates the dilemma one will face when attempting to reach a final decision on which model to purchase. Only research and a healthy amount of leg and arm work will assist you in the quest for choosing the “right” bow.  As a final thought, when choosing a bow, choose an established company that has a solid reputation for taking care of its customers before and after the sale.  As tempting as it may be, never purchase a bow online.  You might save a few dollars, but my experience has been that you will be far more satisfied by going into your local bow shop and being fitted by a professional.  


Steve Sheetz

Steve is an avid outdoorsman who has been fortunate enough to publish two books on archery hunting. His first book, For the Love of the Hunt, was published in 2011. His second book, Wading Through the Darkness was published in 2015. Steve sits on numerous Pro Staffs throughout the archery industry. For almost a decade Steve helped build but wanted the opportunity to build something bigger and better and launched in December of 2014 as a way to share his love and passion for the outdoors. Today Chasin'Whitetails Media is growing. With the addition of the radio show in 2014 and a The Heartbeat TV show in 2015, who knows what will come his way next. When it comes to understanding the movement and logic of the urban whitetail and waterfowl, he is more than just a Ph.D. with a love of the outdoors. He is a self-proclaimed expert who loves to engage and teach others about the sport he loves so very much. Spending over 125 days a year in the big city woods and urban waterways chasing all types of game.

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