How to Choose the Perfect Bow

How to Choose the Perfect Bow

We're all getting anxious as archery seasons are opening soon around the U.S. You may be considering purchasing or ordering a new bow for this season, and I'll take you through the steps of determining what to look for.

While a lot depends on personal preference, including overall weight and color, there are a few things you want to pay close attention to. The basics include the draw, ATA, cam, let-off, bracing and stabilizers.


We'll start out discussing the draw length, which is typically determined by the length of your arm span and width of your shoulders. I would recommend visiting a pro shop and having them measure you, but if don't have one nearby, or prefer shopping online, you can get pretty close yourself.

Stand with your arms out to your sides, palms facing forward. Relax, don't stretch. Measure from tip to tip of your middle fingers, divide that number (in inches) by 2.5 and there's your ideal draw length. A mistake many hunters make is setting their draw length too long, resulting in errant shots. That little bit of extra force isn't worth missing a monster buck!

While we're talking about draw, let's move on to draw weight. The ideal draw weight would be when you can comfortably pull the string back and hold it for a minute. If you have to raise the bow over your head to draw back, it's too strong.

If you can't hold your bow steady for at least a minute at full draw, you're probably going to have a great story about the 7x7 elk you stalked and missed. Don't let your ego get in the way.

I've seen the same problems in the golf world, when a guy picks a golf shaft that's too stiff for his swing speed. Around 60-75 pounds of draw weight will be sufficient for the majority of North American big game animals. If you can comfortably pull back and maintain more than that, more power to you (pun intended).


ATA Length stands for Axel to Axel Length. The ATA of a bow is the measurement from cam to cam where they attach to their limbs. The longer the ATA, the more forgiving the bow will shoot.

The greater length results in a lesser angle on the string when drawn. The sharper the angle, the more difficult it becomes to shoot consistently.

However, keep in mind where you will be hunting. If your blind or tree stand calls for tight quarters, you'll need a shorter ATA to remain stealthy in your movements and noise. If that's the case, plan on spending a little more time at the archery range.


So we've got you set up with the right draw and ATA, let's move on to the cam. There are three main types of cams: single, dual and hybrid. Cam selection relies heavily on personal preference, as well as your skill level.

A single cam bow produces a much smoother draw but won't yield as fast of a shot as a dual cam. The faster dual cam isn't as smooth as the single cam and typically require more fine tuning and maintenance. The hybrid cams are sort of the "happy medium" between smooth draw, speed and maintenance.

There's no right or wrong cam selection, simply decide what's most important to you and how much you'd like to spend.


The let-off is the amount of tension released at full draw. A let off of 65 percent indicates that it only takes 35 percent of the power it required to draw the string back to maintain it at full draw. Between 65 and 85 percent seem to be the most popular let-off these days.

If you're hunting a Pope & Young record, keep in mind that any big game animal taken on Pope & Young scoring with a let-off higher than 65 percent will have an asterisk beside your record. You may not like the asterisk, but before 2004, a let-off higher than 65 percent wouldn't even make the books!

Again, choose a let-off that's comfortable for you to maintain at full draw for at least a minute.


When I first started shooting a compound bow, I didn't think the bracing made much difference. I was wrong, and learned that an arrow stays on the string longer after release with a shorter brace height. The longer an arrow stays on the string, the more any imperfections in your form or tuning will be magnified.

This takes us back to the forgiveness factor, a taller brace height results in a more consistant bow.


Stabilizers have come a long way in the past few years. Stabilizers help absorb the vibration of shooting a bow, both for comfort and sound reduction, while at the same time maximizing the energy behind the arrow. By reducing excess energy, accuracy increases while the sound and vibration is dampened.

There is a lot of controversy in the archery world over stabilizers, but the before and after that I've experienced make it a must-have.

Some bows come with a built in stabilizer or limb silencer and some manufacturers have introduced parallel limb bows to the market, which significantly reduce noise and vibration.

In closing, choose a bow that feels good to you, while at the same time capitalizes on your shooting skills. When choosing a bow, rifle or any gear for an outdoor adventure, look for a company that stands behind their product. If the bow only has a 90-day warranty, there's a reason!

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