Did you ever make a bow and arrows out of sticks as a kid? My brother and I did all the time. Those summer afternoons in the woods sparked my interest in archery. Susan from The Chronicles of Narnia heightened that interest while I was in middle school. But there were no archery schools around me growing up. Now, as an adult and a Jennifer Lawrence fan, I’ve finally decided to give archery an honest try.
First challenge: selecting a bow.
Sometimes pros talk over our heads, leaving us discouraged or confused. During my search for a bow, I spoke with several professionals who helped to break down the process in laymen’s terms, providing the foundation for the guidelines below. Here’s what you need to know about picking out your first bow, a translated by a rookie like yourself.
What’s Your Goal? Do you want to hunt or shoot moving targets? Shoot stationary targets? Indoors? Outdoors? Do you plan to shoot occasionally as a hobby or more frequently? Determine your ultimate goal as an archer and that will help you to determine your bow style and budget.
Bow Style This is where it gets fun!
Compound bows are perhaps the most versatile. They’re perfect for hunters because they aren’t made of wood, so they can be used in any weather conditions. Compound bows also offer a lot of power and distance in a compact, lightweight package which is perfect for hunters on the move. They allow you to draw and hold comfortably while you’re aiming, without fatiguing your fingers, arms and back. Lastly, compound bows can be adjusted in a number of ways to accommodate the archer. This benefits target shooters, hunters, and just about any beginning archer. Compound bows can be inexpensive or wallet-ripping, so you’ll want to shop around.
Like compound bows, crossbows can also be an excellent tool for hunters, offering tons of power and even greater range. They’re excellent arms for people who have an injury that prevents using a more traditional bow. Crossbows can be significantly larger than compound bows, though, requiring more space to set up and load. They can also be quite loud, which is a drawback for hunters. Buyers will find wood, metal, and compound-material varieties that can fit into any aesthetic style. Crossbows are often on the higher end of most budgets.
Recurve bows have a simple design that makes it an out-of-the-box bow that requires less tweaking than complex compound designs. The simplicity in the design, though, requires a greater skill level from the archer; nothing about its construction is “forgiving.” The construction doesn’t store power for you like a compound or crossbow, so once you draw, you’ll want to release sooner than later. Recurve bows come in a range of sizes and their weight will differ depending on the material. They provide traditional beauty and a fun challenge in an affordable package.
Longbows are the stuff of fairy tales. They are tall, slender, sleek, and probably the most challenging bows on the market. They’re perfect for experienced archers seeking a greater challenge and beginners with a lot of patience. Like recurves, their deceptively simple design requires greater skill from the archer. It’s hard–though not impossible–to find longbows with low draw weights, which means that they require more strength to use (and lead to fewer women using them in comparison to recurves). Since longbows are generally long and wooden, they aren’t the most portable or weather adaptable option for hunters.
Draw Length Now that you know what you want to shoot and what you want to shoot it with, let’s narrow it down to the nitty gritty for your body. You’ll want to determine your draw length, which is roughly your total arm span divided by 2.5. Or you can get measured by an ATA specialists for the most precise measurement.
Bow Length Once you know your draw length, you can determine the height of your recurve or longbow. This helpful table can be found on Learn-Archery.com.
Calculated Draw Length = Bow Size
14″ to 16″ = 48″ Bow
17″ to 20″ = 54″ Bow
20″ to 22″ = 58″ Bow
22″ to 24″ = 62″ bow
24″ to 26″ = 64″ to 66″ bow
26″ to 28″ = 66″ to 68″ bow
28″ to 30″ = 68″ to 70″ bow
31″ and longer = 70″ to 72″ bow
It may also be helpful to note that smaller bows aren’t easier to draw, and larger bows aren’t harder. The reverse can be true. I’m 5’3”, about 110lb and I use a 62″ recurve with a #24 draw weight. Whether the bow is easy or hard to draw will depend on the draw weight, not its size.
Draw Weight Don’t think of archery as a resistance weight exercise. You don’t want to get a bow with a high draw weight and try to work yourself up to it. You’ll likely become “over bowed,” disheartened and in pain. Begin with a draw weight that is comfortable for you.
Draw weight varies between recurve/longbow and compound bows. Archers can handle a greater draw weight with a compound bow than a recurve or longbow; women often draw less weight than men their age (so you likely won’t share the same bow). The only way to truly know your ideal draw weight is to try out different weights under the supervision of a professional but for a rough estimate for beginners:
For Beginner Recurve Bows
- Youth (Age 8 to 10) 10 – 12 pounds
- Youth (Age 11 to 13) 10 – 14 pounds
- Teens (Age 14 to 17) 12 – 16 pounds
- Young Adults (Age 18 to 20) 16 – 22 pounds
- Adult Women 16 – 26 pounds
- Adult Men 22 – 28 pounds
For Beginner Compound Bows
- Youth (Age 8 to 12) 10 – 16 pounds
- Teens (Age 12 to 14) 14 – 22 pounds
- Older Teens (15 to 18) 24 – 28 pounds
- Young women and male teens 26 – 36 pounds
- Women with above average strength and younger males 30 – 40 pounds
- Average Man 40 – 50 pounds
- Men and women with above average strength 40 – 60 pounds
Your draw weight will likely change over time, which is why compound bows and take down recurve bows are such a great option. Both allow you to adjust the draw weight by a few pounds, either by making adjustments to the bow (compound) or changing out the limbs (take down recurve).
Eye Dominance Your dominant eye and dominate hand aren’t always the same. Before making your purchase, be sure to determine your eye dominance so that you know if you need a left- or right-handed bow.
If you’ve purchased a bow that doesn’t correspond with your eye dominance (and you likely can’t exchange or return it) it is possible to retrain yourself overtime. It’s a challenge. Rather than closing your dominate eye and fatiguing your recessive eye, Texas Slinger has a cool recommendation.
It’s always advisable, however, to begin with the proper bow for your eye dominance.
Those are the basics of what you need to know in one super-long post. Next up, How to Pick Arrows.
Let me know if you have any questions.