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How to Choose a Compound Bow for Hunting

Compound Bow Considerations

Compound bow technology has come a long way in just the last few decades. The brand of bow doesn’t really matter much anymore because any bow manufacturer still in business has to work hard to keep up with advancements in efficiency and reliability. Some of the more popular bow manufacturers include Mathews, Hoyt, Bowtech, PSE, Bear, Prime, Elite, and a few others. In this article we’ll look at the most important considerations when purchasing a new or used compound bow.

Compound Bow Price

You can expect to pay well over $1000 for brand new bare bow. If you’re on a budget you might consider a lightly used bow for half the cost of a new one. When parallel limb technology took off in the mid-2000s, bows became much quieter and more efficient. Therefore, any used compound bow manufactured after 2008 or 2009 should work fine, so long as it hasn’t been damaged in some way. Over the years I’ve bought a few great used bows on EBay or local classified ads. Older bows from the 80s and 90s with vertical limbs and round cams are much less efficient and noisy. This often results in animals jumping the string.

Compound Bow Cams

Modern compound bows are powered by either single or dual cams. Basically, single cam bows are easier to tune than dual cams. The major drawback to single cams is that they produce slower arrow speeds than dual cams. Dual cam bows (aka speed bows) are faster, but more difficult to tune because, a) both cams must roll over in perfect synchronicity, and b) extreme arrow velocity accentuates imperfections in shooting form, bow tuning, and broadhead design.

Tuning issues have been largely reduced in newer bows, but in my experience dual cam bows are still harder to tune. This has more to do with blistering arrow speed than bow tuning. The faster an arrow flies, the more it is negatively affected by poor form or wind planing.

There are two major factors to consider when choosing a compound bow: Draw length and draw weight.

Draw Length

Draw length is basically the distance from your extended palm to your face. The easiest way to measure your draw length is by holding a yardstick in your palms straight out from the base of your throat, and then measure the distance to the tips of your middle fingers. Alternatively, you can measure your wingspan by holding your arms straight out and measuring the distance from the tips of your middle fingers. Then divide this number by 2.5.

The draw length of your bow needs to be within half an inch of your measured length. You can get away with a slightly shorter draw length, but if your bow’s draw is too long it will throw you off balance.

Draw Weight

As for draw weight, you should pull as much poundage as you are comfortable with without straining your shoulders or fatiguing out after a few shots. Drawing a bow that’s too heavy can also lead to shoulder injuries that will shorten your bowhunting career.

Also, if your bow is too heavy it can be impossible to draw back when you are cold or fatigued. This is something I’ve experienced personally while hunting in wintertime. That being said, a bow that’s too light won’t transfer enough energy to the arrow and will result in wide sight pin spacing and less accuracy. It can also result in less penetration or pass-through shots.

Carry Weight

Aside from draw weight and length, the bow’s carry weight should be considered. As they say, “a heavier bow is a steadier bow.” However, an extreme backcountry bowhunter might consider a lightweight carbon bow. Carbon bows are more expensive than aluminum, but weigh as much as a pound less. If you are stuck with an aluminum bow you can always reduce weight by choosing lightweight accessories made from carbon fiber or other composite materials. My current hunting bow is aluminum, but I keep it light by using a composite quiver, stabilizer, rest, and bow sight.

Bow Height

Another consideration when purchasing a compound bow is the axleto-axle length (or ATA). If you have a long draw length—basically anything over 28 inches—a longer axle-to-axle bow is more forgiving of form issues because it has a wider string angle. The only drawback to tall bow is when hunting in wide open or low brush country where a taller bow will be more visible as you raise or draw your bow. Unless you have a very long draw length (say, 30 inches or more), I recommend a shorter ATA between 28-30 inches.

Final Thought

No matter what bow, arrow, and broadhead combination you shoot, just remember that shot placement is more important than speed or anything else. You don’t need a pass-through shot to drop a big animal. If your arrow is placed in the right spot, then speed and kinetic energy are secondary factors.

How to Aim Traditional and Compound Bows


How to Aim Traditional & Compound Bows

In this short article I’m going to explain the proper way to aim both traditional bows and compound bows.

Aiming Traditional Bows

Traditional bows (recurves and longbows) are aimed in the following sequence of steps:

  1. Nock the arrow onto your string. Grasp the string with three fingers. You can place three fingers beneath the arrow, or two under and one over. Either way is fine, however, placing all three fingers beneath the arrow will bring it closer to your eye and increase accuracy.
  2. Pull the string towards your face so the arrow is directly beneath your right eye (or left eye if you’re left-handed).
  3. Find your anchor points. Anchor points are spots on your face where your string and hand touches. You must touch the same points with every shot. The best anchor points are a) the string touching the side or tip of your nose, and b) a fingertip (usually the middle finger) touching the corner of your mouth.
  4. Look though the string, or just to the side of it, while aiming down the arrow shaft at the target. Some archers literally look through the string, while others pull the string slightly to the outside of the eye. It’s a matter of personal preference. The important thing is that the string is close to your eye and pulled to the same spot every time.
  5.  Point the tip of the arrow at the target and release. Your bow’s draw weight and distance to the target will dictate where the tip of the arrow is in relation to the the target. The farther you get away from the target, the higher you must hold the tip of the arrow to account for the arrow’s arc. The distance at which the arrow tip is on the bull’s-eye is called “point-on.” Point-on is the best reference for aiming. At distances further than point-on, you’ll hold the arrow tip higher. At closer range, hold the tip lower on the bullseye.
The distance at which the arrow tip is on the bulls-eye is called "point-on."
The distance at which the arrow tip is on the bulls-eye is called “point-on.”

A different style of aiming is known as intinctive shooting. With instinctive shooting your focus is solely on the target rather than the arrow tip. After dozens and dozens of arrows, you will gradually fall into a natural shooting rhythm in which aiming is unnecessary, similar to throwing a baseball.

Either aiming technique is fine. In time you’ll figure out which works best for you.

Aiming Compound Bows

Modern compound bows generally use a round front sight and a round, rear peep sight built into the string. As you draw the string to your aiming eye, the small peep sight becomes a larger, dark, blurry circle approximately the same size as the round sight on the front of your bow. The bow is aimed by bringing the circles together, similar to a rifle scope.

Inside the front sight there are fiber-optic, glowing pins (anywhere from one to seven). The pins are set at measured distances from top to bottom. The top pin is usually set at 20 yards and each lower pin is set at ten yard increments. So at 30 yards you would use the second pin down, at 40 yards you’d use the third pin, and so on.

It’s important to remember that you are aligning the two circles into one circle, and then placing the sight pin on target. Beginner archers sometimes make the mistake of aligning the rear sight with the front pin instead of aligning both sights together (see examples below).

CORRECT sight picture.
CORRECT sight picture.
INCORRECT sight picture. Align both circles BEFORE placing the pin on target.
INCORRECT sight picture. Align both circles BEFORE placing the pin on target.


For the beginner archer, compound bows can be more difficult to shoot than traditional bows (recurves and longbows) because of all the extra parts. But once you get accustom to the extra step of aligning the two circles,  you’ll quickly learn to shoot compound bows just as accurately or more.

All you have to do is align the front and rear sights, put the pin on the  bullseye and touch the trigger release (or let go if you’re using your fingers). The bow really does all the work for you.

The basic fundamentals of archery apply to both traditional and modern bows. The main difference is how they are aimed. In my beginner classes I always start my students with traditional bows and work up to modern compounds. After that, it’s up to the student to decide which weapon he/she feels most comfortable with.