Selecting a Compound Bow for First Time Buyers

Bowhunting is one of the fastest growing sports in America, especially from the 80’s and 90’s. A lot of people have switched from rifle hunting to bowhunting over the past several years and if you ever pick up a bow, you’ll understand why.

The only problem is, a lot of first time bow buyers go by what they are told at the shop. However, there are a few specifications that should be looked at when buying a new bow that the archery shops probably don’t always tell you.

Number one, don’t always go by name brand. With all the different types of successful archery companies there are, they probably wouldn’t still be in the race if they weren’t “top of the line” bows. PSE, Mathews, Hoyt, Bowtech, Bear, Diamond, and a few others are top of the line bows. If you find a bow with any of those manufacturers, then you did good.

The second selection is “how fast is the bow?” Check the IBO speed on every single bow you look at. Don’t let it make or break your bow selection, but definitely let it have a say in which bow you buy. Try to find something 300 FPS or above. IBO means the international bowhunters organization tested the bow set at 30″ draw length, 70# pounds of draw weight, and with a 350 grain arrow. However, a lot of bows do not go back to a 30″ draw length or up to 70# pounds; if this is the case, they tested it with the highest draw length and the highest draw weight that bow comes in.

Don’t think that you will be shooting the same speed as the IBO. A general rule of thumb is, that for every inch of draw length, you gain or lose 10 fps. So since IBO bows are tested at 30″ inch draw length (or the maximal draw length available if under 30″) and you’re shooting a bow at 27″ in draw length, you can expect to lose around 30 fps from draw length.

Draw length isn’t the only determining factor for losing or gaining speed. Draw weight and total grain of arrow weight are also things to consider. IBO recommends the minimum arrow used to be 5 grains per pound of draw weight, so if you’re shooting a 70 pound bow, they are testing it at the lightest arrow they believe that poundage should be shot with; in this case, 350 grains. For every 3 grains of arrow weight, you will gain or lose 1 fps. Therefore, if you’re shooting a 410 grain arrow, you would lose roughly 20 fps.

It’s not recommended you go less than 5 grains per pound of draw weight, because it would basically be like dry firing your bow. Many archers (myself included) do not even recommend shooting an arrow at only 5 grains per pound of draw weight. 6-8 seems much more logical for kinetic energy. 5 grains of arrow weight per pound of draw weight is a speed demon, but also loses a lot of kinetic energy or “penetration”, which is very important for killing big game.

The other determining factor for speed is the draw weight. Since IBO speeds are tested at 70# pounds, or if the bow does not come in 70# pounds, it is tested at the highest speed possible for that bow, then you can expect to lose 2fps per pound of draw weight. So if your bow was tested by IBO, ATA, or AMO at 70 pounds and you shoot a bow on 64 pounds, you can expect to lose about 12 fps in addition to the draw and arrow length.

The next determining factor for buying a bow for an inexperienced archer is often the most under looked and that is the brace height. Brace height is the distance from the top of the handle grip to the bow string. If you want a high forgiveness bow, then you’ll want to shoot a bow with a brace height of 7 inches or greater. Anything below 7 inches, is not forgiving of a lot of form errors and should only be used by advanced/experienced archers.

Brace height interferes with your powerstroke. What is your powerstroke? It is your draw length – brace height + 1.75. That is the total amount of distance you’re actually pulling your bow back. The greater the powerstroke, the faster the bow; however, the less forgiving the bow will be. The shorter the brace height, usually the faster the bow will be, but the longer the brace height, the more forgiving the bow will be at the sacrifice of speed. Unless, you’re an experienced and advanced shooter, you should probably stick with a 7 inch brace height or better; especially if you are a beginner. Some advanced archers still even prefer 7 inch brace heights or more.

The next factor will be your axle to axle. If you’re a tree-stand hunter, you might want a lower axle to axle bow, usually 32 inches or less. If you’re a hunter on the ground, perhaps a higher axle to axle is better for you. Smaller axle to axles are better for going under tree branches, carrying, space, but also has its downfalls. One of those downfalls are long range accuracy. If you’re shooting a smaller axle to axle bow, usually the less accurate at long distances it will be, but then again, not all of us are long distance shooters. I prefer to stick with axle to axle bows of 32″ inches or greater, but is once again, a preference.

The final factor that should be looked into is the let-off. The higher the number of let-off %, the better. 80% is an excellent choice. “Let off” means after you reach a certain point of draw length, how much of the weight is taking off your pulling to assure you to stick with your anchor point for a longer time. The higher the let-off %, the longer you will comfortably hold your bow at maximum draw length.

That’s about all of my recommendations for looking into a new bow. Going to YouTube and finding reviews on bows are not a bad idea. Always determine the specifications before buying. If you can find a bow with an IBO higher than +300 fps, with a 7″ inch brace height, and an axle to axle of 32″ inches or greater, it’s probably going to be a great bow with a good compromise of speed and forgiveness. Give it a try. Every person will be different with grip preference, manufacturer preference, and other factors. Find what is best for you.