How to find the right compound bow for you

Key factors to look at when you select a new compound hunting bow

Jake Horton

Photo credit: Cody Boor

Whether you are a first-time bowhunter or a seasoned vet, there are some key factors that you need to look at when you select a new compound hunting bow. Today’s bows are complex engineered tools efficiently designed to sling arrows downrange at speeds over 300 feet per second. Even though bows are intricate and have thousands of engineering hours behind them, they are also made to be simple enough to be operated by the average archer. Every person is different and every bow is different, but here are the basics you will need to know before entering a bow shop or searching online.


You must determine your eye and hand dominance before selecting a left-handed or right-handed bow. You probably already know what hand you favor by thinking about what hand you write with, but that does not mean your vision aligns with your hands. It is possible to be cross-dominant, meaning that you’re right-handed, but left eye dominant or left-handed, but right eye dominant. The easiest way to determine your eye dominance is to hold your hand out in front of you in an “ok” symbol and look through the opening created by your thumb and index finger to determine your eye dominance. As you are looking, close one eye at a time. If the object you are looking at shifts out of view when your left eye is open, you are right eye dominant. If the object shifts out of sight when you only have your right eye open, then you are left-eye dominant. Traditionally, you should learn to shoot a bow that aligns with your dominant eye, meaning that if you are right eye dominant, you should buy a right-handed bow and vice versa.

Photo credit: Chris Neville

Draw length

After you determine your eye dominance, you must then look at your draw length. The best way to determine your draw length is to visit your local archery shop to measure it; however, you can also do it yourself. To do it at your home, a good starting point is to measure your wingspan with your arms outstretched with your body in a “T” position. After you have measured the number of inches from the tip of your index finger to the tip of your other index finger in inches, you can either divide by 2.5 or subtract 15 and then divide by 2. Both of these calculations should get you close to a draw length that works for you. Though a longer draw length is beneficial to arrow speeds, do not be tempted to get a bow with a longer draw length than you require. This will only lead to reduced accuracy in your shooting. It is better to err on the side of a shorter draw length since a d-loop and release can be adjusted so they fit you perfectly. All in all, most professional bow shops will measure your draw length, even if you do not buy a bow from them.

Draw weight

The next step is to determine the . Draw weight is the weight that you must pull to get your bow to full draw. The higher the weight generally equals more speed and energy into your arrow, which will equate to a flatter trajectory and more force hitting the animal. Usually speaking, draw weights are adjustable in most bows — by 10 lbs or more, depending on the setup. The important thing to remember is that you will get stronger; however, you need to be able to practice over and over again without getting exhausted. Go to a bow shop and allow them to help you find a draw weight that will get you started and grow with you. Though you can hunt successfully with lower poundage bows, you might have issues shooting out beyond 10 to 20 yards and penetrating the animals. Most hunting bows should be set up above 45 lbs in order to transfer a good amount of energy into the arrow, allowing it to penetrate an animal’s hide and become a lethal and ethical harvest.

Bow length

A bow’s axle to axle length is the measurement between the bow cams, which are the wheel-like parts at the top and bottom of a bow. Read more here: Axle to axle length is important for two reasons. First, a longer axle to axle length typically means that your bow will be more “forgiving” or allow you to have better accuracy than a shorter bow, even at longer distances. The second reason your bow’s axle to axle length is important is that it determines how big your bow is. A bow with a super long axle to axle length may be a pain to hunt from a blind with or carry through the mountains; however, a shorter bow may be better in the treestand, but also hurt your accuracy. Overall, the axle to axle lengths of today’s bows are usually relatively similar. Shooting a few bows and feeling the difference may just allow you to see which one you like better.

Photo credit: Chris Neville

Shoot the bow

The last and maybe most important thing to know about a compound bow before you buy it is how it feels to you. There have been times when I pick up and drawback a bow and hate the cycle or the shallow valley in the back of the bow. There have also been times where I pick up and shoot a bow and love every part of the shot. This is why no matter what brand bow you are looking at, I always suggest handling it and numerous other bows and deciding what you like or do not like about it. A good bow shop will help you out with this, even if you do not purchase the bow through them.

Overall, bows made in the last decade are fantastic tools in the hands of a practiced archer. There is no better feeling than shooting a perfect bow for you whether you are practicing or taking a shot at an animal in the mountains. When selecting a new bow pay attention to your dominant eye, the draw length, draw weight, axle to axle length and the feel of the bow. You can buy a bow online, but there is no comparison to shooting different brands bows side by side and determining what one feels right for you. No matter what you shoot, there is nothing more therapeutic and rewarding than practicing and mastering your bow at the range or in the mountains, so find a perfect bow for you.

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