by Travis Davis
In today's marketplace, we can find all sorts of descriptions, statistics, and technical data on almost anything that we might chose to purchase. Hopefully, this article will help to clear up some of the confusion that can be created by being bombarded with so much information.
The first rule that we all must remember is that a bow, whether primitive self bow, modern recurve or the most modern compound, is still a short-range weapon. A bow and arrow is only as effective as the person who shoots it. Many bow manufacturers advertise speed ratings for compound bows in excess of 300 feet per second. This tends to be misleading because of the fact that it is based on a draw length of 30 inches and an arrow that weighs only 5 grains per pound of draw weight at 70lbs.
Breaking all of that down, I have found that:
(1) Few bowhunters pull 30 inches of draw length, especially if they use a release aid. As a general rule, only very tall archers, or those with exceptionally long arms will be able to pull a 30" draw length bow comfortably and correctly. I am 6'3" tall and shoot a 29" draw length.
(2) Most modern compounds offer high let-off or weight-reduction of 65-80% at full draw. Even with this considered, 70lbs is a very heavy draw weight for most archers. Most of us are much more comfortable with draw weights that are substantially less than 70 lbs.
(3) The speed rating that is usually advertised is based on an arrow that weighs 5 grains per pound of draw weight. In other words, at 70lbs of draw weight, an arrow should weigh 350 grains (at 30" draw) to achieve the advertised speed. In my experience, it is very difficult to to build a hunting arrow that weighs that much. Example: My bow has an advertised speed of 297 fps. The arrows that I shoot are correctly spined for my bow and the shafts weigh 9 grains per inch. This means that my arrow shaft weighs 261 grains. Add 11 grains for the nock, 25 grains for vanes, 12 grains for the point insert, and 100 grains for the broadhead. My finished arrow weighs 409 grains. Divide this by the 64lb draw weight of my bow and the arrow weighs a whopping 6.4 grains per lb of draw weight. This is a CARBON arrow. Aluminum arrows will weigh substantially more.
Considering all this information, my speed should be less than the 297 fps. It is actually 264 fps, 33 less than we have been led to believe we can shoot.
Now that we understand somewhat about the meaning of some of the technical jargon about compound bows, maybe we can better understand how to chose a bow for ourselves.
Basically, there are two kinds of bows to choose from: traditional bows and compound bows. Traditional bows are a simple design that has been around for centuries whereas compounds have only been around for about 40 years.
Traditional bows consist of long bows, recurve bows, and primitive or self bows. For the most part, hunters who use these bows shoot them instinctively, which is without sights, release aids, or mechanical arrow rests. The arrow is usually placed on a rug or piece of carpet glued to the bow's shelf with a strip of leather glued to the side of the bow for the arrow to ride against to keep from damaging the bow's finish. A glove or finger tab is usually used to protect the fingertips of the shooting hand. Traditional bows tend to be substantially longer than compound bows, but they usually weigh a lot less. This makes them more comfortable to carry, but more awkward to move, especially in a tree stand.
Some traditional bows are made with inserts, so sights, stabilizers, and arrow rests can be installed on them. I personally would not recommend sights on a traditional bow for hunting purposes because the full draw weight is held at full draw on a traditional bow. Taking the extra time to focus on a sight pin can be strenuous on the archer, resulting in poor accuracy. Instinctive shooters tend to draw, anchor, and release in one fluid motion, remaining at full draw for only a brief period.
Traditional bows used for target shooting tend to be lighter in draw weight, therefore, not as strenuous to hold for longer periods of time.
Compound bows are bows that use a system of strings, cables, and wheels or cams to extract the maximum amount of energy from the bow's limbs (the parts of the bow that flex). They are more popular with hunters, especially those who hunt from elevated stands. Compounds are usually shorter, tend to shoot faster, and can be fitted with all sorts of accessories, including sights, stabilizers, vibration dampeners, release aids, and mechanical arrow rests.
There are several different types of compound bows to choose from, including round wheel, single cam, two cam, cam & 1/2, and hinge limb models. Compound bows have a 65-80% reduction in draw weight at full draw. Here is a brief overview of each type.
Hinge Limb models bear some resemblance to a short recurve but actually have 2 sets of limbs hinged together and operated by 2 cams which are mounted on the riser (or handle) of the bow. These are connected by cables which run through the riser. Despite having 2 sets of limbs and more moving parts, these bows are very smooth, accurate, and shootable.
Round-wheel bows are compounds that have round wheels at each limb tip, harnessed together by synthetic, or steel cables, with a synthetic string. Round wheel bows draw smoothly, are extremely accurate, and shootable, but tend to be slower than cam bows.
Two Cam/Twin Cam
Two Cam or Twin Cam bows are bows which have a cam at the end of each limb. These bows tend to be very fast but not as smooth and forgiving as other types. Cam "timing" is often an issue with two-cam bows. If the two cams don't roll at exactly the same time, the accuracy of the bow can be greatly affected. When the cams are perfectly timed, these bows can be very accurate as well as fast.
Single Cam bows have been very popular for several years. These bows have a cam at the end of one limb and an idler wheel or round wheel at the end of the opposite limb. This tends to give the bow speed similar to a two-cam bow, and accuracy similar to a round wheel bow. The drawback to single cam bows is that the nocking point does not follow a level path of travel throughout the shot sequence, so the nock of the arrow is moving vertically as the string moves forward. This tends to affect accuracy and makes these bows harder to "tune".
Hybrid Cam/Cam & 1/2
Hybrid Cam or Cam & 1/2 bows are the latest addition to the compound bow market. These bows offer two cams harnesses together in such a way to eliminate timing problems. These bows offer excellent speed, level nock travel, and excellent accuracy. They are very smooth to draw and have very little vibration throughout the shot. In my experience with hybrid cam bows, they seem to be the most dependable type of compound bow available.
Other considerations in buying a bow are:
1. Buy a bow to fit you.
Be sure the draw length is right for you and the draw weight is comfortable for you to shoot.
To measure draw length, make a fist with your bow hand (Left for right-handers, Right for left-handers) and stand with that shoulder next to a wall. Stretch your arm out and put your fist against the wall. Next, turn your head to look at a spot on the wall just above your fist. Have someone use a tape measure to measure from the wall to the corner of your mouth. This measurement should give you your correct draw length.
Draw weight can only be determined by what an individual feels is comfortable for them to pull.
2. Long or short bow?
Short compounds are very popular with tree stand hunters but they tend to be less accurate and forgiving than longer bows. Also, bows with longer brace height tend to be more forgiving than bows with short brace height.
3. Is more expensive better?
No! There are bows on the market today that can range from $200 to more than $1000. There is good equipment available in all price ranges. Bow hunting is one of the toughest challenges in all outdoor sports in which to succeed. All the equipment in the world is not going to take the place of hard work.
Buy the best equipment you can afford. Make sure it fits you, and practice hard. Do your pre-season scouting. Pay attention to wind direction. Remember, any animal we are fortunate enough to harvest with a bow and arrow is a trophy.
But, most of all, enjoy the time that you are fortunate enough to spend bow hunting.