Compound bows have revolutionized the hunting industry with their ability to increase the power of traditional bows and reduce the overall size of a bow. Thanks to complex and innovative technology, the draw weight on compound bows can range from low to high and provide hunter’s with varying amounts of power depending on their needs.
Understanding why this draw weight exists and why it is so crucial to understand its role in a compound bow will lead to a more thorough understanding of the way compound bows work and help you figure out which bow is right for you.
What is draw weight?
The term draw weight is thrown around so frequently in the archery industry and it often confuses many archers as to what it is and why it matters. In its most basic form, the draw weight of a compound bow is the amount of force that is required to pull a bow into its maximized firing position.
Draw weight is measured in pounds of force required to fully draw a bow and have it locked into a firing position. Depending on the bow, a draw weight can be as low as seven pounds and go well above seventy pounds. There are many factors that affect a bow’s draw weight which will all be looked into to help you find which range would be best suited to your archery style.
Draw weights across bow styles
Draw weights are often a very flexible or concrete measurement, depending on the type of bow that is being used. To better understand the differences in how various bows determine their draw weights, a brief comparison of recurve bows, compound bows, and crossbows will give a better picture as to how draw weight is set.
Recurve bows have been used throughout history by hunters and military archers with great success, which is why they are still so popular today. One of the reasons they remain so popular in a time when technology is trying to make bows more complex is that their draw weights can be adjusted by simply adjusting how far you choose to pull the string back.
Recurves are simple just a riser, limbs, and string all brought together to be as simple as possible, so seeing the ability to choose one’s own draw weight is no surprise.
When manufacturers label a draw weight on a recurve bow, that number is very specific in that it is the draw weight only at a specific draw length on the bow and can be changed very easily by minute adjustments in draw lengths.
The draw length is how far back the sting is pulled in a draw and is often where the draw weight is measures from. For example, if a recurve bow has a listed draw weight of 40 pounds at 30 inches, it means that when the bow is drawn to a length of 30 inches, the weight required to pull it back to that distance will be 40 pounds.
The reason recurves are so flexible with their draw weights is that all it takes to raise or lower the weight is simple pulling the string farther past the given draw length for greater power or lowering the distance for a lower power output.
If we consider the specifications of the last recurve bow, at 30 inches, the draw weight is 40 pounds. If an archer was using this same bow and drew the bow back to say 35 inches, the draw weight would increase to some number above 40 pounds. If the bow was only drawn to around 26 inches, the draw weight would now be lower than 40 pounds.
Recurve bows having such a fluent draw range is why they are so popular among modern day shooters as the archer can really decide how much power they want the arrow to be shot with all by changing how far back they pull the string.
If recurve bows are able to be so fluid with their draw weights and lengths, what does that mean for compound bows? Unlike the flexible draw weights found on recurve bows, the draw weights on compound bows are actually locked into place for a very important reason.
Recurve bows only consist of a string and body, which allows for a draw weight to be much easier to adjust and change on the fly. A compound bow, on the other hand, relies on a complex system of pulleys, or cams. This allows for more weight to be placed on the bow without the added fatigue of holding back a string at an uncomfortable distance.
Since compound bows essentially lock the string back to a pre-determined draw weight when fully drawn, you are unable to just pull the string back further for a more powerful shot. If a compound bow can shoot at 60 pounds at a 32-inch draw length, then that draw weight will be all that is possible for the bow. It is possible to adjust the draw weight of a compound bow up or down a substantial, but that will require a bow technician for most bows unless they are designed specifically to be adjustable.
Crossbows are unique in that they have a specific weight to lock into at full draw, but the draw weights are significantly higher than any normal bow. A really powerful compound bow could have a draw weight of around 70 pounds, which is difficult for even the best archers to pullback. Many crossbows, however, have a beginning draw weight of well over 125 pounds.
The reason a crossbow can do this is based on its design and how you draw it. Unlike a compound bow where the strength of the archer determines how much draw weight is comfortable for shooting, the higher draw weights on crossbows can be drawn by most ordinary people. The reason for this is in the design of the limbs and mechanisms used to draw.
Many crossbow hunters have special devices that use a mechanical advantage like a pully or wench to achieve the highest of draw weights. Along with these drawing tools, the comparatively short limbs of a crossbow allow for more power to be contained in a smaller package than a traditional bow with a similar adjustment style to compound bows.
Draw weight and skill level
Just like driving a car, no new driver should be hoping into the seat of a new Ferrari without first starting out on an old Toyota. Compound bows are just like cars, with a large spectrum of draw weights all designed for different levels of archers. To understand the draw range that would be best for your level of archery, the range of skill and ability will be compared to an appropriate draw weight for that type of archer.
Beginners and children
Most archers start when they are very young, and many manufacturers make bows specifically for this audience. A younger child can have increased difficulty drawing a bow so the draw weight on compound bows marketed to children is generally easy to draw and hold.
Depending on the size and age of a child, the typical draw weight catered for a child is around 10-25 pounds. For younger and less experienced archers, it is better to lean on the lower side if they are not yet old enough for a more powerful bow. If your child is getting towards their teens, then a more powerful bow with a draw weight of around 30 pounds or above may be more their speed.
Now, if you are an older individual who is looking to get into archery, there are plenty of great options for you too. Anyone can pick up archery at any time so there are some great entry level bows that are affordable and have enough power to keep you interested. A solid range to start with is a beginner compound bow with a draw weight of around 40 pounds or more, depending on your personal preference.
A beginner equipped with a bow shooting with a draw weight of 40 pounds or above will be ready to head to the range and start getting their bearings. Many states have a 30-pound draw weight minimum for hunting, so it is possible for a beginner archer with a strong enough bow to begin hunting smaller game without having to worry about inhumane shots.
To find a bow best suited for beginners, check out our article about the best beginner compound bow.
For the archer who has been hunting for a bit and is looking for a little more power, an upgraded bow with a higher draw weight will be an excellent investment. Going for a bow that has a higher draw weight than some of the low powered beginner bows opens up new doors for hunting and will allow you to hunt larger game.
Intermediate archers should look for bows ranging anywhere from 45-55 pounds to get a bow that requires a bit of force to shoot, but will reward you with arrows that shoot much faster and hit harder than any beginner bow can achieve. A more powerful bow often gives a newfound confidence to archers who feel that they can’t keep up with other archers.
It can take years for archers to get to the level of expert, but those who do have taken part in an incredible sport and only want the best. The experts of archery have seen it all and have worked their way up from a beginner bow to one that has enough power to deal with any hunt.
For the experienced archer, it may not be draw weight that is most appealing, but a well-rounded package that has everything. Some intermediate bows are great for the money with plenty of power, but they can come with the downside of being heavier and unwieldy in an attempt to extract more power.
For the expert archer, a bow with a draw weight around 60 pounds that is built with modern carbon and aluminum components will provide the stopping power and range they need in a package.
Now more than ever the sport of archery has opened its doors to welcome a new wave of female archers who are eager to take part in the fun. While most women are able to wield the same bows that men use, the general smaller frame of female hunters mean that a bow that has been built for a man could be cumbersome and hard to use for a woman.
Many modern archery companies recognize this separation of needs and have created bows that can hunt like any other, but are more suited for a female frame. Check out the best compound bows for women here.
Bows designed for women often have a slightly lower maximum draw weight with most of them being able to shoot anywhere from 10 to 50 pounds of draw weight. Women looking to get into archery or looking to get a new bow can now finally find a bow that was built just for them and holds up on any hunt.
Animals and draw weights
Most small game will include animals like rabbits all the way up to some turkeys. The smaller frames of these animals mean that not much power is required for an effective kill. Most states have a minimum hunting draw weight of 30 pounds, which is more than enough to handle rabbits and smaller turkeys.
Deer are the most commonly hunted animal, so most bows are suited for hunting them. Unless you are going after a serious trophy buck, most bows that have a draw weight of at least 40 pounds will be sufficient. If you hunt from farther distances, leaning towards the 40 or 50-pound draw weight will ensure the power stays consistent for longer.
Elk and big game
When a hunter wants a real thrill, they will look to the mountains for a large bull elk or other big game for a test of skill. To ensure that you can take down such a large animal, you will need a bow that can do the job efficiently and humanly.
A bow that comes with a draw weight of at least 50-pounds should be more than enough, but going for a higher draw weight can help you lean on the safer side. Once you get above a draw weight of 50 pounds, it can get increasingly difficult to keep drawing the bow, so it is not recommended for less experienced hunters.
Not all bows are suitable for hunting, so make sure you have a bow that can handle it when you start hunting. Read here to learn about the best compound bow for hunting.
What is the draw weight of a bow?
When looking at bow specs and performance, the phrase draw weight comes up with every bow and can be confusing to understand at first. In reality, draw weight is actually a very easy to understand concept.
A bow’s draw weight is simply the amount of force it takes a drawn bow to reach its maximum power output. For compound bows, this number doesn’t fluctuate, and the bow will only be able to shoot from this one number due to the design that forces the bow to essentially “lock” into place once fully drawn. A lower draw weight means less power is required to draw the bow, but also means that the bow shoots with less power. The opposite is true for bows with higher draw weights.
How to measure a bow’s draw weight
Many archers often wonder about the actual draw weight of their bows, so they know what force is required to draw it fully. Most bows sold today tell you what the draw weight should be, but many archers like to adjust their bow with professional help, so a new draw weight may be created.
Many experts have special tools to measure a bow’s draw weight, but consumer grade options also exist. There are a few brands of bow scales that measure your bow’s draw weight by attaching the scale to your bow and drawing it so it can measure how much force is being used to draw the bow.
How much draw weight does it take to kill a deer?
To kill a deer successfully it is essential to make sure your bow has the proper draw weight required for a clean kill. If your bow isn’t powerful enough to kill the animal successfully, you could cause inhumane pain and suffering for the animal by inflicting a non-fatal wound.
Most archers agree that a bow with a draw weight above 40 pounds should be enough to kill most deer. It is important to remember that draw weight decreases with range so if you hunt from further distances a bow with a draw weight closer to 50 will ensure the best results.
What is the heaviest draw weight on a bow?
A bow’s draw weight increases the amount of energy required to use it, so most compound bow manufacturers do not make bows with unusable draw weights. The current heaviest draw weight on a production compound bow is made by PSE and shoots at a draw weight of around 100 pounds.
Compared to a standard 40 or 50-pound draw length on a bow, drawing back 100 pounds is a serious workout even for the most experienced and in shape compound bow hunters.
How far can a compound bow shoot?
The range of a compound bow can be broken down into several key factors. The first and most relevant factor is the bow itself and its own power. A bow with a lower draw weight will shoot slower and cannot reach the same distances that a more powerful bow would have little trouble reaching.
Another important consideration is also the arrows. Arrows range in weight and material with some arrows flying much farther than others shot from the same bow. A lighter arrow has the potential to fly farther, but it can drift off course on windy days.
The average bow that has a draw weight of 40 pounds using a standard weight arrow will be able to shoot roughly 40 yards before their shots loose too much power or the arrows are no longer staying straight.
How to adjust draw weight on a compound bow
The ability to adjust a compound bow means that you can lower or raise the power of your bow with just a few tweaks. Depending on the bow, you may be able to adjust the draw weight of your bow with just a few tools.
Many beginner bows are designed specially to be able to adjust their draw weight with just an Allen key so that as an archer grows and learns, they can also increase their bow’s draw weight and overall power. Many high-end bows are able to be adjusted but can require more tools to get them shooting right. A professional archery shop should be able to take nay bow you have and adjust the draw weight up or down to your desired preference.
What is the average bow draw weight?
To determine the average bow draw weight, you have to look at the range and try find an agreed common ground that represents a general average. At the low end, you have many bows with less than 20 pounds required to draw that are great for beginners.
On the opposite end of the spectrum lies the incredibly powerful bows that can have over 60 pounds of draw that are meant to take on any animal and win. When you look for a balance between these bow extremes, you get an average draw weight of 40. This number may seem kind of random, but being that it is a good middle ground that many agree is the ideal weight for hunting most animals, a 40-pound draw weight is a safe average for a compound bow.
Just like any sport or hobby, it takes time and practice to get to the top. Even if you feel silly starting on a bow with a 20-pound draw weight. It’s the skills you learn in the beginning that you will be thankful for when you’re ready to take aim on your trophy buck.