If you are new to archery hunting and want to get started it can be quite a challenge. There are a lot of different brands and models and the parameters of compound bows and the terminology used to describe their features can seem like a foreign language. In this comprehensive Beginner’s Guide, I will go through the 5 things you must know before you choose a new bow. When you are done reading, you will know how to buy a compound bow and what bow will fit you and your personal needs the best.
To best way to begin your bow-buying journey is to learn about the components, features, and specifications of compound bows, and how your personal specifications ultimately impact what you select to start bowhunting. Ready? Then go over everything and prepare with the 5 Things You Need to Do First below.
Want a complete walk-through of the process? Watch the video below.
*This post may contain affiliate links from which we may receive a small commission. All opinions stated here are our own and are not promotional.
- Compound Bow Features and Specifications
- Other Required Equipment
- The 5 Things You Must Know Before Buying a Bow
- Key Considerations
Compound Bow Features and Specifications
It’s important to know the features and specifications that are used to sell bows. This will help you understand what the marketing hype is and what actually matters when selecting your bow. It’s important to understand affect how fast it is, how well it shoots, and most importantly; how it fits you, what you want to hunt, and how you want to hunt. You should also know the terminology and parts of a compound bow. This will help you know what to look for too.
Example Compound Bow Features and Specification Breakdown:
- Bear Archery (Manufacturer)
- Model: Alaskan
- ATA Length – 32″
- Brace Height – 6.25″
- IBO Speed – 335 FPS
- Draw Weight – 45-60 lbs and 55 – 70 lbs (2 models)
- Draw Length – 25.5 – 31″
- Let Off – 80%
- Bow Weight – 3.9 lbs
- Can be ordered in Right or Left-Hand versions
- Uses the new Bear Archery DHC hybrid cam
When you see something like this it can be quite intimidating, so let’s put it all into context and see what it actually means and why you should care when choosing a compound bow for hunting. When you see an example as I’ve shown above, this is what each of these features and specifications means and how they impact you.
ATA Length is one of the first specifications you will see when looking at new bows. ATA is the acronym for Axle to Axle. In this sense, it means the axle-to-axle length of the bow as measured from where the cams connect to each limb (as shown in the image above). Bow lengths can vary and the longer it is, normally the faster and more stable it is. Professional target archery compound bows are normally very long when compared to hunting bows.
A bowhunter usually wants a bow that is smaller and more maneuverable (depending on the landscape they are hunting). If you are hunting from a tree stand, for example, you will most likely want one that is short and easy to use in a restricted space. On the other hand, if you are really short or small in stature, you probably do not want one that is long and cumbersome to operate. This is why most compound hunting bows’ axle-to-axle lengths are between 27 and 35 inches. There are much shorter and much longer bows, but this is the average you will find when shopping for a new one.
Another key specification you will see is the brace height. The brace height is the measurement from the bowstring to the inside edge of the bow grip where you hold it when shooting. You will normally see brace heights of between six (6) and seven (7) inches. In older compound bows, the brace height was critical to keeping the bowstring from slapping the inside of your non-shooting forearm when shooting. This is why you see a lot of traditional bow archers wear a forearm guard to protect themselves from the slap of the string when shooting. A longer brace height normally keeps the bowstring farther away from your forearm and minimizes this. That being said, most modern compound bows do not have this issue.
A short Brace Height usually means the bow is faster and a longer brace height usually means it is more forgiving. Manufacturers try to find the best combination to make their bows shoot fast, yet forgiving and smooth shooting. This isn’t always the case, but it is the general rule of thumb.
IBO or ATA Speed
When selecting a new bow, it will be easy to get caught up in its advertised speed. While these speeds can look very enticing, they are a baseline and do not represent how fast it will actually shoot for you. There are a lot of other factors that go into actual shooting speed. Bow speeds are dictated by the International Bowhunting Organization (IBO). A few bow manufacturers use speed ratings from the Archery Trade Association (ATA). Both have different formulas for measuring bow speed, but both measure their speed in Feet per Second (FPS). The important thing to note is that rarely will a compound bow shoot at the advertised IBO or ATA speed unless you are using the IBO or ATA listed draw weight, draw length, and specific arrow weight used to set the advertised speed.
We discussed what cams were above, but we didn’t talk about cam systems. A cam system is the type of system bow manufacturers use to build their bow. The cam systems used, the refinements, new technology, and the way the bow is assembled can make for an extremely fast or a slow bow. The key thing to remember is that a lot of time a great hunting bow will sit somewhere in the middle.
Fast bows tend to be very stiff on the draw and not as smooth to shoot. This is where the cam systems and how the bow’s components are built and refined can make a lot of difference from bow to bow and where you will find the large disparity in price. Examples of different types of cam systems you will come across are single cam, hybrid cams, binary cams, and twin cams (with new types being developed all the time). A lot of entry-level bows are single-cam, while the more expensive options use other variations. That being said, there are some single-cam bows that are very expensive but shoot very fast and very smoothly.
The Draw Weight is the number of pounds required to pull the bowstring back to full draw. This is then used as the force with which the bow will shoot. The max draw weight on a bow and the maximum draw length is part of the equation that determines the full speed of the bow (how fast it shoots your arrow). The lower the draw weight on your bow is set, the slower your bow will shoot (in reference to its rated IBO/ATA Speed). There are multiple other factors that determine the speed of your arrow when it’s shot, but draw weight can make it lose approximately 20 Feet Per Second (FPS) for every 10 pounds of reduction (on average).
Depending on the bow you are looking at, the draw weight for each can vary wildly. This matters because you will need to not only draw the bow but do so under control multiple times. When selecting the draw weight it is critical that you can draw the bow under control without raising it in the air and arching your back to do so. This is why you should test a few bows before actually buying, but we will get into that more below.
Use the table below to get a general estimate of what might work for you. This will help you understand what bow setup will be right for you along with your draw weight (see below).
|Body Type & Weight||Estimated Draw Weight|
|Small child (40 to 70 lbs.)||10-15 lbs.|
|Child (70 to 100 lbs.)||15-20 lbs.|
|Women and Adolescents (100 to 140 lbs.)||30-40 lbs.|
|Women with a larger frame & Adolescents (140 to 160 lbs.)||40-50 lbs.|
|Individuals ranging from 160 to 190 lbs.||55-65 lbs.|
|Larger Individuals (190+ lbs.)||60-70 lbs.|
Draw Length is the distance the bowstring is drawn back when you prepare to shoot the bow. This is measured in inches and all bows have an advertised range like those listed in the example bow specifications above. You cannot buy a bow without ensuring that the draw length can be set to your personal measurements. Use our Compound Bow Draw Length Calculator here to not only see how to measure your draw length but also see why it is an essential part of your knowledge for bowhunting. It is important to not only measure your draw length but to test the bow you want to buy to make sure that it fits you.
Compound bows normally have an advertised “let off” percentage. You may see, for example, that some bows have an advertised let-off of 80%. Some have adjustments that allow these let-offs to be raised or lowered. The let-off is the percentage of the draw weight that is removed from the bow when you are at full draw. In other words, when you have it at full draw, you will only feel 80% of the draw weight it took to pull the bowstring back. This feature allows you to hold the bow at full draw for longer periods of time when hunting. A higher let-off can sometimes mean that the bow’s speed has been sacrificed for more stability, but 80% is an industry average, while a 90% let-off is more common on higher-end bows. Some bows promote speed with lower let-offs in the 70% range.
The actual physical weight of the bow is a big factor. Obviously, the heavier the bow, the harder it will be to hold it up for a long period of time. Hunters often find this is an issue after selecting a bow and then realizing they can’t hold it on a target very long. Most modern bows are in the 3-7 lb range.
You can see in the example above that the Bear Alaskan model weighs in at just under 4 lbs. Remember, this weight is based on a bare-bones bow with nothing mounted on it like your rest, sight, or stabilizer. The weight of the bow is even more critical to small or youth hunters who don’t have a lot of upper body strength.
You can’t shoot a compound bow effectively without some required accessories. There are several other accessory items that you will need if you want to have the optimal performance of your bow when hunting. These items must be factored in when setting your budget as they can add significant costs to your archery hunting setup. See the Required Accessories list here.
Other Required Equipment
In addition to the accessories discussed above, there are a few items that you will need before you are ready to go hunting.
Here are just a few of those items.
Mechanical or Finger Release Aid
To shoot accurately, a release aid is required. A release aid is a tool that connects a caliper to the Nock loop and allows you to draw and shoot the bow under control. There are two main types of release aids with sub-variants of each. There are mechanical releases and finger-style releases.
A mechanical release usually includes a wrist strap and the trigger is operated using your index finger. A finger-style or hook release is usually held in a reverse grip and the trigger is thumb-operated. Check the links here for some examples of some popular mechanical and finger-release aids for archery hunting.
*There are actually more variations of both mechanical and finger-style releases, but these are the best options for new bowhunters who are just starting out.
- Recommended Mechanical Release – Trufire Smoke Extreme Archery Bow Release
- Recommended Finger-Style Release – Trufire Edge 4-Finger Hand-Held Bow Release
Arrows and Broadheads
Arrows and the type you shoot from your bow are just as critical to an accurate shot on a deer or other game animal as your bow is. You can’t have one without the other. Arrows must “fit” your bow, draw length, and draw weight. The worst thing you can do is simply “buy” arrows for a compound bow. The arrow spine and its strength must be matched with you and your bow in order to work optimally and they need to be tuned to your bow as much as your bow needs to be tuned to you. This is the kind of stuff that keeps archery shops in business.
Broadheads are the deadly portion of your arrow tip. There are practice tips and then there are hunting broadheads. Broadhead selection and their weight is a critical element of your arrow setup and not one to be taken lightly. The weight you use for both archery training and archery hunting must be the same for a consistent shot. Make sure you check out the tip/broadhead section of our arrow buying guide before making a purchase. you don’t want to waste your money without reading it.
The 5 Things You Must Know Before Buying a Bow
Now that you understand the different components, features, specifications, and bowhunting essentials, we can talk about the things you should know before you buy a compound bow. These 5 things (along with the information we already discussed above) will help you find a range of bows that fit you and your individual needs and allow you to get started on the right foot. As a reminder, set your budget to know how much you want to spend, and remember, you need to add all the essentials and bow shooting equipment outlined above in addition to the bow itself. This process can get very expensive, so pay attention.
*Remember to use the resources in the blog post above when following the steps below.
First: Draw Length
Calculate your draw length. Use the Draw Length Calculator here. Go into your purchase armed knowing the exact bow you can buy based on the draw length settings for that specific bow. Choose a Right or left-handed bow. Choose your bow based on your dominant hand. That is your draw hand.
Second: Draw Weight
Estimate your draw weight using the table in the draw weight section above. Go into your purchase knowing what your estimated draw weight is. Then, test bows to see what let-off you like the best. I recommend at least an 80% let-off.
Third: What Do You Want to Accomplish?
Why are you buying the Bow? Understanding exactly what you want to achieve when buying the bow will help you make the best decision possible when buying your new bow. Watch the video at the top of this post for more details on why this matters.
Know your budget. Buying a compound bow can get expensive very fast. Make sure you look at all the components you will need and what they cost before making a decision. *I highly recommend watching the video at the beginning of this blog post to hear my complete walkthrough of this.
- 2022 Bear Alaskan Bow ($499)
- Trophy Ridge Pursuit Single-Pin Bow Sight ($90)
- Trophy Ridge Blitz Stabilizer ($34)
- Trophy Ridge 5-Arrow Quiver ($40)
- QAD Ultra HDX Arrow Rest ($154)
- Vector HMR V1 Arrows ($89)
- Tru-Fire 4-Finger Release ($89)
- Tooth of the Arrow Vented XL Broadheads ($49)
The Last Thing You Need to Know
Bow Setup and Upkeep. Make sure you have a location you can go to for reliable service, setup, and annual maintenance of your bow. If you don’t have this you will regret it. Make sure the bow you buy can be serviced locally and that you don’t get something so obscure that you can’t get anyone to work on it. Find bows that meet your individual draw length and draw weight requirements. Start testing these bows and find a bow that fits your budget.
There are a few key personal considerations that are unique to you and might require you to use an archery professional at your local archery shop, Cabelas, Bass Pro Shop, Field and Stream, Gander Mountain, etc., to get clarification and help. In addition to the steps listed above, here are a few additional things to consider and questions to ask yourself.
- How much does the bow weigh and will that affect me?
- Is the overall speed of the bow adequate? Will I be able to kill the game animals I am hunting with this bow?
- Do I want a short or a long bow? Pricing may be higher when selecting a short bow with a high IBO Speed.
- Am I hunting game animals from short or long distances? Do I need a speed bow?
- Will the bow I’m buying allow me to use any accessories I want or does it only handle specific brand options?
- Do I like how the bow draws? Is it smooth or rough?
When choosing a bow, look at multiple brands and styles to see what might appeal to you. Read reviews and look at comments on different Archery forums and groups on social media sites. Make sure you select a bow based on if you are right-handed or left-handed. Make sure you know your draw length and that you check that the model you are looking at fits your draw length.
Test the bow and make sure you are comfortable drawing the bow to shoot it and that the draw weight isn’t too heavy. Remember, you need to be able to draw and shoot the bow quietly when hunting. This means being able to draw it in a confined position so the animal you are hunting can’t see you. If you are hunting deer in a woodland area, you will be hunting at close range. This means you have a lot of bows to choose from. If you are in the western United States and plan on taking long-distance shots, you will most likely need a bow that can provide a lot of speed and kinetic energy.
Take all these things into consideration when selecting a new bow.
Example Bow Purchase
A great way to put this in perspective is to detail my last two bow purchases and then relate them to other possible situations that might make sense or be relatable to you and your situation. Let me tell you a little about me. I am 5’8″ tall and 190 lbs. My draw length is 27″ and my normal draw weight is between 62 and 65 pounds. I used to be really concerned about my arrow kinetic energy and speed instead of focusing on heavier arrows and better broadheads like I do now.
My last bow was Hoyt Vector Turbo. This was a $1000 bow. I went after this bow because I was looking for the fastest bow I could find with good reviews. The bow had an IBO-rated speed of 350 FPS. The bow was fairly long with an ATA Length of 35″. My draw weight was 65 pounds in order to maximize the bow’s speed and was the top end of what I was comfortable shooting. I was able to tag three whitetail deer with the bow but I was never really comfortable shooting it. It was long and heavy and did not have a smooth draw cycle at all. I did not test any other bows, I just selected this one because of its features and I regretted it.
My latest bow, the 2022 Bear Alaskan, is a mid-tier bow that only cost around $500 and is the one used as an example above. For this bow, I wasn’t looking for an ultra-fast bow like before but still ended up with one of the higher-speed bows in the mid-price range. I shot approximately six different bows before settling on this bow. I chose it because the draw is one of the smoothest I have shot and the back wall (full draw limit) is extremely solid. I feel like I can hold this bow for a long time at full draw and it really seems effortless.
I have the bow set at my 27″ draw length and my draw weight is set at 62 pounds. It is very easy to draw, aim, and shoot. I am very happy with this bow purchase because the bow is a great combination of speed and shootability. Plus, it only weighs 3.9 pounds and is only 32″ long. Three inches shorter than my previous bow. My current arrow setup has a weight of about 423 grains. This current setup is shooting just around 261 FPS, has an estimated kinetic energy of 63.92 ft-lbs., and the arrow momentum is approximately .490 slugs. Not the fastest setup, but a nice middle-ground setup that is great for whitetail deer.
What Does This Mean to You?
The bottom line is that you need to find a bow that fits you. Just like me, I was looking for a fit. You might not get it the first time, but if you do anything, I highly recommend walking into your local Archery Shop and talking to the experts behind the counter. Never be afraid to admit that you are just getting started. An Archery Professional can help you not only find a bow that fits you and what you want to do, but they can also make sure that your compound bow is set up and tuned properly. Bow tuning is almost an art form and takes a lot of experience to do quickly and right.
An Archery Shop will help you not only tune your bow and get everything ready for that first shot, but they can also help you with your arrows. It is a win-win situation. The only thing you need to do is take the information here and keep it in your mind and understand that you don’t have to have an expensive compound bow to hunt and be successful. Archery Hunters around the world takedown game animals of all types with traditional bows that don’t have half the power of a compound bow. The difference that separates an entry-level bow from a high-end bow really isn’t that much. Be smart and focus on how the bow feels, shoots, and sounds, and its accuracy, versus focusing on the brand name or a fancy paint job.
Ready to Hunt Bows
A lot of manufacturers offer Ready-to-Hunt bow packages that will have everything installed, ready to shoot, and factory tuned. There are some great options for beginners who want to get started fast and who don’t want to worry about finding the right sights, arrow rests, stabilizers, etc. This is a great way to get started at a low price. My only recommendation is if you buy the bow from a local Archery Shop and/or buy it online; take the bow to an Archery Shop to check that everything is tuned right and that the bow is safe before using it. Bow tuning is extremely important and can take away frustrations at the range when you are first learning to shoot your bow.
Here are a few Ready-to-Hunt Bows I Recommend:
- Bear Archery Cruzer G2 (Budget Bow)
- Bear Archery Species (Budget Bow)
- Bear Archery Resurgence (Mid-Range)
- Diamond Archery Edge 320 (Mid-Range)
- PSE Archery Brute NXT (Mid-Range)
There are a lot of things to learn about a compound bow before buying one as you can see. Archery Hunting is a great sport, but it takes some time to learn all the different archery components and equipment. Hopefully, this guide has helped you on your bow-buying journey and now you are ready to join the fraternity of bowhunters around the world. Thanks and good luck!
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