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From cam to rise to draw, our guide will take you step-by-step through selecting your perfect bow.


How To Buy Bows

Archery goes back thousands of years but today’s equipment has made remarkable advances. Selecting a bow depends on a variety of factors. But the tried-and-true advice is to find something that fits your ability and needs.

  • Compound bows and construction
    • Cams
    • Type of cams
      • Soft cam
      • Aggressive cam
      • Single cam
    • Limb material and style
    • Types of risers
      • Riser materials
  • How to choose a bow
    • Speed
    • Bow length
    • Draw weight
    • Draw length


Compound bows and construction



  • An eccentric system on a typical compound is made up of a string, one or twowheels (or cams) and two harnesses
  • This system resembles a teeter-totter, with the harnesses and strings moving to balance two kids of unequal weight. This then makes it easier to pull and keep the bow’s limbs flexed at full draw.
  • A speed wheel helps you accomplish this action faster
  • Beginners may benefit from a two-wheel system because it helps improve accuracy with less tuning
  • The cam also controls how quickly you get up to the full draw cycle and how much energy is stored

Types of cams

  • Soft cam
    • A soft cam allows you to pull back in a softer, smoother fashion
    • This helps you aim better, a plus whether you’re target shooting or hunting game
    • It also gives less energy to the shot
  • Aggressive cam
    • If you plan on using your bow for hunting you should consider an aggressive cam
    • This provides more energy in the draw cycle that provides valuable penetration for your arrow, which may help you greatly on marginal hits
  • Single cam
    • Offer a big advantage over two cam bows
    • A two cam bow relies on both cams staying in synch
    • A number of factors from stretching over time to heat can affect this, which will then lead to poor arrow flight
    • The single cam bow has nearly eliminated the problem with stretching. Most will stay tuned forever.
    • If you plan to use your bow for hunting, single cams are also considered quieter

Limb material and style

  • Standard/Split
    • Today’s limbs come in either a standard or split configuration
    • The standard limb has been around a long time. This basically is a one-piece construction that is often laminated or molded.
    • Split limbs are relatively new and are, as the name suggests, two pieces
    • There are two advantages in this construction
      • Lightens the weight of the bow
      • Usually quiets the bow
  • Carbon/Fiberglass
    • Carbon/Fiberglass limbs are the preferred choice of most compound bow manufacturers
    • This mixture gives you greater flexibility and strength while keeping the bow’s weight down

Types of risers

Risers, the part of the bow that you grip, come in two primary versions–flex or reflex. The main difference is how the hands are positioned to the bowstring. A reflex riser is slower but is more forgiving to shoot.

  • Riser materials
    • Cast aluminum
      • This is simply a riser made from aluminum poured into a specially designed mold
    • Machined aluminum
      • Machined risers are much more practical to manufacture and have become very popular
      • The advantage is that the machined riser can be anodized, which means the paint will wear a lot better than that on a cast handle
    • Magnesium
      • Magnesium risers are heavier than machined aluminum risers but they are cheaper to make and usually quieter
      • These variations are harder to find


How to choose a bow

There are a number of factors involved in determining which bow is right for your hunting style, size and strength.


  • Measuring speed
    • How quickly an arrow flies to its target depends on several factors, but it’s important to understand speed first
    • The Archery Manufacturers Association (AMO) tests each bow set at 60 pounds for a 30-inch draw using a 540-grain arrow. This then lets you compare the relative speed of the arrow of various bows. For example, an AMO speed of 235 means the arrow is propelled at 235 feet per second.
    • The International Bowhunting Organization (IBO) also began measuring speed but uses different conditions, namely a lighter arrow, so IBO speeds are much higher
    • Most bow manufacturers will list both AMO and IBO speeds for comparison
  • The importance of speed
    • Speed is critical in one primary area–it flattens trajectory. The faster the speed, the less drop over the same distance.
    • But super-fast bows are more difficult to shoot
    • Most experts suggest bows that have moderate AMO speeds of 235-245 (or IBO speed rating of 290-305)
    • Actual speed needs depend on how you are going to use the bow

Bow length

  • A bow’s length is critical for both your maneuverability and weight
  • Maneuverability is especially important if you hunt since you need to swing into position quickly while avoiding limbs that may ruin your shot
  • Measured from axle-to-axle, the shorter the bow, the lighter the weight, which may be important if you plan on hiking through the woods
  • The longer the bow, the more stable
  • Today’s short bows (32 inches) aren’t practical if you’re an inexperienced or infrequent bow shooter
  • A good idea for beginners is to compromise between a 46-inch heavy compound and the accuracy with a 32-inch lighter compound bow. Try something in the mid-range.
  • When in doubt go for accuracy and select a longer bow
  • When buying for a youngster, look at the youth models to ensure a better fit

Draw weight

  • Draw weight is the amount of actual peak weight you pull as the string is being drawn back before letting off
  • Compound bows have helped immensely in increasing a bow’s draw weight
    • For most adults, a draw weight between 50-70 pounds is recommended
    • Youngsters need much lower draw weights
    • Look for youth models with adjustable draw weights and lengths
  • When you receive your bow, see if you can draw it and hold it for 15-30 seconds without shaking. If you can it is the proper draw weight for you.

Draw length

  • A properly sized bow has to fit your arms. But don’t get caught short. The longer you can draw back the bow, the more speed you’ll get in your arrow.
  • Determining your draw length
    • Make a fist with your bow hand and touch a wall, holding it straight out as if you were shooting a bow
    • Then measure, or have someone else measure , the distance from the wall to the corner of your mouth–measuring parallel along your arm
    • You can also measure your wingspan by spreading your arms out and measuring the distance from fingertip to fingertip
    • Refer to the chart below for your proper draw length. Add or subtract a half-inch for each inch over or above the wingspans listed below.