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What is the Optimal Bow Draw Weight for Bowhunters?

The modern compound bow has seen incredible strides over the last couple of decades. Today, manufacturers touting bows that send arrows at 300-plus feet-per-second are almost a given. As such, increases in gross arrow speeds arguably continue to be the most profound trait of modern bows. Hence, choosing the right draw weight for a compound bow has never been more relevant. This is due largely to variations in limb, riser, and cam design.

First off, what is draw weight? Sometimes referred to as poundage, draw weight is simply a measurement of the power necessary to draw a bow. Some compound bows can be adjusted over a 50-pound range, such as 15 to 70 pounds, while others offer a smaller range of draw weight such as 10-pound increments.

Draw weight varies greatly across archers, but make no mistake, every person has an ideal one. Determining your optimal poundage is very important when deciding on the right bow for you. For one, proper poundage means more control during the draw cycle. Therefore, considerations like physical ability come into play. For example, most female archers will shoot lower poundage (typically, around 40 to 50-pounds) due to less upper body strength. Note that this isn’t always the case and certainly isn’t intended to ruffle any feathers. Either way, shooting ideal draw weight will result in more accuracy and consistency. Below is a starting point for draw weight. 

Body Size Draw Weight
Child 40 to 70 lbs.
10-15 lbs Draw Weight
Child 70 to 100 lbs.
15-20 lbs Draw Weight
Women and Boys 100 to 140 lbs.
30-40 lbs Draw Weight
Women and Boys 140 to 160 lbs.
40-50 lbs Draw Weight
Men 160 to 190 lbs.
55-65 lbs Draw Weight
Men 190+ lbs.
60-70 lbs Draw Weight

Draw Weight and Big Game Hunting

When choosing a compound bow for hunting, maximizing draw weight is especially important, regardless of bow brand or design. This is simply because, if set correctly, it will optimize efficiency at faster arrow speeds. But there are other key considerations. First, for bowhunting, many states have a minimum draw weight threshold. Right from the start, you’ll want to research and be clear on this. Also, as bowhunters, we owe the animals we hunt to make the most accurate and ethical shots possible for quick kills. Faster arrow speeds go a long way toward this end, especially at longer distances.

Speed, however, isn’t the only important variable. When it comes to effective kill shots, here are a few other factors that play a significant role – both aside from and in concert with the proper draw weight.

Draw length: Draw length measures the distance the bow is drawn to the anchor point. Archers with long draw lengths transfer more energy to their arrows than someone shooting with a short draw length – at least if shooting the exact same bow.

Specialists at local pro shops can aid you in compensating for lower draw weights by determining the right bow. Once this is accounted for, you can concentrate more on frequent practice, good shooting decisions based on distance, and shot placement.

Shot distance: It goes to follow that close shots are easier to make because the target appears larger. Also, the closer the shot, the quicker and more forceful the arrow will be.

Arrow weight: Heavier arrows penetrate animals better than light arrows because they carry more energy. Note, however, that with the increased penetration comes less arrow speed.

Broadhead type: Fixed-blade broadheads provide maximum penetration. Therefore, they’re a great option when shooting at less draw weight. They’re also optimal when shooting larger game. Like with arrow weight, broadhead design is a key factor regarding shot distances at live animals.

The Basic Signs

There are basic gauges regarding proper draw weight. For one, bowhunters should be able to effectively point their bow at a target or animal and pull back with minimal movement.  For example, if a smooth draw is dependent on leaning forward or backward, the draw weight is likely too heavy. Another indicator of too much poundage is the need to raise the bow upward while drawing. If you can fluidly draw the bow while in the seated position, your bow is probably at acceptable poundage. This test is especially helpful for ground hunting when shooting from a seated position is likely. The lesson here from a hunting standpoint is that unmanageable draw weights will result in abrupt movement during the draw – causing deer and other game to run for cover before an arrow can even be released.

In summary, the power of a bow is largely determined by its top draw weight (and arrow draw length). Make it a goal to use a bow set at a poundage level at which you can successfully get to full draw with reasonable ease. Don’t assume that you are good to go because you can do so from a standing position in the pro shop or backyard. When it comes to actual bowhunting, take into account real conditions such as shooting from a sitting position, cold temperatures, and bulky clothing. Bowhunting requires a stealthy presence, and when a trophy buck approaches your stand, nobody wants to end the hunt early due to a laborious, attention-grabbing draw cycle.

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