how to measure bow draw

How to Measure Draw Length

Many archers shoot with a draw length that is too long for them. Alternatively, youth hunters may find that their growth spurt has caused their draw length to increase. Make sure to calculate your proper draw length before you head to the local archery range or out in the field hunting.

What is Draw Length?

According to the Archery Trade Association, “draw length is the distance at the archer’s full draw from the rocking point on the string to the pivot point of the bow grip plus 1.75 inches.”

Why Determining Draw Length Matters?

Using a recurve or compound bow with the proper draw length increases the accuracy of the shot. If you have ever gone to the range or field with someone who is complaining about pain after just a few shots, you can almost bet their draw length is wrong. Furthermore, shooting the wrong draw length can cause unwarranted injury.

What Can Happen When the Draw Length is Wrong?

Shooting a bow can lead to inaccurate shots. As the shooter struggles with improper draw lengths, they may learn poor form. Finally, the drawstring is more likely to hit the archer.

What if the Draw Length is Too Short?

Draw lengths that are too short or too long can cause different things to happen. If the bow’s draw length is too short, then it becomes much more difficult to maintain reference points for an accurate shot. Additionally, short draw lengths increases the torque on the bow often resulting in inconsistent shots.

What if the Draw Length is Too Long?

If the draw length is too long, then you can expect to not be able to use the bow’s sights correctly. Additionally, you will have to overreach to shoot the bow resulting in poor back posture where your back may hurt after just a few shots. Finally, your elbow may end up in the path of the string resulting in painful injuries.

How to Determine Draw Length Correctly?

You can go to a store selling bows and ask them to measure your proper draw length, but you will be at the mercy of the salesperson to do their job correctly. Alternatively, it is easy to measure your draw length at home.

There are four different methods that you can use to measure draw length at home. The best answer usually is found by using all four methods and averaging the results. Remember to record each answer on a sheet of paper.

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Method 1

This method is simple to use. If you are working with a youth shooter, then consider making the marks on a wall where they can see how their arm span changes over the course of years. If you are working with youth, you may want to measure more often if you notice the child growing rapidly.

  • Stand up straight with your back to the wall.
  • Stick your arms out to the side with your palms parallel to the floor.
  • ​Keep your shoulders back and your head up ensuring that your chin is parallel to the floor.
  • ​Have a friend measure the distance from the tip of your middle finger on your left hand to the tip of your middle finger on your right hand.
  • Divide your answer by 2.5.

Method 2

This method is similar to the first method. Some archers find this method to be a little more accurate while others notice no difference at all.

  • Stand up straight with your back to the wall.
  • Stick your arms out straight with your palms facing down.
  • ​Have a friend put a piece of painter’s tape on the wall where your left middle finger ends.
  • ​Have the friend place another piece of tape on the wall where your right middle finger ends.
  • Use a tape measure to find the distance between the two marks.
  • Subtract 15 from the answer.
  • Divide the answer by 2.

Method 3

The third method involves no math so many people find it easier to use.

  • Put on a button-down shirt that fits comfortably.
  • ​Stand against a wall leaving just enough room that you can stand comfortably.
  • ​Fully extend the arm on your dominant side out while making a fist.
  • Have a friend measure the distance from the top button to your wrist.

Method 4

This method involves pretending to shoot a bow. Some people find that they have trouble getting into the correct position as their imagination is just not that strong, but the accuracy of this method depends on you being able to do it.

  • Stand about an arm’s length away from the wall.
  • Stretch arm in front of you like you were holding a bow.
  • Form outstretched hand into a fist.
  • ​Double other arm back towards face like you were preparing to shoot a bow.
  • Have a friend measure the distance from your mouth to your fist.

Putting it all Together

You should now have four measurements. Grab your calculator and add the four measurements together. Then, divide the answer by four to get your proper draw length.

Using the Information

There are several different areas where you will need to use this information. Therefore, you may want to double check your work.

Determining the Right Arrow Length Based on Draw Length

Many people shoot with arrows that are not the right length increasing the likelihood that they will not shoot accurately. Your arrows should be your draw length plus 0.5 inches to 1 inch.

Before you buy an arrow based on your draw length, be sure to try the newspaper tear test. Shoot an arrow from your bow while standing only 5 yards from a newspaper target. If the hole is nearly perfect, then you have the right size arrow. If the arrow leaves a gaping hole, then you need to further adjust the arrow size.

Buying the Right Size Bow

Your draw length determines the size of the recurve bow that is right for you.

14 to 16 inches = 48 inch recurve bow
17 to 20 inches = 54 inch recurve bow
20 to 22 inches = 58 inch recurve bow
22 to 24 inches = 62 inch recurve bow
24 to 26 inches = 66 to 68 inch recurve bow
28 to 30 inches = 68 to 70 inch recurve bow
31 inches and longer = 70 to 72 inch recurve bow

It is usually better to shoot with a bow that is too short than one that is too long. You will improve your accuracy and the speed that an arrow moves toward the target.

Compound Bows

Many people do not take the time to adjust the draw length on their compound bows correctly. This can result in inaccurate shots in the field or at the target range. Cables on compound bows stretch over time making it necessary to adjust your draw length settings. Adjusting the cam on a compound bow depends on the type of cam found on the bow.

Single Cam Compound Bows

Many archers choose the single cam bow because they want to eliminate the hassle of tuning it. Owners of single cam bows must take their bows to a professional shop where they can have a new cam installed that is the right length. If you try to replace the cam at home, then you void the bow’s warranty in most cases.

Twin and Hybrid Cam Compound Bows

It is a relatively simple procedure to adjust the draw length on most hybrid cam compound bows. If you have never done it, however, please consult your owner’s manual for specific directions.

  • Locate the rotating module and remove the screw holding the cover in place.
  • Pull the cable away from the module.
  • ​Rotate the module to correct draw length.
  • ​Place the cable back into its correct position.
  • ​Reinstall the cover making sure that the screw is tight.
  • Repeat for the opposite cam making sure that the top and bottom cams are set to the same position.

Binary Cam Bows

It is necessary to have the binary cam bow professionally pressed to change the draw length. The professional will add twists to the cable if the draw length is too long, and they will remove twists from the cable if the draw length is too short. This changes the draw weight of the bow, so the professional needs to make further adjustments.

Knowing your draw length increases the likelihood that you will hit your target. Shooting a bow with a draw length that is too short can make it difficult to maintain reference points while shooting a bow where the draw length is too high can result in getting hurt.
As youth grow, their draw length naturally changes. You can use the average of four different methods to determine the right draw length for you.

Once you have arrived at the figure, then buy a bow that is the right size for you. As cables stretch over time, you should get the draw length of your bow adjusted regularly or learn how to do it yourself. On single cam bows, it is easy to replace the cam modular with one that is the right size while on twin and hybrid cam bows you can easily tweak the adjustments at home.


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