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You can use one bow to hunt animals from rabbits to bear.
And releasing an arrow is quieter, even with the loud “THWACK!” of a recurve, than any firearm. This makes them excellent stealth tools.
Plus, they are fun!
However, unlike other tools such as airguns, bows work more with your individual biomechanics.
But that’s only one component of the equation.
You need to know your draw length as well. Not only to pick out the right bow but to choose the right length arrows as well.
What is Draw Length?
Some people describe your draw length as how far back you pull the string, but that’s not entirely correct.
When a bow is strung, the string is half a dozen inches from the grip, more or less. This is the brace height and, while important, doesn’t factor into your draw length.
Instead, draw length is the distance from the back of the bow, at your grip, to the nocked arrow.
Draw length is typically your full draw because a shortened draw is bad form and will rob you of accuracy and arrow speed.
What is “Full Draw”?
If you want as much speed and power out of a bow as possible and are using proper form, then you need to measure your draw length at full draw.
This is when you’ve drawn the string back to your anchor point (typically the corner of your mouth for modern archery techniques) and have your bow arm straight out, in line with your shoulders and back.
This gives the maximum distance you can draw that string, or, full draw.
Why Learn Your Draw Length?
Knowing your draw length lets you do two things:
- Choose a properly sized bow
- Choose properly sized arrows
Improperly-sized bows will mess up your form or even cause damage to the bow!
Most traditional bows have a sweet spot where they efficiently deliver force to the arrow.
(Learn the difference between compound and recurve bows)
Shorter draws won’t be as powerful and longer draws will cause the bow to “stack,” or greatly increase the felt weight without making your arrow any more dangerous to your target.
Plus, overdrawing a traditional bow can stress the limbs to the point of failure, if done too far or for too long.
Compound bows also have a sweet spot, though many are adjustable. They have the same problems as traditional bows but even stronger, because compound bows don’t have as linear a force curve as traditional bows.
“So what?” you may ask. “I can just change my form to fit the bow!”
This is a terrible idea!
Your accuracy as an archer depends on maintaining a consistent form.
You can’t do this if you can’t pull the string back to your anchor point properly or have to contort elbows and shoulders to do this.
Draw length is also important for arrow selection.
Your arrows need to be long enough to keep the tip in front of the bow’s back.
I’ve seen someone shatter an arrow into the belly of a bow. It made an impressive noise I never want to hear again and we had to retire that bow!
Still, that was a good-case scenario. Archers have shot arrows through their hands by using too-short arrows for their draw length.
Arrows that are too long aren’t dangerous, but they may not be as in-tune with your bow as properly-sized arrows.
Extra length can also negatively affect arrow flex and, therefore, accuracy. That’s also extra weight that’ll slow down your velocity.
You typically want your arrow to be half an inch or a full inch longer than your draw length, not including the point.
However, don’t sweat it too much. If you’re accurate with arrows that are “too long,” then they’re a good length for you.
How to Determine Bow Draw Length
I know of four ways to measure your draw length, though one of the most commonly-used methods, in my opinion, is quite silly.
Now, some of you might think that you need to measure your draw length differently between traditional bows and compound bows because of the release.
This isn’t the case, because your fingers don’t enter into it!
Remember, full draw is grip to anchor point, NOT grip to where your fingers stop.
Now, here are the four methods:
Divide by 2.5
Perhaps the most common way to measure your draw length is to measure your wingspan and divide it by 2.5.
Stand up straight with your arms straight to your sides, so you form a T.
Have someone measure you from finger tip to finger tip.
Now, take that measurement and divide it by 2.5 to get your estimated draw length.
I don’t like this method because it measures using your fingers (which don’t affect your draw length) and is only an estimation.
Divide by 2
You can use a slightly different formula to calculate your draw length from your wingspan.
Take your wingspan, subtract 15, then divide that result by 2.
#2 Chest to Wrist
Sort of a half-wingspan variant, you need a friend for this technique as well.
However, they won’t measure from your fingertips.
Instead, the measurement should be taken from where your wrist meets your palm and stop at the centerline of your chest, directly below your chin, level with your wrist.
#3 Face to Fist
Why measure your wingspan when you can measure from riser to anchor point even without a bow in hand?
Stand in a proper bow stance; feet under your hips, hips under your shoulders, arm aligned with your shoulders and back. Turn your head as if you were holding a bow.
Many people recommend putting your bow fist against a wall to ensure that arm is out as far as it should be.
Have your friend measure from the wall (or far side of your fist) to the corner of your mouth.
That’s your draw length
With a Measuring Tape
But what if you don’t have a friend around?
Trapping coyotes is one thing, but the government tends to frown on trapping people for your own use!
However, you can still measure your draw length by yourself.
To do this, you need to have a measuring tape. This may be a tall order. Go find one; I’ll wait.
Got it? Good.
Now, hold it in your off hand, the one that would hold a bow, with your fingers gripped around the body of the tape.
Get into a proper archery stance yadda yadda.
Grab the measuring tape’s blade with your main hand until it reaches your anchor point.
Your measuring tape dispenser should have its length marked on it. Add that to the length you pulled and you have your draw length.
You can also measure this way with the help of a friend, who would measure from your knuckles to anchor point directly, if you don’t feel bothered looking to see how long the measuring tape case is.
#4 With a Measuring Arrow
They make special draw length indicator arrows, but you can also use an arrow you know is too long.
You can use a real or imaginary bow.
Grip the arrow’s nock and pull to full draw.
Then, have a friend observe the marking (on a draw length indicator) or mark the arrow with a sharpie above your furthest knuckle.
Measure that from inside the nock to the marking and you have your draw length!
Tips and Advice
Draw length may be an important measurement but it’s easy to do.
While I favor the fist-to-face method, it’s not always the most newbie-friendly.
That’s because it relies on you standing in proper form. Wingspan measurements, however, just need you to T-pose while a friend measures you.
Chances are good that you won’t get the same measurement if you use two or more techniques.
That’s not necessarily a bad thing!
Take your estimated and measured draw lengths and average the result.
This will give you an excellent starting point.
Your draw length should be accurate, but not five-significant-digits accurate. Getting it to the nearest half-inch or inch is fine.
Oh, and remember to round up instead of round down. Too long is better than too short.
An ill-fitting bow can wreak havoc with your form or cause the bow to explode.
Well, maybe it’s not that dramatic, but knowing your draw length can help you choose a bow and arrows that will fit you.
Well-fitted archery equipment will let you be consistent, accurate, and always on target…
…provided you do your part and practice!