Draw Weight, Your Ounce of Prevention
By Kevin Reese
Not long ago, I spent a weekend introducing the next generation to our outdoor heritage through archery. True to my routine, I began the lesson with a discussion on safety that segued into equipment basics and finally into shooting fundamentals, position ranking at the top. My pop always said, “Anything worth doing is worth doing right.” Archery is no exception and older archery students would likely agree I do not cut corners where safety and shooting form are concerned. After all, it’s easier to learn it right the first time than to break down bad habits, bury them then learn anew.
Without fail, in every archery class I have ever taught, there is at least one person struggling with their draw weight. Shooting in large groups, whether competitively or just for kicks, one person always stand out, the shooter “skying” his or her bow. Skying is the term we use in the archery world for those misfortuned folks who must raise their bows toward the sky in order to somehow leverage the strength needed to finally land at full draw. Trust me, in large groups there’s one in every crowd. Incidentally, if you don’t see someone skying their bow, it’s probably you.
Improper draw weight can result in pretty serious consequences. From wounding animals to tragic injuries for shooters and the people around them, the road beyond your draw weight can be pretty grim and deserves real, honest conversation.
Low draw weights can lead to shooting incorrect arrow weights. Arrow weight and velocity have a lot to do with momentum and kinetic energy. This becomes a serious point of contention in our hunting world because with lower draw weights, reduced arrow velocity and as a result lower momentum and kinetic energy, your chances at effective penetration are significantly decreased, especially when striking bone. For this reason, most states even incorporate minimum draw weights into their hunting regulations. Shooting at a lower draw weight also means your bow is not performing at its optimum level according to your physical abilities and comfort. Conversely, a heavier draw weight certainly increases momentum, etc.; however, with a disclaimer, about the negative consequences of a draw length that is too heavy.
The most recognizable sign in archery of a shooter employing a draw weight that is too heavy is the skying activity mentioned above; the archer generally raises his bow towards the sky while drawing to leverage the string past the break-over point. This strategy can have serious physical and ethical implications.
Good shooting incorporates many fundamentals, the first of which is good and consistent form. A draw length that is too heavy causes the shooter to struggle, sky or even dip their bow; nevertheless, the result is consistently breaking your form… and straining to do so. Over a period time, shooting in this manner may certainly involve rapid fatigue, muscle strain, muscle tear, ligament and tendon damage, possibly even irreparable injuries certain to end your stick-and-string addiction. Certainly that juice isn’t worth squeeze!
Shooters who struggle with draw weight place themselves and the people around them in imminent danger. Beyond the potential for injuries I’ve mentioned, straining through your draw cycle increases the potential to steer your bow in a direction that compromises the safety of people around you and opens the door for loosing arrows in a direction you didn’t plan to shoot. In competitive shooting I have seen arrows launched into light fixtures, across lanes, over targets and into the woods and into the ground; yes, I have even witnessed near misses with adjacent shooters. When people focus all of their attention on simply drawing a bow back they are no longer focused on safety. This lack of focus coupled with strain also lends itself to slipping. Indeed, I have witnessed bows slipping from the forward hand during draw many times and while it seems funny to imagine, it’s definitely no laughing matter. People are often seriously injured when their bow comes back to hit them in the face!
Machismo is alive and well in archery. No self-respecting guy is going to admit to drawing 40 or 50 pounds, right? To the contrary I have known, shot against and hunted with many amazing archers and bowhunters who shoot within that range. That said, it’s not conducive to good teachings and communications to dictate what range of draw weight everyone must abide by, save minimal draw weights established by your state. The only honest answer is to employ a draw weight within your range of comfort.
While proper draw weight is critical to safe, effective shooting and even ethics on the hunt, you’re not necessarily held captive by a specific weight either. Every bow is different and considering the draw cycle, more specifically, the draw force curve, you may find that higher poundage is easily achieved with different bows. Rest assured, the draw cycle on a vintage Bear Whitetail Hunter bow feels nothing like the buttery-smooth draw of a BowTech RPM 360! There is something to be said for the advanced technology often resulting from research and development. Today’s bows are smoother, faster and store much more energy for the shot than ever before. Someone drawing 50-pounds on that Bear bow may pull back 70-pounds on the RPM 360… with less effort! The only way to know for sure is to spend time exploring your draw weight and other bow options.
Pride can be damaging and draw weight is definitely one place we see it rear its ugly head. The idea that your bow’s poundage somehow infers your level of brawn or testosterone level is ridiculous. I cannot express emphatically enough the importance of shooting comfortably. Struggling to achieve full draw leads to shaky holds and poor shots on the animals we owe our best efforts to and tears at the fabric of hunting ethics, but so does draw weight that is too light as we discussed earlier; of course, coming in last place at a competition shoot is no fun and neither is the trash talking from your buddies that follows.
In the end, like porridge, your draw weight is too light, too heavy or just right. If it’s not just right you have critical choices to make – increase your poundage to a comfortable weight conducive to your and your bow’s optimal performance, decrease your poundage to a comfortable level, build strength or set out on a quest for your next bow.
- A great way to learn whether or not your draw weight is set too high is to sit down on the ground open or cross-legged and comfortably draw your bow on a horizontal plane. If it feels too easy, you’re welcome to increase your draw weight. Do not increase draw weight to the point it becomes uncomfortable.
- If you haven’t been trained to adjust a bow’s draw weight, take it to a trained archery technician. Adjusting draw weight can result in severe injury and damage to your bow.
- You should always seek the advice or professional services of a trained archery technician when considering or requiring adjustments of any kind on your bow.