by Brad Fenson
photo: Brad Fenson
I watched the bull moose work his way through the willows and up the hill towards me. I was hidden behind a stunted birch tree and knew I’d have to draw early to remain undetected. When the bull stopped at 38 metres and turned his head away, I carefully drew my arrow before his eyes could catch me. I was forced to hold my bow at full draw for several minutes until the bull turned broadside. When my arrow flew, it was right on target and rewarded me with a freezer of moose meat for the winter.
One of the biggest reasons for my success on my moose hunt was that my bow was set up to fit me properly, starting with draw length. Drawing your bow to its maximum, or full draw, is required for any compound bow. Unlike traditional equipment, the compound must be drawn to its back wall to reach its full power stroke. You cannot force a compound bow beyond full draw, as a mechanical stop will not allow it. It is a solid wall, or draw point, to ensure your bow stores the exact amount of necessary energy each time you draw it. Being comfortable at full draw, I wasn’t straining to hold the weight of the bow until a shot presented itself.
I’ve seen archers struggle with draw lengths that are too long. Their anchor point is too far back, making it impossible for them to shoot consistently, and impossible to shoot at angles. With an extended draw length, a shooter’s elbow must extend beyond their shoulder causing their shoulder blade to pinch. It simply doesn’t work and if you think gaining a few feet per second in speed is worth the loss of accuracy and comfort—you are mistaken. Speed doesn’t kill, but a precisely placed broadhead sure does.
If you are passing your bow on to a new shooter, it is critical to spend the time setting it up to fit them and explain why you are doing it. The same goes for someone going to a store and buying a new bow. You shouldn’t compromise on getting a bow with the proper draw length adjustment to fit you perfectly.
Most archery shops will have an arrow inscribed with draw length increments, allowing you to draw it and get the exact measurement of your draw length. If you want to figure out your draw length at home, here’s a simple exercise that is accurate to use. Find a long wall and spread your arms out, so your middle fingers are fully extended with an open hand. Put your nose against the wall and your hands flat to the wall, palms open. Have someone measure or mark the distance between the tips of your two middle fingers. It’s easiest to put a piece of masking tape on the wall to mark where both your fingers extended to. You then take the measurement and divide it by 2.5 to give your draw length.
Proper draw length settings vary among shooters, with tall people needing more draw length, and shorter shooters less. The good news is that most compound bows can easily be adjusted for different draw lengths. Some can be adjusted for shooters to keep their bow from an early age, right to an adult. The user manual for any bow provides excellent direction to adjust draw length, which is usually done with just a hex wrench and set within the bow's specified mechanical range. You must have a bow that can adjust to fit you properly. For example, if you have a 29-inch draw you need to use a bow with a draw length adjustment between 28 and 30 inches.
Bow manufacturers are starting to provide a greater range of adjustment on compound bows so a bow can be altered to allow a growing shooter to use it for years. The Diamond Infinite Edge is a notable example of a bow that’s built to last with draw length and weight adjustments from 13 to 30 inches, and 5 to 70 pounds respectively.
A perfect draw length will keep you shooting consistently and help bring home the game. No matter what others may tell you, always adjust the bow to the shooter and never let the shooter adjust themselves to use the bow. When done right, drawing and shooting a bow is much more comfortable, and will feel natural.
Brad Fenson is an avid outdoorsman who enjoys hunting, fishing, and unique adventures. His passion for the outdoors leads him across North America collecting incredible photographs and story ideas from the continent’s most wild places.