Getting into Archery: Understanding Draw Length

by Brad Fenson

Cinque Terre

If you’re looking at getting a compound bow for target archery or bowhunting, you need a one that fits you properly—starting with draw length.

What’s draw length?

Compound bows are designed to draw back a set distance and stop. This distance is called the draw length.

Proper draw length varies among shooters. As you probably have guessed, tall people need more draw length and shorter shooters, less.

Finding your draw length

Most archery shops will have an arrow inscribed with draw length increments, allowing you to draw for your exact draw length measurement. If you prefer to figure it out at home, try this:

  1. 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.
  2. Have someone measure or mark the distance between the tips of your two middle fingers. It’s easiest to mark the wall with masking tape at the spot both your fingers extended to.
  3. Take that measurement and divide it by 2.5 to get your draw length.

Use this number as a guide to find what draw is comfortable and works for you. If for example you have a 29-inch draw, you need to use a bow with a draw length adjustment between 28 and 30 inches. The user manual for any bow provides excellent direction to adjust draw length—usually done with just a hex wrench and set within the bow's specified mechanical range.

Most compound bows easily adjust, and some even so shooters can use their bow from an early age into adulthood; for example, a bow with a draw length from 13 to 30 inches and weight adjustments from 5 to 70 pounds.

Take the time to get it right

Some archers struggle with draw lengths that are too long. Gaining a few feet per second in speed is not worth the loss of accuracy and comfort. Remember, speed doesn’t harvest an animal, but a precisely placed broadhead sure does.

A perfect draw length will keep you shooting consistently. No matter what others tell you, always adjust the bow to the shooter…not the other way around.

Looking for more archery tips? Brad Fenson offers solid advice in the article, Hunting for a Bow.

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