How to Choose a Compound Bow

Compound Bow

So you’ve mastered the bull’s-eye shot and are ready for something with more pizazz. Maybe you want to roam the trails of a field archery course or scout the woods for a gobbler like Katniss. Maybe you’re tired of your old set of wheels and are ready for an upgrade. No, not car wheels. We’re talking wheels and cams. If that sounds like you, then you’re ready to try compound archery.

Wheels, cams, stabilizers, limbs. What does it mean?! Don’t be overwhelmed with the terminology and acronyms you read while Googling and YouTube-ing compound archery. Choosing the best bow for compound archery- whether hunting or shooting 3-D targets- is a simple process, and Archery 360 is here to help.

Complete these easy steps before your first shopping trip, and you’ll be ready to try compound archery faster than you can say “archery!”

Eye Dominance

Eye Dominance

First, determine your dominant eye. The fancy name for this is “ocular dominance,” which basically means that your brain prefers visual input from one eye over the other. Your brain considers that eye’s input more “true.”

You dominant eye is usually the same side as your writing hand, just like a baseball player’s throwing hand. But “cross-dominance,” or “switch hitting,” is not uncommon. Some right-handed archers shoot left-handed because their left eye is dominant. Not sure where to start? Determine your dominant eye in three easy steps:

1. Place your hands at arm’s length, and press your thumbs and forefingers together to form a triangular opening.

2. Keeping both eyes open, look through the triangle and center it on something, like a doorknob.

3. Now close one eye, then the other. If you can’t close one of your eyes by blinking, have someone cover it for you.

Notice how the doorknob stays in place with one eye but “jumps” with the other eye? Your dominant eye keeps the doorknob centered in the triangle. Archers who are right-eye dominant should shoot right-handed. Archers who are left-eye dominant should shoot left-handed.

Draw Length

Sara Lopez- Draw Length 800

Next, determine your draw length. Your archery store can measure it quickly and precisely, but here’s a DIY to estimate your draw length on your own:

First, measure your wingspan. Stand up straight with both arms and hands extended to your sides, forming a “T.” Have a friend measure from the tip of one middle finger to the tip of the other middle finger in a straight line. Divide that number by 2.5 to estimate your draw length. An archery pro will need to measure you again for accuracy and precision. You don’t want to buy a bow with a draw length that’s too short or too long.

Axle-to-Axle Length

Archer Merritt- Diagram

Again, we’re not talking car axles. The axle-to-axle measurement is the length between the bow’s cams– the wheel-like devices that help power the bow – attached to the bow’s limb tips.

Why does this measurement matter? It’s important for the axle-to-axle length of your bow to fit the type of shooting or hunting you’ll be doing. An extremely long bow, for instance, might make hunting in a tight blind or single-seated tree stand difficult. If you’re roaming an open course, scouting turkeys from the ground or hunting deer from a tree stand with open platforms, you can probably get by with a longer bow. It might even be beneficial. Why? Typically, the longer a bow’s axle-to-axle measurement, the more forgiving it will be when taking longer shots. So go ahead and try that target at the end of your sights. You could land yourself the ultimate campfire story.

Draw Weight

Paralympics: Archery-Men's Individual Compound

Whether you draw your bow with your hands or a shoulder release, like Matt Stutzman, It’s time to figure out your draw weight. This measures how many pounds you can draw, or pull back, with the bow.

There’s no magic formula for determining draw weights. Start with a low-poundage bow, especially if you’ve never drawn one before. The more you use your bow-shooting muscles, the more weight you’ll be able to draw, and the farther you’ll be able to shoot.

These days it’s easier than ever to find quality bows with adjustable draw lengths and draw weights. Today’s bows “grow” with you as you progress from paper targets to 3-D targets to bowhunting. This means you can easily change your draw length and draw weight as you develop your shooting skills and archery muscles.

Youth- from USA Archery FB

Now you know how to find a compound bow that fits you. But no matter which bow you choose, have fun! Compound archery is a skilled, rewarding way to shoot, but it’s about more than just arrowing your target. Tracks, scat, rubs, sheds and finding the perfect spot. All of these experiences are what make bowhunting and field archery fun and exciting.


Looking for more compound bow basics? Brush up on cams, wheels, limbs and strings or scopes, sights and stabilizers with Archer Merritt, four-time 3-D archery state champion from Virginia.