LAST UPDATED: May 1st, 2015
As a Pro Staff member for a bow manufacturer, I get to attend numerous hunting trade shows and expos each year. At the consumer-oriented shows we let anyone and everyone shoot our bows, and are happy to do so.
There are always several guys at these shows act like they have something to prove, and insist that their draw length is much longer than it really is, and that they “only shoot 70-pound bows”. Yet, when I watch them shoot, it becomes very obvious that they shouldn’t be pulling 70-pounds. I’ve been there before. It has taken me a while to set my ego aside and realize that shooting as much weight as I can possibly draw isn’t always the best option. In fact, it is rarely the best option.
How do you know when you’re pulling too much draw weight? The answer is actually pretty easy to find out. Here are four shooting tests that provide insight into how we are handling the draw weight of a bow.
1) Breaking Parallel
If you’re drawing too much weight, then your shooting form is going to breakdown from the very beginning. The need to perform a “sky draw” is an indicator that your draw weight is too high.
Test this by setting a target that isn’t it an extreme up/down angle or height, then hold your bow out in front of you – putting it roughly in the position that you will be holding it when you’re aiming at full draw. Now, try to draw the bow without raising the bow or angling it up so that the arrow would miss above the target.
Can you draw the bow while keeping it aimed on target, so that the “draw stroke” is horizontally parallel with the path to the target? Or, are you raising your bow arm up and pointing it to the sky as you draw?
Also check to see if your form remains vertically parallel. When you setup before your draw the bow, your head should be squarely in the middle of your feet, and your hips shouldn’t be cocked to one side or the other. If you notice that your head shifts over your back foot and your hips shift towards the target as you draw the bow, then you’re pulling too much weight.
If you have to “sky draw” your bow there’s a good possibility you may be shooting too much draw weight. You want to keep your bow arm parallel to the ground as you draw.
2) Put It On Hold
In addition to peak draw weight, also consider your “holding weight” – which is the amount of weight that you are holding at full-draw. For example, a bow with a 70-pound peak weight and a 80% let-off should have a holding weight of around 14-pounds.
The question that you need to consider is, “How long can I hold my bow at full draw and still make a controlled and accurate shot?”
There are many different schools of thought regarding what minimum amount of time a bowhunter should be able to hold at full-draw for. Personally, I think most bowhunters should be able to hold for at least 30 seconds, and I often practice holding for a minute or more.
But remember, there are two parts to the question that I said you need to ask yourself. The second part, “making a controlled and accurate shot,” is extremely important! Being able to hold a bow at full draw for 30 seconds is great, but if you’re shaking, struggling, and exhausted at the end of that time, then you’re not going to be able to make an ethical shot.
How long can you hold your bow at full draw and still make a clean shot? If it’s less than 30 seconds you may need to reduce your draw weight or practice more often.
3) Take A Seat
This simple test can be eye opening. How well can you draw your bow when seated? Try it from a standard folding chair or office chair. Better yet, try it from a chair or stool that’s designed for hunting out of ground blinds. Want a real challenge? Try drawing your bow while sitting “indian style” on the ground.
I tend to be less strict about having perfect parallel form when drawing from a seated position, but you should still be able to get the bow back and anchored without too much extra movement. If you can’t get your bow back when seated, or are struggling to maintain decent technique while doing so, then you’re trying to draw too much weight.
Make sure you can draw smoothly from a seated position.
4) Get Out of Bed
Get out of bed after a long night’s sleep and go straight to your bow. Do you struggle to draw it back effectively when your muscles are tired and stiff?
That sounds like a silly test, but this actually helps replicate what it is like to draw your bow after you’ve been sitting and waiting on that buck for hours. And if you’re sitting in the cold, it’ll only be harder.
If you struggle to draw your bow first thing in the morning, then you might be trying to draw too much weight.
Why These Tests Matter
If we only test our draw weight during pre-season practice – when the temperatures are warm, our bodies are conditioned, and we are at the apex of our shooting abilities – then we are fooling ourselves about how much weight we can effectively handle in a hunting situation.
These tests help replicate some of the stressors and inhibitors of a real hunting scenario, and tend to be quite revealing concerning our abilities.
If you can’t effectively hunt with as much draw weight as you thought, don’t worry. Modern bows are typically so efficient that you’ll still be a capable, ethical hunter – even if you loosen those limb bolts a bit.
And always remember that a well-placed arrow from a lower-poundage bow is better than an erratic arrow that’s flying with blazing speed.