COMPOUND BOW DRAW LENGTH DISCUSSION
THE "PERFECT" DRAW LENGTH EXPERTS SAY
Ask ten different archery experts for advice about your draw length, and you're likely to get ten different answers. There are a number of methods and devices commonly used to determine a "proper" draw length, few of which agree. For the record, we stick-by our proven Armspan/2.5 method (more) when outfitting new shooters. But the truth is ... the "perfect draw length" is the draw length at which you are the most comfortable and the most accurate. No matter what a chart or device (or expert) says, if you shoot best at a given draw length ... THAT'S your perfect draw length.
YOU ARE THE FINAL JUDGE
There is no right and wrong, no absolutes. We've seen shooters perform brilliantly with draw lengths that appear too long or too short, but that's pretty unusual. A misfitted draw length is usually a detriment to success. It is unlikely that a 5'10" guy will be successful with a 30" draw length, and similarly unlikely that a 6'3" guy will shoot well with a 28" draw length. It's not impossible - just unlikely. So while we recognize that the "perfect draw length" may be ultimately determined by feel (and some trial and error) rather than by calculation, we still recommend a common-sense approach here. If you're new to the sport, you'll have better luck if you just play the averages and choose an initial draw length that's similar to others of your same size and stature (reference the chart). Fortunately, on most bows, making a minor draw length change is pretty simple. So it's not quite a life or death decision to start. However, as you become more immersed in the sport and begin to "fine-tune" your game, you may wish to experiment a little with your draw length. Ultimately, YOU are the final judge.
SQUEEZING OUT A FEW MORE FPS
Most shooters tend to set their bows for too much draw length - particularly men. This could be a side-effect of machismo, perhaps, but sometimes it's a conscious decision to gain more speed and power. The longer your draw length, the longer your bow's powerstroke will be - and the faster your bow will shoot. As a general rule, 1" of draw length is worth about 10 fps of arrow velocity. Bows are IBO Speed rated at 30" draw length. So if your particular bow has an IBO speed of 320 fps, and you intend to shoot the bow at 27" draw length - you should expect an approximate 30 fps loss in speed right off the top (290 fps max). This is one of the reasons that so many archers, particularly shorter guys, choose inappropriately long draw lengths. We strongly discourage this practice, as the added speed is a poor trade-off for the loss of comfort and control. A fast arrow is no good if you can't reliably put it on target.
MAKING CONTACT WITH THE BOW REFERENCE POINTS
A properly set draw length helps you to establish reference points at full-draw - key elements to reliable accuracy. When you come to full draw, you will want to establish contact points between you and the bow. Hopefully, these points will be the same every time you draw the bow. Perhaps you'll concentrate on where your knuckle meets your ear or cheek (1), or how the string touches the corner of your mouth (2), or how the tip of your nose just tickles the string below the peep (3). Whatever reference points you choose to monitor is up to you, but they are an important part of a consistent routine and collectively help you to establish your ANCHOR POINT for each shot. If you don't release each shot from the exact same anchor point, your accuracy will always be mediocre at best.
If your draw length is significantly too long or short, those natural reference points become unnatural. You either have to stretch your arm and chest out and lean your head back (draw length too long) or collapse your bow arm in and lean your head forward (draw length too short) to maintain your reference points. This puts your body out of proper shooting position and results in a variety of problems.
VISIBILITY THROUGH YOUR PEEP SIGHT
Some people try to compensate for an ill-fitting draw length another way - by sacrificing their natural anchor points and just maintaining proper shooting position. Unfortunately, this method of compensation causes visibility trouble through the peep sight (to add insult to losing your anchor points).
TOO FAR AWAY
If you're too far away from the peep sight (draw length too short) then your field of view through the peep is too restricted. The peep's field of view will likely be "inside" the pin guard, making it impossible to align the concentric circles while aiming. Seeing too little inside the peep, and too much outside your peep also makes acquiring your target very difficult - even in broad daylight - and next to impossible in low light conditions.
On the other hand, if you're too close to the peep sight (draw length too long), you get a different set of problems. As objects are moved very close to your eye, into your eye's Field of Proximal Convergence, your eyes naturally begin to cross (even if you have one eye closed). It's very difficult to "un-train" your eye react to this involuntary reflex - so sighting will always seem unnatural when the peep is too close to the eye. A peep sight that's too close to your eye will also give you a jumbo field of view - which basically negates the entire function of the peep sight.
We see this on occasion when a draw length is too short. The shooter totally abandons the idea of making contact with the bow and establishing reference points. At full draw, everything is effectively "floating." Without some physical contact at your reference points, it's very difficult to steady on target and make a repeatable shot. Floaters get frustrated very quickly because accuracy is terrible. So over time most floaters will eventually learn to compensate by leaning into the string or bending their bow arm to give the body more contact with the bow. Unfortunately, this causes most shooters to close-down their stance, hand-torque their bows to the right, and tilt their heads awkwardly to the side to see through the peep sight.
This one is even more common - a long draw length that ultimately leads to a big red welt on the forearm. This shooter will perform mediocre at first, since some anchor points are being maintained. But the field of view in the peep sight (too close to peep) will always be too large. The shooter will soon grow tired of the awkward sighting and begin modifying his shooting form to compensate. The shooter will begin to open up his stance, straighten his left arm, hand-torque the bow to the left, push the left shoulder out and away from the body, and lean his head back. Ironically, this will immediately improve his accuracy ... except now the bowstring begins eating him alive - popping his forearm with every shot. So Poppers have to choose between mediocrity and a level of painful success. Most just give up and go back to mediocrity - or get discouraged all together.
NOTE: For the record, when you're shooting a proper draw length, with the proper shooting form, your bow's string should NEVER touch your forearm. String-slap is a sure sign you're doing something wrong! And NO! An arm guard is not a cure for string slap.
STRING LOOPS ADD A HALF-INCH OF DRAW LENGTH, RIGHT?
We've heard that comment literally thousands of times. It seems to be common knowledge among archery enthusiasts that a string loop equals 1/2" of draw length. To be honest, it would be easier to just say yes and move on, but that's not technically correct. In fact, that rule of thumb is incorrect MOST of the time. Forgive us for popping the industry string loop bubble here, but here's the deal ...
NEGATORY, GOOD BUDDY
Does a string loop actually change the bow's draw length? Certainly not. The AMO/ATA specs for measuring draw length reference the actual bowstring at its nocking point - not necessarily the point of attachment from which it is drawn. If you draw a compound bow back to full draw, the official draw length is found by measuring the distance from the nocking point on the string, in a line perpendicular to the center line of the bow, to an imaginary point above the pivot point of the grip, plus 1.75 inches. Did you get that? If not, you can bone up on more compound bow techno-bits by reading our Compound Bow Selection Guide later. But the fact is, a string loop - or lack of a string loop - has nothing to do with the (official) mechanical draw length of a compound bow. Of course, there's more to the story than just a flat no. Here comes the but part.
DOES A STRING LOOP CHANGE MY ANCHOR POINT?
Ah-ha! That's the better question. Your anchor point should be comprised of several key reference points - connections between you and the bow - whatever you prefer those connections to be (nose to string, arrow nock to corner of mouth, kisser button touching moustache, hand against the cheek, knuckle in the ear, etc.). A string loop will have NO effect on how the string touches your nose, or how the nock of the arrow touches the corner of your lip ... BUT ... a string loop will make your release hand rest about 1/2" farther back on your cheek.
A MATTER OF PERCEPTION
Look at the diagrams above. This is the same bow, at the same draw length, drawn back first without and then with a string loop. Notice the pink lines referencing the relative positions of the crease of his index & middle finger to his ear. Clearly you can see that when using the string loop, his hand decidedly rests further back on his jaw. But the distance between his eye and the peep sight, as well as the contact between his nose and string both remain the same. So here's the deal. If you judge your fit for draw length primarily by how your release hand rests along the side of your face, then yes - a string loop will make it feel as if your draw length is about 1/2" longer. If you're a new shooter or accustomed to judging your fit for draw length by some other reference point - one not affected by a string loop - then no. Do not consider a string loop into the equation.
KEEPING REASONABLE PERSPECTIVE
HOW MUCH PRECISION IS REALLY NECESSARY?
Obviously, a properly fitting draw length is important. But before you start computing the square root of your hypotenuse, let's keep things in some reasonable perspective. How close do you really have to get? Within an inch? Half-inch? A quarter-inch? This issue could be debated, as there probably isn't a right and wrong answer to this question either.
But again, we recommend a common sense approach. For most shooters, a ±½" change in draw length is hardly noticed. To be realistic, half-inch sizes are probably precise enough (27½", 28", 28½, 29", 29½", etc.), particularly for the purposes of hunting and recreational archery.
YOU'RE THE BOSS
Of course, we will be glad to adjust your new compound bow to any draw length you desire. If you would like your bow set to a very specific length, our pro-shop will gladly accommodate the request. But you should keep in mind that as your bow's string ages and stretches over time (as ALL strings do), your draw length will slightly increase - a tiny fraction at a time. So maintaining a razor-specific 28-23/64" draw length will be an unnecessary and frustrating endeavor.