It’s certainly possible to shoot whatever compound bow you have in just about any target archery competition that allows compound bows. But if you want to give yourself the best chance for success, consider buying a bow that’s primarily intended for target shooting rather than hunting.
What’s the difference? Target bows are more archer-friendly. They draw smoother and hold steadier, and the recoil is softer. They’re designed specifically with accuracy in mind, whereas hunting bows are built for maneuverability, to minimize weight, and to maximize arrow speed, which produces quick, clean kills.
The most noticeable difference between the two types of bows is the axle-to-axle length. Hunting compounds typically measure 27 to 34 inches long, but target compounds generally are 34 to 40 inches long. A longer bow allows the archer to hold steadier while aiming.
Also, a target bow’s cams tend to be smaller and its draw cycle smoother. You won’t notice the big “hump and dump” that comes from hitting the peak draw weight of a hunting bow right before the cams roll over into the valley. Smaller cams tend to flatten that curve.
Choosing a Target Compound
How do you pick a target compound? First, consider any competition restrictions that you might encounter. For example, tournaments sanctioned by USA Archery and World Archery limit compound bow draw weight to no more than 60 pounds.
Since most compound bows have a 10-pound draw weight adjustment range, you could use a bow with a peak draw weight of 70 pounds and back out the limb bolts to reduce the weight to 60. But compound bows usually perform best at the top end of their range. You could lose valuable efficiency and forgiveness shooting a 70-pound bow turned down to 60.
If draw weight isn’t a limiting factor, then consider the importance of arrow speed versus how much weight you can comfortably pull. Target competitions typically require lots of shooting. Don’t go so heavy that you wear yourself out and your accuracy falls.
Arrow speed is critical in games like unknown-distance 3D, where you have to judge the distance to targets. The faster your arrows fly, the more margin for error you’ll have. It’s also important in competitions where you’re shooting long distances — anything over 40 yards. A faster bow is more forgiving in those situations.
Consider let-off when you’re looking at draw weight. Many target archers like a lower let-off — 65 and 70 percent are common — because it increases the holding weight at full draw. Most archers can hold a bow steadier when pulling more against the string at full draw, but that’s not universal. Figure out what works for you. The best choice might be a bow that has adjustable let-off, so you have options.
Taller archers are likely to do better with longer bows than shorter archers. A longer bow will balance better for a taller archer, and the string angle at full draw will be less severe. When a very tall archer shoots a short bow with a long draw length, the string angle is usually very sharp at full draw. That means the peep sight will be farther away from the archer’s eye and the nock pinch will be more severe. And finding a consistent anchor point — such as touching your nose to the string — can be more troublesome. So someone over 6 feet tall might want a 40-inch bow, while someone 5 feet tall might want one just 36 inches long.
Opt for a bow that feels balanced. It shouldn’t feel like you’re trying to hold up a flagpole, nor should it feel like a pencil. The string angle at full draw should allow you to keep your head straight up when you achieve anchor with your release — you should simply be able to touch your nose to the string without having to lean forward or back. Such alignment will put the peep sight at a comfortable distance from your eye.
Some target bows have cam modules that are specific to the draw length. For example, if you have a bow outfitted with a 30-inch module, that’s the draw length for the bow. You can twist and untwist cables to adjust up to about 1/2-inch on either side of 30 inches, but that’s it. If you want to change to 29 or 31 inches, you have to get different modules.
Other bows have adjustable modules that allow you to work with a range of draw lengths, such as 25 to 30 inches. You can move the module position to adjust draw length in 1/4- or 1/2-inch increments within that range. Ease of adjustability comes in handy for archers who want to use one bow for indoor archery, where you’d probably set the draw length to be as long as comfortably possible, and also field or 3D archery, where you might have to shoot uphill or downhill. When shooting at angles, target archers often shorten draw lengths to make it easier to activate their shot.
Inspect the grip on the bow. Does it fit your style of shooting? Is it thin enough? Flat enough? Angled the right way? If you don’t like it, can it be replaced with an aftermarket grip that you know feels right? If not, you’re either going to have to spend a lot of time getting used to the grip or you’re going to have a hard time shooting.
Tuning is critical for target bows. You want the most forgiving setup possible so you have the best chance at being as accurate as possible. Bow manufacturers are making the tuning process — which involves moving the cams and/or cables — much easier these days. Some bows still require a bow press to do this type of tuning, while others need only hex wrenches. Not having a bow press, or not feeling comfortable using one, might influence your choice. Ask your pro shop technician what’s required to tune a particular bow before you buy it.
Target archery with a compound bow is a wonderful game that can extend your love of shooting a bow and arrow well beyond hunting season. Choosing the right target bow will make that experience exponentially more enjoyable.