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Dialing in Your Draw Length

Everyone’s body is built differently. So what does your build have to do with archery? Proper shooting form and good accuracy depend on having a bow that fits. When it comes to finding the right fit, one of the most important measurements is draw length. 

Shooting a bow of the correct draw length helps maximize your potential as an archer because it gives you the best shot at proper form. A draw length that’s even an inch too long or short can cause problems ranging from decreased accuracy to injury. Draw length also determines the length of your arrows and can even affect the spine of the arrow you should be using. So, if you don’t have your draw length dialed in first, you’ll end up needing new arrows if you make a change.  

Determining Your Bow’s Draw Length

Draw length is the distance you pull back the string for comfortable and proper shooting form. This measurement matters because compound bows have a mechanical stop that is set to a specific draw length. On a compound bow, the draw length is measured from the nocking point to the deepest part of the grip, and then add 1 3/4 inch. 

A bow’s draw length is often indicated with its other specs somewhere on the equipment. But it’s always a good idea to measure just to confirm. The best way to do this is by taking it to a technician at an archery shop. They might use a draw board, which has measurements marked on the board and a system to draw the bow safely for an accurate measurement. Or they might use an arrow with measurements written on it.  

Determining Your Draw Length

Finding a base for determining your draw length is pretty simple. All you need is a friend and a tape measure. Stand relaxed and raise your arms so you’re standing in a “T” position. Have your friend measure your wingspan from the tip of one middle finger, across your back, to the tip of your other middle finger. Then divide this number by 2.5. That number is a great starting point for knowing your draw length, but it’s important to fine-tune. 

Shoot a bow set to that measured draw length to determine whether further adjustments are necessary. For example, if your bow arm elbow is bent at full draw, you may need a slightly longer draw length. If that elbow is hyperextended, the draw length probably needs to be shortened. At the correct length, your string should rest on the corner of your mouth and the tip of your nose while at full draw.  

Adjusting the Bow

It’s important to know your draw length before purchasing a compound bow, particularly because a few models cannot be adjusted. And if the draw length is adjustable, you’ll often need a bow technician’s help, perhaps with a bow press and even new parts. 

A compound bow’s cams determine the draw length. Most new bows on the market today have modular systems that are relatively easy to adjust with a series of draw-length-specific modules, or a single module with multiple settings. New modules aren’t too expensive and can often be purchased at an archery shop, where a technician can install and adjust them. 

Some bows, particularly models designed for youth and beginning archers, feature highly adjustable cams that allow for a wide range of draw lengths and weights, so the bow “grows” with the archer. Adjustable cams don’t require new modules to make changes, or the use of a bow press. This simple process is great for beginners who are learning their perfect draw length because it allows them to play around and find the most comfortable fit. However, these bows generally don’t perform as well as more traditional compounds.   

A few bows, especially some older models, have draw-length-specific cams. To make changes on them, a new cam with the right draw length must be installed. If you’re buying a used bow or get one as a hand-me-down, make sure it’s in your draw length. If it’s not, check with the manufacturer to see if cams are available in the right draw length and at a price you can afford. This process for changing cams requires a bow press and someone with experience working on bows.

If you’re new to archery, visit an archery shop. They’ll measure you and watch as you shoot to determine the best draw length for you. It’s also a great idea to take lessons from a certified archery instructor who can help you establish the right form in the beginning. This can prevent you from developing bad habits. Dialing in your draw length takes a few calculations and a little bit of practice to perfect, but once you’ve got your number you’ll be primed to shoot your best.  



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Learn the basics here, from the different styles of archery to how to choose the bow that’s right for you.


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