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Breaking Down the Numbers: Buying your New Archery Bow

Updated on September 27, 2013

If you are looking for your first archery bow, or you are looking for a new archery bow, there is a whole range of factors that you need to consider before making your decision. You are not going to buy a compound bow or a recurve bow just based off the look, but if you do more power to you! You are going to have a set idea in your mind of what you are going to expect from your future bow, or your bow. If you felt that your last bow might have been a little slow, then you might want something that has a little bit more speed. You might be looking for a lighter bow if the last one that you had felt as you were carrying around a small sack of sugar. Whatever your reason is, we know that there are going to be a lot of specifications and jargon that are out there. We are going to break some of the more important jargon down into simple to understand terms.

While you were searching for the next archery bow that you wanted to buy, I am sure you came across many advertisements or brochures that had all of these specifications. If you are new to the sport then you have probably asked yourself what all these numbers mean to you. When you are looking at the different bows, I want you to keep in the back of our minds that the concept behind everything the bow is, revolves around math. What I mean by this is that there are certain mathematical limitations to what any one bow can or cannot do. Not every archery bow is created equal. The specifications of the bow you are looking at might be lacking I one category, but will make up for it in another. The more expensive the bow is, the more balanced its specifications will be compared to the lesser-priced models.

Key Factors

  • Speed
  • Kinetic Energy
  • Draw Weight and Draw Length
  • Let-off

Speed, Speed, and More Speed

The first item that we are going to look at revolves around speed. People will always make mention of how fast the bow shoots. You will hear the acronym FPS being thrown around a lot of the time. FPS stands for feet per second, and that is how speed is measured when you are talking about shooting an arrow. It does not matter if you are shooting a compound bow, a recurve, traditional bow, or a crossbow, the standard of measurement will always be in feet per second. If you needed a mental crutch to help you gauge the speed a little bit better, let us assume your bow has an FPS of 332. This means that the arrow is traveling at around 226 miles per hour!

What does speed matter, anyway? Well for starters, the faster that your arrow is being launched from your archery bow, the quicker it will hit its intended target. If you are hunting anything that is exceptionally fast with your bow then the higher speeds will definitely help you out. If you are using your bow for archery practice, it will make less of a difference. It will still make a difference though, because the faster that your bow shoots, the flatter your trajectory will be when you are judging distances.

Kinetic Energy

Raw speed is not the only factor that one should consider when they are buying a new bow. You may have seen the letters, “K.E.” on some of the pamphlets or catalogues (not all manufacturers put this specification on the catalogues for various reasons). What this acronym stands for is kinetic energy. This form of energy only really matters if you are going to be using your archery bow while you are out hunting. All that kinetic energy will mean to you, if you are only shooting at a range, is how hard it is going to be for you to work to dig your target out of the target! If you have not guessed it, already kinetic energy is the amount of penetration that you are going to inflict based off foot-pounds of kinetic energy.

Draw Weight and Draw Length

Where does all of this speed come from and how is it affected by the design on the archery bow? The draw length is the amount (in inches) that your are drawing your arm back, in order to get the bow to a full draw position. The longer your draw length is, the more feet per second you are going to be able to achieve. This is not to say that everyone should go out and get the longest draw length available to them, because that would just be wrong. You draw length should be directly proportional to your wingspan. If you are looking for a max effective draw length then you should measure your wingspan from the tip of your middle fingers and divide that number by two and a half.

Draw weight is the amount of weight that you are required to pull back in order to draw the bow. Many of today’s modern compound bows have the advantage of let-off (which we will talk about in just a bit), but many of the recurves do not. This is important because if you get a bow that has a draw weight that is too heavy for you, then you will only be able to get in a few shots before you become exhausted. There is also a direct correlation between the amount of draw weight that you have and the speed that you are able to produce. The more draw weight that your bow has, the faster it is going to be able to shoot.


If you are using a recurve, then you will not benefit from any let-off that the bow might bring. Let off is the percentage of the weight that is “let-off” once the archery bows cams turn a certain degree. You will always see this explained as a percentage, i.e. “80% let-off.” This means that 80 percent of the weight of the bow is let-off when you are at full draw. If you take, for example, a 100-pound bow, and it came with a specified 80% let-off, that would mean that you would only be holding a weight of 20 pounds (or 20% of total weight) when you have the bow at full draw.

What was/will be your first bow?

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These were a few of the more important aspects that we feel you should look for when you are searching for your new archery bow. These were intended more for a beginning archer, in that they tried to explain as much of the jargon as possible. These explanations are just a starting point for anyone who is looking to purchase their new bow. I would still recommend that you test out every archery bow that catches your eye. Enjoying your shot is one of the most important aspects of this sport so make sure you get something that fits your shooting style.


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