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The draw weight of your bow determines the velocity of the arrow and, consequently, its kinetic energy, effective range, and penetrating power. As a result, the draw weight plays an important role in the efficiency of your bow as a hunting weapon, including what kinds of game animals you can hunt with it.
The draw weight, or poundage, of a bow is the amount of force you need to apply to draw the bowstring rearward. For example, if a bow has a draw weight of 60 lb., you need to apply 60 lb. of force to draw the bowstring fully to the rear.
Several factors affect the draw weight of the bow. The most critical factor is the stiffness of the limbs. Higher draw weight corresponds to stiffer limbs, as more force is required to bend them.
Bow Draw Weight for Hunting
The ideal bow draw weight for hunting depends on several factors—first, the physical condition of the archer. You should only select the draw weight that you can shoot comfortably and accurately.
If you can’t draw the bowstring smoothly to the rear or need to point the bow toward the sky to complete the draw stroke, consider selecting a lighter weight.
Bowhunters often select draw weights between 60 and 70 lb. In most compound hunting bows, you can adjust the draw weight in 10-lb. increments — this allows you to tailor the draw weight to your physical capabilities and intended prey.
As a general rule, you should be able to keep the bow at full draw for one minute without losing stability. This is often necessary in the field to place your shot accurately under different lighting and weather conditions. If you’re hunting a deer, the animal may turn unexpectedly or move behind a tree. Under these circumstances, letting down the bow may spook the animal.
In addition, one way of testing whether the selected draw weight is suitable for you is to fire 30 arrows at an archery target. If, in 30 arrows, you experienced noticeable fatigue or exhaustion, the draw weight may be excessive. Your health and physical conditioning have a direct effect on the draw weight that’s right for you.
Another way of testing for draw weight is to suspend a weight scale, hook the D-loop of your bowstring to the scale, and apply downward pressure. The maximum amount of force you can apply comfortably is your draw weight limit.
If you’re older, have shoulder injuries, or aren’t physically strong, don’t choose a bow with a peak draw weight you can’t handle. It will compromise your accuracy and may exacerbate existing health conditions.
You can perform exercises to strengthen the muscles you use to both draw and hold the bowstring, and there are tools you can use for this purpose. However, the priority should be to assume the correct form and shoot comfortably at all times.
The game animal that you intend to hunt and the applicable laws also affect the draw weight. Most states have minimum draw-weight requirements. A draw weight of 40 lb. and above is sufficient for hunting whitetail deer, provided it meets your state’s minimum requirement. For hunting elk or moose, many bowhunters select higher draw weights. A draw weight of 30–35 lb. can be adequate, depending on the choice of arrow and range.
Modern compound bows, which use a single- or dual-cam system to apply a mechanical advantage, can store and transmit more energy than recurve bows of comparable peak draw weight.
This allows the archer to propel arrows at higher velocities with less strain. Furthermore, at the end of the draw cycle, the compound bow has a more pronounced “let-off.” This means that when you reach full draw, the force needed to maintain the bowstring at this position is less than what was required to draw it.
The let-off is a percentage of the peak draw weight. For example, if a bow with a 60 lb. peak draw weight has an 80% let-off, that means the holding weight — the amount of force needed to maintain the bowstring at full draw — is 12 lbs.
While the ideal bow draw weight for hunting differs from one archer to another, the draw weight isn’t the only factor that affects the terminal performance of your arrows. While a comparatively heavy draw weight may be necessary for delivering sufficient power to elk and moose, don’t neglect arrow selection.
A fixed-blade broadhead is more durable than either a removable-blade or expandable broadhead. Expandable broadheads, while capable of disrupting more tissue, also increase drag due to the greater surface area of the cutting blades.
The result is that a fixed-blade broadhead is more penetrative. The stiffness of the arrow shaft and the weight of the arrow also affect penetration. The stiffness determines the extent to which the shaft flexes, and the weight affects the momentum.
One of the most important factors regarding effectiveness in the field is accuracy. A high draw weight can’t compensate for inadequate shot placement. In this regard, arrows are analogous to bullets.
You must place your arrows accurately — hitting vital organs and major blood vessels — to cause fatal hemorrhage. Arrows wound primarily by puncturing and lacerating soft tissue. As a result, arrows only destroy the tissue that they directly contact, necessitating careful shot placement.
Practice is Critical
The most important factor regarding bowhunting is practice. You should ensure that you can accurately shoot arrows of the same weight you intend to hunt at realistic distances. If you expect to hunt deer at 25 yards, for example, practice at 25 yards. Ideally, you should practice under the same general conditions, although this may be more difficult to arrange.
The Bottom Line
The draw weight of your bow directly affects the velocity of the arrow and its lethality as a hunting tool. While you should ensure that the peak draw weight is sufficient to kill the game animal you intend to hunt and that it meets applicable laws, you should only select a peak draw weight that you can comfortably shoot.