How to Determine the Right Draw Length
June 16, 2015
A longtime friend of my son Vic had traveled from the warm side of Texas to the cool part of Illinois in his quest for a good whitetail. This seasoned archer was an excellent marksman, even owning a gold medal from a team world championship. But following a morning in the woods, I could tell from the look on his face that things hadn't gone well.
Although he'd harvested a nice buck, he'd made a poor hit on the animal.
Later that day the archer headed to our practice range, accepting my offer to come along and take a look at his shot. After pounding every arrow into a saucer-sized target at 50 yards, our friend was even more perplexed. At this point, I suggested he return to the house and put on his insulated hunting gear.
When he resumed practice, the shooting turned ugly. The bowstring was hitting his coat sleeve, sending each arrow on an erratic flight downrange.
Broadheads are much more critical to shoot than target points. Because of their blades, they'll mimic an arrow with vanes on both ends.
When a string strikes a bulky hunting coat, the arrow is released on an unpredictable flight trajectory. To eliminate contact with thick outer garments, I suggested to our friend that he shorten his draw length by an inch and try again. He did . . . and the problem suddenly disappeared.
When I put on an archery school, one of the first things I do is to walk down the shooting line to see if each person's equipment is set up correctly. As I do so, one of the most common problems I see is incorrect draw length.
Is Your Length Right?
Although determining the best draw length can be a challenge for many, relying on specific indicators can help. Let's look at some of the hints you can rely on to see if your own draw length needs tweaking.
First, while executing the shot, you should be able to easily pull the bow apart, maintaining strong pressure against the bowstring wall. When the arrow is released, the bow and bow arm should go forward at least an inch. If the draw length is too long, the bow arm is already overextended and won't be able to move any farther forward.
Another symptom is difficulty maintaining effective, constant pressure with the bow arm. The sight pin will keep falling low off the target when aiming.
Shoulder & Arm
Establishing correct draw length takes a good shoulder set on the bow arm. To understand where the shoulder should be, stand without a bow and let your hands rest at your sides. Raise both shoulders; then relax and drop them. Now raise your bow arm and point it toward the target without raising your shoulder.
This is where the shoulder should be when shooting. If you raise your shoulder or push it forward while drawing, it will overextend the bow arm.
The elbow of the bow arm should be straight or slightly relaxed. If you set your draw length for this position, you'll have ample room for the forward pressure, and the more solid shoulder set will eliminate excess pin movement.
Setting the Length
Once you've established where your bow arm and shoulder are to be positioned, it's time to get your draw length to fit. While standing in your usual position at full draw, do you have to move the release hand farther back in order to hit the draw stop? If so, shorten the draw.
Make sure you keep your release hand consistently anchored in the normal shooting position and then change the draw length to fit. After an adjustment or two, you'll find the desired length. If the draw length is too short to meet your anchor, you need to lengthen it.
With the correct draw length, you'll find that you're more in control and that you'll be able to execute a stronger shot.
This might sound strange, but the draw length you just established is for target shooting or deer hunting under warmer conditions. If you bowhunt during cold weather, your draw length needs to be 1-2 inches shorter.
It's not uncommon for me to pursue deer in subzero conditions. When fully clad for the outing, my loose, bulky clothing makes me resemble the "Michelin Man." To let me achieve good string clearance with a lot of clothing on, the draw length of my hunting bow is nearly 2 inches shorter than that of my target bow.
I practice with and use this draw length in both warm and cold temperatures, so I'm accustomed to it when that frigid bowhunt rolls around.
With the shorter draw length, the bow shoulder is more offset and isn't pointing straight at the target. To have consistent accuracy, you must direct the forward pressure on the bow directly toward your aiming point. If this doesn't happen, a right-handed archer will pull the shot to the left and a left-handed archer will pull it to the right.
Performing consistently is very difficult when your draw is too long, because you can't maintain necessary forward pressure on the bow. Conversely, if your draw length is too short, you can shoot accurately as long as the elbow of the release arm is back and perpendicular to the shoulder at full draw.
If the elbow is to the inside of that line, you'll probably shoot more with your arm muscles instead of your back muscles. When this happens, your release hand will fly away from your face and the arrow will impact to the right of your aiming point (if you're right-handed).
The correct draw length is essential for accurate shooting. So as you prepare for bow season, begin by making any needed adjustments to your draw length.
Vary your practice routine to grow accustomed to your setup in all kinds of weather conditions and clothing changes. Then you'll be ready when that special buck is standing in front of you.
For Your Information
For more of the author's proven tips on becoming a better bow shot, check out his latest book: Archery: Think & Shoot Like a Champion. It's available directly from Terry at his website.