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How to Determine the Right Draw Length

How to Determine the Right Draw Length

draw_1A 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.

Clothing Concerns


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).

In Conclusion

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.

8. Barry Peterson

Summer scouting during June and July of 1995 alerted Barry Peterson to the fact that a true giant was in the vicinity of his hunting grounds. Using the information garnered from those scouting efforts, Peterson put a plan in place and was on stand the first morning of the bow season with high hopes. Only a few hours later the giant typical from that summer approached and a well-placed arrow put what would later be recognized as the 8th largest typical whitetail in the Pope & Young record books on the ground. On top of that, this ended up being the largest bow-killed typical buck in 1995. With a score of 195 7/8 inches, this was truly a buck of a lifetime.

5. Curt Van Lith

For Minnesota hunter Curt Van Lith, patience was the driving virtue from 1983 to 1986, as he chased a single, enormous whitetail. Luckily it all finally paid off during the 1986 archery season, as he put his tag on one of the largest typical bow kills of all time. With a score of 197 6/8 inches, this deer is tied for the No. 4 spot on the list of typical whitetails in the Pope & Young record books. This 11-point buck with nearly 30-inch beams is truly a sight to behold.

6. Don McGarvey

The No. 6 entry on the list of top Pope & Young typical whitetails is home to the Don McGarvey buck, taken in 1991 in Edmonton, Alberta. Where this buck was taken might be just as notable as the deer itself. McGarvey's hunt took place in the infamous 'Edmonton Bow Zone, ' a 1,600-square-mile tract of land in Alberta open only to bowhunters, and well known for its giant Canadian whitetails. Nicknamed 'The Thistle Buck ' by Don, this deer was killed on Sep. 20 and is especially notable because of its unbelievable 29-inch spread.

2. Hubert Collins

In 2003, word of a potential new world record Pope & Young typical whitetail killed in Saskatchewan spread like wildfire, and it seemed the long-standing record set in 1965 might finally be toppled. But in the end, Hubert Collins' buck fell just short of the record with an incredible typical score of 203 3/8 inches. Interestingly, when Hubert went out on this hunt he was only hoping to kill a doe. He brought home a lot more than that, however, as this buck sported a massive 6x6 frame and a 19 3/8-inch inside spread. Not the world record, but no slouch either.

9. Kent Anderson

Killed in Rock Island, Illinois, the No. 9 Pope & Young typical whitetail is a trophy of incredible proportions. Kent Anderson's 1999 bow-killed buck sported 17 points, which is especially impressive considering it was a typical. On top of that, this buck's rack featured tremendously long main beams, measuring in around 29 and 27 inches. In the end, this buck scored 195 2/8 inches, a monster whitetail no matter how you look at it.

1. Mel Johnson

Without a doubt the Mel Johnson buck is one of the most iconic whitetails in deer hunting lore, and for good reason. With nearly a 24-inch spread and 13 scorable points, Johnson's buck scores an unbelievable 204 4/8 inches as a typical. Maybe even more impressive, though, the deer is the way this buck was harvested. Johnson didn't kill his record holder while perched in a $3,000 box blind or while using a super high-speed compound bow and laser rangefinder. Not even close. Mel Johnson killed this giant from the ground in 1965, nestled into some brush alongside an Illinois soybean field, and he did it with nothing but an old recurve bow. Johnson's feat stands as a truly incredible achievement — and a remarkable whitetail.

4. Lloyd Goad

Lloyd Goad's 1962 bow kill ranks as one of the most legendary whitetails ever taken in Iowa. Given the deer coming out of the state, that's saying something. Goad's buck netted a tremendous 197 6/8 inches, with a nearly perfect 7x7 frame. At the time of harvest, this was the No. 1 typical bow kill in the world, but Mel Johnson's 1965 buck soon overtook the top spot. Nevertheless, this is truly an impressive whitetail, especially given that it was taken with a recurve bow and wooden arrows.

7. Justin Metzner

Ohio has become known as one of the absolute best states for producing trophy whitetails, and with two entries in this list of the Top 10 P&Y typicals, the numbers tend to prove it. In 2006, Justin Metzner was fortunate enough to kill one of these Ohio monsters in Adams County, where another well-known deer, the Amish Schmucker buck, had been taken as well. It was Oct. 21 and Justin woke up at 3:00 a.m. to drive the three hours down to his hunting property. That early wake-up was well worth it though, as later that day he was standing over a giant 196 6/8-inch whitetail.

10. Robert Miller

The year was 1977 and Robert Miller was hunting in Jones County, Iowa, when he killed the deer of a lifetime. Located in the eastern part of the Hawkeye State, Jones County is no stranger to big bucks, but there have been few as impressive as the deer that Miller killed there back in the 70s. Scoring a phenomenal 194 2/8 inches, this massive typical whitetail is still ranked as Iowa's all-time No. 2 bow-killed typical whitetail.

3. Tim Reed

Tim Reed's 2004 buck ranks as the third highest scoring typical whitetail ever killed with a bow. Maybe just as impressive as its score is the fact that this deer was killed on public ground. Hunting in Muskingum County, Ohio, Reed killed this giant on Nov. 10. With a score of 198 3/8 inches, this buck is not only the third largest typical whitetail killed with a bow, but also one of the largest typical deer ever killed in Ohio. The enormous 7x7 frame is the most defining characteristic of this buck, but the two matching G2's over 14 inches certainly are incredible as well.

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