Do You Shoot The Correct Draw Length?

As a professional archery coach, I work with hundreds of archers every year. I've discovered that before I can help a shooter perform up to his or her ability, the equipment must be adjusted to fit the person. One of the most common problems that I encounter is improper draw length. This is fairly easy to analyze, since several visual clues can signal potential problems.


Begin by noting what happens with the bow arm after a shot is released. Is the bow pulled apart, with the bow arm producing forward pressure and the release arm pulling on the string to maintain backward pressure? The bow arm should move toward the target when the shot is fired. If the bow arm drops or swings to the side, the draw length is probably too long. When this happens, the scapula has already pushed the bow arm out as far as it can extend before the arrow is released. No room is left for the bow arm to go forward, so it drops or swings to the side.


There are other indicators that the draw length could be too long. Does the archer struggle to maintain the pressure needed to keep the bow pulled apart? Is the string hitting the bow arm when the arrow is shot? With the latter, the scapula has the bow arm fully extended in order to maintain forward pressure. This raises the bow shoulder and places the forearm in line with the string. Ouch!

One of the keys to establishing proper draw length is the placement of the scapula on the bow shoulder. Take a moment and raise both of your shoulders up toward your ears. Now drop them to the relaxed position. The location where your scapula is now resting, or perhaps pulled back just a little, is the place it should be when executing a shot with proper draw length.


If the draw length is too short, you will feel "bunched up" or uncomfortable because you are too compressed. In addition, the elbow will have a fairly big bend in it in order for you to get the string to your face. Often, I am asked whether the elbow should be bent or straight. If it is bent, I prefer only a slightly relaxed bend. I coach world-record holders with a bent elbow and others with a straight, locked-out elbow. Either one will work, so choose the method with which you feel most comfortable.

Years ago, I would tune and sight in the bow belonging to my older daughter, Dawn. Practicing and sighting her bow were never on her priority list, even though she was a four-time national champion.

Dawn used a draw length that was more than two inches shorter than the one on my target bow, so I had to shoot it with an acute bend in the elbow of my bow arm. Knowing that this position can make it difficult to maintain consistent forward pressure, I consciously used the same degree of force with each shot. The arrow groups were as good or better with her bow as they were with my own. An archer can shoot good groups using too short of a draw length but will perform with tighter, more consistent groups with the correct one. Successful results are very difficult and unlikely when the draw length is too long.

Some bows are very user-friendly in terms of altering the draw length. They are made with adjustable modules that can be changed by removing a couple screws and moving the module. Others are not built with this luxury and require different modules to modify the draw. Small draw length changes can still be made by adding a few twists to shorten the string or by letting a few twists out of the cables. Both of these procedures will shorten the draw length, but any more than a slight adjustment will likely affect the efficiency of the bow. If you are not familiar with working on a bow or do not have a bow press, go to your local bow shop for assistance.

With a hunting bow, I highly recommend a draw length that is one inch shorter than what you use for target shooting. This reduced length will give you a lower shoulder set and align your bow shoulder a little to the outside. This set up will allow a much better string clearance for your arm. Remember, when hunting in cold weather, your bow arm will probably be an inch broader with the extra layers of clothing. If the string hits your hunting gear, you can expect an erratic flight path from your arrow.

Establishing your proper draw length is critical to becoming a successful archer. Experiment with different draw adjustments and shoot them for an hour or more to evaluate what happens to your arrow groups. With the proper draw length, you will notice a difference in your marksmanship -- and hopefully, a Dawn used a draw length that was more than two inches shorter than the one on my target bow, so I had to shoot it with an acute bend in the elbow of my bow arm. Knowing that this position can make it difficult to maintain consistent forward pressure, I consciously used the same degree of force with each shot. The arrow groups were as good or better with her bow as they were with my own. An archer can shoot good groups using too short of a draw length but will perform with tighter, more consistent groups with the correct one. Successful results are very difficult and unlikely when the draw length is too long.

Some bows are very user-friendly in terms of altering the draw length. They are made with adjustable modules that can be changed by removing a couple screws and moving the module. Others are not built with this luxury and require different modules to modify the draw. Small draw length changes can still be made by adding a few twists to shorten the string or by letting a few twists out of the cables. Both of these procedures will shorten the draw length, but any more than a slight adjustment will likely affect the efficiency of the bow. If you are not familiar with working on a bow or do not have a bow press, go to your local bow shop for assistance.

With a hunting bow, I highly recommend a draw length that is one inch shorter than what you use for target shooting. This reduced length will give you a lower shoulder set and align your bow shoulder a little to the outside. This set up will allow a much better string clearance for your arm. Remember, when hunting in cold weather, your bow arm will probably be an inch broader with the extra layers of clothing. If the string hits your hunting gear, you can expect an erratic flight path from your arrow.

Establishing your proper draw length is critical to becoming a successful archer. Experiment with different draw adjustments and shoot them for an hour or more to evaluate what happens to your arrow groups. With the proper draw length, you will notice a difference in your marksmanship -- and hopefully, a nice trophy will hang in your den.

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