Ultimate Guide to Choosing Your First Compound Bow

It can be hard to choose your first Compound bow. There are many different things to consider when choosing your bow. Narrowing down all the choices can be so overwhelming.

Wouldn’t it be great if someone created a list of things to help one choose their perfect first bow?

Look no further, friends! In this post, I put together as much information as you can find about all the many things to consider when you are looking for your first compound bow. At the end of this post, you should feel confident that you know what to look for during your bow shopping.

Before we get started, here are the contents of today’s post:

  1. Choosing your first compound bow
  2. Things to consider
    1. Eye Dominance
    2. Draw Length
    3. Draw Weight
    4. Axle to Axle Length
    5. Speed
    6. Noise
    7. Brace Height
    8. The Weight of the Bow Itself
    9. Cams
    10. Risers
    11. Price Range
  3. Other things to note
  4. Related Questions

Now, keep reading to find tips about choosing your first compound bow!

Choosing your compound bow

I want to start off by saying that you need to really think about all of the below details before making your choice. There is no one-size-fits-all compound bow, and what works for someone else will not work for you. Every archer has their own unique skills and needs. That is why it’s important to consider these when choosing your bow.

Also, as you grow your skills and become more advanced, you may have to reconsider some things or make changes to your bow. This is totally normal, and to be expected. It is a good thing for your skills to change, it means you are getting stronger in areas where you once were not.

Things to Consider

Below you will find 11 different things to consider when you are shopping for your first compound bow. In each section, I will break down more about what the tip is, how it affects you as an archer, and how to apply it when shopping for your bow.

1. Eye Dominance

In fancier terms, this is referred to as “ocular dominance”. It basically just means that your brain trusts one of your eyes more than the other. You see clearer with one eye than you can with the other.

This is one thing that is often overlooked when choosing a bow, yet it is one of the most vital. If you can’t see clearly, you cannot shoot accurately.

Most everyone has a dominant eye. Though not always, it is often the eye on the same side of the body as the hand that you write with. You can easily find your dominant eye by using the steps below:

  • With your hands outstretched in front of you, form a triangle with your thumbs and forefingers.
  • Look through the triangle with both eyes open, and focus on something stable, such as a photo on the wall or a light switch.
  • Close one eye, then open it and close the other eye. Take note of which eye keeps the item in its place, and which eye makes it move or jump a little to the side

The eye that keeps your object centered in the triangle is your dominant eye. If your dominant eye is your right eye, then you should shoot right-handed, and vice-versa.

This guy is shooting right-eye dominant

2. Draw Length

This is referring to how far you can draw back the bowstring. Your draw length should not be too short or too long. Compound bows have a limit of the draw length before the string stops, but most have a range that can be adjusted to comfortably fit the draw length of the shooter.

An archery pro from an archery store can measure your draw length with ease and precision, however, it is easy to measure your ideal draw length yourself. Ask a friend to help you, or do it yourself. Complete the steps below:

  1. Stand up straight and stretch your hands and arms out to each side. You want to form a T with your body and arms.
  2. Measure from the tip of one middle finger to the tip of the other middle finger(your wingspan), keeping the measuring tape as straight as possible.
  3. Take that number, and divide it by 2.5. This is your ideal draw length.

For example, if your wingspan is 60 inches, your ideal draw length would be 24 inches. Of course, and archery pro would give you the most precise measurement, but this is an easy DIY.

Now, why is draw length important, and how does it affect my archery?

Short Draw Length

Well, if your draw length is too short, you will have increased bow torque, which will then lead to an inaccurate shot. Not only that, but a too-short draw length can cause floating anchor points. This leads to inconsistency between shots because you cannot maintain a specific reference point while aiming.

Long Draw Length

If your draw length is too long, an archer is often required to tilt their head back in order to clearly see through the peep sight. This will lead to improper posture, which is a huge influence on the proper shooting form. Of course, improper shooting form will cause inaccuracy while shooting because it adds torque and tension to your bow. Not to mention that it will cause back discomfort over time- Ouch!

A long draw length will also likely cause your shooting arm to get dangerously close to the path of the string, and that is NOT a feeling you want to experience.

3. Draw Weight

So many archers try to go for the heaviest draw weight they can get in order to produce faster shooting speeds. This is a bad idea for many reasons, the main reason being that a draw weight that is uncomfortably heavy will lead to stress while trying to shoot. Stress while shooting will cause shakiness and lack of focus, which will throw off a good shot for even the most advanced archers.

Compound bows have a way to lessen the weight required to hold the string at full draw. This is called let-off. Many archers recommend a let-off percentage of around 75-80%, therefore saving as much power as you can.

As a guide, match the weight to your strength. For example, when testing the bows, draw and hold for 20-30 seconds, if possible. You should be able to maintain the hold during this time without shaking or quivering. If you can, then the draw weight is good for you, and you may even be able to test another bow with a higher draw weight. If you cannot hold this draw, you want to go down to a lower draw weight.

Most compound bows these days are adjustable with their draw weight. Therefore, don’t feel the need to try to jump to a high draw weight. Start off with a low-poundage bow and then slowly move your draw weight up as your shooting muscles get stronger.

4. Axle-to-Axle Length

Perhaps the most important thing about bow length, or axle-to-axle length, is maneuverability and stability with the bow. You would base the desired length off the purpose you want to use your bow for.

For example, if you want to use your bow for hunting, you would want to use a shorter bow. This is because shorter bows are easier to maneuver and control in the field, treestand, or blind. Most bows for these purposes are around 33 inches or less.

If you plan on using your bow for target shooting instead, or even for shooting in an open field, you could use a longer bow. The longer axle-to-axle length would help stabilize the bow and would also dampen the noise your bow makes. Just be sure not to get a bow with a length that is uncomfortably high for you. A bow length of around 33-35 inches would be good for these purposes.

Often times, beginner archers start off with longer bows that are more forgiving. More advanced shooters or those who have more time to master archery will go with shorter bows. However, it all falls down to personal preference, and which is more comfortable for you as the archer.

5. Speed

Noise and speed are key elements of every shot for an archer, whether for target practice or shooting.

The speed of a bow refers to the feet per second (or FPS) that each arrow travels when shot. This is usually determined by the draw weight of the bow. The larger the draw weight behind the shot, the quicker and farther an arrow can travel. However, other things can influence the speed and distance of the arrows travel, such as:

  • The archer’s strength
  • External conditions, like the weather
  • The weight of the arrows you used

For hunting, you typically want a quick arrow speed. Quick arrow speed means higher kinetic energy, which means a higher potential for greater penetration of the arrow. The larger the game, the larger the kinetic energy needed for a clean shot.

6. Noise

For obvious reasons, the quieter the bow the better, right? Most all archers prefer a quiet bow over a loud bow.

What causes the noise? When a bow is fired, the energy that was stored in the bows working components gets transferred over to the arrow to release it. Some of this energy does not get transferred, though, and gets released as vibrations. The vibrations produce the noise.

Thankfully, modern designs in compound bows minimize the loss of energy. You can also buy accessories called Vibration Dampners. These will absorb the vibrations from your bow and make the shot quieter.

7. Brace Height

The brace height is the distance between the string and the bow grip while the bow is in a resting position. It is important because in general, the lower the brace height, the faster the shot it produces. However, a low brace height can also mean less stability. A longer brace height might be a bit slower, but it will produce a more stable shot.

Try to find a medium brace height, so you can get a good balance of speed and stability. Most archers recommend a bow with a brace height between 6 and 8 inches. This brace height also makes the bow easier to hold, easier to draw and control, and it prevents the string from getting too close to your forearm (very important, a string to the arm hurts-trust me!).

8. The Weight of the Bow Itself

This is a very simple thing to consider. The main question is: are you a beginner or advanced archer? For beginners, you would probably be best to choose a lightweight bow. A more lightweight bow will be easier to handle in tree stands, as well as easier to carry with you for long periods of time.

Keep in mind, however, that a more lightweight bow will produce more vibration and sound. But this might not be a bad trade-off if your spending a lot of time out in the woods and do not want to drag around a heavy bow.

9. Cams

I once read that what makes a bow a compound bow is the fact that it is a bunch of little “machines” that work together to create a fully-functioning mechanical system. This sounds truly simple, but it actually made me think more about it. Every little piece of equipment on a compound bow has a purpose! If any one piece is missing, it can throw off the entire bow’s mechanical advantage.

That is where cams come in. Cams are considered to be the heart of a compound bow’s mechanical system. This one piece can do many things all at the same time. But, the main thing that a cam does, and perhaps the most important, is the ability to manipulate the draw weight of the compound bow.

The cam of a bow will change the way the bow stores the energy transferred into it during your draw. Not only this, but it will also let-off at the end of your draw stroke. This means that at full draw, you are holding less weight which gives you more time to focus your aim and fire with the most accuracy.

We are going to touch base on four different types(styles) of cams today. There are Single, Hybrid, Binary, and Twin. Yes, they all accomplish a similar mechanical goal. However, they each have very different pros and cons and unique things they bring to the table.

Single Cams

You might hear these cam types being described as “solo cam” or “one cam”. On this system, there is an idler wheel on top of the bow and an elliptical shaped cam on the bottom of the bow. Keep in mind that not all single cams are created equally. You will find some that are fast and more aggressive, and you will also find cams more smooth and silky. However, single cams are overall smoother and offer fair reliability.

  • Generally quieter than more traditional twin cam systems
  • Easier to maintain than traditional twin cam systems
  • Most single cams offer a solid stop while at full draw and fairly reasonable accuracy
  • Lack of achieving a level nock travel

Hybrid Cams

The hybrid came has two asymmetrically elliptical cams. The control cam (top) and the power cam (bottom). Hybrid cams are expected to make a rise in the industry, as more and more manufacturers have made the switch to hybrid cams. With a single-split harness, a main string and a control cable, the hybrid cam system is truly rigged up nicely.

  • Offers a straight, level nock without the issues of timing and synchronization
  • Less required maintenance
  • Fast and quiet once dialed-in

There are not many cons to hybrid cams. They are not maintenance-free and need to be properly oriented for good overall performance and efficiency, but this goes for saying about most all cams on the market.

Binary Cams

The pros for the binary cams cannot be easily explained via bullet point. There is too much detail for that. So I will compare it this way instead.

Binary cams are huge in the industry and they basically redesigned the entire cam system to create an extremely fast bow. They did this by introducing an entirely new concept- a system that allows the cams to automatically balance stress and deflections.

With a sort of modified 3-groove twin cam system, the binary cam “binds” the top and bottom cams to each other versus to the limbs of the bow. Instead of the split-harness system that you see with hybrid or single cams, it is just two control cables, cam to cam.  The cams do not pull on the opposing limbs, only the opposing cams. This is basically a self-correcting cam system. Sounds nice right?

There really aren’t any cons to the binary cams. However, do note that many manufacturers are describing binary cam systems incorrectly as hybrid cam systems when they are very clearly binary cams. Be careful when choosing your bow, and pay attention to the cam system on the bow itself, not just what the manufacturer describes it as.

Twin Cams

Often described as a  “Two Cam” or “Dual Cam” system, twin cams are basically two round wheels on each end of the bow.

  • Excellent nock travel
  • Precise and accurate shooting
  • Very efficient overall speed
  • Large adjustment ranges
  • More maintenance and servicing required to stay in tip-top condition
  • A higher tendency for increased noise (when compared to single and hybrid cams especially)

Many shooters are loyal to the twin cam system, and thanks to the high adjustment ranges, they are a great choice for young archers.

10. Risers

Risers are also known as the handle part of the bow. They come in different shapes, materials, and designs. Depending on the construction of the riser, the performance, price, and functionality of the bow will vary.

The three basic styles of risers are:

  1. Reflex
  2. Deflex
  3. Straight

You will often find reflex risers as part of today’s modern compound bows. Some of their key attributes are that they curve away from the natural curvature of the limbs of a compound bow. This design reduces brace height, which supports a faster shooting speed(as mentioned in the above tip).

Deflex risers are pretty much the opposite of Reflex risers. The follow the curvature of the limb. and this increases the brace height. Again, as discussed in the previous tip, this slows down the shot but increases the accuracy.

Straight risers basically fall right in the middle of reflex and deflex risers, though they are more inclined towards reflex risers thanks to their less extreme curvature. Straight risers do offer a more fast, but forgiving shot as well.

11. Price Range

One of the last things to consider is the price of the bow. While it may be hard if you are on a tight budget, you must be careful not to give up quality for the price. Today, you can often find many cost-effective bows that are of high-quality and that will provide stellar accuracy.

It’s not like your first compound bow will be the only bow you use for the rest of your life. Your skills will improve (as long as you are practicing), and your hunting requirements/preferences may change. This will result in different needs from your compound bow.

You may choose to start off with a cheaper bow, then upgrade as your skills improve. You can find what works for you, and go from there. This is highly recommended so that you do not spend a lot of money on your initial bow setup, just to dislike something and need to upgrade.

I would recommend starting with a compound bow around $400-$500, if possible. I would not go much cheaper than that, as you often get what you pay for. Bows around this price offer great value and quality, as well as ensure safety which is very important. Bows are dangerous tools that can do serious harm and should be treated as such and handled with care.

To get the most bang-for-your-buck, look for packages that come with as much of the following items as possible:

  • The Bow
  • Target
  • Arrows
  • Vibration dampeners
  • Release/trigger
  • Adjustment features
  • Cams
  • Sight Pin
  • Arm Guard
  • Arrow Quiver
  • Arrow rest (Commonly called a Whisker Biscuit)
  • Bow case

Also remember that you will need extra supplies for your bow as well, such as bowstrings and wax. This will keep your bow in tip-top shape and lasting for years to come with the right maintenance.

What about bowhunting arrows?

If you’re considering bowhunting at any time in the future, you’ll want some high quality hunting arrows.  What are the best hunting arrows? We went and found out what the top Professional Archers are using when they go hunting and put it all into an article for you right here.  Hope you find it useful!

Other things to note

  1. Always read the reviews! This is especially important, not just for choosing your first compound bow, but for any purchase you make. The reviews can tell you a lot about the quality of the bow and accessories that come with it. Also, many people will advise on something based off a mistake they made, which in turn will keep you from making the same mistake.
  2. Be sure that no matter what bow you purchase, that it feels comfortable in your hands. That’s not to say that minor adjustments won’t be needed, but you generally just want your bow to be comfortable when you hold it.
  3. Invest in good, quality arrows. A bow can be the best in the world, but if you aren’t using the right arrows, it won’t make much difference.

Related Questions

How do I choose a bow for my child?

Great question! The process is very similar. We’ve got a complete guide to how to choose a bow for a child that gives you everything you need to know right here.

What is the fastest shooting compound bow in the world?

Currently, its the PSE X-Force Omen Pro. This compound bow shoots arrows up to 366 feet per second according to IBO (International Bowhunting Organization) standards namely:

  • 350-grain arrows
  • 70 lb. draw weight
  • 30-inch draw length
  • no stabilizers, dampeners or sights or any other accessories

What are some popular brands of compound bows?

Hoyt, Matthews, Bowtech, Bear, PSE, Elite, Diamond-These are just some of the most popular brands out there! Each of these brands offers different things, so do some research and see which ones you think might be best for your wants and needs as an archer.

When was the first compound bow developed?

Another type of bow known as a “composite bow” was once described as a compound bow. This was back in the early 20th century.

The first actual compound bow was developed in Billings, Missouri in the year 1966 by Holless Wilbur Allen.  He got his US patent in 1969.

What types of arrows can I use with compound bows?

Anything but wooden arrows.

Arrow types for a compound bow do not differ much from what would be used with recurve bows. Most arrows that are used today are made of carbon fiber, but some common arrow materials also include aluminum alloy or a composite material of aluminum alloy and carbon fiber. Wooden arrows are too fragile to be used often.

No matter what, ensure that you are using arrows made for your bow. You always want arrows that will shoot accurately, precisely, and most importantly, safely.