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How to choose the right compound bow – The Ultimate Guide

How to choose a compound bow
In order to be able to choose the best compound bow and make the most of our compound bow reviews you have to learn the basics. Enjoy our guide.

What is a compound bow?

First developed in 1966 by Holles Wilbur Allen in Missouri, the compound bow uses a levering system involving cables and pulleys or “cams” to bend the limbs or ends of the bow. The compound bow’s system of cams and cables provide a mechanical advantage that allows the archer to exert much less physical effort (poundage) when the bow is at full draw.

By requiring less effort to keep the bow fully drawn, the archer achieves better aim and increased accuracy. The system also allows you to store more energy into the highly rigid bow which translates into higher velocity upon release. Compound bows represent distinct design improvements over traditional longbowsand recurve bows.

Generally acknowledged to provide superior accuracy, velocity, and distance in comparison to other types of bows, compound bows have several other advantages which have made them the dominant form of bow in the United States, used in tournaments as well as for hunting. The ability to maintain the bow at full draw for extended periods without relying on brute strength makes it especially suitable for women and even small children for recreational purposes. For much the same reason, compound bows are also attractive to hunters stalking game.

Chances are, you’ve already seen compound bows in action. Different types of compound bows have found their way into several blockbuster movies like Rambo: First Blood Part II, Rambo III, Charlie’s Angels and Blade Trinity.

One of the main advantages of compound bows over traditional bows is their durability. Unlike traditional bows made of wood, the different materials used on compound bows are not prone to warping with changes in temperature and humidity. This makes them more reliable in different environments.

The main shaft of a compound bow, known as the “riser” is usually made of either magnesium, aluminum or an alloy of both, making it very strong but lightweight. Leading brands generally use aircraft quality 6061 aluminum alloy which has high tensile strength. Tensile strength is extremely important because the shaft and limbs have to withstand tremendous tensile forces from drawing the bowstring in order to store all that energy when the bowstring is drawn.

Incidentally, because the bows are so rigid on compound bows, manufacturers can also add other pieces of equipment to the bow like bow sights and stabilizers without interfering with its performance.

Good to know:

Arrows for compound bows aren’t that different from those used with a standard longbow. Both are usually made from either carbon or aluminum.

Do NOT attempt to launch an arrow with a wooden shaft using a compound bow. Extremely high tensile forces in action will probably break the shaft and could lead to injuries.

Types of Compound Bows

Compound bows are classified by the type of cam system they use (called the bow eccentric.) The most popular types of compound bows on the market are Single Cam (sometimes also called One Cam or Solocam), Hybrid Cam, Dual Cam and Binary Cam. Less common designs like Quad Cam and Hinged are a little harder to find.

Here’s a quick reference for the most popular design types:

Compound Bow TypeFeaturesThe GoodThe Bad
Single Cam
  • “idler wheel” at the top
  • elliptical “power-cam” at the lower end
  • Easy to use
  • Quiet
  • Harder to tune than other designs
Hybrid Cams
  • Control cam on top end
  • Power-cam at bottom end
  • Easy to tune
  • Requires less maintenance
  • Reduced nock travel
Twin Cams
  • Uses two cams which can be round or elliptical, on each end of the bow
  • Accuracy
  • Level nock travel
  • High velocity
  • Highly complex design translates to frequent maintenance and tuning
Binary Cams
  • Similar to twin cams but top and bottom cams are slaved to each other instead of the bow’s limbs
  • Very high velocity
  • Level nock travel
  • Highly complex design translates to frequent maintenance and tuning


Buying a compound bow

Here are a couple of things to keep in mind before you go out and buy a compound bow:

1. Keep it simple –If you’re new to compound bows, focus on finding a bow that matches your body’s proportions and strength and think about all the extras down the road when you’ve gained more experience. It’s easy to think of compound bows as being “high tech” but it’s still a relatively simple device with few moving parts, constructed from readily available materials. In other words, technology won’t help you learn how to master the compound bow any faster than a simple, well designed one will.

2. Know your strength- Don’t be tempted by a compound that advertises it can shoot arrows at 300 fps unless you have the muscle to pull the bowstring far enough to achieve that speed consistently. Even with the mechanical advantage of compound bows, you’re still the one supplying the energy needed to make it work. Choose a compound you can comfortably use and you’ll get more enjoyment out of using it.

3. Know your options- When choosing a new compound bow, it’s good to consider some technical considerations that have an effect on your accuracy and performance.

Technical Considerations for choosing a Compound Bow

Axle length is the total length of the compound bow. Shorter bows are easier to maneuver but harder to shoot and require more practice on your part. Hunters who hunt from tree stands tend to prefer short bows for this reason. On the other hand, longer axle lengths are more forgiving and are your best option if you’re new to bow hunting as a sport.

Draw length is the distance between the grip and the bowstring when you’re at full draw. You can have the draw length adjusted (up to a certain extent) at your local shop; but if you have to choose between “less” or “more” go with less since too much draw length will have a more negative impact on your speed and accuracy.

Brace height is the distance from grip and the bow string at rest. Lower brace height translates to a faster bow, but is less forgiving and more difficult to shoot as well. A higher brace height is slower but more forgiving. On average, you’ll find compound bows that have a 7” brace height. Take the time to try out different brace heights, then choose a bow that matches your needs best.

Draw weight, expressed in pounds, is actually the amount of work or effort you need to get your compound to full draw. Choose a bow that you can comfortably pull back slowly and smoothly. To put things in perspective, a bow with a draw weight of 50 pounds or more is enough to kill a whitetail if you plan to go hunting. Higher draw weight means a faster bow, heavier arrows and arrow points too.

Overall Bow Weight should be considered if you plan to use it for hunting. Lighter bows may be easier to lug around the woods, but they also tend to be louder because they vibrate more. Heavier bows, on the other hand, can be tiresome to carry around all day but absorb more vibration and are subsequently quieter. As always, the choice is always yours.

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