“Draw weight,” of course, means the amount force needed (in pounds) to pull a bowstring to full draw. This is commonly called the bow’s poundage. On recurve bows, poundage increases as the archer pulls the bowstring farther back. In contrast, compound bows use eccentric cams on both limbs to displace poundage to cables, thus making the archer feel the most weight at the start of the draw and much less weight, called “let-off,” before reaching full draw.
For target competitions, compound bows can’t exceed 60 pounds at peak draw. Those shooting compounds can choose whatever poundage they prefer as long as it’s not heavier than 60 pounds. Recurve and barebow divisions, however, don’t restrict poundage.
When choosing their bow’s poundage, recurve and compound archers must learn what poundage they can comfortably handle and shoot for the duration of the tournament, whether it’s 3D, indoor or outdoor. Shaking at full draw is a good sign the poundage is too high.
A good guideline is being able to comfortably shoot at least twice as many arrows during practice as you would in competition. If you know you’ll shoot 72 arrows for score and about 50 arrows for practice at a tournament, strive to shoot 270 arrows in practice with no issues. Being able to handle over twice as many practice shots gives archers some leeway in stamina for competitions, which boost stress and usually force some let-down arrows.
Meanwhile, safety is always a consideration on the range, and that includes bow weights. Archers must account for what their body can physically handle without suffering injuries. Archery injuries generally occur in the shoulders, but they can also afflict the back and fingers.
Too much poundage increases injury risks in the archer’s shoulders, fingers and back. Reduce your poundage if your joints and muscles can’t safely handle your bow’s current draw weight.
A bow with too much draw weight also creates potential safety issues for nearby archers and spectators when archers struggle to draw their bow. If someone struggles to draw their bow back, forcing them to “sky-draw” or point their bow in unsafe directions, their poundage is likely too much.
Ultimately, you’ll find your ideal poundage by how well you handle your bow’s draw weight in high-pressure situations. If you’re shooting the right poundage, you won’t lose your shooting finesse. If you must use brute force just to shoot your arrow, and seemingly engage every muscle from your right bicep to your left pinky toe (yes, we’re exaggerating) for each shot, your poundage is likely beyond what you can handle.
If competitive archery is your goal in outdoor shooting, you’ll need a minimum poundage to reach your division’s required distance. You might need to increase your bow weight to shoot that distance efficiently.
When increasing your bow’s poundage, make the adjustments slowly and methodically. That gives your body time to adjust and accommodate the increased work your muscles take on. If you’ve lost your finesse, your accuracy will decrease after your draw weight exceeds a certain poundage.
That doesn’t mean you must restrict yourself to the poundage you can handle comfortably today. You can train yourself to shoot higher-poundage bows by practicing regularly at a lower poundage and strengthening your archery muscles in the gym. Eventually, you’ll be handle higher draw weights with ease.
Whatever your ideal shooting weight, make sure you can safely handle it, and that it conforms to the rules of your division. Keeping yourself safe and injury-free ensures you can enjoy years of fun, carefree shooting.