The first core element in becoming a woman archer I am going to discuss is equipment choice. This is a subject that cannot be addressed appropriately in one article. Therefore I am going to break this element into three separate topics. First will be bows, the second will be arrows and broadheads, and this third is, accessories such as sights, rests, releases, etc.. Each of these topics can be discussed in much greater detail than I have gone into, but for the sake of helping the beginning archer I will cover just the basics.
Whenever I am asked how to choose the right bow, I encourage the buyer to stop by several archery stores and shoot many different bows until you find one that feels right. You will be carrying this bow around with you for possibly many years and shooting it possibly thousands of times, so you want a bow that feels good to shoot. There are so many incredible bows on the market these days, that finding the “perfect” bow can prove to be a real challenge. Some of the bow companies available today are Mathews, Hoyt, Elite, Limbsaver, Bowtech, PSE, Athens, Strothers, Bear, Martin, Prime, and that is just to name a few. Each of these companies sale top of the line bows that are specific to women. However, don’t be afraid to shoot a mens bow if it fits you. It may take several visits, but the pro staff will help you until you find the best bow for you.
Perhaps the most important thing in choosing a bow is how the bow feels when you shoot it. Your bow should feel smooth, comfortable, and completely natural to shoot.
Choose a bow that fits you correctly. This will allow you to learn to shoot with perfect form. Make sure the draw length, peep, grip, and balance are all fit perfectly to you. You cannot be a good shot if the bow does not fit you. Do not compromise and use one of your husbands or friends old bows to get by. Get a bow that fits you correctly.
The type and style of cam will affect the feel of the draw cycle. Fast cams with a hard draw cycle may shoot fast, but may be difficult to shoot accurately. The single cams are smoother than the duel cams, but not as fast. When you draw back, is there a point at which you struggle to get over the peak of the draw, or was it smooth to draw? Did the peak of the draw seem to last a long time, or was it easy to overcome? The cams also contribute to varying let off weights. A high let off is a lot easier to hold when you are in a full drawn position and preparing for the shot. This allows you to aim steadier. After you took the shot, how did it feel? Did the bow feel like it was going to jump out of your hands? Was there vibration on the hand grip or was it smooth? These are all things to be aware of as you are trying out different bows. Each bow feels different, so take the time to feel it, and recognize the feel you like.
Another thing that contributes to shootability is the hand grip. Make sure the hand grip feels good and fits you. Women’s hands are naturally smaller than men’s, so if the grip is too big for your hand, have the pro shop change it out to a smaller one for you. I changed my standard Mathews grip out for a focus grip and it is much more comfortable for me to shoot.
Bows today are marketed as the fastest, lightest, shortest, most shootable, etc.. However, some of these marketing features are not the best for accuracy, especially for a new bow hunter. In my opinion, accuracy is the very most important issue of all. You have to be able to hit the animal lethally to achieve success. Speed and kinetic energy are definitely crucial elements to consider, but should come secondary to accuracy. Accuracy is the very basis for successful shooting/hunting. If you are a beginner do not get sucked into the hype that speed is the most important thing. The fastest most expensive bow is not always the best.
As a general rule of thumb, a fast bow with a short brace height will not be as accurate as a slower bow with a longer brace height. The short brace height is less forgiving because the arrow stays on the string for a longer period of time making the arrow more susceptible to shooter error. Once your shooting form is consistent, you can move into a bow with a shorter brace height to increase your velocity. The advantage of increased velocity is better penetration power and a flatter shooting arrow. That being said, it doesn’t matter how fast the bow is if you are not accurate. For a beginner, start with a longer brace height bow until you are consistently accurate with your shooting.
Another thing to consider is that a heavier bow will be more accurate than a light one, but a light bow is much nicer to carry around all day. A longer axle to axle bow is more accurate than a shorter axle to axle one, but a short axle to axle bow may be easier to use in a blind or in a tree stand. It is easier and more enjoyable for a woman to haul a shorter and lighter weight bow. So the thing to remember here is, spend the time to develop perfect shooting form by practicing consistently, then carrying a shorter and lighter weight bow will not be an issue.
Draw weight and draw length:
When you arrive at the archery store, one of the first things they will do is measure your draw length. It is crucial to buy a bow with the correct draw length in order to develop good shooting form. Women tend to have a shorter draw length than men which can limit the type of bow you can buy. A shorter draw length bow will naturally have less speed and kinetic energy making it even more critical that you shoot accurately. Recently, the Equalizer Release was developed that can naturally increase your draw length up to three inches. These added three inches will open up the door and allow you to shoot practically any bow made with increased speed and kinetic energy. This is a huge break through for women and needs to be considered upon purchasing a bow. I will discuss this release further in my next article. See more about the equalizer here
Many states require the archer to shoot at least 40 lbs. draw weight for deer size animals, and 50 lbs. for larger animals such as elk. Be sure to check your states hunting regulations for minimum legal draw weight before you go hunitng. When you start shooting you may not be able to pull the necessary weight for hunting, and that does not matter. Start at a comfortable weight so that you can develop good form. As your shooting becomes consistent, you can increase the draw weight. Be sure to choose a bow that will have the weight adjustment necessary to be comfortable to learn with, but also have the ability to increase the weight for legal hunting. I have seen many animals taken at the minimum legal draw weights. As you can increase the draw weight, you will increase the speed of your arrow. This increases accuracy, penetration, and effective lethality of the bow. If you shoot your bow consistently, you will be surprised at how fast you will be able to increase your draw weight. I try to shoot twenty arrows, five times a week. That may not sound like much, but it will keep you in tune, develop your muscle memory, and increase your strength. I cannot stress enough that consistency is what will make you a good shot.
Bows are very personal. Each person has to take the time to find the one they like. Shooting can be extremely fun, but to shoot well takes commitment. I personally shoot two types of bows. I have a Mathews MR5 for shooting dangerous game. The MR5 is longer axle to axle but has only a 5 inch brace height, so it is very unforgiving. This is where good shooting form is crucial. It has harder draw cycle and for me is not as fun to shoot. However, this bow shoots faster allowing for greater kinetic energy which is necessary for dangerous game. My favorite bow is a my Mathews Z7 Extreme. This bow is shorter axle to axle, and is not quite as fast. It has a brace height of 7 3/8 which is much more forgiving and it draws like a dream. I hunt everything besides dangerous game with this bow.
The bottom line is you really need to go and shoot the bows and pick the one that you personally shoot the best. It may not be the fastest, most expensive, or most popular, but it should be the one you love.
*Watch for the next article at bowhunting.net and altitudeoutdoors.com where I discuss choice in arrows and broadheads.