How to choose the right draw weight for your compound bow

What draw weight should I pick for my first compound bow? This question one of the most difficult to answer. Choosing the right draw weight is very important, therefore it requires careful consideration. If you choose a bow with a too heavy draw weight, shooting accurately will be near impossible. Therefore, I will explain what draw weight fits you best and give some additional tips.

Here is a quick answer if you are in a hurry: You can use a recommended draw weight chart to estimate what draw weight fits your body type. By mimicking the draw weight with a resistance band, you can feel how heavy the bow will be. Choose a lower draw weight when in doubt because, you won’t be able to shoot a too heavy bow accurately.

In the remainder of this article, I will first discuss how to choose the right draw weight in more detail and give some extra tips. Next, the pros and cons of a heavy draw weight bow will be discussed. At last, I will discuss how draw weight works and what you should consider. Understanding how draw weight works is quite important because the let-off on a compound bow makes this more complicated than on regular bows.

Choosing the draw weight

If you have never shot a compound bow or measured the poundage on a bow, the LBS numbers will not mean much to you. Therefore, I will discuss two ways to choose the right draw weight for your bow.

Recommended draw weight chart

Although upper body strength can differ quite a lot per person, most people don’t use the muscles used in archery all that much. Therefore, most new archers will fit neatly within the draw weight chart below. Read this article, if you want to know what muscles you use during archery.

Archers profileRecommended draw weight
Small children (till 8 years old)10-20 LBS
Larger children (8 till 13 years old)20-25 LBS
Teenage female (13 till 18 years old)25-35 LBS
Teenage male (13 till 18 years old)30-40 LBS
Female (18 years and older)25-35 LBS
Male (18 years and older)40-55 LBS

If you are in doubt what draw weight you should pick, it’s always better to go to the lower end of the recommendation. Choosing a too heavy bow has a lot of con’s, while a light bow has little negatives

Testing your draw weight

Choosing the right draw weight would be so much easier if you could just experience the draw weight. You can of course always visit an archery store to feel the draw weight, but that isn’t an option for everyone.

Luckily there are a lot of tools that can help you replicate the draw weight. Probably the most useful tool is a pair of resistance bands, but some other alternatives are other fitness gear, a large piece of an elastic band, a large spring, or even an old inner tire from a bike. If it’s long and stretchy, you can use it to replicate the draw weight.

By using a luggage scale, you can see exactly how much LBS you are drawing. Although this might not be the perfect solution, it allows you to get a feel of the draw weight you will be pulling.

Some extra tips for choosing the right draw weight

Even with these recommendations, choosing the right draw weight can still be quite difficult. Therefore, I have a few tips to make it easier for you.

  • If in doubt, choose the lower draw weight. I can’t stretch this enough, it’s better to choose a lower draw weight when in doubt. A lot of archers start with a too heavy draw weight and don’t learn the proper technique because of it.
  • Choose a compound bow with adjustable draw weight. Some compound bows allow you to configure the draw weight. My compound bow for example is adjustable between 30 and 70 LBS. This allows you to change the poundage on the fly!
  • Try the draw weight before you buy. If you have never tried a 45 LBS bow, you won’t have a feeling for the draw weight. Whenever possible, try before you buy! Especially when the bow is on the heavier side.
  • Don’t take the decision for the draw weight lightly. Do your research, don’t assume that you will get used to a certain draw weight. That can sometimes take years.

Heavy vs low draw weight

As mentioned earlier a lot of archers start with a too heavy bow. I believe this is due to two main reasons. The first reason is that some archers believe that heavier draw weight bows shoot inherently more accurate. This is not true; a heavy bow is only a bit more forgiving than a light bow. This difference is very minor, however.

Another reason why many archers pick a heavy bow is that they don’t want to be seen as weak. Draw weight is often compared amongst archers. In most cases, the comparison isn’t even fair or relevant. Archery is not about who can draw the heaviest bow but is about accuracy.

A lower draw weight allows you to train more and prevents muscle and technique related issues. Therefore, picking a ‘’too light’’ bow has little consequences while picking a too heavy bow can completely ruin the sport for you.

If you want to know more about the benefits of a heavier bow, I recommend reading the article below:

The benefits of a heavy (draw weight) bow

How draw weight works on regular bows

As an archer, it’s important to understand exactly how draw weight works. Without this knowledge, it’s difficult to make an educated decision regarding your draw weight. In this section, we will first how draw weight works on regular bows. Draw weight works similarly on compound bows but is a bit more complicated. We will discuss this in the next section.

The draw curve

When you draw a bow, the poundage of the bow will increase along with the draw length. We call this the draw curve. Although every bow has its own draw curve, they all tend to increase about linearly. This is especially true near the end of the draw curve.

Therefore, both a child and an adult can sometimes shoot the same bow without an issue. The child might only be drawing 15 LBS while the adult draws 40 LBS.

The draw curve on compound bows looks different because the cams change the draw weight along the draw length. But even on compound bows, if you shorten the draw length, you will also decrease the poundage.

The draw curve on recurve and traditional bows

Default vs actual draw weight

When archers discuss draw weight, they often discuss the default draw weight. The default draw weight is displayed on the limbs on recurve bows. Also, when you buy a compound bow, you will only see the standard draw weight. The default draw weight is always measured at 28 inches. Even bows targeted at young archers are measured at 28 inches, even though they will never be shot with that draw length.

The actual draw weight is the draw weight you will draw. So, if you have a draw length of 26 inches, the actual draw weight will be lower than the default draw weight. As discussed earlier this is true for both recurve as for compound archery.

The only difference in the draw of a compound bow is the let-off. Due to the working of the cams, the final part of the draw will be decreased by a certain percentage. We will discuss this in more detail in the next part.

How draw weight works on compound bows

A major innovation of the compound bow is the cam system. The first benefit of the cam system is that you have a hard stop. Therefore, you can’t be inconsistent with your draw, which is a major issue within recurve archery. Another benefit of the cam system is the let-off. How this exactly works is a good topic for another day, but in this section, I will discuss how this affects draw weight.

How the cams affect the draw

As we discussed earlier when you draw a bow, the poundage increases when the limbs bend farther. Therefore, with a recurve bow you must keep the bow at the peak draw weight. This makes it harder to keep the bow steady and gives you less time to aim. Therefore, compound bows have let-off which decreases the poundage at the end of the draw.

We can quite easily explain this with the same graph as before. Instead of the exponential increase in poundage, the poundage increases very rapidly. In most cases, this increase is almost linear. The poundage then hits the peak draw weight. After the peak the draw weight decreases, this is the let-off phase. Near the end of the draw, you will hit a hard stop.

‘’The let-off describes how much of the poundage is decreased after the peak draw weight. A 40 LBS compound bow with 70% let-off, has only 12 LBS in the let-off phase’’

If you look at the graph you might think that the draw weight actually increases when you decrease the draw weight. This is indeed true, if you would keep the settings of the compound bow the same, it could be that your draw length is even at peak draw.

To prevent these issues, you always configure the compound bow to your draw length. This is a relatively straight forward procedure but differs a bit per bow. This is, however, always explained in the owner’s manual and can easily be done by a new archer. The piece you change is often called ‘’the mod’’.

When you make changes to the settings of ‘’the mod’’ you essentially change the shape of the draw curve. Thereby you change where the let-off and the hard stop are located.

Draw profile

With cams, bow manufacturers can completely modify the draw curve. Therefore, every compound bow has its draw profile. In general, though we make a distinction between a harsh and a soft draw profile.

You can easily see the differences between a hard and a soft draw profile. With a hard profile, the bow reaches the peak draw weight a lot faster. In general, the transitions from low draw weight to high draw weight happens a lot faster.

In general, a hard draw profile compound bow is more difficult and strenuous on the muscles to draw. A soft draw profile is easier to draw but stores less energy. Therefore, archery manufacturers must balance these two evils.

I wouldn’t worry about the draw profile too much. Most compound bows have very similar draw profiles. But if you try two different compound bows in a store, you might feel the difference. And you now know what makes these two bows different.

More comfortable to draw, but higher arrow speed
Less comfortable to draw, but better higher arrow speed

The wall

We already discussed the hard stop at the end of the draw. This is also often called ‘’the wall’’ because it feels like you are hitting a wall. You must know, however, that this wall is not 100% hard. You can still pull the string a bit farther, but the draw weight will increase extremely fast.

In general, compound archers don’t try to pull beyond the wall, but they don’t stay at the lowest point of the let-off phase. In the lowest point of the let-off phase, it is quite easy to slightly change your draw length. Since compound archery is all about precision, we want to avoid even this minor inconsistency.

Therefore, most compound archers pull until they hit the hard stop. Therefore, they are pulling the bow a bit up on the wall. So, if we go back to the 40 LBS compound bow with 70% let-off from the example earlier, the actual draw weight will be a bit higher than the 12 LBS. Most archers will at least draw 15 – 17 LBS on that bow.

Most archers draw the bow not precisely till the let-off phase. Most compound archers pull a bit further up the wall.

Final words

My first compound bow had a highly configurable draw weight. Therefore, which made sure that I did not have to worry about what draw weight a should choose. Therefore, I would highly recommend it if you are a new archer.

It also helped me train my back muscles by slightly increasing the draw weight every once awhile. To be honest, I think every compound bow should have a highly customizable draw weight, but sadly many still aren’t.

I hope you found this article informative and helpful. If you have any questions, advice, or comments please let me know in the comment section down below. I will respond to your question as soon as possible and I will send you an email with my reply.

Tim van Rooijen

For as long as I can remember, I have always been fascinated by archery. First due to its historic significance but later because I like being outdoors. With this blog, I share my knowledge about Archery and how you can improve your shot. More about author…

2 Replies to “How to choose the right draw weight for your compound bow”

  1. TheWombat says:

    Great article. I probably need to change to the dark side to keep shooting due to injury. I want a lower draw weight. I don’t get the issue with needing great weight, I am happy to shoot a “female” bow. Hate the term and the fact that women are expected to shoot at shorter distances, and I’m a man!

    1. Tim van Rooijen says:

      Thanks for the compliments. It’s definitely a good idea to choose a lower draw weight in your situation. Although I shoot with a 45 LBS compound bow (which is about average) I also shoot with a 22 LBS recurve bow (which is considered low). Just shoot with the draw weight that is comfortable. In the end, archery is all about accuracy, it’s not a weight lifting competition.

      I believe a lot of archers could benefit from decreasing their draw weight. It allows you to focus more on your form and shot sequence and less on drawing the bow, as I explain in this article:


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