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Bow Lingo for Beginners

Archery can be intimidating. Don't let it be. Understand these terms and how they relate to your shooting success, and your path will be one of enjoyment and not confusion.

It was uncomfortable. I was the one in the hospital bed. My wife, a registered nurse, along with the doctor, seemed to be talking in code. I'd heard a few of the terms they were using before, but basically, the conversation was Greek to me.

I imagine new archers and bowhunters feel the same. Archery, like anything, has its own vocabulary. If you don't understand that vocabulary, it's all but impossible to start your journey. I feel bad — I'm a good person to blame for this. Industry veterans often overlook everyday things and want to pen articles about advanced tips, tactics, and the like. My apologies. Let's dive in.

Draw Length


This one is super important. If you don't have a bow fitted to your exact draw length, you'll suffer from accuracy problems. Draw length is the distance from the nock point, at full draw, to the throat of the grip plus 1 ¾ inches. In laymen's terms: From the spot where the arrow's nock connects to the bow string to the deepest part of the grip's throat.

Before you worry about what bow you should get, you should first find your draw length. This is accomplished by standing flatfooted against an open wall and having a second party mark (use a pencil) the longest points of your wingspan. This will be the distance between your two middle fingers. Now use a tape measure and record the length — right down to the nearest 1/16 inch — between the marks. Lastly, take that number and divide it by 2.5. You now have your draw length.

When searching for a bow, be sure to select one that is compatible with your draw lentgh. Draw length options will be listed in the bow's specs on the manufacturer's website.



This one is quick and easy, yet still misunderstood. Axle-to-axle length is not the length from the top of the top cam to the bottom of the bottom cam. This measurement would be the bow's overall length. Axle-to-axle length is the distance from the pin that holds the bottom cam in place to the pin that holds the top cam in place. It's also important to note that exact axle-to-axle length can only be measured accurately when the bow is set at its max poundage.

Brace Height


Much like axle-to-axle length, understanding brace height is super easy. Brace height is measured from the string in a straight line to the deepest part, or throat, of the grip. Traditionally, bows with more extended brace heights tend to be a bit more forgiving. This is because the arrow departs the string sooner, giving the shooter less time to add an element of human error to the shot. Longer brace heights tend to produce a smooth draw, while shorter brace heights tend to make the draw cycle a bit more rigid. Shorter brace height bows will often be a bit faster but can be more challenging for a new shooter to control. When it comes to the length, I consider anything over 6 ½ inches to be a longer brace-height bow, and any measurement below to be a shorter brace height bow.



This term is significant to understand. Some states have laws that make hunting illegal if you have a letoff rating that is too high. Letoff is the point during the draw cycle when the bow's draw weight is significantly reduced. For instance, if you have a bow set at 70 pounds of draw weight, that doesn't mean you'll be holding 70 pounds of weight at full draw. Instead, at a certain point during the draw cycle — usually about halfway through — letoff kicks in. You're pulling the total draw weight, and as peak weight builds, the bow smoothly transitions to letoff.

Eighty percent is a very standard letoff rating, meaning if your bow is set at 70 pounds of draw weight, holding weight at full draw will be around 14 pounds. Many bow manufacturers create bows with adjustable letoff ratings. Standard letoff ratings are 75, 80, 85 and 90 percent. Remember to read state game laws before choosing your go-to letoff. More letoff means less holding weight, but doesn't always mean better accuracy. A letoff rating of 75 percent is typically the choice of serious target archers.



I could see he was confused. The pro shop owner kept telling the young shooter he was putting too much torque on the riser. The riser is the platform of the bow, and contains the bow's grip. Some grips are direct-to-riser grips, while others are a device laid into the riser. Torque happens when unnecessary pressure is applied to the riser through the grip.

Many new shooters get their hand deep in the grip and squeeze the life out of it. Squeezing adds torque, which will rob you of the type of accuracy you're looking for. While a death grip is natural, it's not what you want. The bow isn't going to jump out of your hand. If you're worried about this, add a wrist sling. Your grip should be the same every single time. To find the proper grip position, raise your bowhand straight up out in front of you. The thumb will be at a 45-degree angle. This is the ideal position to put your hand into the grip. You don't want the grip to be straight up and down or turned too far to the inside or outside. Let the grip fall into the palm-swell area of your hand, and once you reach full draw, relax the bow arm from the hand to the elbow.



This term has nothing to do with a boat. Your anchor position is one of the most critical components to consistent accuracy in the world of archery. You want to eliminate arrow contact on your face. A good rule of the thumb is for the string to rest lightly on the tip of the nose. If shooting a handheld release, rest the V formed by the index and middle finger against the jawline. If shooting an index-finger release, the index finger's knuckle should be at the base of the ear.


There you have it — some basic bow terminology that will help you immensely as you start your journey into the wonderful world of archery and bowhunting.

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