The compound bow – what you need to know

You can identify the compound bow by the multiple strings and the system of pulleys at either end of the bow. This bow is known for its widespread use in both field and 3D archery as well as bowhunting. Many archers also shoot compound bows in target archery.

What is special about a compound?

Some see the compound bow as the most recent evolution of archery. The pulley system or “cams” on either end of the compound are what give the bow its unique “let-off” capability.

What does “let-off” mean?

A let-off is the point during the draw when a compound archer can hold less draw weight. It allows the archer to take more time in aiming and is especially useful in hunting situations.

For example, this means that with a 60 lb compound bow the archer will begin drawing the string at the “peak weight” of 60 lbs. Then partly through the draw, the archer reaches the let-off point and the draw becomes easier at typically 65-75% of the original weight. The archer will stay at this “holding weight” of around 15 lbs until he or she is ready to release the arrow.

Parts of a compound bow

A compound bow stays strung all the time, unlike a recurve or longbow which should be unstrung when not in use. This diagram will show you the different parts of a modern compound bow.

What should I look for in my first compound bow?

Draw length is going to be important to you no matter your age or height. Because it is so important, you should do one of two things for your first bow:

  • Choose a beginner’s bow with a non-specific draw length, like a Genesis (see below)
  • Or ask a coach or pro-shop expert to measure your draw length

An archer’s first compound should also have a relatively low draw weight, regardless of the archer’s natural strength and the fact that a compound has a let-off. Even though the archer will not have to hold a heavy weight at full draw, if he or she is “overbowed” they may still injure their muscles or joints during the initial pull. For more in-depth reasons why low poundage is beneficial to new archers, see the section on draw weight.

What is the difference between a compound and a Genesis?

Many beginning archers shoot their first arrows with a compound-style Genesis bow, which has been popularized in the National Archery in the Schools Program, or NASP.

The Genesis is different from a compound bow in that it has no specific draw length or let-off. Once the string rolls over the cams on the initial draw, the draw weight will feel constant through the rest of the shot. There will also be no “stop” in the length of the draw.

There may be some advantages to beginning with this style of bow:

  • Low draw weight reduces the possibility of injury
  • Unlike a normal compound, Genesis bows have no specific draw length or let-off point.
  • No specific draw length allows archers of all sizes to use the same bow, which is great for families
  • Durability means the bow may have fewer maintenance issues

Why to keep costs down with your first bow

Whether they choose a compound or a Genesis most archers begin with a simple, affordable bow that will help them learn the basics of the sport. They then transition to a more advanced bow when they are more comfortable with shooting form and are ready to begin competing. This can save money in the long run, because if you begin with advanced equipment you may realize that after some time your needs may change as you learn more about the sport. This is especially true if the archer is young and still growing.

Your first compound bow should:

  • Match your eye dominance
  • Have a non-specific draw length or have the right draw length setting and cams with draw length adjustability so you can grow and correct your form
  • Have a light draw weight, that you can easily draw and control
  • Be affordable
  • Be able to grow with the archer for the first 6-12 months of shooting

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