Survival

How To Buy Your First Bow

bow and arrows

Even though buying a used bow would make learning the new survival skill cheaper, it could cause more problems during the training process. A used bow could have a hairline crack or other problems caused by damaged or poor maintenance that may greatly inhibit your ability to aim, draw, or release the arrow.

You do not need to purchase the most expensive bow on the market to learn how to shoot, and to be able to fire it accurately to kill game or defend yourself. Buying a decent bow to learn on that fits your size and physical abilities is far more important than the brand label or price tag.

Where to Buy a Bow

Unless you know the person selling the bow and trust them, refrain from buying a used and seemingly great deal from Facebook or Craigslist. There is a good reason why a person sells a weapon, and it might not be that they no longer want to hunt or just need the money.

Going to an outdoors store and garnering the help from a trained associate to buy a bow or taking a bow hunter with you, is highly recommended. You can “try on” the bow and better determine if it is a proper fit for your build and strength.

Types of Bows

There are four common types of archery bows popular for both hunting and contest shooting:

  • Compound Bow
  • Recurve Bow
  • Traditional or Long Bow
  • Crossbow Bow

Each of these bows are equally good for hunting and survival self-defense. Each type of bow can be purchased in a basic of decked out form with multiple accessories and arrow styles.

In all, you are likely to find a grand total of 14 different styles of bows, some of them being highly specialized, on the market. Survival bows are often sold in recurve and compound bow styles.

  • Take Down Bow
  • Bare Bow
  • Self Bow
  • Horse Bows
  • Flight Bows
  • Yumi Bow
  • …and more.

How to Fit Yourself for a Bow

If you are going it alone in the outdoors store, always be honest with the associate about your experience with bows. Exaggerating how many times you have shot a bow – or even touched one, will likely come back to haunt you.

While there is nothing wrong with buying a bow that will grow with your as you hone your skills, you still need to be able to use it right out of the box.

A store associate or accomplished bow hunter will be able to measure you for a bow at the store as you handle various bows you are contemplating purchasing.

During the measuring process the store associate will gauge your draw length by having you pull on several bows in the variety you want to make sure you can handle the weight.

During the draw length measuring process this is not the time to allow your bravado or ego to get the better of you. If you are struggling during the pull or doing so hurts, you need to say so.

Muscles will develop over time when practicing unless you pull a muscle or strain a tendon 10 minutes after trying to shoot an arrow for the first time.

Bow draw weight is generally gauged in 10-pound increments. The maximum draw weight is almost always the figure shown on the bow package.

A bow with a 50-pound draw weight can typically be adjusted down to 40 pounds. To hunt wild game in the most ethical manner, a minimum of a 40-pound draw weight is highly recommended.

Determining Maximum Draw Length

The archer is measured to determine their draw length; only then can an informed search for a bow they can use begin. Some stores offer measuring devices or charts to help you determine your proper draw length.

Those aids are good to use for a guide, but the best way to figure out your draw length is to simply draw on a bow to its full draw stopping point, and decide which one not only feels the most comfortable to pull and hold, but allows you to still shoot accurately.

Many stores offer a target practice area with safety tipped arrows for use during the measuring or selection of the bow.

If you are purchasing a bow online or need more help than you are being given in a store, have someone help you measure your arm span to help determine your draw length.

Measure your arm span in inches when standing with your arms stretched out to the sides with your palms facing forward. Do not try to stretch out your arms into an unnatural position, simply hold them at their longest comfortable point away from the body.

Have your helper measure you from the tip of the middle finger on one hand straight across to the tip of the middle finger on the other. Multiply the total number of inches by 2.5 to determine your draw length. Most folks of average size discover their arm span is approximately equal to their height in inches.

Long bows and traditional recurve bows can be drawn back to nearly any distance, but compound bows are designed to be drawn back only to a specific spot and then stop. If you are purchasing a compound bow, measuring for draw length is crucial to your future successful use of the bow.

The height in inches of a recurve bow should be approximately the same as your draw length plus 40 inches. Typical recurve bow systems range from 66 to 72 inches.

The distance the bow can be pulled back is known as the draw length, and it is entirely controlled by the weapon’s mechanical system. Compound bows are created only to be fired from the full draw position.

If the bow is set for a full draw at 28 inches, then the arrow must be released from that length. Shooting from another point in the powerstroke will not end in a successful release.

You can actually feel when the bow has reached its stopping point of full drawn length much like you can feel when you open a drawer or door to its fullest point.

Once you reach the full draw length where the mechanical stop is set it is incredibly difficult to pull it back even a hair further – without modifying the entire mechanical set up of the bow.

The mechanical setting on the archery bow and the physical size of the archer must match for the person to be able to operate the weapon properly, safely, successfully, and accurately. Most modern mass manufactured bows take 20 pounds of pressure or less to hold at full draw.

Determining Maximum Draw Weight

The draw eight of a bow is the amount of force necessary to pull the drawstring back. A compound bow does not feel increasingly more difficult to pull back the further you go like it can on a crossbow.

The draw weight on a compound bow is governed by the cam system’s geometry. The pulling force peaks and then decreases during the draw cycle. The hump point, or “peak weight” is when the maximum amount of effort is required by the archer.

Archers, especially beginners, should not try to muscle through when trying out bows with different draw weights. The pulling force should feel comfortable and not a painful struggle each time the bow is used.

The general rule when selecting a bow based on draw weight is to choose one that requires about 75% of your maximum physical strength. Attempting to use a bow with too heavy of a draw weight can cause injury, fatigue, or failing when releasing the arrow.

Bow Draw Weight Guide

Draw WeightArcher
15 to 25 PoundsChild weighing 70 to 100 pounds
25 to 35 PoundsChild or woman weighing 100 to 130 pounds
30 to 40 PoundsWoman weighing 130 to 160 pounds
40 to 45 PoundsAthletic boys weighing 130 to 150 pounds, or men weighing 120 to 150 pounds
45 to 55 Pounds Women weighing 160 pounds or more
55 to 65 Pounds Men weighing 150 to 180 pounds
65 to 75 Pounds Men weighing 180 pounds or more

Shooting an archery bow with more draw weight does not necessarily mean the arrow will be released any faster. Archery industry standards mandate at least 5 grains of arrow per mass per pound of draw weight.

A bow with a higher draw weight will offer more target or prey penetration, but the arrow mass standards often offset any possible gains in speed.

Brace Height

This is the distance from the grip of the bowstring to the deepest section on the weapon. If the bow is for a child or a person of short stature, make sure the weapon will not be too long to be held properly when being aimed and the arrow fired.

child shooting a bow

Questions to Ask When Buying a Bow

  1. If buying a bow with two cams instead of one, ask if the store’s bow technician can help you set the timing.
  2. If buying a basic bow, ask what accessories can be added to the weapon later on – a sight in particular would be highly useful.
  3. Ask if the store store stocks replacement parts for the bow if they become damaged.
  4. Ask about proper arrow length for your bow. The arrow length must coordinate with both the bow and the draw length – this is a major safety issue. The arrows must be long enough to sit on the rest without falling off and the shafts cannot be too long or they will not fly properly.
  5. Ask for help with target selection for training – even if you plan to make your own.
  6. Ask for help learning more about what types of arrow tips should be used for practice and specific types of hunting – and how to change the tips.

Bow Accessories

I would be shocked if an outdoors store or archery shop associate does not attempt to convince you to deck out your new bow before heading to the cash register.

Some accessories are generally considered a “must have” for beginners, but others can wait until later on when you have developed some skills and are actually going out into the woods.

Common Bow Accessories for Beginners

  • Quiver (some bows come with a standard quiver, but not all)
  • Arrows
  • Arm Guards
  • Arrow Rest
  • Bow Sight or a Peep Sight
  • Field Points
  • Release Aid
  • Target
  • Bow Case
arrows

Arrows

The store associate or a bow hunting friend can help you find arrows with the proper spine weight for you and the new bow. Spine weight refers to the stiffness of the bows. A quality arrow must be able to flex after it is released and begins to fly, but should never over flex.

Carbon fiber arrows are often favored by bow hunters and contest shooters. Getting arrows with the proper fletching – 3-inch vanes may help your broadhead arrows fly far truer once you have learned to aim than fletching designed to hit small targets for recreational or contest shooting.

Arrow Rest

Some bows come with an attached arrow rest, but others require this handy device to be purchased separately as an accessory. Arrow rests help you keep the arrow in place when drawing back and releasing.

Arm Protection – Arm Guards

Arm protectors are typically made out of nylon with a neoprene interior, leather, or plastic. They wrap around the forearm with velcro straps to protect the skin from the recoil of a bow string – especially when it has been drawn improperly. Arm protectors are typically about 8 inches long and three to five inches wide.

Bow Sight

A bow sight can range in price from as little as $50 to as much as $300… or more. A 5-pin bow sight allows the archer to make incredibly small adjustments before releasing the arrow, and is often easier to use than sights with click type knobs – which are usually more expensive.

Each pin can be set for a different yardage, typically the pins are set in 10-yard increments.

Bow Case or Sling

These types of accessories are designed to both carry and protect the bow, accessories, and arrows. They are lightweight and made out of either a thick plastic that boasts a padded interior or padded nylon with a strap that allows you to wear the bow protector like a sling.

Field Points

The tips of target arrows are referred to as either field points or target points. These tips are designed to make the flight of the arrow as aerodynamic as possible. Field points are sold in multiple grain weights.

Finger Points

A finger divider or a structured finger tab with a shelf are synthetic or leather patches that protect your fingers from the bowstring. They are strapped or wrapped around the archer’s hand prior to shooting.

Release Aids

A bow release aid – or a mechanical release, is simply an attached device that can help the archer release arrows in a more precise manner. The release aid used a trigger to release the string of the bow instead of the user’s fingers. (source)

String

Bow string comes in a variety of materials, lengths, and thicknesses. You must make sure that the replacement string purchased for your bow matches the recommended thickness and length for the weapon. Thicker strings have more strands, and are required for bows with a higher draw weight.

Use a tied nocking point, if you can, rather than brass, as this will prolong the life of both string and finger tab.

bow targets

Targets

Archery targets typically last between six months to two years, depending upon what they are made of and how heavily they are used. A bale of straw or hay can serve as an extremely inexpensive target.

Some folks spray paint a target face in a single or multiple colors, and a bull’s eye on the bale to better judge their accuracy.

Quiver

A quiver can be designed to attach to the bow or be worn like a back sling by the archer. It both carries and protects your arrows when they are not in use.

Archery Accessories

In addition to the basic bow accessories noted above for training, you will also need some attachments designed especially to aid in the hunting process.

Arm Guard

Yes, this protective arm covering was noted above for training, but a longer and thicker version is recommended for hunting.

This type of arm guard is not geared to protecting the exposed flesh of a novice learning how to shoot, but is more like a sleeve that keeps the firing arm warm in cold weather or to prevent bulky outerwear from obstructing the path of the bowstring.

Broadheads

Target practice arrows often have a less expensive and – or sharp tips instead of broadheads. A broadhead arrow tip for hunting usually weights between 100 and 125 grains – with the 125 grain being the most accurate.

These arrow tips are as sharp as a razor, something that you will need for an arrow to both strike, enter, and ultimately stop wild game. Investing in quality broadheads can play a substantial role in the hunting success.

Laser Range Finder

These portable viewers help a hunter better gauge the distance they are from prey. An attached bow sight is helpful, but for serious hunting or survival purposes, investing in a laser range finder could be well worth the typically $50 to $150 for the compact gadget.

Aerial Hunting Accessories

Bow hunters in search of deer often purchase a tree stand or build a fire tower type structure on their land to garner a better view of the area where deer frequent.

If you buy a treestand to set up on either a temporary or permanent basis, a safety harness and a rope to pull of your bow after you climb the ladder of the treestand (unless you have a sling over the back case) are highly recommended.

Treestand/Safety Harness. If you plan to hunt from a tree, you’ll need a treestand and a safety harness. You’ll also need a pull-up rope to pull your bow into the treestand after you climb to it.

A former coworker’s husband was an avid and accomplished deer hunter. He had been hunting for well over a decade the day tragedy struck. He was up in a quality deer stand that he had used just the day before, when it slipped and fell – taking him down a tall tree and rapidly to the ground with it.

He was hunting with a buddy – which is always recommended, but they were spaced a good distance apart, and had neglected to pack 2-way radios to communicate.

Cell service was not possible in dense woods where they were hunting. This kind man and good bow hunter was left to suffer in pain on the ground until he passed out until failing to meet up with his buddy at dusk.

The man landed squarely on both ankles, splintering them both. He spent many weeks in the hospital and underwent multiple surgeries. Initially, he required a prosthetic ankle and foot on only one leg, but due to continued complications and deterioration, the other ankle and foot damaged in the tree stand fall also had to be amputated.

The wearing of a safety harness could have prevented this life-changing, traumatic, and incredibly painful series of injuries.

Remember, when purchasing your first bow fit and ability to handle the draw weight will be essential to your training success. Once you have mastered the basics of archery with a moderately priced bow, only then should you consider upgrading to one with a heavier draw weight and more advanced system mechanisms.

When you have decided to upgrade your bow, consider checking with local outdoors stores about a trade in program. The shop might purchase your bow from you and apply the amount as a discount on a new bow.

Even if you are happy with the bow itself, you may want to upgrade to a higher quality sight after training or doing a little bit of hunting. The sight will be both the most expensive and the most useful accessory you will ever purchase for a bow.

When upgrading your bow, search for a new bow first to determine if any of your existing accessories might be able to transfer onto the new weapon – a potential major money saver.

Final Words

SO, are you ready to buy your first bow? And if you have one, what kid of bow is it? What are you looking for when buying bows? Don’t forget to pint this on Pinterest!

buying a bow Pinterest image

Tara Dodrill

About Tara Dodrill

Tara Dodrill is a homesteading and survival journalist and author. She lives on a small ranch with her family in Appalachia. She has been both a host and frequent guest on preparedness radio shows. In addition to the publication of her first book, 'Power Grid Down: How to Prepare, Survive, and Thrive after the Lights go Out', Dodrill also travels to offer prepping tips and hands-on training and survival camps and expos.
View all posts by Tara Dodrill →

7 thoughts on “How To Buy Your First Bow

  1. First of all I would not call archery equipment weapons unless you plan to hunt people with them. They are primarily tools for hunting with possible use for self defense.

    Each of these bows are equally good for hunting and survival self-defense. Each type of bow can be purchased in a basic of decked out form with multiple accessories and arrow styles.

    A word of caution on the Crossbow for hunting. I’ve used one for years; but, you need to check your local regulations, since many jurisdictions do not allow their use.

    How to Fit Yourself for a Bow
    As mentioned, draw length and draw weight pretty much covers it; but, for a compound bow, the draw length should be after the break and the weight before the break needs to be manageable when you are tired.

    Common Bow Accessories for Beginners

    Quiver (some bows come with a standard quiver, but not all)
    In all cases this should be a covered quiver to protect the user and others from the points. Broadheads are as sharp as razorblades; but, even target points can be dangerous in a fall.
    Arrows
    Make sure the arrows are rated for the draw weight of the bow. Purchasing knocked arrows with no tips that are then cut to fit your draw weight is a good way to get things properly adjusted.
    Arrow Rest
    These come in several types often called baskets. I find some easier to use than others, so experiment with them in the store before you get stuck with one that may be hard for you to use.
    Bow Sight or a Peep Sight
    For some types of bows and users, instinctive shooting can work well. In this case, choose a knock point on your face, typically beside the mouth or cheekbone, and measure the draw length to that point. When drawing, extend your arm and draw the string until your hand or thumb is at the knock point. This will give you a consistent draw and release, that can work well with practice, and often allow quicker shorts.
    Release Aid
    Understand that drawing and releasing the string with your fingers or using a mechanical release, are different shooting styles, that require a different draw length, so you need to pick one and stick with it.

    Targets

    Archery targets typically last between six months to two years, depending upon what they are made of and how heavily they are used. A bale of straw or hay can serve as an extremely inexpensive target.

    The problem with a bale of hay or straw, is that with the exception of low draw weight little kids bows, arrows will often pass right through them.
    I recommend you get one of the high density Styrofoam target backers, and place it behind the bale as a final arrow stop. Doing otherwise may have you looking through the grass for 50 or more feet, trying to find an arrow that has burrowed itself into the thicket. Ask me how I know. LOL

    A quiver can be designed to attach to the bow or be worn like a back sling by the archer. It both carries and protects your arrows when they are not in use.

    More importantly, it can protect the archer and others and at least in Ohio is required to be covered for that reason, at least when hunting.

    Arm Guard

    This type of arm guard is not geared to protecting the exposed flesh of a novice learning how to shoot, but is more like a sleeve that keeps the firing arm warm in cold weather or to prevent bulky outerwear from obstructing the path of the bowstring.

    It doesn’t keep the arm warm, since that is generally to job of a coat; but, does keep the string from tangling with that sleeve.

    Broadheads

    A broadhead arrow tip for hunting usually weights between 100 and 125 grains – with the 125 grain being the most accurate.

    This really depends on the type of broadhead and the draw weight of the vow or crossbow; but, for meaningful practice, the weight of the broadhead and the weight of the target points used for practice should be the same.

    If you buy a treestand to set up on either a temporary or permanent basis, a safety harness and a rope to pull of your bow after you climb the ladder of the treestand (unless you have a sling over the back case) are highly recommended.

    What we teach in our classes is to always use a harness and a haul line, since tree stands may also be used for gun hunting. Haul lines can be spring loaded so they roll up neatly like those extending dog leashes, and don’t tangled trip you up in the confined spaces of a tree stand.
    Also, commercial tree stands should have the TMA (Tree stand Manufacturers Association) logo on them to ensure they are safe.

    The wearing of a safety harness could have prevented this life-changing, traumatic, and incredibly painful series of injuries.

    When hunting we use dangerous tools; but, hunter education programs have brought the number of firearm and archery related accidents down significantly; however, tree stand accidents still make up some of the largest percentage of hunting related accidents.

      1. Tara,

        ODNR does not require a quiver to be covered or prevent the use of crossbows in hunting.

        I never stated that covered quivers were required, just a good idea I’ve been teaching in my classes for the past 28 years. If you look @ ODNR Division of Wildlife training guidelines: https://www.hunter-ed.com/ohio/studyGuide/Broadhead-Safety/201036_700100387/

        You’ll see in part:
        Broadhead Safety

        To prevent injury:
        Keep broadheads covered with a quiver while traveling to and from the field. Many arrow injuries occur while loading or unloading equipment in vehicles.

        You may also legally use a tree stand without a harness; but, it’s a dangerous & stupid thing to do.

        I am not aware of laws in other counties or if they can restrict or alter the state hunting laws, but at least as far as ODNR hunting rules and regulations are concerned, crossbows and open quivers are fine.

        I never said crossbows were not fine when I stated:

        A word of caution on the Crossbow for hunting. I’ve used one for years; but, you need to check your local regulations, since many jurisdictions do not allow their use.

        I’ve been hunting with a crossbow for about 35 years and still do; but, jurisdictions like Pennsylvania just recently started allowing crossbows for hunting which was my point, since there are many on this forum within different jurisdictions with their own rules and regulations.

  2. Good points to consider, I am not in market for a bow…but having the knowledge of what to look for can help me as i help others consider what they should get…, things like getting the proper assistance in purchase and not buying a used one..would be things commonly done for people needing to reduce costs…

  3. I love archery, been doing it since I was 3 years old with suction cup arrows. Won several highschool shoots, caught an arrow and hit the knock and feather off of my best friends arrow under a dare to beat him. Tara has given some great info on archery. True archery is angle and distance, try setting a target on the ground at 100 yards flat on the ground and see how close you can get to a bullseye….. I’ve done it…LOL

  4. Thanks for this post it was very informative.

    I’ve practiced archy a few times and quite enjoyed it, I’m not sure I’d be able to hit a moving dear or rabbit in a survival situation though.

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