How low can you go? Identify the perfect draw weight for your whitetail setup.
It turns out that during an overhead shoulder press I'd partially torn my supraspinatus muscle. I quickly learned that there were certain things I wasn't allowed to do if I wanted to heal up. As you can probably guess, it was recommended that I lay off the archery practice. And as you can also probably guess, I didn't.
I don't have much of a choice when it comes to archery practice, considering my job hinges largely on my ability to shoot a vertical bow. The very first thing I did was drop from my typical 70-pound draw weight to the upper 50s. I also devoted myself to quality practice instead of quantity, though to be honest, I'd already been trending that way for years.
Every arrow I shot after that, which was very few, was done so with the purpose of dialing back in and broad-head tuning after changing my setup. I was nervous going into that season, knowing how little I'd shot and how a full tear in that injured muscle would demand surgery.
One thing you don't want to have to worry about when bowhunting, and especially while in the act of aiming at a deer, is anything. To do it right, you need to jettison any negative thoughts and focus on the shot sequence and nothing else. I wasn't sure I could do it, but I did find out on opening afternoon of the Wisconsin season that it was possible.
A pair of bucks were munching acorns on a ridge that would lead them in the direction of my stand as shooting light faded. The lead buck ended up directly beneath me, but his larger buddy skirted my stand at 20 yards. The latter deer also caught me drawing, and when I settled my pin I didn't realize he was quartering toward me much more than I thought. My arrow struck his shoulder, and he barreled off.
I knew pushing it was a bad idea, so a buddy and I took up the trail at first light. The blood trail started sparse but soon grew much easier to follow. And then it dead-ended. I remember sitting in a patch of poplar saplings thinking I was going to lose the buck when I happened to glance to my right. He was lying there, stone dead. In all, he'd covered less than 200 yards from where I'd shot him.
Since that buck, I've shot quite a few critters with lower-poundage bows and have allowed my shoulder the chance to heal. The last few seasons have opened my eyes to the reality of bow poundage and the fact that all of us need to find a balance between enough bow horsepower and overall comfort during the shot.
HOW LOW IS TOO LOW?
Legal draw-weight minimums for whitetail hunting tend to land in the 30- to 40-pound range. It might seem crazy that 30 pounds is legal in some states, but with the efficiency of modern bows, it's not. That stated, 30 pounds is very light, and anyone at that weight should consider working to increase their poundage, if possible.
I realize most shooters in the 30- to 40-pound range are going to be kids and women, so working up to something heavier might not be an immediate option. That's OK, because you can get the job done with your setup provided it's legal.
On the other end of the spectrum, and equally important, are the folks who should probably turn their bows down to something more manageable. I don't see it quite as often as I used to, but there's still a tendency for guys to try to shoot draw weights as heavy as they can.
That's a great strategy for about five bowhunters in the entire country. For the rest of us, it's a terrible idea. Over-bowing yourself leads to all types of problems, but it starts with the simple fact that drawing too much weight leads to discomfort and physical fatigue. This is especially true if you're not used to shooting a bow. I've seen plenty of muscle-bound weightlifters try to draw bows for the first time and find themselves embarrassed when they can't.
I once filmed a commercial for a major sporting-goods retailer. For the shoot, I had to draw the bow dozens of times. Since I'd been shooting archery since I was a toddler, that wasn't asking too much. The fellow in charge of the shoot, a big guy who'd played college football, decided he probably should try to draw my bow, as well. The problem was, he couldn't get it back. Nor could he quite wrap his mind around the fact I could draw the bow seemingly without effort.
Too much draw weight is bad and unnecessary. Even if you can get drawn, when over-bowed you'll be less accurate. When your muscles are screaming from the onset, your mind won't be able to fully focus on the task. Even though the average bow shot takes place in about five to seven seconds, that's too much time if you're in trouble from the start.
I'm a firm believer that almost every bowhunter out there would shoot much more accurately if he or she shed 10 pounds of draw weight. The added accuracy can make up for the lost energy during the shot every single time. In fact, accuracy is just about everything in archery.
The real, true benefit of a comfortable bow is that you'll shoot it better. This is evident at the range, but it becomes truly apparent in the field. When you have a buck at 17 yards, standing slightly downhill, quartering away and offering a shot, you need to be able to perfectly hit your anchor and then follow through with justified confidence. Hitting him where he lives is all that matters--and to do that correctly, you need to be as comfortable as possible with the shot sequence.
FINDING YOUR PERFECT DRAW WEIGHT
How do you really know if what you're shooting is the right weight for you? If you don't shoot enough to know this off-hand, the best bet is to warm up with a few shots and then work on aiming directly at your target before you draw. As you do draw the bow, pull straight back to your anchor without raising your bow arm at all.
If you can do this comfortably, you're on the right track. However, if while standing and drawing you must lift the bow even slightly to complete the draw cycle, you're pulling too much weight.
If you do well enough on this test, the next step is to shoot from your knees. If you can kneel and pull off a perfect, draw-straight-back-to-your-face-without-any-struggle motion, you're doing even better.
The last test should be to sit flat on your butt and try to draw in the same manner. This is about as unnatural as it gets and really removes any option to cheat. If you can get your bow back without any struggles here, you're probably set for bowhunting. Of course, if you can do this too easily you might be a bit under-bowed, but it's better to err on that side than the opposite.
All this worry over draw weight might seem excessive, but it's not. Bowhunting success depends on how well you can shoot, and one of the biggest factors in shooting correctly is pulling the highest poundage you can handle while still being extremely comfortable with it. Finding that balance takes some serious range time and it also takes the ability to be truly honest with yourself.
I always tell my buddies who might be worried that they'll be laughed at for shooting lower-poundage bows to simply lie about it if asked. No one's actually going to check, and no one actually cares what poundage your bow is. All that matters is how well you shoot it.
So shoot what's legal and comfortable, yet still capable. If you have those aspects covered--and you can hit what you're aiming at--you'll be just as lethal as you need to be in the deer woods.
BY TONY J. PETERSON