The first thing you need to do before you begin archery is determine your draw length. This number is necessary to help you choose the right bow, selecting the right arrows, and even learning the correct techniques.
Figuring out how far you’re going to draw a recurve isn’t rocket science, but getting it right is just as vital to an archer’s success as choosing the right size shoe is for a runner.
Think about it. If you’re running and your shoes are too big, your performance suffers. If they’re too small, you’ll experience quite a bit of pain. Likewise, your recurve bow draw length is an important factor to get right, because it is impossible to learn proper archery shooting form if this number and the bow size are too small.
So what is draw length?
The Archery Trade Association (ATA) defines draw length as follows:
Draw length is the distance at the archer’s full draw, from the nocking point on the string to the pivot point of the bow grip plus 1 3/4 inches.
Draw Length (DL) from the Pivot Point (PP) shall be designated as DLPP and shall be called TRUE DRAW LENGTH.
That’s a bit of a mouthful, isn’t it? The truth is, it’s pretty simple. In short, the draw length is how far back you will pull the bow string before releasing it to cast your arrow.
This distance is commonly measured from the nocking point on the recurve, or the nock of the arrow, to the corner of your mouth. Pulling back this far, you’ll maintain the best control over your form and accuracy while also getting optimal speed and kinetic energy out of your bow.
Read on to find out how to find your own individual draw length. Please note that it will be very helpful if you have an assistant who is knowledgeable about archery when you do this.
What’s the best way to measure my draw length?
The most accurate method for determining draw length is the arm-span technique. This is fast and easy, and gives the best result. All you have to do is measure your arm span and then divide it by 2.5. There’s not much complication to this tried and true way of measuring how far back you should pull the bow string, but you will need an assistant. Here’s how to do it.
- Stand with your back against a wall, like you’re making the letter “T,” making sure your back is straight, your arms are reached out, and your palms are open and facing forward. Don’t scrunch up your shoulders or overextend your chest. Just stand naturally and relaxed.
- Have your assistant place a piece of masking or painter’s tape at the tip of each of your middle fingers.
- Measure the distance between each piece of tape, and record this measurement as “arm span.”
- Divide your arm-span measurement by 2.5.
For example, let’s say my arm span is 68 inches. I divide that number by 2.5, and get a result of 27.2. That means my calculated draw length will be 27 inches. Simple, right?
Is that the only way to measure draw length?
No, there are several ways you can calculate draw length. Another way you can determine this is using the wall measurement technique. Here’s how it’s done:
- Face a wall sideways, and extend your bow arm in front of you.
- Make a fist, and place it flush against the wall, while keeping your arm parallel to the floor.
- Keep your body facing the wall sideways, and turn your head to directly face the wall.
- Now, have your assistant measure the distance between the highest point on your first and the corner of your mouth.
What should I keep in mind about using these methods?
The most important thing to remember is to have proper shooting form. Otherwise, you won’t get proper draw and anchor positions and the length will be wrong. This is why it’s important to have someone knowledgeable in archery help you.
Make sure you don’t raise or scrunch up your shoulders, and don’t collapse your chest. Your elbows and arms need to be properly aligned, or you’ll have false measurements.
I heard that my height is the same as my arm span. Is that true?
There are some bow size charts out there that suggest arm span is equal to a person’s height. According to the Journals of Human Kinetics, there is absolutely no evidence that supports this claim, so you shouldn’t rely on it. Three people of the same height will more than likely have three completely different arm-span lengths.
Can’t I just figure out my arm span based on how old I am?
There are a few other bow size charts that use age as the determining factor for figuring out the right bow size. These are bogus, and should be tossed out and burned. People are not all created with equal proportions, and everyone grows at different rates. Using a chart that insinuates your arm span is proportionate to your age is risky, and is about as intelligent as buying a “one size fits all” pair of shoes.
What other tips can you give me about determining my draw length?
Here’s the biggest one: use both methods. The more data you can pull together, the more accurately you’ll determine your true draw length. If you happen to get two different numbers from the various methods, just add those figures together and divide by two. For example:
- I use the Arm Span Method, and get a draw length of 27 inches.
- From the Wall Measurement Method, my draw length is 29 inches.
- I add these two numbers together, coming up with 56. Divide that by 2, and I get a more refined draw length of 28 inches.
Based on that, I would record my draw length as 28 inches, and choose my bow and arrows accordingly. You can comfortably and confidently do the same, if you’ve followed the advice in this page.
I’ve followed these methods, but my draw length still doesn’t seem right. What gives?
Chances are, you’re using incorrect posture when measuring. Here are some factors that might make your draw length seem shorter than it really is:
- Poor alignment. Do you maintain your bow arm and the tops of your shoulders in a straight line? Is your drawing elbow coming back behind your head? If not, your alignment is off.
- High shoulder position. Don’t let one or both of your shoulders pop up like you’re shrugging. Both shoulders should be tucked firmly in a low, natural position. This is especially true for your bow shoulder.
- Using a D-Loop. Tying a “D-Loop” onto your bowstring might help you in using a release, but it also shortens your draw length slightly. Keep that in mind when you’re outfitting your bow.
Next, here are some things that can make your draw length seem longer than it truly should be.
- Your anchor point is too far back. Remember, keep your anchor point consistently either to the front of your chin or midway along your jaw.
- Unusual head position. Don’t strain your head and neck backward. Just keep them relaxed so that your head is over the center of your body.
- Long release aid. If you’re using a mechanical release aid, this might actually lengthen your draw. Keep this in mind when you’re fine-tuning your recurve.
Finally, here are some other factors to keep in the back of your mind.
- Your posture. Are you standing up straight, or are you slouching or standing so tall you arch your back? Just stand natural and straight.
- A strained drawing wrist. Do you have your wrist strained forward or arched? It should be supple and relaxed, and in line with the rest of your arm.
- Not using your back muscles. Make sure, when you draw your bow string, that you engage the back muscles near your scapula, moving your entire shoulder unit toward your spine. This will increase your draw length consistency.
You should always learn archery with the help of someone well-versed in the sport. They can help you with your posture, shooting technique, as well as all of the basics. A reputable pro shop can also help you determine your draw length, but be mindful of commissioned sales agents who just want to meet their quota.
Next, read up on how to choose a proper draw weight for your recurve bow.