Your Complete Guide To Compound Bows
Compound bows are a fun and exiting type of bow to shoot, whether you have previous experience with other bows such as Recurve or if you just want to get straight into compounds. The point of this guide is to help you learn as much as possible about compound bows.
The goal is that after reading this, you will understand exactly what this bow type is and what the different parts are such as the cams. There is also some advice on how to actually shoot a compound bow as it is a little different to other bows.
If you know that compound bows are for you, there is some tips on how to actually choose the right compound bow for your goals. Not all compounds are the same and some are more suitable for hunting than they are for target archery.
Right, after that into….Let’s get into the guide!
What is a Compound Bow?
When I first saw a compound bow, I thought it was something very futuristic and thought they looked amazing! The are very similar to recurve bows, however they use cables and pulleys to help bend the limbs and generate the kinetic energy to shoot the arrow at your target.
Compound bows are fairly new when comparing them to other types of bows, they were first developed in 1966.
Many people enjoy using Compound Bows because of the mechanical advantages they provide. The limbs are more energy efficient on a compound bow as they are more rigid. This increased rigidity helps to make them more accurate than recurve bows and long bows, making it easier for you to hit your target.
When researching compound bows you will no doubt come across the term “let-off”, this is one of the benefits to using a compound. When you draw a recurve bow, the draw weight increases as you pull the string back. Your strength levels determines how much draw weight you can handle, the higher the draw weight generally speaking the faster the shot. High draw weight often results in it being harder to hold the bow and aim (as it’s heavier).
With a compound, when you draw the bow you initial feel that same draw weight. Once you draw it to a certain point, the weight decreases and this is the let off. This allows you to hold the bow drawn without the weight, which allows you to aim with the string drawn – helping you hit your target. This is one of the reasons why compound bows are often the chosen bow for hunting, as you can keep the bow drawn whilst looking for the target.
Parts of a Compound Bow
A compound bow does share some similar parts to that of a recurve bow, although it does have a lot more parts that move. When I first saw a compound bow, I was initially intimidated and thought they were more for advanced archers. This could not be further from the truth, they are ideal for archers of any level. Here you can see a breakdown of the different parts of a compound bow, which should help clear away any confusion and break away the intimidation.
Like other bows the riser is in the center of the bow and is where you hold it via the grip. It is used to connect the limbs but also allows you to attach additional accessories such as sights, stabilizers and arrow rest. Most compound bow risers are made from aluminum as it is a low weight metal. The more expensive ones are also made from carbon fiber, as this makes them even lighter.
The grip can be found on the riser and is where you will hold the bow. They are designed to fit the hand and therefore are not hard to find, many hunting compound bows use a slight cushioned grip as you will often have to hold the bow for some time.
Many compounds allow the use of universal grips, which means you can use one that is manufactured by someone else if you feel it is more comfortable. This is perfect as once you get better, you will want to find a grip that is ideal for you and your hand size.
You will find the limbs attached to the riser, there is one either side. These are made from planks of fiberglass that are flexible, they bend when you pull the bowstring. The limbs are essential as they generate the kinetic energy needed to shoot the arrows.
The limbs on compound bows come in two different styles, the typical D shaped limbs and then the parallel limbs. This is when the limbs are directly opposite each other and is often on most compound bows used for hunting. These are used as they are quieter than the D shaped compound bows, which is essential when hunting.
Quick tip, if your compound bow doesn’t have cams…you don’t have a compound bow ;). It is the cams that make it a compound. These are disks that can be found at the end of the limbs. As mentioned above, it is the cams that help to draw the bow and once you have it the let off, it becomes easier to pull main and hold the bow with the string drawn.
There are 4 types of cam systems and these determine how the cam wheels work together. The different systems are single cam, hybrid cam, binary cams and finally two cams. The most popular type of cam system and one that you will tend to find on beginner compound bows is the single cam.
They are often a lot quieter than other cam systems and are also much easier to look after. Id certainly recommend going for a single cam system.
Imagine trying to shoot an arrow without the bowstring, they won’t get very far that’s for sure. The bowstring is what you pull back to actually shoot the arrows.
The cables are connected to the two cams and move when you pull back the bowstring. They are essential to any compound bow and never actually touch the arrow.
The cable guard might not look much but its very important. Made from fiberglass it is there to keep the cables out of the way of your line of fire.
The Cable slide also works to make sure the cables are not in the way of the arrow, it is a movable slide.
The arrow rest is where the arrow is resting before you take your shot. The most common arrow rest is the containment rest and this is what you will normally find on a beginners compound bow. It completely covers the arrow which helps keep it in place and allows you to target better.
If you are new then i’d recommend getting this type of arrow rest. Others do include Drop away, the shoot-thru and the pressure.
The shelf is like the arrow rest and is found just above the grip, it is where you can rest the arrow. Compound bow uses will normally add an arrow rest, as it does allow for more stability of the arrow whilst aiming at your target.
The peep sight works with the main sight of the compound bow. It is a tube and when you draw the bow you will use it to aim at your target. You use the peep sight to sight onto the pins from the main sight.
If you have ever used a gun then aiming a compound bow will come naturally as it uses the same kind of sight. The actual sight for a compound bow is attached to the riser and the most common type is known as the fixed pin and has 3 pins. These can be set to specific distances, which allows you to aim with a specific pin, depending on the distance you are shooting.
This method is great for beginners as it makes it very easy for you to get accurate shots. It is however worth spending sometime trying to learn your distances, eventually with practice you will be able to tell an object that is 10 yards away or 30 yards.
There are other sight types on the market such as movable pins, pendulum pins and these have just the one pin. I would personally stick with the fixed pin sight.
The stabilizer is a rod that can be purchased separately and is attached to the front of the bow. The idea of it is to help stabilize the bow so you can aim better. Some people love them whereas others don’t really like them or feel any benefit. I personally don’t use them, id recommend getting used to your compound bow and then trying one out. It’s not something you initially need to worry about.
Have you ever seen a archer shooting a compound bow but not actually be touching the string with their fingers? Wondered how the hell they are shooting it? They will be using a mechanical release. You wear this on your hand and then clip it to the bowstring. You pull back and when ready to fire you pull the trigger and this releases the clip and shoots the arrow. Again I personally like the feel of pulling the drawstring back with my fingers, it is however a personal choice.
How To Shoot A Compound Bow
A common question I get via email is people asking how to shoot a compound bow, this section of the guide will teach you just that. Mastering the compound does take time and a whole lot of practice. Follow the below 6 steps and with your compound bow in hand and soon you will not only be able to fire the arrow but hit your target!
Step One: The Mechanical Release
If you are using a mechanical release then you need to attach this first. There are some very good reasons why you would want to use one, such as not releasing the arrow by accident. It can be really handy to keep the bow drawn if you are following a moving target, if you have pulled back with your fingers then they can become sore.
Attach the release to your hand, this will go on your dominant hand or the one that is going to draw the bow. It is often attached via Velcro straps. Connect the loop of the bowstring to the clamp of the release and you are good to go.
Step Two: Nocking The Arrow
Nocking the arrow correctly is important as they could go off target, it is however very simple to do. First of all if you are just using the shelf then the arrow will rest on that, however I would recommend using a arrow rest. As mentioned above the best type would be the containment arrow rest. Slide the arrow through this until it is in place.
On the arrow there are 3 vain’s, make sure the one on its own is facing upwards and connect the nock to the bowstring in the center of the string loop. You will know it has fastened properly as you should hear a click.
Step Three: Stance & Holding Your Bow
It’s important to get your stance right, as this is essential when firing the bow and hitting your target. Even if you are doing bow hunting, you are still going to want to master the stance. A good archery stance will help ensure you get the right amount of draw and aim the bow effectively.
The distance you stand from your target does depend on your sights, which ill explain in step 5. You want to stand side onto your target with your head facing the direction you want the arrow to go. It’s important to make sure you do not twist as this will cause the arrow to go off course.
Your weaker hand will be used to grip the bow, as your dominant hand is used to draw the bowstring. Lift your bow up to shoulder height and make sure that your arm is completely straight. The hand holding the bow at the grip is simply there to hold the weight but make sure you do not grip the bow to hard, your hand should be relaxed.
Step Four: The Draw – Reaching The Let Off
When you are ready to draw the compound bow, you need to clip the mechanical release onto the string loop. The draw might seem easy as you may think it’s simply pulling the bowstring back and this is true to some degree. Having good draw form will help to make sure you hit your target more often with decent speed, as well as help to preserve energy and stamina.
You will find when you pull the drawstring back, the main muscles being worked are the shoulder and upper back. Pull back in one fluid movement making sure you do not twist as this can cause injury.
Unlike when using a recurve, once you draw the bow a certain amount the let off happens. This is when the pressure/weight is managed by the cams and you are able to hold the bow at full draw, but it only be a fraction of the weight. The nock should find its way to the corner of your mouth, which is known as the anchor point.
Step Five: Aiming At Your Target
One of the best things about compound archery is the fact that the let off, allows you to keep the bow drawn with less weight so you can aim better. This is important as aiming is probably one of the hardest things to master, but with time and practice anyone can do it!
As mentioned above there are two sights on a compound bow, the peep sight and the sight. The peep sight is on the bowstring and helps to focus your eye line through to the sight. The sight is a series of pins that can be set to different distances, 20, 30, 40 and 50 yards. These pins will move down depending on the distance, the top pin is normally always 20 yards. The others need to be checked before assuming they are the distances you are attempting to shoot.
You should look through the peep sight and the pin should line up with the target. If the target is 20 yards away then you would line it up with the top pin, if its 50 yards away then you line it up with the lower pin. (as long as we have checked that these correlate with the distances)
Aim by using your dominant eye, keeping your weaker eye closed…take a couple of seconds to make sure you are on target and then it’s time to fire….
Step Six: FIRE!
Take a breath and pull the trigger on your release to let the arrow fly through the sky and hopefully it the target! If you are not using a release then simply move your fingers to release the bowstring.
It’s important that you do not move after you have shot as a slight movement could cause the arrow to go off course slightly. Hold the position until the arrow has hit the intended target.
Now even if you have hit the target or not…you will be hooked onto compound archery! Knowing the different parts that make up a compound will help you make sure you buy the best compound bow for you.
Common Compound Bow Questions
Below are some common questions that I receive about compounds. If you do have any questions, please don’t hesitate to contact me.
1 – What bow do you prefer?
I love all bows if I am honest but personally I prefer recurve bows. It does depend what I am doing though. If im just having a bit of fun or doing target archery then i’ll use a recurve. Although if I am out hunting then i’ll use a compound bow.
2 – What are the limbs made from?
The limbs are made from either fiberglass or carbon fiber, it does all depend on the manufacture. They are designed to be as lightweight as possible.
3 – What happens if I draw the bow without a arrow nocked?
You can draw the bow without causing it any damage, however you should never release the string with no arrow nocked. This is caused dry firing and can cause damage and often not covered by your manufacturer’s warranty
4 – Can I use a compound straight away or should I use a recurve bow first?
You should use whatever bow you want. A beginner compound bow is often more expensive than a beginner recurve bow but if you prefer to use a compound then go for it. The concept is exactly the same so there is no reason to use one before the other.