A bow uses a conglomerate of factors to propel arrows at their targets, and one important factor is brace height. Most amateur archers won’t know what this term means, let alone how to determine or manipulate their bow’s brace height.
Brace height is the distance between the bow’s string at rest position and the deepest part of the grip, also called the pivot point or the throat. Most bows come with a set brace height, but the specific measurement matters more for longbows and recurve bows than for compound bows.
If you’re looking to expand your knowledge about archery, understanding the brace height on your bow and how it affects your shooting experience is a great place to start.
Definition of Brace Height
The term “brace height” can be a little misleading, since height is usually a vertical measurement.
Considering the way that a bow is usually held, brace height is more of a horizontal measurement.
The part of the bow’s frame that an archer holds is called a grip.
Brace height consists of the distance from this point to the string, and it can run anywhere from about five to ten inches.
In regards to the bow’s performance, brace height is not generally the most important spec to consider.
However, for seasoned archers who know how to use this part of the bow to their advantage, brace height can make the difference between a missed shot and a bullseye.
Brace heights are best measured with a tool called a T-Square. These are specially-made rulers for calculating brace height, and yes, they do look like a T.
If your bow did not come with a specified brace height, the Easton T Bow Square is a best-selling T-Square on Amazon.
How Brace Height Affects Arrow Speed
Brace height has the greatest impact on two areas of a bow’s performance.
The first is speed.
As a rule of thumb, shorter brace heights are always found on faster bows.
The shorter the distance between the grip and the string, the greater the amount of time the arrow stays in contact with the string.
If you were to watch a slow-motion video of an arrow being released, you would see that the arrow stays connected to the string for a few moments after the string becomes completely straight again.
The arrow briefly pulls the string along with it in the opposite direction of the archer until its momentum is too great, and the nock comes loose from its position on the string.
Soon after the arrow releases itself from the string, it begins to lose velocity.
That’s why fast bows always have brace heights on the lower end of the spectrum.
The longer that arrow is connected to the string, the more energy is transferred to it to fuel its flight.
Bows advertised as having above-average fps are likely to have a brace height closer to seven inches.
In contrast, bows with brace heights nearer to nine inches typically cannot compete with shorter-brace-height bows.
Though the science may not be exact, many in the archery community believe in the ratio of one inch of brace height to ten feet per second.
This is to say that if you decrease your bow’s brace height by one inch, you will be gaining ten feet per second on your arrow’s speed.
If you were to increase your bow’s brace height by one inch, your arrow’s speed would decrease by ten feet per second.
Because speed is often more important to hunters and 3-D shooters, they will generally own a bow with a shorter brace height than most target shooters.
However, bows with shorter brace heights and faster speeds are also generally louder than other bows.
Because of the increased energy being released, the vibrations traveleing through the bow’s frame are stronger.
As any sound technician will tell you, vibrations in the air are what create the sounds we hear.
The greater the vibrations, the louder the sound.
For hunters attempting to catch live game by surprise, loud noises are not something you want, although speed is essential to making the shot.
Fortunately for avid hunters, innovative minds in the archery community came up with a solution for this dilemma.
Archers can add an accessory like these rubber vibration dampeners from I-Sport found on Amazon to reduce the amount of noise created when they release the string of their bow.
Take that, physics.
How Brace Height Affects Accuracy
Archers often refer to the level of correction a bow can give to an arrow’s flight path as “forgiveness.”
Generally, a bow with greater forgiveness will shoot with relatively consistent accuracy, compensating for small mistakes made by the archer.
This isn’t to say that you can shoot a forgiving bow anyway you want and still hit a bullseye, but for a beginner who’s still trying to iron out their technique, these bows are ideal.
Brace height has a considerable impact on forgiveness.
In contrast with speed, you want to increase your bow’s brace height to maximize forgiveness.
The greater the brace height, the earlier the arrow will leave your string.
We know now that arrows that leave the string early will have decreased speed, but they will also have less time to be influenced by the archer.
The longer the arrow is attached to the string, the more time it has to absorb nearly imperceptible movements by the archer and vibrations of the bow, all of which will influence the arrow’s flight path.
The accuracy of your shot will be increased by a longer brace height for another reason.
The position of your hands on the bow and on the string respectively create what physicists and bow technicians call “vertical torque.”
In layman’s terms, vertical torque is the downward angle created by the position of your hand on the grip and your fingers on the string.
Obviously, your grip hand cannot be at the same height as your string-holding hand, or you would shoot yourself through the hand.
To avoid this, the grip is placed just below the nock point string, and the arrow rest sits just on top of the grip.
So, while the arrow is technically traveling in a straight line, the off-center position of the archer’s hands creates a downward force on the arrow.
When you have a shorter brace height, that downward angle becomes harsher and more magnified, while a longer brace height balances it out more.
A larger brace height also decreased the chances of your wrist being slapped by the string when you release it.
Not only does a wrist-slapping string hurt, but it may also interfere with your accuracy.
Brace Heights for Different Bows
Most new bows on the market will come with a set brace height that has been determined as optimal for that bow by the manufacturers.
This is especially true for compound bows, and even more true for compound bows made specifically for hunting.
In recent years, speed has been all the rage in the archery community, so new compound bows are likely to have a shorter brace height.
For example, the Bear Archery Escape, which has a lighting-fast IBO speed of 350 fps, has a brace height of only 6 inches.
Because compound bows are so much more mechanically complicated than longbows and recurve bows, however, the brace height is not as important of a spec.
If you have a more traditional bow, you’re going to want to pay more attention to your bow’s brace height.
With a recurve bow or a longbow, odds are you’re shooting at targets in an archery range.
If this is the case, brace heights upward of eight or nine inches should be your goal.
Conversely, hunters and 3-D target shooters should aim (pun intended) for closer to five, six, or seven inches of brace height at most.
How Do I Adjust Brace Height on my Bow?
If you’re not satisfied with your bow’s factory-set brace height or if your old string needs replacing, you can manipulate the brace height by simply twisting the string while it’s unstrung.
The more twists you add to the end of the string, the shorter your string becomes, which, when reattached to the bow, will pull the bow’s limbs down and increase the distance between the riser and the string.
If you want to decrease the brace height of your bow, simply undo a few of the twists in your bow’s string.
To do this yourself, you’ll need a bow stringer like the SinoArt Leather Recurve Bow Stringer available on Amazon. Really, you’ll need one of these if you have a recurve bow or longbow anyway, so do yourself a favor and get one before you start playing with brace height.
If you have a compound bow, you’ll probably need to take your bow to a pro shop in order to do this.
It’s best to experiment with a few different brace heights at once to get a feel for what’s going to work best for you.
As you twist and untwist the bow’s string, mark down what you feel at each height.
If you’re concerned about noise while hunting, have a friend stand close by to listen to the sound of the release as you will be too close to the string to have a clear perspective of how much audible noise it’s making.
A Few Words of Caution
Before you begin twisting and untwisting the string of your bow, make sure that you know what kind of string it is.
If you have Flemish twist strings, you will need to exercise great caution when untwisting.
These kinds of strings are made with opposing twists, which can be easily undone by too much untwisting, resulting in the destruction of your string.
An untwisted Flemish string can be remade, but the process is difficult and can interfere with the integrity of your bow if done wrong.
Flemish strings are also very stretchy, so if you’re installing one for the first time, it’s recommended that you either let the bow sit overnight after stringing it or take it out and shoot it a lot right away.
Don’t begin recording results from your brace height tests until you’re sure the string is stretched properly, or else you’ll get far different results later down the road than the ones you saw originally.
It’s a good idea to stretch out two strings so that you can have a spare ready if one snaps or is cut while you’re out shooting.
Additionally, be aware of your bow’s top-heaviness if you’re going for a short brace height.
Some bows with smaller brace heights have been known to create a balance inconsistency with the bow, which will greatly affect your accuracy if left unchecked.
If you feel that your bow’s weight is causing you to lean forward unnaturally, a stabilizer or other counterweight device can be purchased to balance out the effects of the short brace height.
Which Brace Height is Right for You?
When considering what your bow’s brace height should be, you will want to take all of these factors into account.
Whether you are target shooting or hunting will make a big difference in how large or small you want your bow’s brace height to be.
Most importantly, you need to be honest with yourself about your skill level.
Many new archers are lured by the idea of speed, but the increased fps may not be worth the forgiveness you must sacrifice.
If you’re just getting into archery, you’re going to have a better experience with the sport if you start with a middle-grade brace height.
Odds are, your bow came with a specified brace height that the employee at the pro shop you bought your bow from will set your bow at.
It’s best to stick with this measurement while you get to know your bow.
Once you’ve accrued some skills and are looking to put more power behind your shot, then you can begin to meddle with the brace height.
Remember, a shorter brace height will pick up more of your inconsistencies and transfer them to the arrow, so be sure to train yourself to shoot with proper form and consistent anchor points.
Another pitfall of being an amateur archer is the temptation to listen to more seasoned archers.
Taking advice is okay, but just because a friend might have more years of archery experience than you does not mean that their word is the end-all-be-all of archery technique.
What works for another archer may not work for you, especially if you’re engaging with different styles of archery.
Different bows will necessitate different brace heights to operate at peak performance, so the bow’s manufacturer is always going to be your best source in determining preferred brace height.
If you bought a bow second hand or thoroughly dislike the settings your bow came with, the following table outlines the average appropriate brace height for bows of certain lengths.
|Bow Length in Inches||Brace Height in Inches (Min. to Max.)|
|58||7.25 – 8.0|
|60||7.5 – 8.25|
|62||7.75 – 8.5|
|64||8 – 8.75|
|66||8.25 – 9|
|68||8.5 – 9.25|
|70||8.75 – 9.5|
When it comes down to it, you’re mostly trying to find the right balance between speed and forgiveness.
To determine brace height, you’ll need to decide what you value most in your bow’s shot and then favor that factor.