As a beginner in archery, I chose my arrows based on their appearance exclusively. Cool paint jobs and unique fletching were my only criteria, but if I knew what I know now, I would have been much more concerned about the length of my arrows.
Proper arrow length can be determined by measuring the archer’s arms, measuring the bow’s draw length, or using a draw arrow. A typical arrow length is 28 inches, but the best length for you will depend greatly on the kind and size of bow you’re using.
If you’re new to archery, there’s a lot to learn about your equipment and the best ways to handle them. This article will help you get started in making the right decisions when it comes to choosing your archery arrows and accessories.
Why Arrow Length is Important
First, let’s make sure we know what we mean by “arrow length.”
It may seem clear what “arrow length” means, but we need to be careful not to confuse it with arrow size.
While arrow size refers specifically to the stiffness of the arrow shaft, arrow length refers to the distance between the bottom groove of the nock to the end of the arrow.
Be aware that this measurement does not include the tip, as tips can come in different sizes that will change the full measurement of the arrow.
Right now, all we’re interested in is the length of the arrow’s shaft as it is when it comes from the manufacturer.
The most important consideration with arrow length is safety.
If you choose an arrow that is not the right length for you and your bow, you may end up injuring yourself or others.
This is most likely to happen if you choose an arrow that is too short for your bow.
An arrow that is too short is likely to fall off the arrow rest when the string is pulled back, and if the archer doesn’t realize in time, he may release the string and send the arrow through his own hand.
This injury is not uncommon for new archers, so don’t assume that you’re too smart to commit this mistake. It happens, and it hurts.
If you go too far in the other direction, it’s less likely that you can hurt someone, but your accuracy will surely be off.
Shooting with an arrow that is too long virtually guarantees that it will have too much flex, or in other words, it will be too wobbly when it leaves the string.
This is especially true if you’re shooting with a compound bow, which can transfer huge amounts of dynamic energy to the arrow as you release it.
A certain amount of flex in an arrow is desired, but if there’s too much, the arrow won’t be able to recover from a rocky start, resulting in a missed target and possibly an injury.
Longer arrows will also inevitably be slower.
So, if you choose an arrow that’s too long, you’re cheating yourself out of some valuable kinetic energy.
Kinetic energy is essential to getting your arrow where it needs to go and sticking in the target when it does get there.
As with many other aspects of archery, you’ll need to be able to strike a balance with your arrow length to get the desired results (and avoid trips to the emergency room).
Methods of Arrow Measurement
It’s better to have an idea of the arrow length you need before you go to your local archery shop and become overwhelmed with all the options.
It may seem like a daunting task to determine this for yourself if you’re a newcomer to the sport, but fortunately, there are some easy steps you can take to come up with a measurement.
If you don’t yet have your bow, you can still determine how long your arrows should be with just your arms.
Standing up, extend your arms and press your palms flat together as if you are holding a piece of paper there.
Then, have a friend or family member measure your arms from the center of your chest to the tips of your fingers.
If you don’t have a willing assistant, you can perform the same test on your own with a broom stick.
Hold the broomstick with its handle in the center of your chest and the sweeping end pointed away from you.
Once you have a good grip, slowly bring the broom down, holding it in the same spot you were able to reach to when you were holding it up.
Keeping one hand on the spot, mark it with a pen or pencil and then measure from the handle to your mark.
Whether you did the exercise with a friend or a broom, always add one inch to the total measurement you came up with.
This will ensure that the arrow stays safely on its rest as you pull back the string on your bow.
If you do have the bow you’re going to use, ask a friend to help you accurately measure the draw length.
Bow manufacturers usually include draw length in the specs of a specific bow, but the measurement they provide is not always accurate.
To double check, pull your bow’s string back just like you would if you were preparing to shoot.
While you hold that position, have a friend measure the distance between the nock point on the string and the frontmost part of the riser. You may want to measure it multiple times to be certain of the length.
This is your draw length. Your arrow should be at least equal to this length, but it’s a good idea to add half an inch to an inch to be safe.
You may also start by measuring your wingspan (that is, the distance from middle fingertip to middle fingertip when your arms are completely outstretched) and dividing by 2.5.
This formula should give you a number very close to your bow’s draw length.
As always, adding an inch or two to the total length can increase the safety of your estimation.
Lastly, you can use a draw arrow.
Most archery ranges and clubs will have one of these tools on hand.
Essentially, it’s a longer-than-average arrow with no tip that has measurements all along it.
If you have access to one of these, simply nock it like you would a regular arrow and pull back like you’re about to shoot it.
The measurement shown at the point that extends just past the riser is the measurement you should use to select your arrow length.
Of course, you can also always ask the professionals in archery ranges and pro shops to help you determine arrow length.
You might find, however, that measuring for yourself produces the best results as others have different size bows and different preferences than you.
Arrow Length & Bow Type
If none of these measurement methods are possible for you, the kind of bow you’re intending on shooting should give you some clue as to a range of arrow length that you should be shopping within.
Traditional bows like longbows and recurve bows typically don’t get up to speeds anywhere near those of compound bows.
They tend to shoot slower and with less power due to a less efficient energy transfer from the bow to the arrow.
This isn’t to say that traditional bows are bad, but if you have one, just know that they are more compatible with long arrows that have weak, flexible spines.
Conversely, compound bows transfer a large amount of dynamic energy and power to their arrows, and so arrows with stiffer spines are needed.
Short arrows will always have stiffer spines than long arrows, so, therefore, compound bows are almost always shot with shorter arrows.
Arrows can be resized, so if you bought some that are the wrong size, odds are the professionals at your local pro shop can fix them.
This being said, it’s always better to choose the right size from the start so that you can avoid having to pay extra for arrows.
Testing out several different arrow sizes can also be a beneficial experiment.
You can always find a lot of opinions on what kind of equipment you should get, but at the end of the day, it should all come down to comfort and safety.