Most bows are more adjustable than they seem. In fact, most bows have an adjustable draw length, which is the distance from the nock point on the string to the throat of the grip when at full draw.
If you need to measure the draw length of your bow, there are several different ways to do so. Besides having a friend measure the length while you’re at full draw, a few individual methods include measuring your wingspan and dividing, the button to base method and the fist to mouth method.
This article will go more into depth about how to use each of these methods to measure draw length, but first, we’ll discuss the importance of understanding what your draw length can do for you.
Why is Draw Length Important?
When you buy a brand new bow, there are typically a lot of specs listed on the box or in the description telling you the settings and capabilities of the bow.
But the draw weight or draw length that the manufacturer sets up on your bow may not be right for you.
Moreover, they might not even be right for the bow to function at peak performance.
Many archers, especially beginners, may not even be aware that their bow’s draw length can be adjusted to shoot at any draw length other than the one that was listed.
And though it may be through no fault of the manufacturer, sometimes the draw length listed in the bow’s specs may not even be correct.
Regardless of the bow or the brand, it’s always best and recommended to measure your bow’s draw length yourself because a lot of your shooting experience actually relies on having the optimal draw length set.
Just like practically every other spec of your bow, draw length will affect accuracy.
Choosing the right draw length is like choosing the right size shoe.
If you go too small or too large, you could probably still walk, but odds are it won’t look too good and will likely cause some pain.
In the case of archery, overly long or overly short draw length is going to wreck your form.
Form is one of the most important skills to learn in archery and is also one of the most difficult things to adjust if you’ve fallen into bad habits.
If you’re shooting with a draw length that is too short, your arms are probably not going to be fully extended, resulting in a crunched form and poor releases.
A draw length that is too long is dangerous because it may cause you to pull the arrow off the riser just before releasing, an all-too-real scenario that has resulted in many impaled hands.
I would say that’s about the worst accuracy you can get, assuming that your target is not your own hand.
Draw length will also greatly increase or reduce the speed of your bow.
This is important to understand because the draw length that your bow is set at when you purchase it may not be the draw length that is required to achieve the top speed your bow.
So, if you bought a bow mainly for its advertised 343 feet per second shot speed, you’re going to want to measure your draw length and confirm that it’s the same length that was used when technicians were testing the bow’s top speed.
(Hint: standardized bow testing mandates that all bows’ draw lengths be set to 30 inches when testing for speed, so if your bow’s draw length is less than 30 inches, you’re not getting its fastest speed.)
Due to the laws of kinetic energy and momentum, an arrow will always fly faster with a longer draw length.
It may have occurred to you that the most obvious method to measure your draw length is just to pull the string all the way back and have a friend measure the distance between your grip and the string’s nock point.
An even easier choice would be to just take your bow to your local pro shop, where employees can quickly tell you the measurement of your bow’s draw length.
If you’re like me, however, you need to know the facts for yourself and see the ruler with your own two eyes.
But just knowing the draw length that your bow is currently at isn’t going to help you much.
What you really need to know is what draw length you should be shooting with.
Not to mention, even pro shop employees aren’t always perfectly accurate.
So, if you have ten or so minutes to spare and a measuring tape, you can quickly perform these little tests to come up with an accurate measurement of your bow’s draw length.
You might be surprised by what you find.
Using your wingspan to measure the proper draw length for you is probably the most popular way to get the job done, and there is actually more than one way to do it.
You will still need a buddy to complete any of these measurement methods, so grab a friend, neighbor, or grandma and get your measuring tape ready.
First, stretch both arms out to the side like you’re about to fall into a pile of snow and make a snow angel.
Now, have your buddy measure your wingspan from middle fingertip to middle fingertip, across your chest.
Next, take whatever number your buddy ended up with and divide it by 2.5.
If you have a phobia of decimals or simply dislike them (I wouldn’t blame you), you can achieve close to the same result by subtracting 15 from your measurement and then dividing by two.
Buttons to Base
This measurement method is very similar to the wingspan method, but here you’ll just need to measure the distance between the center of your chest and the end of your wrist/beginning of your palm.
That’s it! No division or subtraction to be done here, just check your measuring tape, and whatever number you get is your optimal draw length.
Fist to Mouth
For this method, you’ll need a little imagination.
Pretend you’re holding your bow and that you’re about to shoot it.
Standing at a 95-degree angle from where your imaginary target is, you should have one arm extended just like it was in the buttons to base position.
Your other arm’s elbow should be up above the corresponding ear, with your hand near your mouth.
Now, holding this position, have your buddy measure the distance from the top of your fist (the one holding the imaginary bow grip) and the corner of your mouth.
The distance measured should be equal to the proper draw length for you.
It’s very possible that each of these methods might produce slightly different results, so it’s best to try each of them, record the results, and average the numbers to get your most accurate measurement.
For even more accurate readings, be sure to double check your measurements each time.
Here’s an additional tip: always round down a little, maybe a half an inch or so to account for the additional length you’ll get from either end of your arrow.
Choosing the Right Draw Length for You
If you can’t get around to measuring your draw length with any of these methods or don’t have a buddy, there is a general guideline for what draw lengths might be best for you based on your height.
Always keep in mind that these are general and that all people who are 5’9″, for example, do not have the same wingspan.
But if you’d just like a place to start, this table will give you a good idea of the range you should be looking at:
|Height||Approximate Draw Length|
|4’8″ – 5’0″||23″ – 24″|
|5’0″ – 5’4″||24″ – 25.6″|
|5’4″ – 5’8″||25.6″ – 27.6″|
|5’8″ – 6’0″||27.6″ – 28.6″|
|6’0″ – 6’4″||28.6″ – 30.6″|
|6’4″ – 6’8″||30.6″ – 32″|
Remember, if your personal measurements don’t line up with this chart, it doesn’t mean that you are wrong.
Double check all your measurements and, best of all, test as many different draw lengths out as you can so you can choose the one that feels best, not the one you were told is the best.
With the correct draw length, you’ll be on your way to perfecting your archery experience.