At some point in his or her archery career, a person interested in advancing in target archery will almost certainly consider purchasing a bow optimized for target shooting. Most archers begin with bow designed primarily for hunting since those are more commonly found in local archery shops. As with any high performance piece of equipment, however, a bow designed for one purpose won’t be as effective in another type of archery. This article will describe the important differences between bows designed for hunting and those made for competitive target archery and provide some guidance on shopping for a used compound target bow.
Characteristics of a hunting bow
Hunting bows are optimized for speed, stealth, and portability. Their axle-to-axle distances (the straight-line distance between the axles of the bow’s cams) are typically less than 35″; the limbs and cams are designed to generate as much speed as possible; and the brace height (the perpendicular distance between the bow string and the pivot point of the grip) is usually 7″ or less. A hunting bow is usually painted in a camouflage pattern.
Beyond the geometry and basic design of the bows themselves, hunting bows also feature different types of accessories. The arrow rest is usually a simple “whisker biscuit” design or a “drop-away” connected to the bow string or one of the bow limbs. The sight usually features multiple fiber optic pins arranged vertically. Each sight pin can be moved to correspond to a different distance. A stabilizer, if one is present at all, is usually less than 12″ long and intended more to reduce vibration rather than minimize bow movement.
Most hunting bows, especially bows designed for younger archers, offer a greater range of draw weight and draw length adjustments than target bows. Some “youth bows” are so adjustable that the same bow could theoretically fit an archer from elementary school through adulthood. The wide range of adjustments makes it possible for bow manufacturers to produce a limited number of different bow models while ensuring that each bow can be adjusted to fit the vast majority of hunters. Adjustability is a significant advantage for younger archers who are growing quickly, but it comes at the cost of accuracy.
Characteristics of a target bow
Target bow designs favor accuracy above all else. The axle-to-axle distances range from approximately 35–42″ and the brace heights range from 7–8½″. These characteristics combine to increase accuracy and stability at the expense of speed and portability.
Target accessories are different too. The arrows rests are usually drop-away designs or use a thin, stainless steel blade which cushions the arrow during the shot. Target rests are often more adjustable than hunting rests and can be moved vertically and horizontally a few thousands of an inch at a time to fine-tune performance. Target sights usually have a single fiber optic pin or a small dot or circle as the aiming point. Target sights have precise mechanical adjustments that allow minute vertical and horizontal movements for maximum accuracy. Target stabilizers are much longer than hunting stabilizers, up to 36″ on the front of the bow and up to 15″ on the back. The overall weight of a target bow is usually higher too since greater weight helps the archer hold the bow more still.
The draw weight range on a typical target bow is approximately 10–12 pounds. In other words, a bow sold as a 50-pound bow would have a maximum draw weight of 50 pounds and a minimum draw weight of 38–40 pounds. Some target bows are draw length specific, which means that the bow is designed for a single draw length. Changing draw lengths on one of those bows requires changing the bow’s cams or a cam module. Target bows that have adjustable draw lengths are usually adjustable over a much smaller range than on a hunting bow, commonly 1–1½″. So while the reduced adjustability of target bows can present a challenge for growing archers, it’s usually possible to reduce the cost by buying and selling used cams and modules.
Purchasing a used bow
Bow manufacturers are like car companies. They produce new models every year with small changes and more significant redesigns every few years. Like cars, bows from the previous model year can be purchased at a huge discount, often as much as 50% off. A target bow that was top of the line at one time can often be found used for a few hundred dollars 3–5 years later.
If the archer is still growing, it pays to focus on bows that offer some draw length adjustment. Look for a bow that will fit the archer at the shorter end of the its draw length range so there is room to lengthen the draw length as the archer grows. Archery shops will be able to help measure for the proper draw length, but there is no perfect formula. If you're shopping online and don't have the benefit of a local archery shop to help with the draw length measurement, I like to use two different methods and average the results.
Method #1: Wingspan method
Stand with your back to a wall and extend both arms horizontally in a basic “T” shape. Don’t overstretch; just reach comfortably. Measure the maximum horizontal distance from fingertip to fingertip inches. Divide the distance by 2.5 and you will have the first draw length estimate.
Method #2: John Dudley method
Assume your normal archery stance, and make a fist with the hand you would normally use to grip your bow. Extend that hand toward a wall so that the front of your first touches the wall while maintaining your comfortable archery stance. Turn your head and face the wall just as you would if you were shooting your bow and measure the distance from the wall where your fist rests to the corner of your mouth. That distance is your second draw length estimate.
These methods will almost certainly produce slightly different results. The average of the two should be a decent starting point.
Unfortunately, “try before you buy” is difficult since few local archery shops carry used target equipment. The best place to shop for a used target bow is online at an archery forum like ArcheryTalk or on eBay. Buying a bow online isn’t without challenges, but it’s the best way to find a good deal. The keys to a successful online purchase are to do some homework to identify a bow that would be likely to fit well including careful attention to draw weight and draw length. Reviewing the seller’s feedback before you make a bid or offer is always a good idea.
It may be possible to find a used target bow locally if you are connected to an archery club. Many avid archers purchase new equipment often and sell their used bows to club members. Check the bulletin board at the club and ask around to see if anyone at the club has a used bow for sale.
Most bow manufacturers produce target bows, but you will find more bows for sale if you stick with the major brands like Hoyt, Mathews, Bowtech, or PSE. Here’s a list of bow manufacturers with the target bow models they have produced over the last few years.
Hoyt Alpha Elite
Hoyt Contender Elite
Hoyt Pro Comp Elite
Hoyt Pro Comp Elite XL
Hoyt Pro Elite
Hoyt Ultra Elite
Hoyt Vantage Elite
Hoyt Vantage Elite Plus
Mathews Conquest Apex 7
Mathews Conquest Apex 8
Mathews Conquest 4
Mathews Conquest Prestige
PSE Dominator 3D
PSE Dominator Max
PSE Supra Max
PSE Supra ME
The most important thing to do when researching and purchasing a used bow is to ask a lot of questions. Contact the seller if you are unclear about any aspect of the bow or its configuration. Archers are never short on opinions, and the biggest danger of asking questions is getting multiple, contradicting answers. Find someone you trust to answer your questions, do your research, and you’ll be fine.