How to Measure Your Draw Length

Mathews Genesis Compound Bow“This bow is suitable for archers with a draw length of x inches”.

All bows have a draw length specification. This is a concept that you need to understand so you can get a bow that will give you the best experience.

Before getting deeper into details, it is only fair to cover the basics for those that are new to this.

The draw length, in simple terms, is how far back you can pull the bowstring. Obviously, taller people have a longer draw length. When choosing a bow, you have to get one that will allow you to pull the string up to your focal point.

In many cases, recurve bows and traditional bows are accommodating as far as the draw length is concerned. They do not have a draw length limit (although many modern ones now have a maximum limit).

Compound bows, on the other hand, have a pulley system and when shooting, you can only draw them up to a specific point (the back wall); otherwise, your shot will be powerless. Thankfully, most of them are adjustable

Measuring Your Draw Length

There is a simple method, known as the wingspan method and is universally accepted.

What you need:

  • A marker

  • A measuring tape

  • A friend

Stand against a wall and stretch out your hands – do not do anything extra like overstretching. Have your friend mark the two points where your middle fingers touch the wall. Take the measuring tape and use it to determine the distance between the two points. The number you get is the wingspan. Divide your wingspan by 2.5. That is your draw length estimate.

This method is great if you do not have all the time and patience to go into technical details. However, it is not the best in some cases.

There is another one that is a little similar to the one above. However, instead of dividing your wingspan by 2.5, you subtract 15 from it (wingspan) and divide the result by 2. Archers barely use this method.

ATA Draw Length

The wingspan draw length is accepted globally as the actual draw length. However, bow risers come in different thicknesses and this affects the draw length. It is, therefore, important to know how to get your draw length using this method to be on the safe side.

According to the ATA (Archery Trade Association), the draw length is the distance from the grip’s pivot point to the nock point of the bowstring plus 1¾ inches.

This is the standard draw length and the one used by some manufacturers when they are assigning a bow’s draw length.

To get your ATA draw length, you will need:

  • A bow

  • A friend (preferably an experienced one)

  • Measuring tape

Draw the bowstring to your anchor point. Have your friend measure the distance from the pivot point of the grip to the nocking point of the string. Once you have the number, add 1¾ inches to it. There you have it; your ATA draw length.

You can do this without the help of a friend using a draw-arrow but it is not recommended.

ATA Draw Length Vs Wingspan Draw Length

What is the difference between the two draw lengths? Which one is your real draw length?

Your perfect draw length is the one you feel most comfortable shooting at. It may be your wingspan draw length or your ATA draw length. The type of bow you are using is usually the biggest determinant for this. Trying to calculate your draw length can leave you more confused than you were before and some archers resort to trial-and-error.

Nonetheless, trial-and-error is not always the best way to go about this whole draw length issue and you will need a number— especially if you are planning to buy a new bow.

Most experts believe that your ATA draw length is the actual draw length. Their argument is that, most manufacturers use the ATA when assigning draw lengths to their bows. They say that you cannot rely on the wingspan method because it does not take into account the design of the riser.

Recurve Draw Length Vs Compound Draw Length

Recurve bows tend to be easier to understand when it comes to the draw length compared to compound bows.

While they are more forgiving and have few, if any, limitations on the draw length, you can only get the most out of them when pulled to the maximum draw (usually the ATA Draw length). If your draw length is shorter and you cannot get to the full draw length, the speed and force of your arrow will not be as high. For archers that do not mind foregoing several pounds, this is not a big deal.

Compound bows are designed to be pulled to a certain draw length; no more, no less. Although you can make adjustments to increase or decrease the draw length, you need to be careful when buying a compound bow.

Bottom Line

The whole topic of draw lengths can be confusing even for those who have been archers for some time. What makes it complicated is the difference between the ATA and the wingspan draw length. It would be easier if manufacturers chose one to use but some opt for the ATA while others opt for the wingspan. However, this whole issue is not as hard as it sounds. As long as you know both your ATA and wingspan, you have a better chance of getting a bow that suits you. Always make a point of asking the manufacturer if the draw length of the bow is ATA or wingspan.

Do not worry too much about fitting into a bow’s specifications. The bow is made for you, not you for the bow. Sometimes the draw length assigned on a bow is longer than the bow’s actual length. This is because longer draw lengths are associated with higher speed. So do not lose sleep over this whole thing.

What should you do? If you are a beginner, find out the draw length that archers your size are shooting at. All other things held constant, your draw length will be the same or close to theirs. If you really want to be sure, visit an archery shop, get measured and shoot various bows to see what works for you.

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