After you’ve found your archery shop, it is time to get set up with a bow. Knowing which bow to buy is where it gets really overwhelming. There are so many options, with prices ranging from “on a college budget” to “my spouse may leave me” levels.

There are several criteria that you should consider when buying your first bow. Follow this basic guide, and it will help you decide which bow is right for you.

Set a Budget
When you are ready to purchase your bow, make sure to set a budget. Going into the store knowing how much you want to spend will help the employees direct you towards bows that will work for you.

Also, remember that you’ll have to factor in accessories to your budget. Make sure that you don’t blow your entire budget on just the bow. There are many “kit” bows that are sold ready to go, but if you are buying a bare bow, the accessories will quickly add up.

Top-shelf, name-brand bows often have staggering price tags. They shoot very well, and although it may be tempting, don’t take out a loan just yet.

Mainstream archery culture has long been ruled by the prestige of the pro-line bow. I’ve gotten caught up in it too, feeling I always needed the new “cool” option. While these bows may be slightly lighter, slightly faster, and slightly quieter, they don’t come with hunting superpowers as the price tags may insinuate. Don’t be ashamed of buying a mid-range bow. Quite often, the cutting-edge features on last year’s top-of-line bow have already trickled down to mid-range models. The truth is, bows have advanced so much that even lower-priced ones are damn good. And the amount you pay for a bow does not dictate success in the field.

Shoot Multiple Bows
Once your budget is set, it is time to start shooting bows. This is the fun part. Once you’ve discussed price with the pro shop employee, they’ll likely suggest several bows to try.

When it comes to testing bows, the more the better. Take your time and shoot each bow several times. This is a process, so clear your mind and allow yourself to feel the bow (more on this in a minute). Make sure that each bow is set at the proper draw length and weight for you (your bow shop will help out). You will want to shoot all of the bows at the same poundage, let-off, and draw length to level the playing field.

Shoot the bow at the weight you will be shooting when you get it home. You don’t want to get home just to find out that the bow of your dreams shoots differently at 70 pounds than 60.

When choosing a bow, you should be feeling for certain things. These things include a comfortable grip, a smooth draw cycle, a comfortable valley, and minimal hand shock. When you find the one that feels the best on all of these fronts, you may have found a winner.

Grips
The grip is your point of contact with the bow. Contrary to the name, you will not actually be gripping the bow, but rather the grip allows for the bow to balance against your hand during the shot.

Grips on bows are far from universal, and each will feel different depending on the contour of your hand. When you “grip” your bow, you want the grip to sit comfortably in between the pad of your thumb and your palm, with your fingers gently wrapped around it. The bow should be able to balance in your hand without having to death grip it with your fingers.

Draw Cycle
The draw cycle of a bow starts with the initial pull and continues as the cam rolls back until you reach the valley and the back wall. When you pull through the valley, you will hit the back wall.

A bow with a smooth draw cycle is essential for hunting, but each archer will experience it in a different way. The design of the cams will be the largest influence on a draw cycle. You will find that bows that are designed for speed will have a very aggressive cam and probably not as smooth of a draw cycle. After determining the design of the cams, your draw length and desired draw weight will also play into the feel of the draw cycle.

Whenever I am looking for a new bow, I always draw as if I am drawing on an elk that is standing at 10 yards. Now, what I mean by this is that you need to be able to control the bow. The motion should be smooth, consistent and, if need be, slow.

The Valley and Back Wall
The valley is where the weight starts to let off in the draw cycle, and is also the amount of space or play you have between the back wall and the bow shooting. The back wall is where the draw cycle hits a stop and you hold at full draw until you take your shot.

When you pull into the valley it should be quiet and comfortable, not a sudden jolt into the back wall. If you are lucky enough to have long-monkey arms like me, you will find that it is difficult to find a bow that is quiet and easily breaks over into the valley.

A comfortable valley is relative to the shooter. Some may prefer a shallow valley—where there is not much play while at full draw, this requires you to stay tight and engaged pulling into the back wall. Many shooters prefer a shallow valley . This allows for the archer to keep their muscles engaged at full draw. In theory, this will create a surer shot.

Other shooters like a deep, relaxed valley. This allows them to really settle in while at full draw, completely relaxing their muscles and allowing them to focus on their shot. A big bonus is that it is easier to keep your bow at full draw in case you are forced to hold back on an animal for a long period of time.

Personally, I prefer the former. I find that I shoot better when I have to stay engaged while at full draw.

Hand Shock
Hand shock is the jarring feeling you get when you fire the arrow. It’s something hunters should pay attention to. Some bows do not transfer energy well, making it feel as if the bow is going to jump out of your hand. You will want to find a bow that feels fairly dead, which will keep you from anticipating the shot and gripping the bow too tightly. This is important to avoid, because the tighter you grip in anticipation, the more likely you are to torque the bow and throw the shot.

Do not be afraid to shoot the bows several times a piece. Take your time; the shop will understand. You are going to be making a big investment, after all. Once you’ve taken your time and considered the above factors, you can make your decision on which bow feels the best.

Check back for future Archery 101 articles on choosing broadheads and bow accessories.

Feature image via Captured Creative.