Back in 2015, I left the gym with a fresh, sharp pain in my right shoulder. In typical guy fashion, I mostly ignored it, until I couldn’t. With fall archery seasons only weeks away, I had to get some clarity on the pain, because I was reminded of it every time I drew my bow.
The diagnosis was a partial tear in my supraspinatus muscle, which meant it was time to take a break. This reduced my gym time, but also meant I couldn’t engage in summer practice sessions. Knowing that I had to make every pre-season shot count, I dialed my bow down from 70 pounds to 58. I took off a couple of weeks, and then only shot enough to be confident of my broadhead flight and my ability to shoot well at typical whitetail ranges.
The first test came on opening night of Wisconsin’s season when two bucks browsed their way past my stand. All went well on the shot and the recovery, which was a relief. The following weekend, at home in Minnesota, a three-year-old eight-pointer made the mistake of walking stiff-legged into one of my shooting lanes after a few contact grunts.
The whole season made me realize how much I enjoyed shooting a lower poundage bow in the field. No matter how contorted I was in stand, I could draw smoothly, hold at full draw for long periods of time without fatigue, and aim with ease. That summertime injury suffered during some shoulder-press reps changed my bowhunting game for the better.
Tyler Pearce works in the outdoor industry and is one of the most dedicated archery enthusiasts I’ve ever met. He keeps track of how many arrows he sends downrange each year, and normally that number lands in the five-figure range. Despite living in Colorado and primarily focusing on western game, he has also learned the value of reducing draw weight.
“I’m a high-volume shooter,” Pearce said, “which causes a lot of wear and tear on your joints. I started pulling 75 pounds, but then backed off to 70. Now I’m at 65, and it feels so much better on my shoulders.”
Even with elk as his primary target each season, Pearce can easily get pass-throughs on bulls at ranges of 40 and 50 yards. He also has a draw length of 29 inches, which certainly helps, and is something to consider before breaking out the Allen wrench and backing your limb bolts out.
“You’ve got to consider arrow weight and draw length,” Pearce said. “But most people could easily drop five or 10 pounds and experience a much nicer shooting experience without sacrificing anything significant downrange.”
This is all relevant to the individual shooter, of course. If you’re only pulling 48 pounds to begin with, and your draw length is 26 inches, you have to consider the energy you’re giving up. That might be a bridge too far for Western game, and honestly, whitetail-sized critters, too. If you’re pulling 70 pounds and don’t practice much, you could experience more enjoyable shooting by backing your bow down a few turns.
There are quite a few youth/beginner bow models that offer a draw-weight range from too light for a chipmunk all the way to pass-through on a moose. Outside of that category, most modern bows are advertised as offering a draw weight range of 10 pounds. That’s plenty if you want to preserve your shoulders and enjoy shooting more.
It’s also important to note that if you’re going to mess with your rig, do it now. Even a reduction of a couple of pounds will change your point-of-impact slightly. That might not be readily evident at say, 20 yards, but will be crystal clear at 40.
Of course, not everyone needs to drop a little draw weight. If you’re a consistent shooter and your bow is comfortable, that added poundage is only going to help you put two holes in every animal you shoot. This advice is best taken by folks who are starting to think long and hard about their path to retirement, or anyone who just doesn’t put in a whole lot of practice time.
Age and repetitive-use injuries often march in lock-step. If that’s not a concern, but a lazy attitude to preseason practice is, consider when that is going to catch up to you. It won’t be when you’re sending a dozen arrows downrange a week before the season opens. It’ll be when you’re at full draw for half of a minute on a buck in late October, weeks after your last real practice session. Then, if the fatigue kicks in and your muscles can’t handle the task, the encounter is likely to go south.
Reduced draw weight is a small, but welcome hedge, against that reality.