Traditional Bows: Don’t Draw Too Much Weight

Just because you draw 60 or 70 pounds with compounds, don’t assume you can handle the same weight on traditional bows.

Traditional Bows: Don’t Draw Too Much Weight

My bow career began with a Bear recurve (no bowsight) at age 12, then I changed to a Browning compound (with bowsight) at 15, then I went back to a recurve (custom Robertson Stykbow; no bowsight) at 18. It wasn’t until age 35 that I started shooting compounds again.

For the last two decades, I’ve shot a little bit of everything. I have modern short-axle compounds (with bowsight) that must be used with a mechanical release, and I have an old-school, super-long compound (with bowsight) designed specifically for releasing the string with fingers. Yes, I even own a couple scoped crossbows.

Every bow type has its advantages and disadvantages, and I’m not an elitist who believes one design is superior to the others. That said, I will say that of all bow types, it takes the most practice to shoot well instinctively (no bowsight) with traditional bows.

I mentioned earlier that I own a Robertson Stykbow. It’s a takedown recurve, meaning the limbs can detach from the riser. The bow is beautiful. From age 18 to 35, I bowhunted exclusively with my custom Stykbow. However, when I bought it, I made a major purchasing mistake, which is the focus of this article.

When I ordered my custom recurve, I wanted a bow that could handle anything I might encounter in my lifetime. Because I had moose on my bucket list of dream hunts, I ordered 70-pound-draw limbs. Big mistake!

I was an athletic teenager and shot my 55-pound-draw compound a lot, but I couldn’t pull my 70-pound-draw recurve’s bowstring anywhere close to my face. I was too proud to admit my ordering mistake, however, so for more than a decade I hunted with a bow I couldn’t shoot well, no matter how much I practiced. I developed poor shooting habits because I was over-bowed, and even though I killed a handful of whitetails with it, I had to limit my shooting distance to 15 yards. Even at point-blank range, my arrow groups were not impressive.

I finally found a bit of wisdom at age 30 and contacted bowyer Dick Robertson and had him build another set of limbs for my Stykbow’s riser; this time I ordered 53-pound-draw limbs. Of course, compared to the 70-pound-draw limbs, these lighter ones were a Godsend, but looking back at it now (25 years later), I wish I had ordered the second set at only 40 pounds.

Dick Robertson working on a traditional bow.
Dick Robertson working on a traditional bow.

To hit accurately with a recurve or longbow (or compound, for that matter), you must be able to easily handle the draw weight. And whether you like to release a traditional bow’s string the moment your fingers contact your anchor point, or you prefer to hold a full draw for a couple seconds, pulling too much weight reduces accuracy and consistency. It’s also hard on your body, especially as you get older.

Life doesn’t give you mulligans, but if I had a bowhunting equipment do-over, I would have ordered my custom recurve with 40-pound-draw limbs back when I was 18. With the amount of recurve shooting I did from ages 18 to 30, I would’ve been deadly. No, I wouldn’t have extended my range on animals beyond 25 yards, but I would have learned proper shooting form with traditional bows. Also, if I ever felt the need to increase draw weight, I could have ordered a second set of limbs for 55 pounds, and handled the heavier weight due to all my previous, proper recurve practice. 

I recount my recurve career in hopes you don’t make the same mistake. Matched with the appropriate arrow and a heavy, cut-on-contact broadhead, a 40-pound-draw recurve can punch a hole through the lungs of almost any broadside or slightly quartering-away whitetail, assuming you limit your shooting range to 20 yards or less. If you must shoot 25-30 yards, or are pursuing bigger game, then 55-pound-draw limbs are better.

The author drawing his custom recurve.
The author drawing his custom recurve.

If you desire to take on the challenge of hunting with traditional bows, I say go for it. Just be smarter than me. Start at no more draw weight than 40 pounds, limit your shooting range on animals to 20 yards and have fun!


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