From crossbows to longbows to recurves, it seems that some form of archery has been around since the dawn of time. Thankfully, the advancement of technology has brought us the much simpler, much easier to use compound bow.
Compound bows allow the user to shoot with the strength of a recurve, while also allowing rest at full draw for a longer period of time. Anyone interested in buying one for the first time should understand the basic parts and terminology. This guide will walk you through the lingo of a modern compound bow.
After reading this article you should check out our compound bow buying guide next, to see our Top-10 picks and tips on how to pick out the best compound bow for you.
Riser and Grip
The riser is the main part of the bow. This is the part that devices such as the bow sight, arrow rest, quiver and limbs are mounted to. It is the part that has the most character and distinct design, including color choices and different styles of handles. These handles are better known as grips.
The sights are attached to the riser itself, just above your grip. They are how you line up your aim. Some of the more commonly used sights are designed with a circular opening. This houses small, colored pegs called “pins” that are horizontally or vertically fixed in the center.
The rest is what the front end of the arrow sits on when loaded, and comes in a variety of styles. Some more common rests are called drop aways. These can either be mechanical or spring loaded. When the bow is drawn, the rests lift the arrow up so that it is parallel. When the arrow is released, the rest falls or “drops” down and out of the way, thus giving the shooter a more consistent shot.
Quivers hold your extra arrows. Many hunters prefer to have their quiver mounted to the riser, but some people prefer to carry their arrows on their hip or back.
Limbs and Limb Dampers
Limbs are attached to the riser. They are the longer flat lengths that angle out anywhere from 45 degrees to close to 90 degrees. Limbs are built to flex ever so slightly in order to take the stress of each shot. They may also come with limb dampers on them to help absorb the shock. These are usually made of rubber or other similar materials.
Cams, Axles, and Axle-to-Axle Distance
The cams are the wheel-looking devices that are attached at each end of the limbs, and they use axles to rotate on the bow. When you measure the distance between the axles, it is called the axle-to-axle distance.
On each cam, there is what is called a backstop or a draw stop. This device stops you from pulling your bow back any further than a full draw. The addition of a backstop or draw stop allows you to have a more consistent shot and steady aim.
The draw weight is the amount of poundage it takes to pull the bow to a full draw, and each riser has a place to change it. Simply inserting a hex key and tightening one full turn usually adds around three pounds to the draw weight. Keep in mind that each time this is changed, the sights will be off and will need to be adjusted as well.
Let-off or Valley
One common term that relates to compound bows is the let-off or valley. As you pull the bow to a full draw, the string will be hard to pull back. However, just as you are about to reach full draw, it becomes easier to hold. In fact, compound bows can have up to an 80% let-off at full draw, whereas a longbow or recurve is harder to pull the farther you pull it back.
Cables and String
The cables wrap around the cams and the string is the part that you pull back in order to shoot. The distance between the grip and the string is called the brace height. The greater the brace height, the more forgiving the bow is. A shorter brace height would make the arrow fly faster, but inconsistencies are more prominent.
The D-loop is attached to the string at the centermost point. This small loop of string is for attaching a mechanical archery release, which aids in pulling the bow to a full draw and a consistent shot. D-loops also help reduce wear and tear on your string.
The peep sight is a small plastic circle with an opening in the middle. This is located above the D-loop inside the layers of string and cable. When the bow is pulled to a full draw, the peep sight is placed in front of the eye. The sights are visible through it, and it improves consistency in shooting.
The kisser point is located close above the D-loop, and it is placed near the corner of your mouth when at full draw. The shooter can place a knuckle, release, string or anything else on their face as an anchor.
Some people put a kisser button on their string. This is a plastic, almost curved diamond shape that clamps on the string and can be easily removed. Just like the peep sight, kisser points are beneficial for consistent shooting.
Silencers can be added to your bowstring to help reduce the noise, or twang, of your bow. One common style is called cat whiskers. This consists of a bunch of rubber strands tied around the string close to the cams.
Silencers are helpful to hunters that like to shoot at close range. Some animals are known to hear the bow before the arrow even reaches them, and that causes the animal to jump and the arrow to miss. This is called jump string.
Draw length is the ideal distance between the grip and a full drawn bowstring for your own body. If this distance is too short, the user will tend to bend their elbow and shoot inconsistently. If the distance is too long, it may be impossible for the user to reach full draw.
You can figure out your draw length by measuring your wingspan and dividing it by 2½. Be aware this equation isn’t perfect and may need to be adjusted further. It is recommended that anyone interested in purchasing a compound bow visit a pro shop for an accurate fitting.
A stabilizer is something you can attach to the riser if you so choose. It is a long rod that protrudes out in front of the bow below your grip. This adds weight to the front of the bow and can help balance, stabilize, and reduce twisting during a shot.
Whenever possible, it is best to make sure you have a stabilizer on your bow before you shoot. Stabilizers also help to minimize vibrations throughout the bow, thus extending the life of your compound bow.