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More than any other style of hunting, bowhunting is more art than science. Just as each archer must adapt a shooting style to fit his or her personality and abilities, the selection of bow and accessories will be a highly personal and subjective choice. Two skilled, expert bowhunters might favor radically different equipment and accessories-partly because of physical differences, but largely because of variations in personal taste.

In an effort to meet the varied needs of bowhunters, manufacturers offer hundreds of different bows and an even greater number of accessories, from carbon shaft arrows to laser sights. Some of these products are passing fads, while others represent important new technology. Each hunter must decide which gadgets are of value.

A hunter need not buy the most expensive bows and accessories, but it does make sense to invest in high-quality equipment. Listen to the advice of bow-hunters you respect, and purchase your equipment from reputable sources. Test equipment in the store, if possible.

Personal Variables

No matter what bow style you choose-compound or traditional-before buying a bow you must determine three personal variables: eye dominance, length of draw and draw weight.

Eye dominance. Bows are configured in right- and left-handed models, and your choice is based on eye dominance. Just as most people are either right-handed or left-handed, they generally also have a dominant, or master, eye. In most cases, hand and eye dominance match, but occasionally a right-handed person will have a dominant left eye, or vice versa.

To determine your dominant eye, point at a distant object with both eyes open. Now close your left eye. If your finger still appears to be pointing at the object, you have a dominant right eye. But if your finger appears to shift to the side when you close your left eye, then you have a dominant left eye. For confirmation, point again with both eyes open, then close your right eye. If, while you look with your left eye only, your finger still points at the target, you have confirmed that your left eye is dominant.

If your eye dominance matches your hand dominance, simply choose a bow configured for that side. A right-hander with a dominant right eye, for example, should choose a right-handed bow.

If, however, your hand and eye dominance are mismatched, it is best to choose a bow based on eye dominance rather than your hand dominance. A right-hander may at first feel clumsy shooting a left-handed bow, but in the long run he'll shoot better and more comfortably. Research shows that most successful archers sight with the dominant eye, regardless of hand dominance, probably because they can aim with both eyes open, which gives better depth perception and a feel for the target. To aim with the weaker eye, you must close the dominant eye.

DRAW LENGTH. The length of your arms and the width of your shoulders determine your draw length-the distance between the bowstring and the grip, when you hold a bow at full draw. Draw length is a specific measurement that governs bow selection and should not be confused with arrow length. Arrows can be, and often are, shorter or longer than your draw length.

A salesman at a sporting goods store can measure your draw length, or you can enlist the aid of a bowhunting friend. First, nock an arrow onto the bowstring and draw the bow. As you hold comfortably at full draw, have your assistant mark the arrow directly above the pressure point of the handle-a spot that should be even with the arrow-rest hole in the sight window.

Now add 1-3Ú4 inches to that measurement to determine your draw length for a compound bow, as specified by the Archery Manufacturers and Merchants Organization (AMO). If, for example, the measurement is 28 inches from the string to the pressure point at full draw, your draw length would be 29-3Ú4 inches.

Most bows allow for large draw length adjustments-from 29 to 31 inches, or from 30 to 32 inches, for example. But if your bow still doesn't match your draw length, you can make additional adjustments by twisting or untwisting the string to change the draw length by up to 1Ú4 inch. On bows with synthetic cables, you can twist the cables tighter to increase draw length, or untwist them to decrease draw length. A combination of twisting or untwisting cables and strings gives a virtually unlimited range of precise draw lengths. Keep in mind, however, that twisting the cables can throw the bow out of tune. Many bows with metal cables have slotted yokes that allow for 1Ú4-inch draw length changes. Remember, though, that these adjustments will alter draw weight as well as draw length. Lengthening the string increases draw weight, shortening the string reduces draw weight, and exactly the opposite is true for lengthening and shortening the cables.

DRAW WEIGHT. Your choice of bows also is governed by the peak draw weight-the maximum amount of weight needed to draw the bow. It is impossible to prescribe an exact formula for assigning draw weight, because it varies according to each person's build and body strength. As a broad guideline, however, you should be able to draw your bow easily. If you have to raise a bow over your head for leverage when drawing, it is too heavy. You should be able to repeatedly hold the sights on target and draw the string straight back without straining or shaking.

Remember that shooting on the hunt is much different from shooting at the target range. Drawing smoothly becomes increasingly difficult as fatigue, cold and tension take their toll on your body. If you have to strain to draw a bow in practice, you may find that you can't draw it at all under tough hunting conditions. Choose a bow with a draw weight you can easily handle under any circumstances.

Ensuring a smooth draw isn't the only reason for choosing a bow of reasonable draw weight. Many archers suffer severe, chronic shoulder and elbow injuries, including tendonitis and bursitis, from shooting bows with heavy draw weights over a period of years. These overuse injuries can occur from repeatedly drawing a bow at any draw weight, but the added strain of heavy draw weight can aggravate the problems greatly.

Drawing and holding excessive weight also can contribute to target panic, the bane of many archers. And a heavy draw weight, particularly when coupled with ultralight arrows, sends destructive vibrations through a bow. Although improvements in modern bows have greatly reduced breakage problems, the greater the stress on a bow, the greater the potential for damage.

Generally speaking, many modern compound bows in the 60-pound class are heavy enough for all North American game animals. Any weight above that may give your arrows a flatter trajectory, which can be a benefit at unknown distances, but it doesn't significantly improve penetration. In truth, it is kinetic energy-not a bow's poundage-that matters most.

How do you determine your comfortable draw weight? Test several bows of differing draw weights, and choose one you can draw easily. If you can easily draw 70 pounds, then select a comparable bow, but most shooters are more comfortable with a 50- to 60-pound bow. Wheel design will greatly affect the amount of weight a shooter can comfortably draw.


How to Determine Eye Dominance

Point at a distant object with both eyes open. Now close your left eye, then your right. When you look through your dominant eye, your finger will still appear to point at the object, but when you look through your subordinate eye,  your finger will appear to shift to the side.

Choosing a bow and bowhunting accessories is largely a matter of personal taste. Some bowhunters eagerly make use of the most modern compound bows and all the latest accessories. Others prefer more traditional bows and use accessories sparingly.

Kinetic energy is more important than draw weight when choosing a bow for hunting.