Archery manufacturers appear to be in a race to come up with the fastest bow ever seen. Part of this is a marketing plan; hunters always want what they think is the best equipment available to make them successful. Speed does help. With arrows being touted to travel over 350 fps, it doesn’t take an engineer to know you don’t have to be as accurate with judging distance.
The faster a bow shoots an arrow, the less time gravity has to pull it towards the ground. With many of the modern compound bows hunters are able to use a single sight pin to shoot from zero to 30 metres. This is a significant factor, especially when you consider your 40-metre pin will likely still be on target if shooting at a large-bodied animal. Besides shooting a flatter trajectory, the speed bows also provide better downrange energy. The faster a hunting arrow and broadhead travel the more energy it has to penetrate your target. However, there are pros and cons of trying to maximize speed.
There are several things a bow builder can do to increase speed but the main one is to reduce the brace height. Brace height is usually listed in a bow’s product specifications along with draw length and weight. It’s critical for archers to understand the term so they have a bow that best fits their needs for hunting or target shooting. Brace height is the measurement you can take between the bowstring and the pivot point of the bow’s grip, measured perpendicular to the bowstring when the bow is not drawn. The measurement will help you determine the advantages and disadvantages of a long or short brace height.
A long brace height by today’s standards is seven inches or more. A bow with a long brace height is easier to draw, as your hands are farther apart, meaning there is less distance to pull the bowstring to reach full draw. A long brace height also provides a shorter distance to pull before the bow breaks and the let-off makes it easier to hold at full draw. Most compound bows break about halfway through the draw, at which point the cam rolls and the bow physically pulls easier. It all sounds good, as we all like easier, but a long brace height will shoot about 10- to 30-fps slower than comparable models with brace heights of less than seven inches. The reason for this is that long brace-height bows don’t physically draw as far, already having the bowstring farther from the riser when compared to a short brace-height bow. The result of the shortened draw is they store less kinetic energy in the limbs. The bright side is bows with a long brace height are more forgiving to shoot, hiding many of a shooter’s flaws. The easiest way to explain it is by understanding that an arrow spends less time on the string, because of the shorter power stroke, so shooting flaws–like torqueing the riser–do not affect accuracy as much as they would with a short brace height bow.
If you’re looking for the fastest bow possible, you need a short brace height of less than seven inches. Remember, the short brace height will make it harder to draw, as the bowstring is closer to the grip, meaning your hands start closer together and you have to pull the bow farther before it breaks and to reach full draw. Bows with short brace heights shoot faster because they store more kinetic energy over the course of their longer power stroke. If a shooter has bad form it will be magnified in short brace height bows because a longer power stroke means the arrow stays on the string longer, giving more time for bad shooting habits to influence arrow flight.
If you’re looking for a new hunting bow you should consider brace height as well as speed. They are easier to draw and shoot more accurately when we are faced with less than ideal conditions. If you are a competitive target archer your diligent practice will help you rid yourself of bad habits and shoot consistently; so a short brace height means a faster arrow, with flatter trajectory, making it easier to hit the target at greater distances.
There is a balance and, with new technologies, there are bows shooting 330 fps while offering a seven-inch brace height. The new BOWTECH Experience is a good example of balanced speed and stability. It is easy to draw, has an IBO speed rating of 335 fps, weighs just 4.2 pounds, delivers 87-foot pounds of kinetic energy and is designed for hunters wanting the best of both worlds.
Seeing is believing, so head to your closest archery shop and try shooting different brace-height bows to feel the results for yourself.