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Get Started Bowhunting: Buying Your First Bow

Here's what every first timer needs to know when weighing the numerous options for buying a bow at a local shop or big-box store.


While one of the most exciting and challenging methods of pursuing game, bowhunting can intimidate newcomers. But you shouldn't let the immense lexicon of jargon, mathematical equations and technical variables dissuade you from getting involved in the up close-and-personal world of archery.

Here's what you need to know when weighing the numerous options available at a bow shop or big-box store.

Upfront Costs
Sticker shock might dissuade you from getting involved in archery, and while it's true that you can spend just about as much as you want outfitting a bow, you can also get by on the cheap.

There are two main components that you will want to sink your hard-earned cash into: the actual bow you choose to shoot and all the accessories used to outfit it. Getting by on the cheap means spending at least $300 on a bow and $100 on accessories; but don't expect a great-shooting piece of equipment or a consistent experience.

"You can get started for $400 for everything, but that's the cheapest. Anticipate $300 for decent components, and that means everything-arrows, a loop, peep, release, sights, etc., and about $600 is what you should be spending for a bow. There are some decent bows out there in the $400 to $500 range," said Josh Jones of Spokane Valley Archery in Greenacres, Wash. "In today's market, I tell people that if they can't afford to spend $600 on a bow that quite honestly they should save their money until they can. You're getting into a good bow at that price point; below that and you start running into cost-saving measures."

As you ascend in a bow's price point, figure that for each $100 spent, you're stepping up a rung in quality. Then, whether you spend $400 or $600 for a bow, count on at least an additional $100 for the cheapest components, $300 for middle-of-the-road parts and $500 for a top-end setup.

When weighing your budgeting options between the bow and accessories, your decision should be prejudiced toward the bow. "Realistically, the bow is more important because you can upgrade the accessories later for much cheaper," said Jones. "The more you spend upfront on a bow, the nicer a bow you have. It's much easier to upgrade a $50 release to a $100 release or an $80 rest to a $120 rest down the road.

The Bow
As your primary investment, a beginner's bow should be quiet and easy to pull and shoot. Jones recommends choosing one with a higher brace height and a less aggressive cam, which means it provides an easier and more consistent pull that's smoother when entering and exiting the wall. If a bow wants to rip your shoulder out of socket as you reach the peak of your pull, or when easing down from the pull, you've got an aggressive cam.

Whether your cam is aggressive or not, you also have to decide between a single, dual or hybrid cam, and keep everything maintained. When your bow is properly set up the first time, the cam(s) is properly orientated and in tune with the rest of the bow. As your string stretches over time however, the timing of your bow moves out of sync.

"If you buy a bow and think you don't have to touch it again, you're wrong. Every bow needs maintenance," said Jones. "If the string stretches, it will need maintenance regardless of what type of cam it has."

When the string stretches, you lose power and consequently, energy; a bow that might have been set at 70 pounds could drop to 65 pounds as the line lengthens. Loss of power is just one ramification of string stretch. Nock height, impact point and a slew of other problems rear up, touching off a chain reaction.

Types of Cams
Single cam
: In this setup, the cable and string hook onto the same thing, which eliminates timing the bow. Single cams are more susceptible to string stretch and poundage changes as the stretch takes place.

Dual cam: A dual cam typically gives you the fastest bow, but all that speed comes at a price. More moving parts means there is more that can go wrong and more that needs to be timed together in order to maintain a consistent shot. Depending upon the type of dual cam on the bow, Jones says that you might feel two definite walls when it's out of time.

Hybrid cam: This setup is exactly what it sounds like: It's basically a cam and a half and provides benefits that a new shooter might appreciate. "Personally, I think the hybrid is the best overall for a beginner. It stays the same for the longest and remains closest to the peak weight and the impact point won't change as much when it is out," said Jones, noting that hybrid cams are typically found on bows selling for $400 or more. "Hybrid cams require the least amount of maintenance, which is good for a beginner because, typically, they don't get a lot of help."

One of the biggest dilemmas a newbie faces is how heavy to set his or her bow, and yet it's one of the biggest misconceptions. Typically, as a new recruit to archery  you're not going to step in and start shooting at the bow's or your own maximum; the back muscles required to consistently pull a bow just aren't used that frequently.

Instead, start at a comfortable poundage and exercise those muscles by shooting a few arrows every day. As your proficiency and strength increase you can adjust the draw weight, but get your form correct first.

"You should be able to point your bow hand at what you want to shoot and not have to move it much when drawing back," said Jones, noting that it only takes about 35 pounds of kinetic energy to successfully hunt deer and 60 to 65 pounds to kill an elk. "If you have to struggle, back it off."

The Components
Here's a quick rundown of the more important products you'll have to choose for your new bow.

Arrow rest: "There's nothing more important than the arrow rest, it's what determines how straight the arrow flies from point A to point B," said Jones, who recommends a fall-away or drop-away rest with one caveat. "A fall-away rest will give you the most accurate shot when it's put on correctly. If it's not put on right then it's better to go with a biscuit."

Release: "A good release has the trigger as close to the jaws as possible so you're not giving up length," said Jones, who also recommends a buckle-type release over hook-and-loop for noise reduction.

Additionally, Jones said the most accurate releases are of the single-jaw variety, as opposed to the dual jaw, because there's only one moving part that will influence the string's release and, ultimately, your arrow's path of travel. The single-jaw releases tend to be more expensive, starting at around $80, but are something that you will work up to as your proficiency grows.

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13 Responses to Get Started Bowhunting: Buying Your First Bow

Bryan wrote:
September 24, 2014

Oky want to by biw but shoot a few friends bow and there all right handed and i shoot off way off i close my right eye to look threw the sites but i but back with my left hand on the string of the bow and im always off

Ryan wrote:
December 29, 2013

Great read for a first timer, like me. A lot less intimidating once you break it down. Thank you!

kim gardner wrote:
September 28, 2013

i've been shooting my husband's old bow - he did get the high dollar one and loves his Bear Mauler! i started shooting his old one and have gotten fairly decent shooting the target - i'm so excited. tomorrow i will be bow hunting for the first time in my life. i have no idea what the $ amount of my bow was - i know the Mauler was a gift for my husband - what matters to me - this newcomer to archery - is that i love to shoot, my husband loves to shoot - when we are out there together enjoying our time together, at least for me, i'm not thinking of the price tag. i'm enjoying the time we have and the talent that has developed in me. yall wish me luck - maybe i'll be stopping back by telling you i've killed a deer with my old bow! maybe then the ol man will get me one of the high dollar toys!! thanx for all the comments - i did take something from them all! keep shooting!!!

gore wrote:
May 26, 2013

i find these posts to be ridiculous. i got my start into archery for less than $300. i shoot a martin jaguar takedown and i have a lot of fun just target shooting from 20 to 30 yards. i plan to start hunting in the fall, and theres no reason to spend 1500 on a sport youve got no experience with. yes, buying a completely set up top of the line bow will give you the best chance of putting your arrow exactly where you want it... but after a year of shooting recurve, i can confidently put an arrow into the vitals from up to 35 yards. a compound obviously is more consistant and has much longer range but that doesnt mean you cant bag a deer with practice. stop pushing people out of the sport

steve hoy wrote:
May 10, 2013

4th week in the sport it doesn't cost 1500 and got a new pse and full set up and I'm only in it 700 and got amazing grouping up to 50 yards n my 8 year old boy just got his first compound so the quality of time and cool peoples met priceless

JD wrote:
February 18, 2013

Thanks everyone, for your negativity. Made me feel like I'd walked into a room full of runners and bicyclers. To the gentleman who shares the time with his family, thank you. You were enough to get me to keep researching.

jason wrote:
November 25, 2012

I am getting ready to start shopping for my first bow I know it can get expensive but it takes more skill with a bow than a firearm. I can not afford it all at once but alittle at a time by next fall I should be ready to be in the woods

Jeff wrote:
November 13, 2012

You have talked me out of bow hunting. I was considering it because more opportunities are available for deer hunting for me if using a bow. However, I don't have $1,500 to get started.

Stephen wrote:
July 15, 2011

I am in my 5th season and 3rd bow. I was shooting a 75# PSE mid range bow. I got my Diamond Fugitive 70# put a 5 pin Truglow sight and a QAD drop-away. The bow came set up for $599. I added sights at $60, arrow rest, another $60, $90 on arrows. I love this Diamond, and can't wait to hunt with it. Yes, bow hunting can get expensive, because I got almost the same in my wife's bow. On the up side, my kids shoot too, so that's more family time and my wife is my hunting buddy. Put a price on that. We still need broadheads, which will most likely be Muzzy's, and we want a 3D target. Therefore the price tag is still climbing. When its all said and done with, I will most likely have $3000 tied up in this sport, and we don't make a lot of money. We get it little by little.

Dave wrote:
May 27, 2011

If I'm going to spend that kind of money I'll buy a real weapon.. a firearm. You do the sport a disservice by dissuading people from introductory bows. Many archers got their start from a $150 nasp bow.

Dustau wrote:
May 09, 2011

I just bought my first bow and I have spent $1600. The start up cost is no joke. I would not recommend buying your first bow from a big box store. Bowtech has a model that sells for $699. that comes with a quiver, sight, stabilizer, and rest. I think it is called the Assassin. Don't forget the arrows. After I dropped 16 hundo on the bow, I spent another 200 on the arrows.

John D. wrote:
April 30, 2011

If I can't "expect a great-shooting piece of equipment or a consistent experience", then why bother? I can see the attraction of traditional archery. Something tells me I don't need an engineering degree to kill a deer with a bow.

old codger wrote:
April 28, 2011

Well now you've talked about a mechanical sissy instrument. When are you going to talk about a real bow, either a long bow or a recurve bow that takes real talent to serve. I shoot a 65 lb Bear recurve that is about 35 years old. Always get my elk, and plenty of deer, a couple of wild hogs and even turkey. Teach these new people the real task of archery before they get lazy with those machines.