I’m always interested in why archers choose certain accessories, or why they set up gear in a particular way. Many provide reasoned answers, offering well thought out explanations and the advantages perceived. More interesting, many archers have no idea why they chose a particular accessory or set up equipment a certain way. Many of these archers have obviously left these choices up to someone else, normally a pro shop technician.
Arrow length in relation to bow riser, arrow rest and actual draw length is one of these. No two bow-and-arrow setups seem alike; some pulling arrow tips right to the arrow rest, others leaving 6 inches of arrow sticking out in front of the riser, and anything in-between.
Is there a right or wrong way to approach this simple dilemma? Are there rules of thumb to follow? Does one approach provide superior accuracy over another? The answer is yes and no.
There’s one good reason to leave several inches of arrow sticking out in front of the bow riser, however “untidy” it might appear. That reason is increased arrow weight. Besides straightness tolerances and matched weight, arrow specs normally include grains per inch (gpi) ratings. A fast, light arrow, for instance, might weigh 7.5 to 8 gpi, a heavy arrow 10 to 11 gpi. Especially for those with shorter draw lengths — say anything less than 28 inches — leaving a bit more arrow protruding from the front of the riser adds weight to the finished arrow.
Added weight translates into increased penetration potential. So, for example, when I assemble my wife’s hunting arrows — who pulls 48 pounds to only 25 inches — I leave a couple of inches of shaft protruding before the bow riser at full draw. I’ve normally chosen a heavy-for-spine arrow for her initially, but a few extra inches of arrow adds momentum-boosting mass. In her case, wielding low draw weight and short draw length, this also allows using a slightly stiffer (and heavier) shaft, while also assuring dynamic spine is balanced to her equipment.
There is no reason those shooting longer draw length/ heavier draw weight cannot do the same, especially when on the cusp between two manufacturer-recommended spine ratings. Choose the stiffer spine and leave the shaft a couple of inches longer. You’ll gain additional mass, shot silence, more reliability and superior broadhead control.
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I once approached things from the opposite direction. I’m 6-foot 5-inches tall and have an exceedingly long draw length. I also generally shoot 70-plus pounds (until recent shoulder surgery, though I’m working back slowly). Many of today’s more radical cam systems also introduce additional dynamic stress during arrow launch, calling for a slightly stiffer spine.
This often leaves archers with arrows that are marginally stiff enough to reliably control fixed-blade broadheads. Stiffness is increased by cutting arrows shorter. In many cases broadheads are pulled inside the riser shelf, which has become increasingly easy with today’s drop-away rests, which essentially create an overdraw dynamic, and more generous sight-window cut-outs.
Too, when shooting innately long arrows, every little bit of length removed results in less arrow wagging beyond arrow-quiver grippers to create potential fletching rattle.
Of course, many archers choose this route to feed the need for speed. Speed increases 5 to 7 fps for every 25 grains of arrow mass subtracted. Making your arrow 2 or 3 inches shorter (the practical limit) gives you 5 to 7 fps additional speed, if that’s important to you.
THE HAPPY MEDIUM
For the average archer shooting average equipment, standard procedure involves handing a friend or spouse a felt-tip pen, hitting full draw and asking them to mark the arrow shaft even to or 1⁄4-inch
outside the riser’s front edge. This generally eliminates the worry of fixed-blade broadheads interfering with the riser at full draw, and roughly correlates to your actual draw length in relation to manufacturer’s spine charts. That’s it.
In terms of accuracy, no single approach is superior to another. When an arrow spine is selected through a manufacturer’s chart, correlating to draw length, draw weight and point weight, accuracy becomes a function of fine tuning; manipulating arrow rest and nocking point positioning, even cam synchronization.
Inherently, carbon arrows between 28 and 30 inches will prove most efficient, thus potentially most accurate, but any arrow length can be tuned for straight flight with enough effort; stubby crossbow bolts, for instance, capable of pin-point accuracy at high speeds.
So, long or short, cut arrows to a length that helps meet the goals outlined above, and tune accordingly.