Is Speed Everything?

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Speed and kinetic energy versus accuracy

Today’s compound bows keep getting faster and faster. Speed combined with mass translates to kinetic energy, but one has to ask if it is really the be all and end all?

Sneaking through the tall grass, I knew the elk was bedded nearby. Ten minutes earlier I had seen him lingering on the edge of the field. Carefully placing one foot in front of the other, doing my best to avoid stepping on dry leaves, I advanced. Every muscle in my body was tense and every nerve on high alert. With an arrow nocked, my release was already attached to the bowstring. I had done everything correctly to that point; I just needed to find him.

Then it happened. As if out of nowhere, tall antlers emerged from the waist-high grass, his head swung in my direction and, in one smooth motion, he stood up. I instinctively drew back as he bolted. I cow called and he stopped abruptly. At 45 metres, he offered just enough time to settle the pin on his massive chest and I sent the arrow on its way. A near perfect shot, the arrow and broadhead disappeared, passing clean through him.

“How often does that happen?” I thought to myself. First of all, I had been lucky to find this bull exposed during the mid-day hours and then, with a stiff breeze in my favour, I was able to sneak within bow range. Then to have a broadhead pass right through him at that distance, well, that speaks to the sheer energy delivered by one of today’s state-of-the-art compound bows. My bow had what it takes to drive that shaft clear through his torso.

If you are an experienced bow hunter, then you know that a complete pass through is common, particularly with today’s technologically. And yes, even on bigger animals like moose and bear.

If you’ve been an archer for more than 20 years, then you have seen an astounding evolution in archery equipment. With the introduction of dual and cam-and-a-half bows, today’s equipment is fast and powerful. While speed diminishes many of the problems encountered with archery, it can actually exacerbate others. Indeed, trajectories have flattened out considerably, but so much of what makes bows fast also makes them unforgiving. Employ proper form and shoot technically sound, and they are deadly accurate. Adopt bad habits and the speed that is so universally cherished really doesn’t matter much.

So we might really ask the question, “Which is more important: speed, energy or accuracy?” While the correct answer acknowledges all three, in the end, accuracy and shot placement is really what it is all about.


An evolution in speed

I remember back in the late 1980s when it was common to see recreational archers at the range pulling draw weights of well over 80 pounds. I even knew of one fellow who regularly shot over 90 pounds! Many of us used overdraw systems, cranked up our limbs, shortened arrows and played around with the overall weight of our shafts and tips to get the most speed we could possibly capture from our bows. Well, thankfully, times have changed and many of today’s high-tech bows are shooting IBO speeds out past 320 feet per second, with a few measuring well over 350. Statistically speaking, we are getting at least 30 per cent more speed out of our bows these days, in large part due to re-design. Whether it is recurve or past parallel limb configurations, short axle-to-axle lengths, ultra-light arrows or any number of characteristics that factor into the speed of a bow, one thing is certain: we are shooting faster and flatter trajectories now than ever before.


About kinetic energy

To be clear, it is not just speed that matters, but kinetic energy. By definition, kinetic energy is the energy of motion; the work required to accelerate a body into a velocity from rest. At full draw, limbs are fully loaded. Upon releasing the bowstring that loaded energy is transferred to the arrow in flight. In layman’s terms, the amount of velocity and force with which the arrow penetrates its target is kinetic energy in action. Penetration is vital (no pun intended), but the question remains, “is it the be all and end all?” Before we answer that question, let’s consider draw weight and how we should each go about determining our own.


Setting the draw weight

If I had a dollar for every time I saw someone shooting a bow that was set too heavy for him or her, I would be a very wealthy individual. I might even go out on a limb and say that most archers are shooting more weight than they can comfortably handle. In our eternal quest for speed, so often we sacrifice comfort and accuracy for speed, and that’s a mistake.

A couple issues ago, I wrote about muscle memory and the importance of staying in shape to ensure consistent shooting. It’s important to acknowledge that the biomechanics of pulling back your bow and holding at full draw requires the use of muscles not commonly used in most of our day-to-day activities. To maintain muscle memory, practice or exercising those muscles is imperative. Drawing our bow should be easy and comfortable. We should be able to draw back our bows in one smooth motion. If we have to raise it up high and strain to pull it back, chances are it is set too high.

As a point of reference, if your muscles are in shape and you are comfortable drawing without shaking, and holding at full draw for at least a minute, then you can comfortably handle the draw weight. As a rule, we should be able to hold our bow straight out from our bodies and pull straight back in one smooth motion. Further, most of today’s bows have 85 per cent let off, so holding at full draw for a minute or more should not be a big deal. If it is, chances are it’s time to turn down your draw weight.

When it comes to setting your bow at a comfortable draw weight, consider how often you shoot, and what your target species will be. While many variables affect kinetic energy, practically speaking, more energy is required to penetrate the torso of larger animals like bison, muskox, moose and elk. By comparison, less energy is required for smaller game like deer and antelope.


What really matters

No doubt, we all have opinions on this. Some archers and bow hunters will go to their grave believing that speed is everything. I have my own thoughts. I like a fast, flat-shooting bow as much as the next guy. Any time I can level out my arrow trajectory and set sight pins closer together, it minimizes the margin for error. The truth is, there are several things we can do to tighten up our groups. Tweaking our timing, ensuring that our rests and cams are in alignment, thereby making centreshot true, installing a well-constructed custom string and cable set, and of course making sure that our arrow spine and overall weight is well-matched to our bow, are all things we can do to improve accuracy.

In the end, we can still ask ourselves, is speed everything? Consider the facts and most would agree that accuracy is what puts arrows in the 10-spot and meat on the table.

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