When I started in archery, I didn’t know there was a difference between a hunting bow and target bow. I thought target archers and bowhunters used the same compound bows, just with different colors and attachments.
I was wrong.
Eventually, I noticed compound bows are categorized for either bowhunting or target archery so I had to figure out how they are different.
The main design difference between compound target bows and hunting bows is the length of the bow and the brace height. These bow are also typically set up differently with the draw weight, let-off, and the attachments used.
Let’s take a closer look at the differences and the reasons behind them.
Target compound bows are usually longer axle to axle than hunting bows. Most target bows sold range today from 37-40 inches.
Hunting bows typically range anywhere from 28-36 inches, with a majority of the newer compounds being 30-32 inches.
The longer target bows usually also have slightly larger brace height range of 7-8 inches.
For instance, the Hoyt Podium 37 has a 7-inch brace height and Hoyt Podium 40 has a 8-inch brace height.
The majority of hunting bows have a brace height of 6-7 inches.
For instance, the Hoyt Hyperforce is 32 inches axle to axle and has a 6 inches brace height.
And the Hoyt Nitrux is 31.5 axle to axle with a 6.5-inch brace height.
The reason target bows are longer
You might be wondering why target bows are longer than hunting bows. How much difference could 4-8 inches make on a compound bow?
The main reason target bows are longer has to do with the angle of the string when fully drawn.
A shorter bow axle to axle such as the Hoyt Pro Defiant in the picture on the right at 30.5 inches can produce a much sharper string angle in full draw.
The other picture is a 40 inch Hoyt target bow which gives you a wider angle at full draw.
Why Does The String Angle Matter?
The term often used in archery is “forgiving.” A longer bow is said to be more forgiving than a short bow. The means that your shots are less affected by bow movement.
The reason this happens is that the arrow comes off the string faster with a wider angle bowstring.
Conversely, the arrow stays on the bowstring longer on a shorter bow with a sharper angle.
Of course, we are dealing with milliseconds but that split second your arrow is still touching the string is time the arrow is highly vulnerable to any movement you make.
So, Are Longer Bows Better?
It would be natural at this point in the article to assume everyone should shoot the longest compound bows available. And for all I know, there are good target archers out there that would make a case for that.
I read an article online that I can’t find again, which pointed out that target archers need to be more accurate than bowhunters. I don’t really agree with that, but it also doesn’t prove that a longer bow makes a more accurate archer.
Compound bows today are considerably shorter than they were 20 years ago and they are lighter than they’ve ever been. So, can we assume today’s archers are much worse than they were 30 years ago? Not at all.
If anything, modern material, design, and engineering have helped archers with accuracy even with shorter bows.
Why A Shorter Bow At All?
If there is even a small increase in the accuracy potential of a longer compound bow, why even bother with shorter bows?
Shorter bows are primarily designed for bowhunting. Archers wouldn’t ask the question above if they could spend some time in the field with a 32 inch and a 40-inch bow. Stalking through branches in the woods, getting in and out, maneuvering, and shooting in ground blinds and tree stands.
There is a considerable advantage to the shorter bow when it comes to maneuverability.
The issue of bow length and accuracy is very complex and beyond the scope of this article. I will say it’s not an issue to lose sleep over. The primary factor in accuracy is and will always be the archer.
Learning that Levi Morgan, the World Champion 3D Archer shoots a 32-inch bow with a 30-inch draw length, really shattered any notions I had about bow length and accuracy.
Compound Hunting and Target Bow Set-Up
There are a few other design differences on some target bows such as Hoyt Prevail series. These include a fully enclosed riser shelf which they call a shoot-through riser and rear stabilizer mounting locations. Other target bows also have different design aspects like this which may be more specific to that model rather than an aspect of most target bows.
Along with the design differences, bowhunters and target archers shoot in different environments and have different shooting needs. This often means a target bow and a hunting bow are set up very differently.
Here are some of the hunting and target compound bow set up differences.
Hunting compound bows often have more let-off. Unlike recurve bows, the draw length on a compound bow must be specifically set for the archer. When you draw the bowstring, it rotates the cam(s) which are then in a position to hold some of the draw weight.
This amount of decreased draw weight is known as let-off and is classified as a percentage. For example, a compound bow with a 50-pound draw weight and 50% let-off, only requires 25 pounds of force to hold the bowstring in full draw.
Most modern hunting compound bows have anywhere from 70-90 percent let-off, which allows the archer to hold in full draw for a long time. This is beneficial in hunting situations where you may need to wait in full draw for the best possible shot on an animal.
Most target archers prefer 60%-75% let-off on their compound bows. Still, target archers usually opt for a lower let off percentage.The reason target archers prefer less let-off is that they don’t need to hold in full draw for a long time.
Additionally, the heavy holding weight makes it easier to activate the release. Most target archers use some form of tension release which is much harder to use with a high percentage of let-off.
When it comes to the draw weight of target and hunting bows, the matter isn’t one of design but rather the preference of the archer. Considering Hoyt and Matthews for example, we see that most of their target bows can match the draw weight of their hunting bows.
The overall draw weight is an aspect of the bow speed and there are advantages to faster arrows in both target archery and bowhunting. In target archery, a faster bow speed may be preferred because it offers a flatter trajectory for the arrows which can be beneficial especially at longer distances.
But the difference in trajectory at 32 yards between a 50 and 70-pound bow may not be large enough to merit having to pull that much weight. It’s common for target archers to use lower draw weight bows.
These bows will still have a very fast bow speed and will be much easier to train with, and also help to avoid injury that can happen pulling too much weight.
Finally, the most noticeable difference between a target bow and hunting bow is the attachments. The differences are related to the type of archery and not the type of bow.
Here are the main attachments used for each type of archery.
The main difference in the sights is that target bows are most often fitted with a single pin sight with a small aperture. The sight is often attached to arm which extends it near a foot past the riser.
Bowsights used on hunting bows typically have a larger aperture and may also have multiple pins. This type of sight only extends several inches past the riser.
A smaller aperture is beneficial for precise aiming, which is why this type is used in target archery. The bar extension also helps in “narrowing” the target. True target bow sights are micro adjustable and will have several knobs to help the archer dial in on target.
The sight needs are different in bowhunting. A larger aperture is necessary for multiple pins (anywhere from 3-7) but even a single pin sight used for bowhunting will have a larger aperture. The larger sight window is better in low light situations which is often when bowhunter will have to take a shot.
As with the benefit of a shorter bow in the bowhunting environment, a shorter sight arm keeps the bowsight out of the way.
Arrow rest are lest specific to the type of archery certain rests, like the fall away style rest, are used by target archers and bowhunters.
Full capture rest, like the whisker biscuit, are primarily just used on hunting bows. This type keeps the arrow secure and nocked while you are hunting and is ready to be drawn at any time.
The downside of this type is that a full capture rest make contact with the arrow shaft and fletching when it is shot.
Most target archers prefer to have little to no contact between the arrow and rest when shooting. The blade or prong style rest is often used on target bows. The downside of this style is the arrow just sits on top of the rest and is free to fall off which makes it harder to use in bowhunting situations.
One of the most noticeable attachments used on target bows are the long stabilizers. The front stabilizers can extend as much as 3 feet in front of the bow. Many target archers also use two sidebars which extend out to the left and right.
This type of stabilizers help to balance the bow when shooting but would be difficult to use in a bowhunting situation. Because of this, hunting bows also have a stabilizer but most are under a foot long and sidebars are not used.