If you are wanting to learn how to set up a compound bow, this is the article you need to read.

Setting up a compound bow can seem difficult when you are new to archery. Admittedly, there is a learning curve when you are getting starting. You may be wondering about what kind of archery you want to participate in, what equipment there is, what equipment you need, and how to aim and shoot.

In the beginning it can all seem like too much, especially with things like setting up a compound bow but don’t let that deter you. It’s a process that involves practice and learning, and both are equally important. If you work at both of these things as a beginner, you will quickly progress as an archer.

When your first bow needs to be set up it’s best to utilize your local archery shop if you have one. (They should do it free if you buy the bow from them.) That being said, I know many archers who start off like I did. My first bow was a hand-me-down from family, and I just started shooting.

Once I realized you could adjust the bow, the learning process began. Setting up a compound bow isn’t rocket surgery and if you are determined to do it, you can. Here are the basics of setting up a compound bow to get you started.

First Things First- Finding Your Draw Length and Weight

Draw Length

If you are setting up a compound bow for the first time, you need to start by measuring your draw length. As you can see in the picture, you need to extend both of your arms out equally and measure from one middle fingertip to the other. It’s easiest if you can have someone grab the tape measure and help you with this. If you are doing it by yourself, it’s tough to do it with a regular tape measure. If you have a sewing tape measure that may work. Another option is to use a rope. You can stretch it out to approximately the end of your fingers then measure that distance.

The length of your arm span is divided by 2.5. That number is your draw length.

Draw Weight

Finding your draw weight is a major part of setting up a compound bow. This process is more complex than measuring for draw length. Below you can see a list of suggested draw weight ranges. Everyone is different when it comes to draw weight so you will need to spend some time with this.

A common mistake is that archers shoot with too heavy a draw weight. This isn’t smart or necessary. Target archery certainly doesn’t require a heavy draw weight so there is no reason to push what feels comfortable for you. If you hunting big game and feel like you need to heaviest draw weight your bow can handle, don’t start with that. You need to work your way up to heavier draw weight.

Archer's Weight Suggested Draw Weight
(50-100 lbs.)
10-15 lbs
15-25 lbs
(100-130 lbs)
25- 35 lbs
(130-160 lbs)
30- 40 lbs
(160+ lbs)
45- 55 lbs
(120-150 lbs)
45- 55 lbs
(150-180 lbs)
50-60 lbs
(180+ lbs)
60-70 lbs

A part of setting up a compound bow is testing to see what works. Your draw weight is something that will need testing. A good test of what you can handle is shooting while sitting down. Take a chair outside and shoot from a seated position. You should be able to draw without a lot of strain.

If you feel like you are having to push the bow forward and up with your bow arm, your weight is too high. Lower it and work your way up if needed. Setting up a compound is only possible with a bow in YOUR RANGE. A full-size compound with a draw weight range of 60-70 pounds will not work for your kids.

How To Adjust Your Bow

Draw Weight Adjustment

Adjusting the draw weight on many bows is a fairly easy process. Often, this adjustment can be made without affecting the draw length. Adjusting the draw weight, especially a large adjustment, can change the bow tuning.

It’s hard to generalize on this issue because a lot depends on the bow you have and the range you want to adjust. If you are just starting out, it’s always best to have your bow adjusted and set up by archery pro shop or retailer. If you are setting up a compound bow on your own for the first time, make sure to consult manufactures specifications.

The bottom limb of your bow should have the draw weight and length range printed on it. (You may have to use a magnifying glass.) You may also be able to find this information in your owners manual or on the manufactures website.

Adjusting Limb Bolts

On the front end of your bow limbs, there will be a limb bolt attaching each limb to the riser. This front section is called the limb pocket. The limb bolt should be rather long and will need an Allen wrench to adjust it. Check the limb pocket section on the riser to see if there is an additional pocket bolt. This will be a much smaller bolt on the side of your riser but may need to be loosened slightly before adjusting the limb bolt.

When you tighten the bolt (clockwise), this will increase the draw weight, and when you loosen it (counterclockwise), this will decrease the draw weight. The question is, how much do you turn it? There is not a universal system for this so you will have to consult your owners manual to find out the ratio. If you have a bow scale, you figure this out manually.

Ratios are all over the place when it comes to adjusting the limb bolt. Some bows will be one 360 degrees turn/per pound. It may also be one 180 degrees turn/per pound. And lastly, it might be one-quarter turn/per pound.

Tips on Adjusting Your Draw Weight

When you are setting up a compound bow and it is time to adjust the draw weight, you want to start by tightening the limb bolt all the way down, then back the bolt off a quarter turn.

Most manufacturers advise never to fire the bow with the bolt tightened all the way down. After loosening that quarter turn, this bolt position should be the full draw weight listed for your bow. If you know the turn/per pound ratio, you can then loosen the limb bolt to the desired draw weight.

It’s usually advised to adjust both limbs at the same time. Meaning every turn of one limb bolt should be followed by a turn of the other limb bolt. The majority of bows will have a 10-pound range, and you should never adjust the draw weight outside of that.


If you have a bow scale and want to test the bow for exact draw weight, you will follow the same tightening process listed above. Then securely attach your bow scale to something that can hold considerable weight. It’s nice if can fasten it to something taller than you are so that you don’t have to bend down while you are testing the weight.

Once the bow scale is secured, you will set the bowstring on the hook and pull down on the riser. You can pull until the cams are just to turn over, then stop and slowly let off. The weight reading you get at this point should be an accurate draw weight. You can then adjust each limb and test again until you reach your desired draw weight. Do not pull the bow into full draw when using the bow scale. I’ve never done this, but I know that there would not be a favorable outcome.

Adjusting Draw Length

Adjusting your draw length is important when setting up a compound bow. A bow press may be required to adjust the draw length on your bow. Bow presses typically have to be mounted to a workbench or table. You then secure the bow limbs to the presses “fingers,” and you can turn a crank that compresses the limbs. This is necessary for changing the bowstring and possibly adjusting the draw length on your bow.

A bow press is a considerable investment. Prices range from $200-1000. Most archers don’t want to spend that kind of money on something that is used so little. Instead, if your bow does require a bow press, you can take your bow to a retailer or pro shop and have them measure your draw length and adjust your bow.

Adjustable Cams

Many compound bows now do not require a bow press to adjust the draw length. This type of bow will have adjustable or replaceable cam modules which attach to the cam set the draw length. On the replaceable style, manufacturers make separate modules for each draw length. Some bows come with a set of these which can be changed out, and this process is not too complicated.

Even easier are the adjustable cam modules. These modules have numerous holes in them, and several small bolts used to attach them to the cam. Some have the holes marked with the numbers of draw lengths, and  others will have a guide in the manual. You can remove the screws, and the cam modules will be rotated to desired draw length and reattached. For you young archers who are still growing, these adjustable cams are a good choice. If you an adult, you will need to set your draw length when you get a new bow, but it should require adjusting after that.

Centering Arrows

Centering your arrows is an important part of setting up a compound bow. Most compound bows do not come with a rest or sight installed on it. There are many options available, and most archers would prefer to choose the sight and rest based on your intended use of the bow and personal preference.

There are also entry level bows that come with a bow and sight already installed. You can disregard any claim that a bow is ever “ready to shoot” right out of the box. This isn’t possible. Setting up a compound bow is always necessary, even with it comes with accessories.

Whether you buy a rest, or your bow comes with one, you will need to center your arrows. This process works off of the bowstring and limbs. The riser may or may not offer help with centering your arrow in the rest, depending on its alignment with the limbs.When you knock your arrow, it should be directly in line with the bowstring and limbs.

Using Pictures to Help Center Arrows

These are pictures of a whisker biscuit that I took off an older bow. I put them on this bow to see how they lined up. Because these came off another bow, they both need to be adjusted slightly. The whisker biscuit needs to be adjusted the most. It’s harder to see but in the shot above the bow,  the arrow is off to the right.

You can look at your bow from above and behind to see if you arrow is centered. I find the above view easier to judge from. Keep your viewing angle in mind while you are doing this as it affects centering the arrow.

Center your arrow when you first attach your rest and then work on getting you sight aligned through shot grouping. It’s also good to check your rest from time to time to make sure your alignment is still good.


Author: Kasey Jones

Published March, 27, 2018

Category: Compound bow