Here we are, on the last post of the four-part Archery for Writers series. It’s been a pleasure both as an archer and a writer to let the writing world know a little more about the sport, and today we’re going to talk about the compound bow. It is possibly the most complicated type of bow to manufacture, and doesn’t show up much in pop culture, but it is by far the most popular with today’s archers.
(Again, before we get started, if you ever find yourself confused by archery terminology, you can refer back to part one of this series. At the bottom of the page is a quick glossary of words and definitions).
Origins: Though the compound bow is far and away the most commonly-shot bow amongst both hunters and those who only shoot for sport, it a relatively recent invention. In the 1960s a man by the name of Holless Wilbur Allen¹ invented the compound bow after much trial and error by sawing off the ends of a recurve bow and attaching offset pulleys (cams) to the new tips and fixing it up with an extra-long string. He wanted to create a bow that propelled arrows through the air faster, because the bows available at the time shot arrows relatively slowly, giving deer plenty of time to jump out of the way.
When he had finally succeeded in his mission to create a bow that shot arrows faster, therefore inventing what we now know as the compound bow, he filed a patent for it on June 23rd 1966. In 1969 the patent was granted, and only ten years later two-thirds of the bow models on the market were compound². Unfortunately, he died in 1979³.
Description: In my previous post I described the recurve bow as being different than any other bow because it has tips that curve away from the archer. Well, the compound bow is even more different than any other bow, because it doesn’t have any tips! Instead, the limbs of a compound bow terminate in cams, which are the secret to increased arrow velocity, as well as another important advancement: a resting point.
No other bow in history has a resting point, the point at which the force needed to draw the string partially lets off and allows the archer to hold the string comfortably for an extended period of time. It is also packs a much bigger punch in a much smaller package, even more so than the recurve bow. Compound bows today are even adjustable, meaning beginning archers can set their bow at a low draw weight, and work up from there.
It is truly the greatest thing since sliced bread. (Which was apparently invented in 1928⁴ in case you were curious).
Today the risers of compound bows are made of aluminum, magnesium alloy, or carbon fiber to make them as rigid as possible⁵, while the limbs are made of many different composite materials to make them flexible, yet not break under the huge amount of stored energy put on them at full draw⁶.
As far as color goes, compound bows come pretty much in any color imaginable. The original Genesis bow⁷ (which are what I learned to shoot on) is especially vibrant. Camo is also very popular, even in pink. For length, many compounds run about 32-34 inches axle-to-axle now,⁸ but the Genesis bow I mentioned above is 35½.
Why These Bows are the Greatest Thing Since Sliced Bread: I’ve pretty much already outlined it. They’re short. They’re fast. They have a resting point. They have adjustable draw weights. Plus (and I haven’t gone here yet) they can also have a lot of “helps” tacked on. These are optional devices such as sights, silencers, and stabilizers. When I learned to shoot on the original Genesis bow, I shot it bare, meaning I had an arrow rest and wore a finger glove to protect my oh-so-tender fingertips, but that was it.
When I was fifteen I had dreams of one day becoming a bow-hunter (a dream I still haven’t gotten around to, by the way), so I got another bow. It was still a compound, but it was shorter, lighter, and could adjust to the 40-pound minimum draw weight needed for deer hunting (the Genesis only went up to 20). It was a Bear Apprentice II bow⁹, and came with a whole assortment of things attached that I’d never used before. Two sights—a front sight and a peep sight—a whisker biscuit (a different kind of arrow rest), an on-bow quiver, and D-loop. Since it had a D-loop, that meant I could no longer shoot with my fingers, so I began using a mechanical release. Needless to say, I had to learn to shoot all over again, but it was worth it, because I became more accurate.
Shooting: Well, how do you shoot a bow with all that extra stuff? Pretty much the same way I described in part one of this series, with the exception that, if you (or your character) uses a mechanical release there are no fingers touching the string. I use a trigger release, which has a strap that wraps around my wrist and buckles into place, and a short metal rod that projects just past the end of my closed fist on the palm side. It has small “jaws” on the end that grab the D-loop, as well as a trigger with which I set it off when I’m ready. (If that made no sense, you can get the full run-down on different archery releases here). Also, mechanical archery releases are always worn on the drawing hand, which is determined by whether you are right or left-eye dominant.
For aiming I have a three-pin sight, which means that I can aim with spot-on accuracy (provided I do all the steps right) at three different distances. It also means I can be reasonably accurate at any point in between, and these distances can be adjusted to whatever the archer wants. To aim I look through the peep sight, which is basically just a circle of plastic set in the fibers of the bowstring, line it up with the circle surrounding the pin sight set on the riser of my bow, put the right pin on the target, and exhale as I pull the trigger on my release.
Other kinds of releases, such as handle or finger releases, “go off” when the archer reaches a certain tension, or point, when drawing back. These are better for target shooting than hunting, for obvious reasons. And then there are automatic releases that go off on a timer... which are also better for target practice than hunting. (Neither of these sound like a very good idea to me, even for target practice, but I had to mention them since they exist).
The Arrows: Modern arrows are typically made of aluminum, carbon, or a combination of aluminum and carbon,¹⁰ and are tipped with metal, whether it is only a field tip (used just for target practice) or a broadhead (used for hunting). Most arrows give archers the ability to switch tips out, and so change them if they wish. The same with nocks, most of which are plastic and come in a variety of colors. Fletchings are also very colorful since they are no longer feathers, but are instead made of synthetic materials.
1.) Modern arrows are actually much more complicated than just what they’re made of. Depending on the individual archer’s draw length, how heavy a draw weight they’re shooting, and whether or not the archer is hunting or just target practicing, things change¹¹.
2.) The let-off that Holless Wilbur Allen achieved with his first compound bow was 15%¹². Modern compound usually bows let off 65-75%¹³ of the original draw eight.
3.) The compact size of compound bows makes them great for hunting, because in a brushy area the short length keeps it from getting caught on things as easily as the other two bow types we've discussed previously.
And that’s concludes my Archery for Writers series. I hope that you’ve enjoyed it, and found it helpful towards writerly ends! If you have anything to say, fire away in the comments section below, or visit the resources I’ve listed.
Archery for Writers Part 1: How to Shoot
Archery for Writers Part 2: The Longbow
Archery for Writers Part 3: The Recurve Bow
¹, ², ³, ¹² Archery Hall of Fame – Holless Wilbur Allen
⁴ Wikipedia – Sliced Bread
⁵, ⁶ History of Archery – Facts About Compound Bows
⁷ Genesis Archery – Original Genesis (Please be aware that I am not trying to sell you anything, just show you what I’m talking about).
⁸ Realtree – Finger Shooting Compounds
⁹ Best Compound Bow Source – Bear Archery II Review (And I'm still not trying to sell you anything)…
¹⁰ Shooting Time – Parts of a Compound Bow/Other Archery Terms
¹¹ Best Compound Bow Source – How to Choose Arrows for a Compound Bow
¹³ ESDF – The Compound Bow - What You Need to Know
Welcome to Katelyn Buxton Books! I'm a Christian author and blogger, with a passion for writing stories that are not just enjoyable, but also lead people closer to Jesus. Feel free to look around, and enjoy your stay!