What do the Numbers on a Recurve Bow Mean?

The bow is a beautiful thing. It represents human evolution, physics, technology and art within its curves and structure. It’s also the key to learning one of the fastest growing and most popular sports – archery. Unfortunately, bow terminology can seem to be really complex to the beginner archer. This article aims to help you decipher some of the specs and descriptions bow manufacturers use so that you can better spend your energies on perfecting your technique.

Specs can look something like this for a small child’s beginner bow –

Draw length: 61 cm/24”
Draw weight: 15 lbs/6.8 kgs (sometimes written “15#”)
Speed: 75 fps
Length: 110 cm/43.3”

Draw Length

The draw length tells you how far back a bow can be pulled. It varies from person to person, according to their build. There are some bows on the market that offer a variety of draw lengths to be adjusted by the user.
It is best to visit an archery retailer or ask your instructor to measure your correct draw length professionally before a bow is fitted. Your local archery club will also be able to help size up your draw length.
This measurement determines the size and length of the arrows your bow will use and the size/length of the bow.
Archers come is many sizes and age groups so a general rule of thumb to match recurve bow length to the person’s draw length is to follow the guidelines below:
Draw Length worked out by professional Bow Size/Length
Up to 25”/63 cm 54”/137 cm to 62”/157 cm
Up to 27”/68 cm 64”/162,5 cm to 66”/167.6 cm
Up to 29”/73,6 cm 66”/167,6 cm to 68”/172,7 cm
Age: 6 to 12 years – smaller size bows of 54”/137 cm to larger size bows of 64”/162,5 cm
Age: Teen to adult – smaller size bows of 64”/162,5 cm to larger size bows of 70”/177,8 cm

Draw Weight

This signifies the amount of force the archer needs to pull the bow. Draw weight is always measured in pounds although metrified countries may have added a kilogram translation. Sometimes the pound is written as a hashtag # sign on the labeling.
A recurve bow’s draw weight will increase as it is drawn but a compound bow’s weight will not.
A quick assessment of the learner’s body weight, gender and general fitness levels help work out their draw weight capabilities. Keeping in mind that beginners always place lower draw weights.
Small child (70 to 100 pounds/31 to 45 kilograms) – 10 to 15 pounds/4,5 to 6,8 kilograms suggested draw weight.
Larger size child (100 to 130lbs/59 kilograms) – 15 to 25 pounds/11 kilograms suggested draw weight.
Petite female & medium size female – 25 to 35 pounds/15,8 kilograms suggested draw weight.
Small frame male – 30 to 45 pounds/ 13 to 20 kilograms suggested draw weight.
Medium frame male – 40 to 55 pounds/ 20 to 25 kilograms suggested draw weight.


Speed refers to how many feet the arrow travels per second (fps). The higher the fps, the faster the bow’s capabilities. A few bow makers use ATA as a speed guideline but the majority use IBO speed guidelines. A beginner’s recommended speeds will be low in the beginning.

The Bow’s Size / Length

The length of a bow is measured from the axle at one end to the other axle (where the bow limbs connect to the cams/wheels) on a compound bow and from the string groove to the opposite string groove on an unstrung recurve bow. A bow must be in proportion to its user and this will help guide anyone wanting to find a specific size/ length.

Bows come in larger and smaller sizes than the ones above, but these specs are generalized for possible entry-level ages and sizes.
The best advice for any new archer being fitted for their first bow is to ask your coach or local archery expert to help with measuring you. Any serious learner will not buy their first bow sight and fit unseen. The bow must be slightly shorter than the person buying it. A good bow fit determines how well you will handle your first few lessons.

Leave a Comment