I once chatted with a retired pro athlete who casually mentioned he draws 90 pounds on his hunting bow. For the whitetails he’s typically chasing, this could be overkill. So what’s the sweet spot for the average bowhunter pursuing North American big game?

Like most issues, this one is a bit subjective. Your intended game, shot distance, draw length, and other equipment all play a role in determining optimal draw weight.

But with proper placement, most bowhunters can get away with the 30- to 40-pound minimums required by many state agencies for up to deer-sized game. Stalking elk, moose, or bear? You’ll probably want to crank it up a notch and shoot for 50 to 60 pounds.

If you’re smaller-framed, new to bowhunting, nursing an injury, or just generally pulling on the low end, consider these tips:

  • Keep shots close: Arrows lose speed and power at longer distances, so stick to closer-range shots within 30 yards. 
  • Opt for heavier arrows and fixed-blade broadheads: Both penetrate better than their counterparts, making them great choices for lower-poundage bows.
  • Get in lots of practice reps: No matter the draw weight, shot placement is critical to a quick, ethical kill. Practicing at least a few times a week can increase accuracy. And don’t let up during hunting season.
  • Build your strength: If you want to bump up your draw weight, perform exercises that target the muscles used when drawing a bow.
  • Opt for a bow with adjustable draw weight: Rather than buying a new bow every time you’re ready to move up to a new weight class, choose one that offers adjustability and can grow with you.
  • Check regulations: Draw weight minimums vary from state to state and among species. Always confirm with your state agency for the most up-to-date requirements.