How To Buy A Used Bow

Cindy Lavender

Like many people these days you may be interested in getting into archery or bowhunting, but you don’t have the dollars saved up for the latest new bow and accessories. Or maybe you are unsure that you will like shooting a bow and want to try it on the cheap.

You may consider buying a used bow with arrows and some accessories already installed and saving money.  

Being a bow technician, I don’t know how many times I’ve seen people bring in bows that they’ve purchased from eBay or at a garage sale or from a neighbor … that didn’t fit them properly.

Cindy Lavender looks over a pre-owned bow.

Here are some considerations and things to be aware of when you choose to purchase pre-owned archery equipment and accessories. This information will help you avoid spending money on a bow you can’t use.

First, archery is a great sport and to round out the total experience, shoot the best equipment you can afford.

The most common misconception of the novice is
that any bow will fit any particular person.

Know your draw length

Your bow must have a draw length that fits you. To determine your draw length, measure your wingspan and divide by 2.5. Extend both your arms and measure finger tip to the opposite finger tip. This will get you very close to your final draw length.  Adjustments can probably be made for your exact draw length by a qualified bow technician.

The used bow you intend to purchase should have a draw length range that can be adjusted to fit you by either replacing or adjusting the cam module, or on some bows, moving the bow string to another post on the cam.  

NOTE: Be aware that some bows made more than 10 years ago have limited adjustment ability, meaning the string and/or cables only allow draw length changes of a half an inch longer or shorter than the specified draw length of the bow, or no adjustments at all.  

Know the pulling weight of your bow and your ability to pull that weight.

Bows usually come with limbs that can be adjusted in 10 lbs. increments.  That is, if the bow has 60 lbs. limbs, you could turn down the pulling weight to 50 lbs. Some bows come with wider draw weight ranges, from 30 to 60 lbs., or 45 to 60 lbs., depending on the model.

The average adult male can pull at least 50-60# of draw weight at first, and then settle in at somewhere around 60-70#.

The average adult female pulling weight for the first time depends on the woman (I’ve seen such a wide range), but most women in my experience, can pull 28-30# their first time pulling a bow back.  Of course, as you shoot more, you will be able to pull more weight.

You won’t have much success buying a bow that is too heavy to pull at first; you will tire easy, won’t be able to shoot enough arrows to practice efficiently, and you could possibly develop bad shooting form.  

On the other hand, if you get a bow that is too light on the draw, you will max the bow out in a few months, which is fine, however if you plan on hunting, make sure you get something you can manage and work up to, that is able to be set at the minimum hunting draw weight law for your state.

Inspection

Make sure the bow you intend to buy is in sound physical and mechanical condition by going through this checklist:

  • Check the limbs to make sure there are no hairline cracks.
  • Inspect the condition of the riser (the main part of the bow, where the grip is installed in the middle).
  • Carefully examine the cams and idler wheel for nicks, bends in the metal, or unusual wear on the cam itself near the rail (the track where the string sits on the cam) to make sure that overall, the bow is in good condition. A cam(s) can be bent or nicked by a bow that has been dry-fired.
  • Inspect the bowstring, and if the owner of the used bow is present, ask how long this string has been installed on the bow and why he or she is selling the bow. Check the string for wear, frayed or broken strands or string wear near the cam.
  • Bow strings can be replaced; if the manufacturer or archery shop does not carry the strings for your bow, you could have custom bow strings made, but unusual wear near the cams could mean a continual problem if the cams are defective or damaged. Determining how old the bow string is will let you decide if the bow is something you want to shoot prior to replacing the string.
  • Check stabilizer threads, arrow rest mounting hole (Berger Hole) for thread wear and bowsight mounting holes to make sure none of those are stripped out.
  • Sights, arrow rests and other accessories or parts can be replaced or upgraded if you really want to buy a used bow, but keep in mind the additional cost of replacing accessories.

Shop Around

If you are purchasing on eBay or an internet site, research prices for the same model to make sure you don’t overpay.

After you purchase your used bow, bring it to an archery pro shop and have a qualified bow technician inspect the bow, make final adjustments based on your needs and make sure it is in tune. A good bow technician will double-check the center shot, square up the arrow rest, replace nocks or string loops if needed, and even help you get your first shots sighted in. A good bow technician will also give you advice on good form and maybe share some tips on shooting, such as being consistent, bow torque and follow-through.

Used bows can be a very good investment for a beginning archer, but it’s important to do your homework. Luckily, there is a wealth of information available online to help you with anything archery-related. The more research you do about what you are buying, the less likely you’ll be to purchase a bow you won’t be able to use.