Photo credit: Josh Kirchner
Photo credit: Josh Kirchner
Within the bowhunting world, there are certain terms thrown out there that might make someone—especially someone new—scratch their head. Even if you’ve heard these terms, maybe you don’t necessarily know what they mean. Not just that, but what they mean for a bowhunter. When I first got into all of this, I’ll be honest, I didn’t pay too much attention to things like axle-to-axle length and brace height. They were above my pay grade if you catch my drift. As time would tell, though, my love for bowhunting and archery grew more and more. It only became natural to start paying attention to things like this. Axle-to-axle and brace height are two terms that are always circulating throughout our community. You hear them in ads, in pro shops, and during general range chatter. They are not gimmicky words made up to sell bows. These things matter and that’s what we’ll chat about today. The “what” and the “why” of axle-to-axle and brace height as well as what they mean for the bowhunter.
Axle-to-axle, or more commonly heard as ATA, is the distance measured between each axle of a compound bow. Each cam operates on an axle and taking the length between those two axles is going to be your ATA measurement. There are bows with a long ATA, short ATA and some with a middle of the road ATA.
Longer ATA bows tend to have a smoother draw cycle. I’d consider anywhere from 34″ and up to be a longer ATA. They also tend to be slightly slower in terms of feet per second that the arrow travels. Although there are hunters that like these, they are much more popular in the target archery world. This is due to these types of bows holding exceptionally well at full draw, resulting in better accuracy.
Shorter axle-to-axle bows tend to be faster and are utilized better in hunting situations like in a treestand or ground blind. That’s simply because they are smaller in size and are easier to maneuver in tight quarters. I’d consider anything up to 31″ as a shorter ATA. When compared to that of the longer ATA bows, shorter bows don’t usually have as smooth as a draw cycle. I know that there are exceptions to this, but this is the general rule.
Then, we land at the middle of the road axle-to-axle bows. From what I’ve seen throughout the years, middle of the range ATAs like 32” to 33″ bows are a lot of the time Turbo models. I don’t know why that is. It’s just what I’ve observed. These usually have some pretty decent speed due to the turbo part, but might not have as smooth as a draw cycle as longer ATA bows.
The next bowhunting term on our agenda is brace height. Brace height is the distance between the deepest part of the grip and the string. It can have an effect on your speed, accuracy and on how smooth your draw cycle is. Of course, draw length is a factor in that as well.
Bows with longer brace heights are going to be more forgiving. This is because the arrow is coming off of the string sooner rather than later, meaning that the shooter has less time to influence the shot. These are also usually a bit slower in terms of fps. I’d say that a longer brace height is anything above 6 1/2”. Longer brace heights usually yield a smoother draw cycle.
To contrast that, shorter brace height bows will be less forgiving because the arrow is on the string for a longer period of time once the shot breaks, which means that the shooter has more time to influence the shot. Unlike the longer brace height, these bows are going to be faster. Those cams and string have more time to push that arrow to high speeds. I’d say that a shorter brace height is anything below 6 1/2”. Shorter brace heights usually yield a rougher draw cycle.
So, what does all of this mean for a bowhunter? Well, there are different styles of bowhunting, right? Ambush hunting and spot and stalk hunting. For folks that are in treestands or ground blinds, a shorter ATA bow might fit their needs better—just for the sheer fact that they will be easier to handle in those tight places. If you happen to be a bowhunter with a shorter draw length, maybe you want to lean more towards a shorter brace height or turbo model. Because of the lack of string travel from full draw to zero, the extra momentum will be welcomed for a bowhunter like this. For spot and stalk hunters who might be looking to stretch the distance a bit more, longer ATA bows might be something to look at. This will aid in accuracy. At long range, anything and everything has an effect on your shot.
There are also different animals that tend to lean towards one need over another. Coues deer are notorious for both jumping the string and only letting someone get so close. For me, I like to try and keep my speeds up a bit more. I want the arrow to get there as soon as possible with those guys. The bow also needs to be great at longer ranges, too. I’d say the same thing about antelope. Most of the other critters are going to do well with any of the bows out there. These are just exceptions.
Not too bad, right? If you have never really paid attention to brace height and axle-to-axle, I’d highly suggest that you do. These bows are absolute monsters filled with high end engineering. Knowing just a little bit here and there with how things work can only make us better bowhunters. I used to shoot a shorter brace height bow that had a short ATA. After a while, I really found that, for me, that just didn’t work. Switching to a longer ATA with a little bit longer brace height, kept my speeds up and I grew leaps and bounds in terms of accuracy. The smoother draw cycle was much appreciated on my shoulder as well. Before this point, I really never paid attention to this stuff. I wish I would have sooner, but we live and learn. This will leave you better prepared for when you might walk into a pro shop for an upgrade. Knowing what you need and what someone on the internet needs is two different things and they should be treated as such. Mold the bow to you.