What Makes A Bow Forgiving?

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If you’ve ever spent time discussing archery with a group of enthusiasts, you may have heard someone describe a bow as ‘forgiving’ before. In fact, even certain aspects and qualities of a bow can be described as forgiving.

Essentially, a bow is said to be ‘forgiving’ when it minimizes the effects of human error.

A forgiving bow might be terrible for expert archers to use because it restricts the amount of control they have over their equipment but it could be great for a beginner.

In this article, we’ll be taking a closer look at what it means for a bow to be forgiving, what makes it this way, and whether it’s something you should look for.

Forgiving Or Sensitive?

There are plenty of experienced archers out there who don’t like the term ‘forgiving’ when describing bows. As one forum commenter pointed out, a bow will never forgive a mistake made by the archer.

If you set up your shot poorly or don’t execute it well, the bow won’t readjust everything for you and help your arrow fly straighter, regardless of how ‘forgiving’ it might be. Instead, it’s better to think of bows as having different levels of sensitivity. A less sensitive bow, therefore, could be considered more forgiving.

A highly sensitive bow could be very useful for an expert archer because they can exhibit full control over their bow. However, a less sensitive bow is often much better for beginner or casual archers because their mistakes are less amplified.

What Makes A Bow Forgiving?

Now that we understand a little more about what it means for a bow to be forgiving or sensitive, let’s take a look at some of the factors that can affect this quality.

Brace Height

brace height on a compound bow

If you didn’t already know, brace height is the distance between the bowstring and the deepest part of the grip. You can basically think of it as the measurement of the longest perpendicular point between the bow frame and the string.

Some archers believe it is this distance that most influences the forgivingness of a bow. Theoretically, a longer brace height (greater distance between the string and the bow frame) should equate to a more forgiving shot.

The reasoning behind this logic is the fact that the arrow spends less time on the string and the archer has less chance to mess up the shot.

Some archers have found a longer brace height to be beneficial to their shots while others have found a shorter brace height to be better. The conclusion we can draw from all this is that there’s no right or wrong answer when it comes to working out what brace height is best for everyone.

Each archer has its own unique style and level of ability, so everyone will have different preferences when it comes to brace height.

Bow Length

picture of a compound bow showing axle to axle length

Another argument could be made that the length of your bow will have the biggest impact on its forgivingness. Most bows are measured from axle to axle so you might see a bow being sold with specifications of a 35” ATA.

All this means is that the bow measures 35 inches from one axle to the other (as illustrated in the picture above).

The idea behind bow length affecting forgivingness is that a longer bow will be easier to hold steady and minimize the effects of moving the bow, even if you’re a beginner.

Again, however, this is largely a matter of personal preference and some archers might prefer to have a shorter bow that they can wield a higher level of control over. Also, if you intend to become a bow hunter – a “shorter” bow might be beneficial when hunting from confined spaces.

In general, though, bow length has less of an influence on the ‘forgivingness’ of a bow than brace height.

Is ‘Forgivingness’ A Myth?

Based on what we’ve covered so far, you’d be forgiven (no pun intended) for thinking that the whole concept of some bows being more forgiving than others is complete nonsense.

Some archers have come to the conclusion that the term ’forgiving’ is something that has only been kept around in the archery world for so long because it sells more bows to beginners.

Think about it, when you’re starting out in archery, you’re number one concern is about getting the techniques right and avoiding mistakes.

If you’re then sold a bow that promises to ‘forgive’ your mistakes, you’d probably think it’s some kind of miracle bow that will make you look like a better archer than you are.

Which beginner wouldn’t want to buy a bow like that?

Research and testing have found that some bows are more or less forgiving for certain archers but they are so across a wide variety of factors and characteristics.

In the same way that all bows are more or less effective for certain archers, they will be more or less forgiving, too.

Final Thoughts

At the end of the day, it is up to each individual archer to decide what bow works best for them and what qualities they deem as being most important. There are many factors that go into making a bow forgiving and no definitive answer exists as to which one is more important than any other.

Don’t be fooled by clever marketing language and try to focus on your own technique when learning the sport.

I am the founder and chief editor here at BowAddicted. I love my kids, archery, and the outdoors! It's been an amazing journey so far with some ups and downs, but it's worth it to spend time outside with friends and family.

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