Image of takedown recurve bows leaning against a fence.

Archery Stacking - What is it and why should I care?

By: Mark Jeffreys

The first time I tried archery, I fell victim to stacking. I remember the first time I went to the archery range to give the sport a try, and the bow I was given to try just didn’t feel comfortable when I drew it to its full length. I felt like I was straining against the bow, struggling to hold it to my anchor point while aiming. It wasn’t until later that I learned that this was caused by the bow stacking.

Archery stacking is the exponential increase in draw weight that happens when you draw a bow past its optimal draw length. Without getting too much into the physics of what happens when you draw a bow, drawing causes tension on the inside and flexion on the outside of the bow, which stores energy in the bow’s limbs. When you draw the bow, the amount of weight added for each inch you pull should remain consistent at about 2-3 pounds per inch. Drawing the bow past its draw length will cause the bow to stack.

When you draw a bow, you will feel a certain point where the bow becomes harder to draw. That point where the string gets much harder to pull is when the bow starts to stack. If you reach this point before you’ve reached your draw length to achieve the proper form, you probably have a bow that is not sized correctly. Getting the proper draw length correct is important in archery.

To help you understand the terms used when I talk about stacking, let me describe a few for you. The draw weight of a bow is the amount of force needed to draw the bow to its draw length, usually measured in pounds. Draw length is different when you’re talking about either the archer or the bow. When talking about the archer, draw length is the measurement of your wingspan for you to draw a bow to reach your anchor point. When talking about a bow, this is the point in the draw when the draw weight is reached. If you draw a bow past its draw length - aka stacking - the bow will surpass the specified draw weight.

Why Stacking Matters

From what I’ve experienced, a bow that stacks can make the archery experience unpleasant. It requires more muscle than necessary to pull the bow into your anchor position and make it just as hard to maintain that position when you’re aiming. This causes some people to give up on archery before they’ve given it a real chance. Stacking can also cause other problems, such as limb failure, hand shock and problems with accuracy.

Limb failure happens when you’ve drawn the bow too far and the stress on the limbs causing the limbs to break. Obviously, this can hurt you, and it can be an expensive problem if you continually break your bow. This isn’t very likely to happen, but it is something to be aware of.

Hand shock refers to the vibration through the handle of the bow you loose an arrow. This is present to some degree whenever you shoot an arrow, but stacking can make it worse. You can mitigate hand shock, just be aware that stacking can affect your archery experience.

Stacking can affect your accuracy by amplifying any mistakes in your form. If you don’t have the string in the proper alignment, if you pluck your string - pull the arrow to one side or the other during release - or have problems with nearly any other part of your form is off, stacking will make those mistakes seem much worse.

Stacking with Compound Bows

All bows stack to some degree. However, stacking with a compound bow is much harsher than with traditional bow types - longbows or recurve bows. With compound bows, when you are drawing the bow, you will actually feel the weight of the bow begin to decrease, which is referred to as let-off. This will usually decrease the draw weight by anywhere from 50-90%, depending on the bow. Once you’ve drawn the bow to the limit of its draw length, the weight of the bow will increase severely.

This point is called the wall, and it will be fairly obvious when you reach this point. Trying to draw a compound bow past its limit will take much more weight to draw - in some cases as much as 400 pounds. Though it is possible to draw a compound bow past this point to stack the bow, the dramatic increase in weight makes it unlikely to occur. This leads most people to assume you are talking about traditional bows when you mention stacking.

The Argument for Stacking

There are some that advocate for stacking by arguing that stacking allows you to shoot on a shorter bow, which lets you use a smaller arrow, which leads to a faster arrow. It is typically easier to be more accurate with a faster arrow as the arrow has less of an arc and is less susceptible to environmental conditions, such as wind. They argue that these factors make the additional weight of drawing the bow worth the effort.

While shooting a faster arrow will make you more accurate, the benefits added by stacking with a bow are marginal. When a bow begins to stack, there is very little energy added to the arrow compared to the additional draw weight.

Bows work by storing energy from the tension and flexion of the limbs of the bow - and the cams, if you’re talking about compound bows. The further you pull the limbs, the more energy is stored in the limbs. When you draw a bow to the point where it begins to stack, the draw weight increases exponentially but adds very little energy to the bow. You will lose accuracy while holding the additional weight and aiming at the target.

Reduce or Eliminate Stacking

I hope by this point I’ve shown you that stacking can be a problem. If you want to minimize the effect of stacking, here are some things that you can do to reduce or eliminate stacking: get a bow that is the right size, alter your shooting form, modify your current bow or switch to a compound bow.

The best thing you can do to reduce or eliminate stacking is to get a bow that is properly sized for you. If you have a bow with a draw length that matches your draw length, you should reach the right form before your bow begins to stack. Some people will tell you that you can shoot with a bow that is too small for you, but that can lead to other problems (see my point above on the argument for stacking).

Which leads me to my second point. Although not advisable, you can alter your form to decrease your draw length so you can shoot with a shorter bow. The biggest issue with altering your form is it is difficult to remain consistent. Your form in archery depends on many different aspects including your foot position, your body position and the way that you’re gripping the handle of the bow. You would have to make changes to each aspect of your form and maintain those positions every time you shoot. If you are determined to shoot on a shorter bow, it is possible, just be aware that it can make your form awkward.

If you have a takedown recurve bow, it is possible to change the limbs on the bow to eliminate stacking. Takedown recurve bows are modular in design allowing you to replace components to suit you. If you have a takedown recurve bow that is too small - maybe you bought one from a friend or inherited one - you could replace the limbs with ones that are longer. The additional length should increase the draw length of the bow, which will change the point that the bow stacks.

You could also elect to go with a compound bow. As I said earlier, stacking is usually used to refer to traditional bow types, so buying a compound bow would allow you to avoid the problem. Since compound bows typically hit the wall, you know when you’ve hit the optimal draw length and can avoid stacking altogether.

Summary

Stacking is the disproportionate increase in draw weight when you’ve drawn a bow past its optimal draw length. Stacking typically affects traditional bow types - longbows or recurve bows - as compound bows hit something called the wall when you’ve reached the optimal draw length. If you want to avoid stacking, you should get a bow with the proper draw length for your wingspan, alter your shooting form - not recommended - change the limbs of a takedown recurve or going with a compound bow.

Thank you for taking the time to read my article. If you have anything to add, if I got something wrong, or if you disagree with my positions, please comment below.

I hope you learned something valuable in my article that helps you on your journey into the sport of archery. Please join my email list to keep up to date on articles as they come out.


Mark Jeffreys

Mark has been interested in archery since he was 8 years old and tried to make a bow using a stick and a rubber band. Mark enjoys the challenge that archery provides and is constantly seeking to improve. His mission is to pass on what he’s learned to help other archers.