How Fast Do Arrows Really Travel From A Bow?

How Fast Do Arrows Really Travel From A Bow?

If you’ve ever seen an arrow being shot from a bow, you know how fast they are. I mean, it looks like they just appear on the target instantaneously. In this post, I’m going to detail how fast arrows actually are and break down the factors that affect the speed of an arrow.

On average, a recurve bow will shoot arrows at around 140 to 200 fps, and compound bows will shoot arrows at 230 to 280 fps. To increase the speed of your arrows, you should use a higher draw weight and draw length, and lower grain arrows.

But understanding these speeds, how they’re measured, and what factors affect them can help you have a more complete understanding of your gear, and of what these numbers actually mean.

The average speed of an arrow

Most manufacturers measure the speed of arrows in fps, which means “feet per second”. This is the distance, in feet, that the arrow will travel each second after being shot.

You might see the numbers bow advertisers put on their bows and get excited. A typical compound bow will be claimed to shoot arrows at 300-330 fps. You do need to understand the measurement to comprehend these numbers.

The speeds advertised on bows are point-blank speeds, meaning that the arrow speed is measured at the moment it leaves the bow. Since we know that arrows lose speed over time in the air, this basically means that actual arrow speeds are much lower when they hit the target.

The different factors that affect arrow speeds, which we’re going to cover later, stay consistent when measuring arrow speeds. To make the testing conditions consistent, most bow manufacturers use the IBO testing standards.

IBO tests are performed with a draw weight of 70 lbs, a draw length of 30″, and a 350-grain arrow. These controlled conditions, together with the point-blank measurements, make bow speeds comparable.

This means that if you look at a bow advertised to shoot arrows at 330 fps, and one that shoots them at 330 fps, you know that the first one will really be faster because the speeds were measured under the same conditions.

But because you use the bow at a distance from the target, and might use lower draw weight or draw length, the actual speed on your arrows will end up significantly lower than what’s advertised.

What factors affect arrow speed?

The main factors that affect the speed of your arrows are the draw weight and draw length of the bow, and the weight of your arrows.

Like I mentioned before, the distance to the target has a lot to do with the speed of the arrow. Because of air resistance, the farther the target, the slower the arrow will be when it hits.

But it’s hard to know exactly how much it’ll slow down over time because it depends on the aerodynamics of the arrow, and on the speed itself. The calculation is pretty much out of the scope of this post. Here, we’ll focus on the properties of the equipment and their effect on arrow velocity.

I’m also going to approximate how each of these factors affects the speed of the arrows, so you can estimate your bow’s actual arrow speed of your bow.

1. The draw weight of the bow

A bow with a higher draw weight can hold more energy while at full draw, which will then be transferred to the arrow, resulting in a higher speed.

This means that if you shoot a higher draw weight, your actual arrow speed will be higher. The common rule of thumb is that adding 10 lbs to your draw weight results in a 10-20 fps increase in arrow speed.

Considering the IBO setup, obviously, not all archers use a 70 lbs bow. This means that if, for example, you use a 40 lbs bow, your arrow speed will be 30-60 fps lower than advertised.

2. The draw length of the bow

Draw length is another factor of arrow speed. With a higher draw length, the arrow is affected by the bow for a longer distance. This results in faster arrows shot out of the bow.

Archers use different draw lengths, and higher draw length bows shoot faster arrows. Draw length’s impact on arrow speed is typically estimated to be around 10 fps for every 1″ draw length.

In the standard IBO setup, 30″ bows are used. If, for example, you’re using a 28″ bow, your actual arrow speed will be 20 fps slower than the speed rating of the bow.

Learn more about draw length in a detailed post I’ve created about measuring your draw length. I have everything you need to know there.

3. Total arrow weight

The weight of the arrow is a major factor in its velocity. If you use one bow, with the same setting, to shoot arrows with different grains, heavier arrows will end up slower.

The reason is that the bow propels the arrow with the same amount of kinetic energy, which means a higher speed for lighter arrows.

For the physics nerds, like me, the equation that describes the relationship between kinetic energy (K), arrow mass (m), and arrow speed (v) is:

$latex v^{2}=2\frac{K}{m}$

As you can see, the higher the arrow weight, the lower the speed will end up.

The common numbers that describe the effect of arrow weight on arrow speed average at around 3 fps for every 10-grain difference. Using the equation above, though, you may be able to calculate more accurate numbers.

Since IBO conditions use 350-grain arrows, if, for example, you decide to use 400-grain arrows, your arrows will be around 30 fps slower than the speed rating.

Other factors

There are other elements that might affect the speed of your arrows, though less significant than those we’ve covered so far.

The type of string you’re using and any accessories on it might change the amount of energy transferred to the arrows, changing their speed. For example, a more elastic material bowstring can transfer energy to the arrow more efficiently, resulting in higher speeds. The weight of the string matters as well, and the weight of the accessories on it.

The actual shape of the arrow changes its aerodynamics, which can affect how much speed it’ll lose while flying through the air. This factor is a bit hard to quantify, though.

Additional factors might include the design of the bow, lubrication of different components of the bow, and countless other elements. Most of these things are harder to measure and quantify, but you should be aware that they do play a role in the overall speed of your arrows.

Is arrow speed important?

Arrow speed is something you should consider, but not stress about.

As a general rule, faster arrows will have a flatter trajectory which lowers your margin of error, while heavier arrows can carry energy more efficiently and be more reliable.

It’s all a matter of balance – you’ll have to find the right fit for you. Being aware of your arrow speed is important because knowing your gear is important, but having high numbers for the sake of the numbers isn’t something you should pursue.

The real thing most bowhunters consider is the kinetic energy of the arrow, which in turn determines how much it can penetrate a target. Bigger targets require more penetration power, which means you need more energy to shoot them. Heavy grain arrows, for example, can be really slow but still carry high kinetic energy.

Does arrow speed affect your effective range?

While faster arrows are able to travel farther, your effective range might be higher with slower, heavier arrows. That’s because heavier arrows are less affected by the winds and elements, so you’re able to shoot accurately with them at higher distances.

If we’re actually considering a higher arrow speed using the same grain arrows (which means using a higher draw weight and draw length), the faster arrows will have a higher effective range. That’s because the flatter flight curve will leave less room for human error in the shot.

As you can see, this isn’t a clear-cut answer. There are multiple factors that determine both the arrow speed and the effective range of your shot, and each of them affects the properties of your shot differently.

If you want to read more about effective range, I actually wrote a detailed post about how far recurve bows can shoot. I think you’ll find it really interesting.


We’ve discussed how fast arrows travel from a bow and the difference between the actual velocity of arrows and the advertised bow fps. We also detailed the factors that affect your arrow speed in-depth, like the draw weight and draw length of the bow, the arrow grain, and more.

After all, having is a fast bow is fun, but it’s more important that your accuracy is at its best, and that the draw cycle of the bow is smooth. If you consider anything in regard to your arrow travel speed, it might be more important that you consider the kinetic energy and not the velocity.

I hope in this post I was able to teach you something new, and that you learned everything you wanted to know about arrow speed.

Have fun shooting!