Bow Buyer’s Guide: Confused About Which Bow to Buy? If So, Here’s How to Narrow Down the Selection Among a Plethora of Choices
Posted on May 2, 2014
Subjective taste is a term I believe goes hand in hand with the sport of archery. Due to its design of using the body to cast an arrow, this sport demands an intimate fit and feel when it comes to shooting gear, meaning that there is certainly no one-type, one-size bow that works supremely for all. And then there’s the budget to worry about. There are lots and lots of great bows on the market today, but which one will work best for your physique, shooting needs and wallet?
Well, in this brief article I will do my best to capture all the wisdom you’ll need to shop more confidently and to quickly narrow down the best bow for you. So here it goes.
Long or Short?
Short and lightweight is the trend in today’s bows, but is this the best setup for all? No, I don’t think so. Shorter, lighter bows are certainly easier to maneuver in a tree stand or blind, and in tight spots when stalking and shooting from your knees. But a slightly longer bow still works pretty well in such instances. So, I wouldn’t let this factor overwhelm your criteria for which bow to buy.
What I believe is a more important factor in bow length is how the string interacts your face at anchor, based on the release aid you use. Some archers prefer shorter-nose releases, while others do not. Which release you use will inherently affect what your draw length is and how the string bisects your face and nose at anchor.
Most archers use the tip of their nose to the string as an anchor point at full draw. Ideally, you want to keep your head positioned naturally, not tilting up or down in order to get the string to touch your nose correctly. The bow’s axle length will have a huge affect on how it feels for you.
Also, be sure your release hand is anchored solidly against your cheekbone or at the base of your ear. DO NOT anchor past the point of your ear, as this won’t provide a solid position and indentifies too long of a draw. If you’re unsure of your shooting form, please ask a pro-shop rep or expert friend to help.
Generally speaking, shorter draw lengths (26-28 inches) go best with shorter-axle bows, and longer draws (29-31 inches) go best with longer-axle bows. So keep this in mind.
Brace Height & Forgiveness
I think this is the most important factor when selecting a good hunting bow. Please do not get caught up in the “speed game” most talk about at archery dealers and pro shops. Speed is good but only when it’s controllable, and for beginning to intermediate level bowhunters, this trait can cause more problems than good. Trust me.
For this reason, I highly recommend staying with a moderate/balanced brace height of 7 to 7 1/2 inches. This will help the bow perform with more forgiveness and easier-to-achieve and control accuracy, especially with baggy hunting clothes on while you’re chilled to the bone from sitting in a cold treestand.
Speaking of forgiveness — extra-light bows will often times feel great to pick up but they won’t shoot quite as forgiving as others, given other the technology features of the bows are on par. Pay attention to this and don’t get caught up in the “lightweight game” either.
It’s important to note that if you plan on shooting with a bow-mounted quiver, large stabilizer and bulky bow sight, that you consider the added weight of these items. This will factor into how light the bow should start off — so the bow doesn’t get overall too heavy for carrying around in the woods.
But, if you often hunt only from a treestand and remove your quiver for shooting and handling, then a slightly heavier bow will provide improved shot stability and forgiveness.
Smoothness & Shot Feel
I don’t recommend ordering a bow online or through a catalog blindly without shooting. You must shoot before your buy, again, because archery is intimate and your gear must match you and feel right.
Nearly all of today’s bows feature longer risers and short, parallel-style limbs, which promote less vibration during the shot. This is an outstanding feature and makes the bow’s quieter.
However, just because a bow shoots quietly and vibration free doesn’t mean it’s the best right off the bat. The bow’s overall balance, draw smoothness and grip should better the shooting experience. Shoot various bows and determine how each one reacts after the shot. Only you and only you can determine which one feels best.
A smooth-pulling bow is a Godsend in the deer woods. Due to the high adjustability of many bow cams today, extra-smooth isn’t always possible due to engineering intricacies. This means just because your friend’s bow pulls great at 29 inches doesn’t mean it’ll pull the same for you at 27, so pay attention.
I’ve noticed that shorter-axle bows, those with rotating modules on the cams for easy draw-length adjustability, seem to be optimized for a smoother pull at shorter draw lengths, while the longer-axle bows pull smoother at longer draw lengths.
I’d pay extra special attention to the bow’s grip. Does it offer a comfortable, consistent engagement? Will it feel warm enough in a cold treestand? How does it feel when shooting with a glove on? Ideally, the bow’s grip should place firm, comfortable pressure at the base of your thumb when shooting. The narrower the width of the grip, yet still comfortable, the better your consistency will be from shot to shot.
Try It Outfitted
One last thing I’ll note is this: when shopping, be sure to bring a few add-on accessories that you like using. Things like your bow quiver, stabilizer and even a similar sized sight. Although some shops will frown upon you attaching these accessories to a shop bow, they may not mind.
By doing this, you’ll get a true sense of how the bow balances and holds at full draw fully outfitted before you commit to the sell. Many times, archers loved shooting a bow bare in the shop, but then after adding certain add-ons, disliked how it handled and shot.
Your hunting bow is simply your partner in crime, the thing you depend on most to claim success. For this reason, don’t take the shopping experience lightly and don’t let a friend or shop owner pressure you into a sell.
Check out a variety of bows and test shoot as many as possible, at least with a quiver and stabilizer on (if you use one to shoot with), and go with the bow that balances the best, shoots very accurate (even with a forced shooting flaw), pulls smoothly like a dream, and allows your hand to melt into the handle. That’s going to be the right bow for you.
$600 Dream Bows
The Torrent offers superb technology and great overall specs to make it one of the best mid-grade bows on the market. It starts with a solid forged machined 6061 riser, well sculptured to go perfectly with a compact 31-inch axle length. The bow’s 7-inch brace height blends speed with forgiveness, while the bow’s Fluid Cam and I-Glide cable rod provide relentless shooting smoothness for that pleasurable shooting experience. It offers a 322 fps IBO speed, 4.2 pound weight, and comes loaded with Bow Jax limb silencers.
If you savor top-end Hoyt bow technology, but just can’t afford it, then rest easy. Hoyt made the Charger exactly with you in mind. This bow is loaded with the company’s high-end technology yet at nearly half the price, features such as the Tec-Lite riser, Multi-Layer laminated split limbs, ZRX Cam & 1/2 eccentrics, Pro-Lock limb pockets, Stealth Shot string dampner, Parallel-Split Limb Technology, and more. This bow is compact at 31 inches axle length, and provides a 6 3/34-inch brace height and 3.8 pound weight. IBO speed is a quick 325 fps! The bow also comes in a long-draw version with a 7 1/2-inch brace height.
Looking for a fast, dependable, great shooting single-cam bow, then look no further than the Outlaw. This 32-inch, 3.8-pound bow delivers 330 fps IBO speed using a moderate 7-inch brace height, perfect for all hunting application. The bow’s Throttle Cam Tech offers easy draw-length adjustability using a rotating module. It comes complete and ready to shoot right out of the box with arrow rest, string loop, peep sight, sight and wrist sling.
Ultra-smoothness is the cornerstone of this mid-grade bow, making it a deadly hunter in any situation. But more than that, this bow emits little noise and shock upon arrow delivery. Thanks to a long riser and 33-inch axle length, this bow shoots extra forgiving and accurate, yet the bow’s high-performance E3 Cams whip out arrows at a very fast 322 fps IBO. Other specs include four pound weight, 7-inch brace height, and draw length range of 26-31 inches.
Smoothness and great forgiveness was the primary factor when building the new Bow Tech Experience. Yet this 32-axle bow, along with a 7-inch brace height, still belts out arrows at a blazing 335 fps IBO.
Different cam designs offer different tradeoffs, but Mathews’ Monster Chili was created to offer maximum benefit across the board. This fast bow offers an extra-smooth draw cycle, a forgiving 7-inch brace, and one of the most silent low-recoil/noise arrow deliveries of any bow on the market, making it a must-shoot model.
String angle, and axle length, is an important factor when selecting a bow. At full draw, the string should lightly touch your nose, without you titling your head up or down, which promotes proper form and relaxed shooting. Generally speaking, and depending on the release aid used, shorter draws go with shorter bows, and longer draws with longer draws.
Many bows will feel great when test shooting at the store, but how do they feel loaded with accessories. There’s only one way to find out, and that’s to put some on. Most professional dealers will assist you with this in order to create buyer confidence and satisfaction. If not, maybe you need to visit a different retailer.
Text and Photos by Joe Bell