By Tony J. Peterson, Equipment Editor
No piece of archery equipment can approach the importance of a bow. Every year manufacturers unleash a torrent of new bows with sleeker looks, lighter weights, and design improvements that result in top-quality performance.
For many of us, the process of picking a new bow is simply to take whichever manufacturer has produced a bow that fit our style years ago and to stick with them. This loyalty is rampant in the archery industry and has catapulted some companies into serious sales. There's nothing wrong with that.
But if you're an adventurous soul with a spare $500 or $1,000 (or more!) sitting in your checking account, the opportunity to find a bow that perfectly fits your style has never been better. Ask any one of us what our favorite bow has been throughout our hunting career and undoubtedly you'll see our eyes glaze over as we fondly recall a bow that settled perfectly in hand and seemed to aim itself. This bow will likely be the same one that resulted in more filled tags than embarrassing misses. Just about anyone with a decade or more of bowhunting under their belt has run across his/her own version of "the perfect bow."
To find your own, get to the nearest pro shop and start shooting. The ultimate choice will have very little to do with what you're told and everything to do with how it feels. Shoot several models that are set up to your specific draw weight and length requirements. Shoot them with your favorite release aid to ensure a higher level of familiarity and comfort. Make mental notes on how the bow feels through the entire draw cycle. Pay attention to how solid the back wall is, how each bow settles into your hand, and how much hand shock you feel.
Keep an open mind and sooner or later you'll wrap your hands around a grip that feels just right and after a few shots you will know -- you have found it. Following is a litany of bows that will satisfy shooters ranging from experts to neophytes, senior citizens to six-year-olds, and just about everyone in between.
(Note: All lengths listed are measured axle to axle. Arrow speeds listed are based on IBO standards of 70 lbs. draw weight, 30" draw length, and 350-grain arrow. Prices are approximate suggested retail.)
1. Alpine Archery
One of the best deals in bows is Alpine's new F1 Fireball ($579). It would be forgivable to assume that serious concessions to technology, quality or performance have been made to achieve such a bargain price point, but that's not the case. The 34" F1 Fireball reaches speeds of 337 fps largely through parallel limbs and Alpine's Velocitec Cam, which uses patent-pending Dynamic Load Balancing Technology. In short, the Dynamic Load Balancing Technology allows the yoke harness to follow a straight line at all times through the process of drawing the bow, which keeps the cam perfectly straight through the entire draw cycle and ensures a higher level of accuracy. The 4.2-lb. F1 Fireball features a 61„8" brace height and is finished in Mossy Oak Break-Up Infinity.
Alpine also offers bows designed for women and youngsters. The Blush ($399) is a perfect women's bow with draw length adjustments from 24"-27", maximum speed of 290 fps, and length of 30". For youths, the 2.5-lb. Lil Guff ($219) is a great choice.
2. APA Innovations
The new Viper V7 ($860) is a single-cam bow with a 7" brace height that achieves arrow speeds up to 332 fps. At only 31.25", this compact and lightweight (3.9 lbs.) bow is perfect for everything from treestands and ground blinds to spot-and-stalk expeditions. The V7 features an 80% letoff, and you can choose between 50, 60, and 70-lb. models.
APA is known for user-friendly technology like the Fang Riser, but one of the coolest features of the V7 is the Cam Lock technology that allows you to change strings and cables without the use of a bow press. Other Viper V7 notables include the APA-exclusive nock wrench, broadhead wrench, and carbide sharpener, which are all built into the bow.
You'll also have the new option to order any APA bow in the entire product line in Buckskin Stealth finish, a neutral beige color on the riser that fades to black at the limbs.
3. Athens Archery
Athens' newest bow, the Afflixtion ($799), is a feature-packed hunting rig that generates arrow speeds in excess of 337 fps through its EV2X Extreme Velocity Duo Cams.
The 35" Afflixtion is built to hunt, as evidenced by its solid back wall, Bowjax Dampening System, new Torque Reducing Cable Slide, and comfortable CNC-machined contour grips. Draw weights are available in 10-lb. increments ranging from 40-70 lbs., and draw lengths extend from 25"-30". The Afflixtion's mass weight is 4.3 lbs. Several finish options are available.
4. Bear Archery
The new Carnage ($850) is a great example of speed meeting forgiveness. The engineers at Bear achieved this feat through their Bear Skeleton Cam and Idler wheel, a single-cam system that delivers speeds of 345 fps while maintaining a comfortable draw cycle starting at a 7.25" brace height. I thought this sounded too good to be true when I stopped by the Bear booth at this year's ATA Show but was quickly persuaded to think otherwise after firing a few arrows through a Carnage. The Carnage weighs 4 lbs., measures 32", and is loaded with other hunter-friendly features like the one-piece Slim Bear Grip and Bear's signature Dual Arc Offset String Suppressors that pull double-duty when it comes to eliminating shot noise.
Bear's line of bows also includes a high-end women's bow -- the Home Wrecker ($400). The 3.2-lb., 29.75" Home Wrecker peaks out at 50 lbs. draw weight and offers 22"-28" draw length. A unique Ready To Hunt (RTH) option is offered with the Home Wrecker as well. RTH bows, sold fully equipped with popular Trophy Ridge accessories, retail for $500.
5. BowTech Archery
I've been a huge fan of BowTech bows for years and couldn't wait to get my hands on the new Invasion CPX ($949). The CPX stands for Center Pivot Extreme, which is a BowTech-specific technology that uses low-friction components and works in conjunction with the new deflexed riser design and OverDrive Binary Cams to reach arrow speeds up to 343 fps. You will immediately notice the 100% tunable split buss cable harnesses that attach to the cam-synchronizing axle, which ensures perfect cam synchronization and an extremely comfortable draw cycle. The 3.9-lb., 31.5" Invasion CPX has a 7" brace height and 80% letoff.
One of the most popular bows for 2010 was the Destroyer 350 ($849), and fans of this bow will be happy to know that BowTech has kept it in the lineup. The Destroyer 350 sports all of BowTech's exclusive technology to produce bone-crunching arrow speeds of 350 fps and over 95 foot-pounds of kinetic energy.
6. Darton Archery
Measuring just a shade less than 34" long, the new DS-3800 ($930) is a compact hunting bow that fires arrows upwards of 350 fps. Blazing arrow speeds are achieved through a 6" brace height, Darton's DualSync Cam System, and a Quad Limb design that maximizes bow efficiency while minimizing fatigue.
The DS-3800's draw length can be adjusted from 25"-31" without a bow press through the use of draw-length modules. Other notables include a True Center Ergonomic Slim Throat Grip and a mass weight of 4.1 lbs.
For beginners and youths, Darton offers the 2.9-lb., 32" Ranger III ($200). This truly versatile bow allows for draw- weight adjustments from 15-50 lbs. and draw-length adjustments from 17"-28" to meet the needs of growing archers.
7. Diamond Archery
The Dead Eye ($749) is the fastest bow Diamond has ever produced. At only 3.95 lbs., the single-cam Dead Eye is a lightweight bow loaded with features.
Through a combination of technologies like Throttle Cam, which is designed to eliminate tuning issues through an external, custom bearing assembly; and FLX-Guard, a cable-containment system designed to "flex" through the shot cycle and eliminate riser torque, the Dead Eye achieves speeds up to 343 fps. It feels like a much more expensive bow. A 61„8" brace height, 80% letoff, and overall length of only 32" are other notable aspects of the Dead Eye.
To further enhance the sales appeal of the Dead Eye, Diamond now offers this bow in a R.A.K. Equipped System package. R.A.K. (Ready, Aim, Kill) bows have all of the accessories installed and factory-tested. The result is the closest thing you'll find to a hunt-ready bow right out of the box.
8. Elite Archery
Elite Archery has produced some impressive bows over the last few years. Having had the good fortune to hunt with the GT500 and more recently the Judge, I can say that Elite has earned a permanent spot on my bow rack, and the company hasn't slowed down for 2011.
Borne from the Z28, the new Hunter ($869) is designed for comfortable, accurate shooting with a generous 7.5" brace height and 80% letoff. At only 31.75", the 3.9-lb. Hunter is ideal for the tight quarters of ground blinds or the tricky shot angles required of treestand hunters. Draw lengths range from 25"-30", draw weights from 40-80 lbs.
If you're interested in a faster option, Elite offers the Pulse ($869), which attains speeds up to 343 fps largely due to Elite's EFX Cams. The 4.3-lb. Pulse features a 6" brace height, measures 31.25", and is available in several finish combinations like Realtree AP Snow and Ninja Edition Matte Black.
The engineers at Hoyt have taken their use of carbon to a new level for 2011, and the result is one of the coolest looking bows on the market -- the 32" Carbon Element ($1,299). The advantages of carbon technology go far beyond aesthetics though, and you will immediately notice that the 3.6-lb. Carbon Element is a dream to shoot.
The carbon tube design of the riser does more than reduce this bow's weight; it also reduces shot noise and vibration, proves more comfortable than metal to hold in chilly weather, and is extremely strong and durable. It's obvious that Hoyt took care of the big details when designing this bow, but I'm a stickler for little things as well and as soon as I handled my Carbon Element I noticed the Silent Shelf, which cuts down on unwanted arrow and drop-away rest noise, and the offset stabilizer mount that works to counterbalance accessories and promote shot accuracy. XTS Pro Arc limbs, the Fuel Cam & ½ System, and a comfortable 7" brace height work together to produce speeds up to 323 fps.
Other new options from Hoyt include the CRX 32 (32") and the CRX 35 (35"). Packed with Hoyt technology, both bows have 7" brace heights, produce arrow speeds in the neighborhood of 320 fps, and retail for $899.
Heading up the bow line for Limbsaver in 2011 is the Proton ($750). Notable features include the straight riser design, H.E.A.T. modular cam system that essentially balances the load on the axles and reduces cam lean, and a new hardwood grip design.
The 32" Proton weighs 3.8 lbs., features a 7" brace height, and will hit speeds upwards of 330 fps. To ensure accuracy and performance, the Proton is fitted with Winner's Choice bowstrings and cables. It's available in peak weights of 50, 60, and 70 lbs. and is covered in Next G-1 camo.
11. Martin Archery
The latest in the Firecat line from Martin Archery is the 3.7-lb., 32.5" Firecat 400 ($650). Technologies like PowerTough Limbs, Nitro 2.0 Hybrid Pro Cams, and the RotoCup (Pivoting Alignment System), which allows for 15 lbs. of draw weight adjustment, all culminate in a bow that feels like it's severely underpriced.
The Firecat 400 fires arrows at blazing speeds that top out at 345 fps, even with a forgiving 7" brace height. Several finishes are available.
Another great option from Martin is the Onza 3 ($650), which has Nitro 2.0 Cams; Hammerhead Bowstrings; and a solid-block, CNC-machined aluminum riser. The 33.5" Onza 3, weighing an even 4 lbs., can reach arrow speeds of 340 fps.
You'll immediately notice the generous 7.25" brace height and the Saddleback Thermal Grip, a feature destined to become a favorite with those of us who spend countless hours hunting in freezing temperatures.
For 2011, the popular Z7 bow family has grown to include four bow models with the Z7 Xtreme ($899) leading the pack. When I got my hands on an Xtreme, I had the bow set up and shooting bullet holes and bull's-eyes so quickly I felt almost cheated out of the joy of tweaking a bow to shooting perfection. At only 28", the 3.98-lb. Z7 Xtreme is a compact hunting rig that epitomizes efficiency. Through the new SE5 Composite Limb System and the ZX Cam, this bow produces speeds up to 330 fps while remaining extremely comfortable to shoot with a 73„8" brace height. The Z7 Xtreme, along with the rest of the Z7 line, features the unique Grid Lock Riser and Harmonic Damping System.
Mathews has also added four new bows to the McPherson Series Monster line. If you're interested in speed, you would be wise to check out the dual-cam MR5 ($999), which weighs 4.5 lbs., measures 33", and achieves arrow speeds beyond the 360 fps mark. A combination of Quad V-Lock Limbs, a 5" brace height, and the revolutionary Advanced Vectoring System work together to produce such mind-blowing speeds.
13. Mission Archery
Mission Archery has always impressed me with the sheer versatility and adjustability of its bows. For 2011, Mission presents four new bows, including the Craze ($299) and the VXT ($699). Arguably one of the best deals on the market is the 3.6-lb., 28" Craze.
The dual-cam Craze features a 7.5" brace height and arrow speeds up to 306 fps. The price, technology, and craftsmanship pretty much seal the deal with this bow, but it's the insane amount of adjustability that put it over the top. Fifteen to 70 lbs. of draw weight and 11" of draw length adjustability (19"-30") ensure that this bow will fit most shooters. Several convenient bow packages containing all the necessary accessories are available for the Mission line.
The VXT ($699) is a 7" brace height, 34" bow that achieves arrow speeds of 330 fps through the Voyager Single Cam system. Other highlights include a fully machined riser, Zebra Hybrid strings and cables, and a mass weight of 4.23 lbs. To accommodate a wide range of bowhunters, the VXT is available in draw weights from 35-70 lbs. and draw lengths of 26" — 31.5".
14. Parker Compound Bows
Several bow companies offer package deals, but no other companies have gone to the lengths Parker has with its Inferno FireStorm Package ($799). This comprehensive package includes the Inferno bow that measures 303„8", weighs only 3.75 lbs., features a 7.5" brace height, and is capable of arrow speeds up to 320 fps.
The bow is outfitted with a Black Gold AMP sight, Whisker Biscuit or Hostage rest, quick-detach quiver, wrist sling, stabilizer, and peep sight with aligning tube. Beyond the bow, the FireStorm Package includes six Carbon Express arrows with fieldpoints and six Tru-Fire T1 broadheads. To top it off, the entire package is protected by an SKB hard case.
Every couple of years a company will turn the archery industry upside down with a new way of thinking. The year 2011 belongs to the folks at G5 Outdoors and their Prime bows. The design of Prime's Parallel Cam Technology has forced a collective shift in how we think about bows, cam lean, limb torque, and nock travel.
In layman's terms, Parallel Cam Technology allows the strings and cables to remain perfectly centered throughout the entire draw cycle, which balances the stress perfectly and alleviates accuracy-robbing ailments and tuning issues associated with traditional cam designs. These features come in two models.
The Centroid ($999) is a 34.25", 4.3-lb. bow that reaches arrow speeds of 332 fps. Comfortable shooting is achieved through a 7.25" brace height, and beyond the revolutionary Parallel Cam Technology you will notice other G5 notables like the TI-Glide Titanium Flexing Cable System that flexes through the draw cycle to further reduce side load on the cables and cam lean. The Shift ($999) is a slightly shorter bow (30") with similar specifics.
16. PSE Archery
The first animal I shot with an X-Force bow was a blue wildebeest, and I could not believe how far the arrow went after passing through the bull on a quartering shot. Since then I've continually been impressed by PSE's designs, and the newest generation, the 4.4-lb. Dream Season EVO ($850), does not disappoint. The Dream Season EVO offers up 345 fps arrow speeds through its fourth generation, seriously preloaded, beyond-parallel X-Tech Split Limbs and AXE+ Cams. Each 32.5" EVO features simple module draw length adjustments (25.5" — 30"), a 6" brace height, 75% letoff, and the new Planar Flex Riser design and Centerlock Pockets.
PSE has also taken its popular Bow Madness ($600) and made it even better for 2011. The newest Bow Madness measures 32"; is one of the most efficient single-cam bows on the market; and offers a rare mix of comfort, smoothness, and speed (331 fps!) in one package. Notables include a 7" brace height; mass weight of 3.85 lbs.; a redesigned low-flex riser; and peak weights of 50, 60, and 70 lbs. The Bow Madness also gives you the simplicity of modular draw length adjustments (25" — 30"), something you'll appreciate when fine-tuning your new PSE to your own specs.
17. Quest Bowhunting
Over the last few years, the engineers at G5 Outdoors have produced some of the best products on the market, and their Quest bows have earned a following for being top-quality without the sticker shock.
This year, the new REV ($630) heads up the Quest line. The 3.9-lb. REV features a generous 7.5" brace height; measures 32"; and is available in peak weights of 50, 60, and 70 lbs. Sync Cam Technology produces arrow speeds of 320 fps, and several finish options are available including the truly unique G Fade Durafuse finish.
Quest also offers the new single-cam Torch ($399). Available in draw lengths from 24" — 28" and draw weights from 30 — 45 lbs., the Torch is a great choice for women or youth archers. The 33" Torch (6" brace height) is available in a kit ($499) for those who prefer one-stop shopping. The kit contains a sight, rest, quiver, and peep sight.
18. Rytera Archery
Some bow manufacturers prefer subtlety in their bow designs, while others adopt a bolder approach. One of the boldest companies, Rytera, has released one of the most innovative bows on the market -- the new Seeker 365 ($600). The 4.6-lb. Seeker 365 features a grip that is attached to carbon rods that extend from the riser.
This allows you to customize brace height from 5.75" to 7.75" depending on personal preference. On top of that, sights can be mounted on the riser or on the grip section, where side adjustments can be made to level the sight. Grip adjustments can also be made to cater to high-wrist, low-wrist, or anything in between. Other notables of the 33" Seeker 365 include dual SOS String Suppressors, Pulse-Pro Speed Cams (module adjustment), and PowerTough Limbs.
19. Strother Archery
A relative newcomer to the bow scene, Strother Archery has certainly created some buzz among bowhunters. At the forefront of the 2011 line is the SX-1 ($819), which measures 341„16", weighs 4.1 lbs., and features a 6.5" brace height. Arrow speeds in the neighborhood of 347 fps are possible through the Hyper-S Cam System, which harnesses the energy created by the modular hybrid cams and Precision Limb Technology.
Strother Archery also offers a high-performance women's bow -- the Allure ($799). The Allure measures 335„8", weighs 4 lbs., and features a 61„16" brace height. Peak draw weights of 40, 50, and 60 lbs. and draw lengths from 24"-26" are available. The Allure is capable of arrow speeds of 296 fps, and the ladies can choose either 65% or 75% letoff.
20. Winchester Archery
When I first heard that Winchester was coming out with a compound bow line, I thought we might see a couple of bows the first year. When I stopped by the booth at the ATA Show I realized Winchester had gone far beyond sticking a toe into the archery waters, instead opting to dive in headfirst. The entire line consists of six models that range from the flagship Quicksilver 34 ($800) to the beginner and youth-friendly Destiny ($300).
The Quicksilver 34 is a 7"-brace-height bow capable of speeds up to 343 fps. This impressive feat is achieved through Winchester's Accu-Speed Technology eccentrics, a two-track system that synchronizes both cams to fully exploit stored limb energy.
The "34" in the name refers to the bow's length, while draw options range from 27"-30". The Quicksilver 34 weighs 3.9 lbs. and features 55% to 80% letoff. Topping off the bow is the eye-catching Proveil Reaper Woods finish (Jet Black is also available).