April 08, 2022
By Joe Bell
I’m amazed with all the hype behind new bows each year. Much of the buzz revolves around things like reduced hand shock, increased speed and efficiency, and easier tuning capability. These are certainly all desirable traits to have in a new rig, but they are not necessarily the most important.
Other elements, such as how the bow feels at full draw, how it handles and points in the woods, and whether or not it makes you more stable while aiming, are all attributes that make a huge difference in improving hunting accuracy. Yet these elements don’t seem to get as much attention.
I consider the following four factors crucial when shopping for a new bow. Only by shooting a wide range of bows can you truly decipher the right model for you.
Dynamic String Angle
When you come to full draw, the bowstring makes a sideways “V.” This V crosses near your face at a certain angle. The angle is unique, since it’s based on the bow’s draw length, axle-to-axle length, limb angle and bend, and the diameter of the cams. These elements all impact how sharp or gradual this bowstring angle becomes.
Ideally, you want the angle of the bowstring to fit your face and anchor position perfectly, allowing for three points of contact. This means that at full draw, the bowstring should touch the tip of your nose slightly, your release hand should be anchored solidly against your jawbone, and your peep should be aligned dead center with your eye and your sight aperture. To maintain proper shooting form, your head must stay in a natural position — not pointing up or down in an unusual way.
If the angle is too sharp, based on the bowstring’s dynamic position, then you must tilt your head downward, sometimes shifting the shoulder’s position as well. Ultimately, this disrupts good shooting posture. This is a common negative for archers using super-compact bows with fairly long-to-moderate draw lengths.
To accommodate the steep string angle, you could increase your draw length to bring the bowstring closer to your face — allowing for three points of contact. But again, this would alter proper mechanics. A shorter-nose release could help remedy the longer draw-length issue. But keep in mind, this will probably cause you to change your anchor slightly, and there will now be additional bowstring contact against your face. This could be perceived as creating another inconsistency, so be cautious with this detail.
Bottom line: The bowstring’s effective string angle should be comfortable for your style of shooting, posture, and anchor position. If it’s not, then shooting consistency will probably suffer.
Speed vs. Smoothness
Many bowhunters still want a fast bow. Arrow speed is important to minimize low and high misses, plus it offers additional penetrating power on game. However, should speed take priority over other attributes, such as smoothness?
In my opinion, never. Yet when bowhunters shop for a new bow, they’re always comparing bows based on IBO speed ratings with average-weight hunting arrows. My advice is to make speed a secondary trait; not a primary or make-or-break factor.
In the deer woods, smoothness counts for a whole lot more than raw performance. When hunting, you must draw slowly and deliberately, often in awkward positions or in cold weather. A fast bow with a lousy draw cycle will detract from your stealth and deadliness.
Fortunately, today’s bow engineers recognize the importance of this feature and are on a continual mission to improve drawing smoothness without sacrificing speed. Bowtech, Hoyt, Mathews, Prime, PSE, and Elite, all produce flagship bows with exceptional draw cycles.
A smooth draw is not just found in the cam design, either. The bow’s brace height also helps improve drawing ease. All things equal, a taller brace height will feel smoother simply due to a shorter powerstroke. This allows you to cycle the bow faster during rushed shots. To choose the ultimate hunting weapon, you must note every detail, and draw-smoothness is an important one.
Accuracy vs. Shock-Free
It’s trendy to gauge bows based on hand shock. A bow that emits less post-shot vibration is considered better and smoother. There’s no doubt a bow that produces little to no hand shock is highly desirable, since it will shoot quieter and probably more efficiently. However, it doesn’t necessarily mean it will make you more accurate.
Accuracy comes from repeatability. This is where a narrow, comfortable bow grip is paramount. This is where you physically engage the bow, so it must be solid and consistent, and accentuate a relaxed hand-feel at full draw.
Additionally, a stiff, long riser will improve a bow’s overall stability. This stability will not only make the bow more forgiving, but also improve its steadiness while aiming. The cam system’s draw letoff also plays a role in how well a bow aims and stays forgiving through the shot, so be sure to experiment with different letoff options.
Although it’s very difficult to test this at a pro shop, certain bows are more tolerant of “pulling into the wall.” If you prefer a strong, active shot when shooting, this might be a huge concern for you. Paper-tuning your bow can quickly tell you if it will be more tolerant of strong back-tension. No matter how you pull into the shot, some bows produce clean tears. Whereas with others, you may notice a clean tear on one shot, but then a gaping rip on another. When this is the case, search for a different model.
Feel & Handling Capabilities
In the woods, a bow setup is a complete system. In other words, you don’t hunt with a bare-riser setup. Instead, you deck it out with all sorts of accessories (sight, rest, quiver, and stabilizer). It must feel and handle well while fully equipped.
Personally, I like my hunting rig to be super-streamlined and balanced. I don’t like a bow that tilts forward, back, or to the side, which can cause unwanted torque and accuracy issues, especially in tough bowhunting scenarios. A balanced bow is also easier to pack into the woods. Ninety-nine percent of the time I’m carrying my bow — not shooting it — so I want it to pack with ease.
After shopping for bows and narrowing down the options, ask your bow tech if you can mount a few accessories to certain models, so you can make a final evaluation as to how the entire package feels and shoots. This step may seem a bit nitpicky, but today’s bows are pretty darn expensive. You simply want to turn every stone to be certain of your investment.
No doubt, shopping for a new bow can be confusing and even pressure-filled at times. After some time, you may feel rushed to decide, often still doubting your decision. By equipping yourself with the right insight and weighing each option thoroughly, you’ll be in a better position to make the right choice and remain confident about the outcome.