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Best Hunting Bows: OL Reviews and Ranks 15 New Compound Bows for 2013

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July 15, 2013
Best Hunting Bows: OL Reviews and Ranks 15 New Compound Bows for 2013 - 1

The hunting archery industry has had to face tremendous change recently, as consumers have become better educated, more selective, and less impulsive when it comes to buying bows. A simple color, camouflage, or name change will no longer cut it.

Reacting to this new reality, manufacturers have refined their designs and concentrated on improving mechanical efficiencies in an effort to motivate an educated buyer to drop his money on a new bow.

The evolution in industrial technology has trickled down, too, accelerating design improvements. The latest Computer Aided Design (CAD) programs put powerful design tools in the hands of creative engineers. Consumer sophistication continues to evolve as well, as new products are dissected and debated ad nauseam in internet chat rooms and in the public forum down at the pro shop.

With that in mind, here’s what we uncovered in our annual test of the newest hunting compound (see the full results below).

This year’s field of compound bows exhibited the best collective speed, vibration, and noise numbers we’ve ever seen in a bow test, and seven bows weighed in at under 4 pounds. Eight bows eclipsed 325 fps. Keep in mind these speed numbers are what we found during testing—­they’re not just the bow makers’ advertised speeds (see how we test).

As has been the trend over the past decade, the limbs on this year’s bows continued their migration toward static horizontal orientation (known in the industry as “parallel” limbs). This can best be seen on the PSE DNA, whose tortuous, pre-loaded limbs elicit a reflexive wince when the bow is at full draw. However, their performance is so undisputably good, other companies have fallen into lockstep, pushing their bows’ limbs parallel, and beyond, when drawn.

Riser refinements have moved forward, too, with the aid of sophisticated CAD programs that render optimal weight-to-performance ratios and steer engineers and machinists in the right direction when shaving these foundations to their minimal profiles. As a result, bow weights continue to move downward and bow balance continues to improve.

There were several surprises in the field, though two bows really stood out. The twin-cam McPherson Monster Chill impressed the entire test team with its best-in-class vibration reading (21.1 m/s2). The twin-cam power plant delivered some good speed readings too, thumping arrows into the target at 327 fps (and registering a whispery 83.35 dBA). The Mathews sister brand has received little fanfare since its introduction a few years ago; however, the Chill is worthy of a look by those searching for a speedy shooter whose draw cycle won’t have you crying uncle after a few arrows.

Prime’s Impact, with its parallel cam system, is a visual stunner. The smooth-drawing shooter exudes quality and confidence. The obtuse geometry of the odd-looking cams are beginning to catch on with hunters, as they perform as advertised, keeping cams level and lean-free, and ultimately reducing torque. The Impact’s axle-to-axle length of 35 inches was the longest in the field. Many old-school hunters who like the shootability of longer bows will find favor with the Impact.

Three near-clone bows—all manufactured by BowTech—were submitted for the test: Bass Pro Shops’ RedHead Toxik XT, Cabela’s Regulator, and the Diamond Core. All are pre-­accessorized bows, occupying the mid-­level-performance, mid-price niche. Any of the three would be a welcome addition to a cost-conscious archer’s inventory.

Archery powerhouse BowTech’s Experience is a great new bow. The iconic center-pivot limbs anchor the build, while dual cams stoke arrows to 330 fps. The Experience is a pleasure to shoot, pulling easily and holding well.

Perennial technology leader Hoyt has another winner with the Spyder. Its radically deflexed, bridged riser and preloaded limbs make for a tightly wound shooter. The Spyder is a real looker, and it’s compact at 30 inches ­axle-to-axle. The eccentric-powered bow will excel in the confines of a ground blind. Weighing less than 4 pounds, the Spyder will also please Western spot-and-stalk bowhunters.

Bows with friendly draw cycles remain popular with older hunters. The Mathews Creed fits this bill and is delightfully balanced as well. Its trim 3.88-pound weight and slight grip are a treat when getting on target. While Mathews has never been billed as a “speed bow” company, at 318.3 fps, the Creed’s top-end is lacking.

Another pleasant surprise of the test came from newbie Obsession Bows. The company is making a name for itself relatively quickly with its advanced designs and excellent customer service. Its Knightmare does everything well (326 fps, 85.1 dBA, 21.62 m/s2), without glaring deficiencies. While this may seem like rudimentary praise, it is not: Many bows in the test excelled in some categories and disappointed in others.


Bows by the Numbers

All the scores, empirical data, and pricing info at a glance.

Ratings Key
★ ★ ★ ★ - Excellent
★ ★ ★ - Very Good
★ ★ - Good
★ - Fair

AD/40 = Arrow Drop at 40 yd.; KE/20 = Kinetic Energy at 20 yd.; TOF = Arrow Time of Flight to 20 yd.

Editor’s Choice: PSE Dream Season DNA

Compounds capable of achieving excellent scores across the tally sheet are rare. However, the new PSE Dream Season DNA did just that, producing raw power while retaining the well-heeled demeanor of a pure shooter.

The DNA shares its pedigree with 2008’s PSE X-Force, the first compound to thunder past 350 feet per ­second. The X-Force introduced radically preloaded limbs, which are capable of storing more energy than traditional designs. Those limbs are also found on the DNA. A distinct design feature of this 3.91-pound bow is its forged riser. Formed under intense pressure, the “grain” of the aircraft-grade aluminum flows along the riser geometry, resulting in little flex.

An aggressive eccentrics system produced an average speed of 344 fps (fastest in the field), and an arrow drop at 40 yards (AD/40) of just 13.1 inches. Even with this blazing speed, noise (83.45 decibels) and vibration (22.35 m/s2) are minimal. These numbers represent a mechanical efficiency that applies the bulk of the potential energy to the arrow.

The DNA’s blistering top-end and 6-inch brace height allow the arrow to remain on the arrow shelf for a very brief period of time, thus shooter-induced error is minimized. Attention to detail can be seen in the vibration dampeners and the super-thin grip. A simplistic, highly efficient cable guard—flexing laterally when drawn and eradicating cam lean while taming hand torque—­completes this impressive bow.

Overall: ★ ★ ★ ★
Performance (Obj./Sub.): A+/A-
Design (Obj./Sub.): A+/A
Price/Value: A
Speed (FPS): 343.99
Weight (lb.): 3.91
Vibration (m/s2): 22.35
Noise (dBA): 83.45
AD/40 (in.): 13.1
KE/20 (ft.-lb.): 83.57
TOF (ms): 169.65
Price: $899

Contact: PSE

Great Buy: Mission Ballistic

Mission has a solid reputation for building entry- to mid-level compounds with quality components, and offering them at down-to-earth prices. As a result, 2013 marks the third consecutive year that a Mission bow has earned our Great Buy award. A twin-cam, split-limb platform provides the power for this compact compound (30.5 inches axle-to-axle) that pumps out arrows at 326 fps ($1.53 per fps).

Typically, low prices are achieved by the manufacturer’s use of less-expensive components with exaggerated tolerances, which lead to slow arrow speeds, loud shot noise, and significant hand-shock. The Ballistic is stingy on vibration, though, producing just 23.42 m/s2.

The bow draws smoothly, with a comfortable back wall and hold. The big 7-inch brace height allowed us to group arrows nicely. Adding to its versatility, the Mission is quite adjustable, with a draw length ranging from 26 to 30 inches (in half-inch increments via modules), and a draw weight range of 50 to 70 pounds.

With a weight of just over 4 pounds, the bow aimed well and remained stable on prolonged holds. The composite grip drew mixed reviews, with most testers saying it needed some shoring up.

However, if blindfolded, no one other than a professional shooter could distinguish the difference between the Ballistic and a ­premium-priced compound. It’s fully capable of arrowing the largest of antlered animals or center-punching that last 12-ring on the 3D tournament course.

Overall: ★ ★ ★ ★
Performance (Obj./Sub.): B+/A-
Design (Obj./Sub.): A-/B+
Price/Value: A
Speed (FPS): 326.03
Weight (lb.): 4.17
Vibration (m/s2): 23.42
Noise (dBA): 85.25
AD/40 (in.): 14.6
KE/20 (ft.-lb.): 74.96
TOF (ms): 179.06
Price: $499

Contact: Mission

Bowtech Experience

Overall: ★ ★ ★ ★
Performance (Obj./Sub.): A-/A
Design (Obj./Sub.): A-/A
Price/Value: A
Speed (FPS): 329.89
Weight (lb.): 4.55
Vibration (m/s2): 30.21
Noise (dBA): 84.15
AD/40 (in.): 14.2
KE/20 (ft.-lb.): 77.16
TOF (ms): 176.73
Price: $999

Contact: Bowtech

McPherson Monster Chill

Overall: ★ ★ ★ ★
Performance (Obj./Sub.): A-/A-
Design (Obj./Sub.): A/A
Price/Value: A-
Speed (FPS):326.84
Weight (lb.): 3.95
Vibration (m/s2): 21.1
Noise (dBA): 83.35
AD/40 (in.): 14.5
KE/20 (ft.-lb.): 75.57
TOF (ms): 178.48
Price: $999

Contact: Mathews

Prime Impact

Overall: ★ ★ ★ ★
Performance (Obj./Sub.): B+/A-
Design (Obj./Sub.): A-/B+
Price/Value: A-
Speed (FPS): 327.1
Weight (lb.): 4.92
Vibration (m/s2): 24.16
Noise (dBA): 86
AD/40 (in.): 14.5
KE/20 (ft.-lb.): 75.68
TOF (ms): 178.76
Price: $949

Contact: Prime

Matthews Creed

Overall: ★ ★ ★ ★
Performance (Obj./Sub.): B/A-
Design (Obj./Sub.): B/A
Price/Value: A
Speed (FPS): 318.3
Weight (lb.): 3.88
Vibration (m/s2): 23.94
Noise (dBA): 87.1
AD/40 (in.): 15.3
KE/20 (ft.-lb.): 71.63
TOF (ms): 183.61
Price: $999

Conact: Mathews

Hoyt Spyder 30

Overall: ★ ★ ★ ★
Performance (Obj./Sub.): B+/A-
Design (Obj./Sub.): A-/B+
Price/Value: A-
Speed (FPS): 324.14
Weight (lb.): 3.97
Vibration (m/s2): 29.14
Noise (dBA): 87.05
AD/40 (in.): 14.8
KE/20 (ft.-lb.): 74.2
TOF (ms): 180.04
Price: $999

Contact: Hoyt

Obsession Knightmare

Overall: ★ ★ ★ 1/2
Performance (Obj./Sub.): B+/B+
Design (Obj./Sub.): A/B+
Price/Value: B+
Speed (FPS): 326.33
Weight (lb.): 4.27
Vibration (m/s2): 21.62
Noise (dBA): 85.1
AD/40 (in.): 14.5
KE/20 (ft.-lb.): 75.34
TOF (ms): 178.76
Price: $859

Contact: Obsession 

Quest Drive

Overall: ★ ★ ★ 1/2
Performance (Obj./Sub.): B/B
Design (Obj./Sub.): B+/B+
Price/Value: B
Speed (FPS): 321.42
Weight (lb.): 4.48
Vibration (m/s2): 29.94
Noise (dBA): 85.2
AD/40 (in.): 15
KE/20 (ft.-lb.): 72.86
TOF (ms): 181.63
Price: $699

Conact: Quest

Darton DS-3800

Overall: ★ ★ ★ 1/2
Performance (Obj./Sub.): A-/B
Design (Obj./Sub.): A-/B
Price/Value: C+
Speed (FPS): 332.26
Weight (lb.): 4.48
Vibration (m/s2): 30.6
Noise (dBA): 84.05
AD/40 (in.): 14.1
KE/20 (ft.-lb.): 77.59
TOF (ms): 175.85
Price: $949

Contact: Darton

Bear Motive 6

Overall: ★ ★ ★ 1/2
Performance (Obj./Sub.): A-/B+
Design (Obj./Sub.): B-/B
Price/Value: B-
Speed (FPS): 327.77
Weight (lb.): 4.33
Vibration (m/s2): 27.36
Noise (dBA): 86.8
AD/40 (in.): 14.4
KE/20 (ft.-lb.): 75.67
TOF (ms): 178.16
Price: $899

Contact: Bear

Strother Wrath SHO

Overall: ★ ★ ★
Performance (Obj./Sub.): B/B
Design (Obj./Sub.): C+/B+
Price/Value: B+
Speed (FPS): 317.48
Weight (lb.): 4.15
Vibration (m/s2): 35.8
Noise (dBA): 89.1
AD/40 (in.): 15.3
KE/20 (ft.-lb.): 71.16
TOF (ms): 188.83
Price: $839

Conact: Strother

Redhead Toxik XT

Overall: ★ ★ ★
Performance (Obj./Sub.): B-/B
Design (Obj./Sub.): B-/B-
Price/Value: B+
Speed (FPS): 314.32
Weight (lb.): 3.95
Vibration (m/s2): 36.9
Noise (dBA): 86.9
AD/40 (in.): 15.7
KE/20 (ft.-lb.): 69.62
TOF (ms): 185.77
Price: $499

Contact: Bass Pro Shops

Diamond Core

Overall: ★ ★ 1/2
Performance (Obj./Sub.): C-/B
Design (Obj./Sub.): C/C+
Price/Value: B+
Speed (FPS): 298.86
Weight (lb.): 3.25
Vibration (m/s2): 41.94
Noise (dBA): 85.55
AD/40 (in.): 17.5
KE/20 (ft.-lb.): 62.78
TOF (ms):  195.5
Price: $499

Contact: Diamond Core

Cabela's Regulator

Overall: ★ ★ 1/2
Performance (Obj./Sub.): B/C
Design (Obj./Sub.): B-/C
Price/Value: C+
Speed (FPS): 316.65
Weight (lb.): 3.95
Vibration (m/s2): 33.56
Noise (dBA): 86.85
AD/40 (in.): 15.5
KE/20 (ft.-lb.): 70.63
TOF (ms): 184.42
Price: $549

Contact: Cabela's

Comments (1)

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from Frank Pallo wrote 1 year 2 days ago

its a relief to see OL finally got off the Mathews band wagon. not to say Mathews isn't a great bow... but a couple years ago the editors #1 choice was Mathews even though it did not score the highest overall rating in the scoring. at that time, Bowtech did. It made me wonder what the influence was to give top rating to a bow that actually wasn't. Now we see that other companies are up there in the ratings, including the not-so-celebrity-influenced bow companies. great job OL.

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from Frank Pallo wrote 1 year 2 days ago

its a relief to see OL finally got off the Mathews band wagon. not to say Mathews isn't a great bow... but a couple years ago the editors #1 choice was Mathews even though it did not score the highest overall rating in the scoring. at that time, Bowtech did. It made me wonder what the influence was to give top rating to a bow that actually wasn't. Now we see that other companies are up there in the ratings, including the not-so-celebrity-influenced bow companies. great job OL.

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