This year’s field of compounds features sharp, capable hunting machines, many of which were contenders for the top spot. With a collection this impressive, it’s no wonder the rankings hinged on just a few points between our Editor’s Choice and its closest competitor.
Yet, some of these bows stretched the definition of “new.” Several of last year’s flagship models have been tweaked—a lengthened riser here, a fresh camo finish there, a reworked grip or two—and presented as new.
We test and review the best new hunting crossbows
Advancements in compound bow technology have come so far, so fast, it’s a bit greedy to expect radical redesigns every year from every manufacturer. Why change a good thing? they’d probably argue. But we’d be less than honest if we said we didn’t find ourselves looking for a bit more innovation in this lineup.
Still, variety defines the compound industry. We evaluated bows that offer tremendous value, some performance breakthroughs, and, yes, a few duds that need refining. Whether you’re looking for a budget bow for backyard whitetails or a top-end rig designed for conquering the field and the 3D course, you’ll find it here.
EDITOR’S CHOICE | BOWTECH REIGN 6 | SCORE: 93.8
For the second year in a row, the battle for the Editor’s Choice award came down to two models, a few points, and one heck of a dogfight. This year’s champion was the Reign 6 from BowTech, which earned a score of 93.8 out of a possible 100 to slip past Mathews’ Halon 32-5. In the end, it was the Reign’s adjustability that gave it the edge.
You can tune and adjust this bow as much or as little as you want. And while bow geeks will love that, you really don’t have to adjust it much to make it shoot smoothly.
The Reign 6 features redesigned binary cams that allow for tuning of both vertical and horizontal nock travel. Pair that with the system’s MicroSync dial (an ingenious tuning device that allows you to correct minor timing issues caused by string and cable stretch or wear, without the need for a bow press), and you have the ability to fine-tune your bow quickly and easily.
It also features a revamped version of BowTech’s FlipDisc, which allows for two distinct draw profiles: The Performance setting generates a bit more speed and a shallower valley, and the Comfort setting generates a smoother draw cycle. Changing the two discs is simple: Just remove two pairs of Allen-head screws, flip the discs, and replace the screws.
On the 3D course, the Reign 6 was one of the bows no one wanted to put down. It handled remarkably and proved easy to hold on target. It almost seemed to find the 10 ring on its own.
MATHEWS HALON 32-5 | SCORE: 91.7
For two years now, the Mathews Halon has been one of the best bows in the game. The Halon 32-5 is a longer version of 2016’s Halon in a 5-inch brace height (also available in 6- or 7-inch brace heights). The resulting rig is more stable and a bit heavier, and it launches arrows nearly perfectly.
Everything about this bow feels right, and we all appreciated the easy draw and comfortable grip. Testers lauded the Halon 32-5 for its consistency on the 3D range; meanwhile, it turned in speeds of 338.5 fps (the fastest compound tested). The Halon 32-5 was just as smooth as its slower peers, proving that a speed bow can also be an enjoyable shooter. The bow is an excellent all-around hunting rig, but we knocked it slightly for its limited adjustability.
We partnered with Stress Engineering to create our best bow test yet. Find out how we reached our rankings.
OBSESSION DEFCON M7Z | SCORE: 86.9
We were expecting a little more from Obsession after its bows won our Editor’s Choice for two of the past three years. But the company’s 2017 flagship just wasn’t able to keep pace with BowTech and Mathews.
Even so, the DefCon M7Z is still a darned good bow, with an excellent build quality and solid back wall. It didn’t fall flat in any category, and it excelled in the sound test: At 80.9 decibels, it was the quietest bow in the test. Its speed of 321.8 fps put it in the middle of the pack.
The test team stood divided on the DefCon M7Z’s draw: One found it tougher to draw than it should be for the specs and the price, while others reported it was a great bow to shoot, with no hand shock and an easy draw cycle and hold.
|Compound Bows||Bowtech Reign 6||Mathews Halon 32-5||Obsession Defcon M7Z|
|Weight (lb., bare bow)||4.6||4.8||4.6|
|Length (Axle-to-Axle, in.)||32.5||32||32.25|
|Brace Height (in.)||5.9||5.1||6.8|
|Kinetic Energy at Release (Joules)||142.9||145.9||131.8|
|Vibration (Meters per Second2)/Score||13.80/9.0||12.27/9.4||13.78/9.0|
PSE EVOLVE 35 | SCORE: 85.5
Whatever has gotten into the engineers at PSE, they’d best figure out a way to bottle it. Once known as a big-box brand, PSE can now stand cam-to-cam with the best in the business. In fact, if you were able to conceal the branding and signature components, I’m not sure anyone would guess this is a PSE.
The Evolve was a flat-out shooter on the course, and every tester gave it high marks for huntability and shootability. The bow threw hunting arrows at 325 fps, and its cam system was one of the more unusual in the lineup. Adjustable from 24.5 to 30 inches without the use of a bow press, the cam offers a choice of 80 or 90 percent letoff. (Yes, 90 percent letoff.)
The Evolve lost points for its vibration score and appearance, but it was still a worthy contender.
ELITE OPTION 6 | SCORE: 85.3
If you’re looking for an accurate setup and you’re willing to pay top dollar for it, you should take the Option 6 for a test drive. The rig did just about everything well without much fanfare. It’s a sweet shooter, with speeds of 328.3 fps. Elite has a well-earned reputation for attention to detail, and the Option 6 furthers that stature with an exquisite build quality. The fit and finish is top notch.
The Elite Option 6
Our lab measurements indicated this was the most vibration-free bow in the lineup, and field testing confirmed that gentle in-hand feel. It was also plenty accurate and earned high marks for huntability. The test team agreed this is a solid, no-nonsense bowhunter’s bow. And it doesn’t hurt that it can shoot the hair off a gnat’s nose.
HOYT PRO DEFIANT | SCORE: 83.6
As indicated by its name, the Pro Defiant is an iteration of 2016’s Defiant. That bow was a solid release, and the Pro follows suit.
Testers gave the rig high marks for both shootability and huntability. At 30.4 inches axle-to-axle, the bow handled great in our tree-stand and ground blind setups. Yet it shot like a longer bow, thanks to its stiff riser and the DFX cam system, which greatly reduces string angle at full draw. This minimizes nock pinch and puts the peep closer to the shooter’s face. This improved angle also likely contributed to the bow’s shootability. The Pro also received near-perfect marks for build quality.
The bottom line? It’s a solid all-around bow that handles and shoots well. But it does lack the flash you’d expect from a new model.
|Compound Bows||PSE Evolve 35||Elite Option 6||Hoyt Pro Defiant|
|Weight (lb., bare bow)||4.7||4.6||4.4|
|Length (Axle-to-Axle, in.)||35||32||30.4|
|Brace Height (in.)||6.6||6.2||7.1|
|Kinetic Energy at Release (Joules)||134.5||137.2||126.8|
|Vibration (Meters per Second2)/Score||25.63/6.1||10.63/9.8||17.17/5.9|
XPEDITION XPLORER SS | SCORE: 82.8
Expedition Xplorer SS
Several long-risered models in the test bucked this year’s “shorter is better” trend. The Xplorer SS, however, was not one of them: At about 30 inches axle-to-axle, the Xplorer SS is hyped as a short-axle bow that delivers speed-bow performance. And at 331.6 fps, there’s no denying the little bow’s ability to generate impressive speeds.
It’s a good shooter and a worthy bowhunting bow, although it wasn’t as easy to hold on target as some of the longer axle-to-axle bows.
We dinged the Xplorer SS on value, largely because its harsher draw and shallow valley didn’t compare to similarly priced bows. And the bow lost adjustability points because it requires users to swap out mods in order to change draw length.
PRIME CENTERGY | SCORE: 81.9
The concept behind Prime’s latest offering is admirable: The riser is designed with more weight at the bottom for better overall balance and to keep sight pins on target with less pin float. But does it work? According to our panel, perhaps not as well as Prime claims.
The bow is certainly a shooter, but none of the testers could say they held it better than any other model.
The Centergy produced solid numbers in the objective tests, but we deducted points for its shallow valley and draw cycle. Its price tag also seemed steep given that it didn’t perform as well as cheaper models. It didn’t offer much adjustability, but it was easy to tune and set up compared to other models. Its build quality was top-notch, and this cool-looking bow earned high marks for it.
GREAT BUY | BASS PRO SHOPS BLACKOUT S3 | SCORE: 79.3
The Blackout S3 is proof that a Great Buy can’t be evaluated on price alone. A package bow retailing for about $600, this Bass Pro Shops exclusive wasn’t the cheapest bow in the test, yet it was miles ahead of most models in terms of twang for the buck. It was an outstanding shooter and included a rest, stabilizer, quiver, peep sight, and sling.
Manufactured by Diamond (a subsidiary of BowTech), the bow is built with the company’s Binary Cam System—a feature found on BowTech’s previous flagship model. Our test sample delivered speeds of 325 fps and proved plenty accurate on our test range.
Bass pro Shops Blackout S3
The Blackout S3’s stiffest competition for Great Buy was the Mission Hype DTX. But it’s worth noting that the two bows are intended for different customers: The ultra-adjustable Mission is ideal for growing bowhunters, while the Blackout S3 is aimed at more experienced archers who are looking for performance without the top-end price. In the end, it was the Blackout’s premium features that won out.
As with most cost-conscious offerings, there were a few downsides: The bow felt jumpy in the hand—testers noted that it wanted to pull forward at full draw. And those 300-plus-fps speeds come at a cost: The draw cycle is a bit harsh and the valley is fairly shallow.
|Compound Bows||Xpedition Xplorer SS||Prime Centergy||Bass Pro Shops Blackout S3|
|Weight (lb., bare bow)||4.2||4.4||4.1|
|Length (Axle-to-Axle, in.)||30.25||33.7||33|
|Brace Height (in.)||6.1||6.5||6.7|
|Kinetic Energy at Release (Joules)||140||129.3||134.5|
|Vibration (Meters per Second2)/Score||8.76/9.8||12/9.5||20.75/7.3|
MISSION HYPE DTX | SCORE: 77.7
Mission Hype DTX
You’ve got to give Mission credit for courage. The Hype DTX is an ultra-adjustable bow going head-to-head with models costing more than twice as much. With a draw length range of 19 to 30 inches and 55 pounds of draw weight play, the DTX earned high marks for adjustability.
The consequences of all that flexibility? The back wall is mushy, and overall performance is slightly below that of the top performers. But its bargain price tag made up for plenty.
The upshot? It costs about $600 less than the others. It’s super adjustable and isn’t all that far behind in performance.
So if you want a bargain-priced bow that can fit multiple bowhunters (hello, hand-me-down), this is a fine choice.
CABELA’S INSURGENT | SCORE: 74.8
The Insurgent is a Cabela’s-exclusive model built by Bear Archery. For $550, you get the bow and a full suite of Trophy Ridge accessories including a sight, quiver, Whisker Biscuit rest, and stabilizer.
Our test team kept that value-laden package in mind when evaluating the bow, but couldn’t overlook its less-than-stellar performance. It was among the lower tier of bows in terms of speed, clocking in at 298.2 fps. On the range, we had trouble coaxing the bow to shoot on target. It was also a bit noisy, and produced more vibration than most in the field.
GEARHEAD T20 | SCORE: 74.7
The Gearhead T20 measures 20 inches in length. Yes, 20 inches. With a true shoot-through riser design and a cool pistol-grip, this thing is a riot on the 3D course and proved surprisingly accurate at distances of 30 yards or less. Beyond that, things got a bit hairy. The T20 proved somewhat difficult to hold on target at longer distances.
But there’s no denying the ingenuity and fun factor. This is a bow unlike any other. The handle can be removed by pulling just a few bolts, and Gearhead offers an array of handle options so you can customize to your liking. The grid riser design on our aluminum model (the bow is also offered in a more expensive carbon model) was cool and earned plenty of praise for its aesthetics.
At just 82.6 decibels, the T20 was one of the quietest bows in the test. But at 295.5 fps, it was also among the slowest. With an MSRP of $1,179 the bow just didn’t stack up against other models of similar price.
|Compound Bows||Mission Hype DTX||Cabela’s Insurgent||Gearhead T20|
|Weight (lb., bare bow)||4.2||4||3.2|
|Length (Axle-to-Axle, in.)||31||31.1||20.7|
|Brace Height (in.)||6.9||6.8||7.6|
|Kinetic Energy at Release (Joules)||111.1||113.2||111.2|
|Vibration (Meters per Second2)/Score||9.76/10||17.25/5.9||30.27/5|
BEAR MOMENT | SCORE: 65.9
Bear has produced some outstanding bows in its storied history. Unfortunately, the Moment is not one of them. On the 3D range, the test panel found the bow’s draw cycle to be overly harsh and had issues with its shootability. It was also one of the loudest bows in the test. On the up side, the Moment flung arrows at an impressive 331.6 fps, making it the second-fastest bow in the field. This bow also carries an MSRP of $899, which makes it one of the more affordable models tested.
ONEIDA EAGLE PHOENIX | SCORE: 65.5
We’re throwing it back to the 1980s with this one. The old-school bowhunters will recall the Oneida Eagle bow. It was one of the more innovative bows of its time and had a cult-like following. Well, Oneida is still around, but the company has focused more on bowfishing than bowhunting of late. The Phoenix, however, is Oneida’s attempt to return to its roots.
The bow is super fun to shoot and it’s surprisingly accurate at moderate distances. But it’s plenty loud and scored in the lower tier in vibration. With an MSRP of $1,199, the test crew didn’t feel the bow represented a great value when compared to the performance and features of other top-end models.
CENTERPOINT EOS HUNTER | SCORE: 60.2
Another bow with an inviting price tag, the EOS Hunter struggled to keep pace with the rest of the field. The bow adjusts from 19 to 31 inches in draw length, which is convenient for fitting an array of bowhunters—but that wide range of adjustability means no draw stops and a super-mushy back wall. The bow was the slowest in the test at just over 260 fps, and the test panel had a tough time shooting it on the range, noting the lack of a solid back wall and balanced handling.
|Compound Bows||Bear Moment||Oneida Phoenix||Centerpoint EOS Hunter|
|Weight (lb., bare bow)||4.2||4.8||4.1|
|Length (Axle-to-Axle, in.)||31||43.1 tip-to-tip||30|
|Brace Height (in.)||6||5.9||7|
|Kinetic Energy at Release (Joules)||140||117.5||86.3|
|Vibration (Meters per Second2)/Score||22/7||23.05/6.8||30.23/5|