The Bow Test: 17 New Compounds for 2016 Tested and Reviewed

Our industry-leading evaluation turned up top-tier bows, some bargains, and a few oddballs among this year's new compounds

Tony Hansen bow test

Bow Test opener

Test team member Tony Hansen holds the Obsession Def-Con M6 at full draw.Justin Appenzeller

As more companies move into the bowhunting market, big-name manufacturers are finding it harder to maintain their position at the front of the pack. This is due in part to computer-aided design software, which has helped level the playing field. Today, compound accuracy is typically limited to the shooter’s ability to release an arrow without error. Manufacturers continue to produce bows that are increasingly capable of shooting dime-sized groups out to dizzying distances. And it shows: This test was the closest yet, with some bows outscoring others by fractions of a percentage point.

This crop also followed the recent trend toward quiet shooting. A few years ago, a 90-decibel bow seemed subdued; by today’s standards, it’s considered loud. Meanwhile, the speed race has largely faded into the background. Many bowhunters realize a compound that shoots 310 fps with a manageable draw and easy hold is more accurate—and ultimately more deadly—than a bragging-fast bow.

Our team put the latest models through a battery of tests. Here's what we found for the Class of 2016. —Todd Kuhn

HOW WE TEST

The overall scores of the compounds and crossbows are the sums of scores of three objective and seven subjective categories, each of which has a grade range from 1 to 10. The objective scores—for noise, vibration, and speed—are determined through a process that involves minimal human interference. Compounds are mounted to a Spot Hogg Hooter Shooter and triggered via a shutter-release cable, while crossbow triggers are tripped remotely as the bows sit in a Caldwell Lead Sled. A sound-level meter measures peak decibels at the shot, while two accelerometers (mounted to the compounds’ risers and near the pistol grip on crossbows) measure vibration in meters per second squared. (With both, the smaller the number, the better.)

The Velocitip Ballistic System measures arrow velocity, arrow drop at 40 yards, and kinetic energy at 20 yards. For compounds, the 100-grain Velocitip head was affixed to a Victory VForce HV V1 350 arrow (350 grains total), and crossbows fired a Victory XBolt (422 grains total).

Once the data is gathered, testers shoot the bows and grade each on a number of performance- and design-related criteria (scroll to the bottom for full results). The bows with the highest overall score get our Editor’s Choice award. Products that we feel represent an exceptional value earn the Great Buy badge. As always, this test was an invitational. We asked manufacturers to submit only new models: one compound and/or one crossbow.

Special thanks to Lancaster Archery Supply for hosting our annual test.

Lancaster Archery

bowtest still

Each year we conduct our test at Lancaster Archery Supply in Lancaster, Penn. A bowhunter’s mecca, the facility is equipped with multiple indoor ranges, a pro shop, and a massive showroom.Justin Appenzeller

Obsession **
**Def-Con M6

Score: 93.5 / $999
** EDITOR'S CHOICE **

obsession def con m6

Obsession bow

Testers raved about everything from the Obsession’s back wall to its top-notch vibration dampeners.Justin Appenzeller

Obsession has earned its second Editor’s Choice award in three years. The Def-Con M6 impressed us across the board. The company’s resident cam wizard, Kevin Strother, has created masterly two-track eccentrics, which combine blistering speed with a silky draw and tame shot.

The bow produces 336.7 fps with a sharply reflexed riser and abbreviated 5 ⁷⁄₈-inch brace height, which elongates its power stroke. The radical riser defies traditional design, but its geometry is spot-on, making this a sweet-aiming bow with just-right balance.

Obsession’s machining prowess is evidenced in the fine detail work on the roller cable guard and string stop. Both are flawless in appearance and function. The Def-Con is mechanically efficient and easily transfers the user’s draw cycle energy into the arrow without excessive vibration. And at 84.7 decibels, the M6 is quiet to boot.

The lifetime warranty will put any hunter's mind at ease when considering an "off-brand" bow from this relatively new company. —T.K.

Mathews
Halon 6
Score: 93.1 / $1,099

Mathews Halon

Mathews bow

Mathews Halon 6Justin Appenzeller

Mathews' new Halon 6 finished ⁴⁄₁₀ of a point behind the Obsession, this year's Editor's Choice. Although the Halon 6 (the 6-inch-brace-height version of this year's flagship model) was the third-heaviest bow in the test, owing to its beefy riser, some testers liked the heft. Others felt it was a bit too heavy. It married speed and shootability without compromising either. It delivered top-end speed (335.1 fps) yet maintained one of the best overall draw cycles, with a solid back wall and an ample valley. —Tony Hansen

From the testers:
— "It's a pleasure to shoot. It's almost like it's overbuilt—but that's not necessarily a bad thing."
— "This is a bowhunting bow. It's plenty fast. It carries well, balances well, and it rests right where it needs to at full draw."

Bowtech
BT-X 31
Score: 90.9 / $1,099

bowtech bt-x

bowtech bow

Bowtech BT-X 31Justin Appenzeller

If you're a fan of engineering, you'll love the BT-X 31. Bowtech's flagship model for 2016 features a new Micro Sync Dial that allows you to tune cam timing without a bow press. And those cams feature Bowtech's PowerShift system, which allows you to adjust the cam setup to one of three settings (Performance, Classic, and Comfort), each for a different feel and draw cycle. Some loved the variety this technology offered; others, not so much. Overall, the BT-X 31 earned its place at the top of the group. —T.H.

From the testers:
— "The timing system is innovative. It gives a shooter options."
— "There are too many moving parts in the cam system."
— "Great draw cycle and balance, with a clean design and a welcome lack of 'plastic crap.'"

Bear
Escape
Score:
90.1 / $1,000

New bear Bow

Bear Escape

The Bear EscapeJustin Appenzeller

The Bear Escape was one of the most discussed bows among the testers. Reviewers were pleased with its improved performance over last year's model (the Arena), but they felt its top-end price was a bit too high for what shooters would get in return. We rated the grip favorably, as well as its eye-catching olive drab color scheme. This was the fastest bow in the test at 342.7 fps and, interestingly, also one of the quietest, scoring 9.8 out of 10. Vibration was also minimal at that speed, with a score of 9 out of 10. —T.H.

From the testers:
— "Very shooter-friendly."
— "There are better bows at this price. Yes, it's fast, but you can find this kind of speed with a somewhat easier draw elsewhere."
— "A good-shooting, fast bow."

Xpedition
Xception
Score:
89.5 / $1,049

Xpedition bow

Xpedition Xception

The Xpedition XceptionJustin Appenzeller

The Xception does a lot of things well, but its price and speed score hurt it. At 312.6 fps, the Xception was the third-slowest bow we evaluated this year, and our testers could tell once we got it off the Hooter Shooter and into our hands. After you get past the slower speed, however, you find a bow that handles well and is enjoyable to shoot. That's reflected in its high marks in vibration and noise, which kept it among the top-scoring bows. Testers also noted attention to detail in the grip, durable finish, and well-­designed cable guard. —T.H.

From the testers:
—"This is a solid bowhunting option. It's slow, yes, but it has a lot going for treestand hunters. It's easy to keep vertical and has a good bowhunter's valley."
—"It's easy on the shot and has a smooth draw cycle."

Prime
Rize
Score:
89 / $1,049

Prime Rize Bow

Prime Rize

The Prime RizeJustin Appenzeller

The Prime Rize was another model affected by its speed score. At 321.3 fps, the Rize ranked on the slower end of the spectrum. Testers, however, gave this model credit for its build quality and overall solid feel. There's nothing particularly exceptional about this year's flagship, but there's nothing bad to say about it, either. Plus, it's an attractive bow. The side-by-side parallel cams are striking, and Prime says this setup eliminates issues associated with cam lean, although we'd need to do more testing to confirm this. —T.H.

From the testers:
— "Balances well for a 'long' bow."
— "I'm worried about the cost of ownership with the cams. Will I be able to tune this myself?"
— "A clean-looking bow."

Elite
Impulse 31
Score:
88.9 / $999

Impulse 31

Elite Impulse

The Elite Impulse was a favorite of the test team.Justin Appenzeller

The Impulse is a bowhunter's bow. In past tests, Elite models have been knocked for lack of speed, but the Impulse 31 sent arrows downrange at a respectable 330.5 fps, ranking it among the fastest we clocked this year. Every reviewer gave the Impulse favorable subjective scores for overall feel and appearance, and were all surprised it didn't ultimately rank higher once all the scores were tallied. The only factor that prevented the Impulse from finishing near the top of our overall rankings was its 5 out of 10 noise score. —T.H.

From the testers:
— "This new Elite is still very shootable, but now it's got the speed to go with it."
— "The last quarter of the draw cycle was hard, but the back wall felt great."

Hoyt
Defiant 30
Score:
87.6 / $1,099

Hoyt Defiant 30
The Hoyt Defiant 30Justin Appenzeller

Hoyt's bows have been so good for so long, you sometimes wonder if that long-term success doesn't make bowhunters expect more from this company than others. Last year Hoyt took our Editor's Choice award with its Nitrum 30. And there's nothing at all wrong with the Defiant 30, but this model didn't have a "wow" factor either. We recorded it at 323.8 fps, and testers declared it a "solid all-around bow," although there was some moderate dissent about the merits of the grip and draw
cycle. —T.H.

From the testers:
— "The string angle is vastly improved from the Nitrum series."
— "Rotating cam modules are a plus, and so is the limb stop option."

New Breed
GX2
Score:
86.4 / $949

GX2 from New Breed
The New Breed GX2Justin Appenzeller

For a long time, we've wondered why someone didn't try to build a top-end bow and price it slightly lower than its cohort of $1,000 bows. It looks like New Breed might be the company to do it. The GX2 received mixed reviews from the panel, with one tester questioning the bluish color scheme and harsh draw cycle. Others raved about the back wall. This bow shot 320.3 fps and tied for the quietest bow in the test, although testers noted some felt recoil and hand shock. —T.H.

From the testers:
"It's a cool-looking bow with good hunting dimensions and a solid back wall. Stainless hardware is a big plus."
—"Shot well, great back wall, good enough valley."

**Diamond
Deploy SB
Score: **85.2 / $649
** GREAT BUY **

Deploy SB

Diamond Deploy

It’s rare for our testers to select two Great Buys in one category, but the Influence and Deploy both stood out as bows of exceptional value. The Deploy shot well and earned our highest value score in the test.Justin Appenzeller

The Deploy is the first bow in the Diamond lineup to feature the binary cam system—in which two cams are slaved together to minimize timing issues—which was previously reserved for Bowtech’s flagship branded bows. The Deploy is built on a featherlight carbon riser, which aims naturally and holds easily.

The Deploy accommodates most hunters with its rotating cam modules, which range from 26 to 30 ½ inches in draw length. At 31 ⁵⁄₈ inches axle-to-axle and 3.35 pounds, the Deploy is suitable for long-carry spot-and-stalks, or when the hunter is confined to a tight ground blind or a cramped climbing treestand.

We were surprised by how little hand shock a bow this light produces (25.6 m/s2). This lack of jolt, along with the 6 ⁷⁄₈-inch brace height, made the Deploy accurate and a treat to shoot. The grip was blocky, but that's a small quibble on an otherwise shooter-friendly bow. —T.K.

PSE
Carbon Air

Score: 84.6 / $1,500

Carbon Air

PSE Carbon Air

PSE Carbon AirJustin Appenzeller

The Carbon Air is truly a marvel of technology. It's incredibly light at just over 3 pounds, it's fast, and it's quiet. But this sleek bow jumped out of hand when shooting with an open grip, and the poor vibration score confirmed what each shooter felt. One tester called it a handsome bow that "looks like something from 20 years in the future." But its good looks aren't enough to make it our pick for the treestand when you consider the eye-popping price tag. —T.H.

From the testers:
— "Easily the coolest bow in the test, with the most technology."
— "The valley is too short."
— "It has a mushy back wall and is super light—too light."

Darton
DS-3800
Score:
83.3 / $945

Darton DS-3800

Darton

The Darton DS-3800Justin Appenzeller

The DS-3800 is a sound bow, and it produced decent numbers across the board. In fact, it tied for quietest bow with the New Breed GX2, and was one of the fastest bows at 335.5 fps. But its lack of originality wasn't lost on the panel. While there's no sense in tossing out a good thing, it wasn't much to write home about. One tester called it "a great overall bow," but lamented the lack of innovation in recent Darton compound models. The DS-3800's appearance also felt outdated, as did the cams. —T.H.

From the testers:
— "It's a flashback to 2005."
— "I like long bows, but this feels almost too long. It would be better for taller hunters"
– "The soft rubber grip is good for cold-weather hunting."

Gearhead
T24 Carbon
Score:
80.8 / $1,699

Gearhead T24 Carbon

Gearhead

Testers couldn’t put down this small, shootable oddball.Justin Appenzeller

The absurdly short T24 put a big grin on the collective test team's face. At a sawed-off 24 inches axle-to-axle, this "mini me" of compounds was a blast to shoot. The shoot-through carbon riser and center-mount grip launch arrows effortlessly, with little hand shock (the Achilles' heel of diminutive bows). Anchored on a 26-layer carbon-­fiber weaved twin truss riser, the T24 can be shot left- or right-handed with little modification. That said, it was the slowest model—the only sub-300 fps bow we tested—which makes it hard to justify the sky-high price. Even so, if you're looking for "out of the ordinary," test-drive a T24. It's truly the first shootable sub-compact bow capable of being carried on the hip or transported to any remote locale. —T.K.

Cabela's
Influence

Score: 80.4 / $480
** GREAT BUY **

Cabelas influence bow

Cabelas Influence

It’s rare for our testers to select two Great Buys in one category, but the Influence and Deploy both stood out as bows of exceptional value. The Influence’s adjustability and affordable price won us over.Justin Appenzeller

The Influence is a bargain-priced compound that gets the job done. At 3.45 pounds and 31.5 inches, the package bow comes complete with a quiver, an arrow rest, a sling, a three-pin sight, a nock loop, a 5-inch stabilizer, and a peep sight—all you need to add are a few arrows.

The Cabela’s bow is made by Diamond, a subsidiary of Bowtech. The Influence is infinitely flexible, adjusting from 20 to 30 inches in draw length and 18 to 70 pounds of draw weight. This range allows the Influence to grow with a young shooter, fit a small shooter, or be passed from one archer to another.

A synchronized binary cam system delivers surprising performance, delivering arrows downrange at 314.2 fps from a compact and nimble package. At this price, you do sacrifice some things—like top-line accessories and a trendy nameplate— but you can always upgrade later. For those who want to get into the woods without mortgaging the house, the Influence is a smart option. —T.K.

APA
Mamba 32 TF

Score: 74.1 / $1,215

APA Mamba 32 TF

APA Mamba

The APA Mamba 32 TFJustin Appenzeller

The test team had difficulty justifying the Mamba's price tag after observing its middle-of-the-pack speed and noise scores, and the poor vibration score. It sports accessories like a built-in broadhead wrench and blade sharpener, and a pair of fang-like protrusions on the riser that were reminiscent of a bottle opener. We would have preferred to see that extra effort go toward smoothing the draw cycle. We also weren't fans of the camo on our model, but it comes in black and other finishes. —T.H.

From the testers:
— "It has a comfortable grip, but the cam design is outdated."
— "Uncomfortable to shoot."
— "It's a bit odd looking, with too many bits and pieces."

Moxie
Fearce

Score: 74.1 / $1,040

Moxie

Moxie Fearce

The Moxie FearceJustin Appenzeller

The Fearce struck the test team as more of a target-style bow than a true bowhunting rig. It was the longest bow in the test, with a 35.5-inch axle-to-axle length, and felt somewhat unwieldy compared to the other models. It exhibited obvious vibration, earning it the lowest score in that category. It also shot a bit sluggishly—at 317.3 fps—for a high-dollar rig. Some testers were not fans of its appearance, either. Overall this felt like a bow that should cost half its price. —T.H.

From the testers:
— "It's got a solid back wall and holds nicely, but there was some pretty noticeable hand shock."
— "Comfortable grip that's easy to hold."

Martin
Phenix Inferno 33
Score:
73.3 / $980

Phenix Inferno 33 Bow

Martin Phenix Inferno

The Martin Phenix Inferno 33Justin Appenzeller

The Phenix Inferno 33 was hurt by its scores in all three objective categories (speed, noise, and vibration). It was the second-slowest bow in the test at 303.5 fps, and it just didn't impress the testers. Martin's Zero Lean system is designed to "virtually eliminate cam lean," but the four-ring cam system makes this model a tough sell for hunters who tune their own bows. It was reasonably well balanced, however, thanks in part to its weight, and testers appreciated its sound back wall. —T.H.

From the testers:
— "Definite improvement in their lineup, although it's a bit heavy and has a complex cable system."
— "There's way too much going on with the cables and cams."

COMPOUND TEST RESULTS

Bow test chart

compound bow chart

The full list of test results.Outdoor Life

Video by Tony Hansen