How We Test Bows and Crossbows

Bowmakers are invited to submit one new-for-the-year entry per category to Outdoor Life's comprehensive bow and crossbow test. Compounds are tested at 30-inch draw lengths and 70-pound draw weights per IBO standards, and Whisker Biscuits and knock loops are installed on each.

Objective Testing
In order to eliminate human interference during the data-gathering process (in which we measure speed, noise, and vibration), compounds are shot from a Spot-Hogg Hooter Shooter equipped with a Carter Insatiable release that is tripped via a shutter-release cable. Crossbows are set in a Caldwell Lead Sled FCX, and their triggers are also tripped remotely. Two Vernier 25-g accelerometers measure vibration in meters per second squared. The peak noise of each bow in dBA is measured with a calibrated Vernier Sound Level Meter. The Velocitip Ballistic System (velocitip.com) is tasked with measuring velocity, arrow drop at 40 yards (in inches), kinetic energy at 20 yards (foot-pounds), and arrow time of flight (milliseconds). Compounds shoot a 350-grain Carbon Express Maxima RED arrow during objective testing; crossbows fire a 416-grain Carbon Express Maxima Hunter arrow. All bows are weighed on a certified scale. Our Objective Performance scores reflect the bows' AD/40, KE/20, and TOF readings; Objective Design scores represent velocity, vibration, and noise outputs.

Subjective Testing
Once the objective testing is concluded, each member of the team spends time shooting the bows and evaluating them on a variety of criteria: the overall smoothness of the draw cycle, the solidness of the back wall, the quality of its mechanical components, its ease of operation, and its general shootability (Subjective Performance). They also rate each bow's workmanship, ergonomics, and aesthetics (Subjective Design), as well as value (Price/Value). Crossbows are similarly given a critical eye, with testers taking into consideration each bow's cocking, safety, and trigger, in addition to much of the criteria listed above.

The objective and subjective scores are crunched, with the bows achieving the highest overall score in their category receiving our Editor's Choice award; those with the highest Price/Value scores earn our Great Buy award.