Kid’s bows range from scaled-down adult models to compounds that adjust with shooters’ growth. Our evaluation helps you pick the right bow for your young archer.
Bowhunting is serious business to me, and I’ve passed that passion on to my son Noah. He’s 14 this season, and his draw length (not to mention draw strength) is approaching the level where an adult bow will fit him just fine. However, choosing a hunt-capable rig over the past three years has been anything but simple—his draw length would change throughout the year, or even the hunting season.
Low-poundage options were plentiful. Those that delivered arrows with suitable kinetic energy were less abundant.
So for this test we pitted flagship bows against ultra-adjustable models. For the latter, we went with Mission—one of the first companies to offer the technology—along with newcomer models from companies that haven’t been in the ultra-adjustable game for long.
And to round things out, we chose mid-priced options of both limited and ultra-adjustable models.
**MISSION BALLISTIC (flagship)
Score: 92.5; Price: $499
▶ Whatever formula Mission Archery is using, it’s one that young bowhunters love—both Missions in the test were favorites of the panel, and all of the testers shot the Ballistic exceptionally well.
“The handles are great and fit my hand. The bow was really quiet and shot well,” said Gavin. “And they look cool.”
The Ballistic features the AVS cam system that is draw-length-specific, ranging from 26 to 30 inches. It’s available in peak draw weights ranging from 50 to 70 pounds, has a brace height of 7 inches, and is 30 ½ inches axle-to-axle.
The Ballistic packs a ton of features and performance into a relatively small price tag (see above). missionarchery.com
**MISSION HYPE DT
Score: 89.5; Price: $399
▶ Featuring draw-length adjustability of 19 to 30 inches and 55 pounds of draw-weight adjustability, the Hype DT will grow with a young hunter. But here’s what made this bow stand out: It didn’t shoot like the other highly adjustable models we tested.
“It draws and shoots like the flagship bows we’ve tested,” said Noah. “The back wall is a little mushy, but not so bad. It’s fast… Dad, can I get this bow?”
The DT stands for Dampening Technology, and a Mathews Harmonic Stabilizer fits into the riser. While the Hype DT was the second-highest-scoring bow by the kids, it won Editor’s Choice for its ability to provide multiple seasons of use at a great price. missionarchery.com
**BASS PRO SHOPS BLACKOUT INTRIGUE
Score: 76.5; Price: $399
▶ The Intrigue was, well, intriguing. “I wasn’t expecting this bow to be this good,” said Noah. “It’s not a big name brand [when it comes to bows], but it’s a great bow.”
The Intrigue isn’t “ultra” adjustable, but it does have a high level of adjustability, with a draw-length range of 23 to 30 inches without the use of a bow press. Draw weight adjusts from 20 to 70 pounds. Weighing just 3.3 pounds and measuring 31 inches in length, it’s a compact bow that the kids loved to shoot.
The Intrigue package includes an Apex 3-pin sight, a stabilizer, a peep sight, a Hostage rest, a D-loop, and a wrist sling. That combo makes it one heck of a buy. basspro.com
MATHEWS CHILL SDX (flagship)
Score: 76; Price: $900
▶ The Chill SDX is a short-draw version of the Mathews’ Monster Chill X flagship bow. Using an AVS cam system, the SDX is draw-length-specific, with modules starting at 22 inches.
The Chill got points from the test team for its overall look and feel. All the kids thought it was an impressive-looking bow.
“The draw cycle is amazing, but I would have liked more let-off,” said Austin.
“It’s really comfortable to shoot, but it feels a little too big in my hands and it is noisier than I expected,” said Klyne.
The biggest downside is cost. Like the Hoyt Nitrum, this high-end model comes with a high-end price tag of more than double our winning bow’s. mathewsinc.com
HOYT NITRUM 30 (flagship)
Score: 70.25; Price: $950
▶ The Nitrum is a top-end bow that’s scaled down for kids. At $950, it also carries a premium price tag. One of Hoyt’s flagship offerings, the Nitrum features 2 inches of draw adjustment in its Z5 cam system, with the shortest being 24 inches, and a peak draw weight as low as 40 pounds.
“This bow is very comfortable and the draw is really smooth,” said Noah.
But the perceived lack of let-off was something all the testers mentioned. Performance, as expected, was outstanding. It zipped arrows downrange, and vibration was minimal. Most important, accuracy was consistent across the test panel. hoyt.com
Score: 69.5; Price: $299
▶ The Ignite is Hoyt’s foray into the realm of ultra-adjustable bows. With a draw length of 19 to 30 inches and a weight range of 15 to 70 pounds, the Ignite will provide years of service for a growing kid. But its performance wasn’t what the boys were hoping for.
“It seems awkward,” said Klyne. “The back wall is really mushy and the bow is loud. I didn’t like the draw cycle at all.”
On the other hand, both Noah and Austin found the bow to be comfortable, but they also noted that it is loud. The bow also got a mediocre “cool factor” score. The Ignite was the least expensive bow in our test, which parents, at least, might think is cool. hoyt.com
CABELAS CREDENCE (flagship)
Score: 63.75; Price: $610
The draw length of the Credence, which was engineered by Bowtech, is adjustable from 26 to 30 inches without a bow press. Draw weight adjusts from 50 to 70 pounds.
The Credence, which is a single-cam bow, received mixed reviews from the test panel on overall feel and shootability.
“It feels good and is very smooth,” said Gavin.
“I shot it well, but it didn’t feel great to me,” said Austin.
The bow comes in a ready-to-shoot kit that includes all accessories, along with arrows and field points. The Credence is a lightweight, coming in at less than 4 pounds, and it measures 32 inches axle-to-axle. cabelas.com
Score: 61; Price: $399
Another ultra-adjustable bow, the Cruzer can go from 12 to 30 inches of draw length, thanks to its MV cams. Draw weight ranges from 5 pounds up to 70.
The price is right on this bow, considering it is available in an RTH (Ready to Hunt) package that includes a Trophy Ridge rest, a four-pin sight, a stabilizer, and a quiver.
Unfortunately, the Cruzer’s performance didn’t live up to the test panel’s high expectations.
“I think the bow feels nice, but it has a lot of vibration,” said Austin.
Noah added: “I am not a fan at all of the draw cycle. It feels really choppy, almost like I was drawing it in sections.” beararchery.com
So are ultra-adjustable bows inferior to flagship models with draw-specific cam systems? Well, it depends. This test showed me that a draw-specific flagship bow isn’t automatically better than the ultra-adjustable (which I had assumed would be the case). It really comes down to the model and your shooter.
If your kid grows like a weed, you might consider one of the top adjustable models. On the other hand, if your young hunter is a little older and bigger, the flagships in our test would make a great hunting bow that offers top-level performance. And when your young hunter does outgrow the bow, it can be passed down to the next sibling in line.
How We Test
We tested eight compound bows, shooting arrows into McKenzie 3D and block-style targets in my southern Michigan backyard. Each bow was set to each individual shooter’s draw weight and length.
Testers graded each bow on its draw cycle, shootability, fit and finish, noise, cool factor (aesthetics), balance, overall feel, adjustability, huntability (how appropriate it is for deer hunting), and value. Neither accuracy nor arrow speed was a part of the test, simply because with such a range of draw lengths and weights, it would have been difficult to dial in each bow.
We based the test criteria (except for adjustability)solely on the kids’ opinions. Because when it comes down to it, the most important thing for a young shooter is that he enjoys the bow he’s shooting.
Meet the Testers (from left to right)
1) Noah Hansen, 14
Arguably the most experienced bowhunter of the group, Noah started bowhunting whitetails at age 8. He took his first buck last fall. He loves baseball and football; he’s a left-handed pitcher and standout linebacker.
2) Klyne Hughes, 14
An all-around outdoorsman, Klyne cut his outdoors teeth chasing coons, squirrels, and rabbits before graduating to whitetails. His best buck, a dandy 10-pointer, fell during last fall’s gun season. In the summer months, Klyne is a local legend on the horse-pulling circuit.
3) Austin Zank, 14
The least experienced bowhunter of the group, Austin is a terrific all-around athlete who plays baseball, football, and basketball; he also runs track.
4) Gavin Booher, 13
The youngest of the group, Gavin is an experienced bowhunter with plenty of hours in the woods under his belt.