Bow Shootout 2004 We put 21 new bows through the ultimate test

Who says archery isn't rocket science? In an effort to make this year's bow test the most comprehensive ever, we asked a NASA engineer to oversee a test in which we weighed 21 new bows with a calibrated scale, measured their speed with a chronograph, checked their noise level on a sound-level meter and used two accelerometers to measure their vibration. Next, all five members of the test team, which included two OUTDOOR LIFE editors and one of the country's top bow technicians, spent several days shooting and judging each bow in the field. All of the major bow manufacturers were invited to participate. Here's how they fared.

TEST CRITERIA

All of the bows in the test were set to a draw weight of 60 pounds and fitted with NAP Quik Tune 800 rests, brass arrow nocks and eliminator buttons. The center shot was established using an Eze-Center laser shot gauge mounted to the AMO sight holes. The bows were shot by a Spot-Hogg shooting machine with a Spot-Hogg Cascade Model 10 release, which was triggered by a shutter-style button.

The objective criteria counted toward 60 percent of the final score.

They were:

--Mass weight. Measured with a calibrated postal scale.

--Speed. A Pro-Chrono digital chronograph was used to measure each bow's speed. The speeds reported here follow the Archery Manufacturers and Merchants Organization's (AMO) specifications: a bow with a 30-inch draw length and 60-pound draw weight shooting a 540-grain arrow.

--Noise. A calibrated Vernier sound-level meter was used to measure the peak bow noise in decibels. The mean decibel reading was 91.88--those that were higher were deemed loud.

--Vibration. Two calibrated Vernier 25-g accelerometers were used to read both the horizontal and vertical vibration of each bow. The mean average for horizontal vibration was 128.33 meters per second squared (m/s2) and the vertical mean was 44.83 m/s2. Numbers higher than average made more noise and were less comfortable to shoot.

The subjective criteria accounted for 40 percent of each bow's final score. They were:

--Fit/Finish. The quality of the bow's construction and finish.

--Balance/Grip. The archer's overall comfort level when using the bow.

--Smoothness. The relative ease and efficiency of the bow's draw cycle.

--Full Draw. The shooter's comfort level at full draw.

--Shootability. How a bow feels during and after the shot.

The bows that achieved the 10 highest scores are critiqued on the following pages in alphabetical order (the Editor's Choice and Great Buy bows have been singled out). The scores and specifications for all 21 bows in this test are listed in the chart at the end of this article.

TOP 10 BOWS

HIGH COUNTRY TSSR A carbon-fiber riser made the TSSR the lightest bow we tested--it weighed in at a skimpy 2.8 pounds. Its Per-FX Cam makes it a performer at 232.6 feet per second (fps), and its high 7 1/4-inch brace height should translate into accuracy. At 87.3 decibels, it was also one of the quietest bows in this test. Despite these attributes, the panel agreed that this is definitely a bow for a niche market. The bow is so light it can be difficult to manage, especially on shots over 30 yards. Its lack of weight resulted in the second-highest vibration, with readings of 116.9 m/s2. After running 30 arrows through the bow, I walked away with mixed feelings. Archers looking for a bow they can pack comfortably for hours might find the TSSR a good fit, though others may steer clear of it because of its toylike feel. Then again, this could be the direction in which riser technology is heading. (423-949-5000; www.highcountry archery.com)

HOYT XTEC

Once all of the scores were crunched, Hoyt's XTEC found itself among the leaders of this test. Its unique riser immediately set it apart from the field. At 46.8 m/s2, the XTEC had the least vibration of any bow in the test, and at 81.6 decibels it was the quietest. The XTEC also scored high marks for "shootability," due to its lack of hand shock and noise.

Its Cam & 1/2 system draws like butter and propelled arrows at a respectable 225.7 feet per second (fps). The bow balanced very well and had a hard "back wall" (the stop at the end of the draw cycle) we deemed excellent. Even its cable slide had a trick half-moon design that makes it easy to change. As for improvements, we would like to see its arrow shelf widened just a bit to accommodate larger broadheads. (801-363-2990; www.hoytusa.com)

KODIAK OUTDOORS BOW LOGIC 32 Most bowhunters have never heard of Kodiak, but that might be about to change. At 32 inches axle to axle and with a weight of just 3.6 pounds, the Bow Logic 32 is nimble. Its long, 7 3/4-inch brace height made it very forgiving, because the arrow leaves the string sooner than it does on aggressive bows. The bow scored high for its finish, balance and back wall. Its Quik Draw S Cam system was the easiest in the field to adjust and sent arrows out at 229 fps. Future improvements should include quieting the bow--it reached 98.3 decibels--and taming some of its vibration (106.5 m/s2). (480-222-4002; www.kodiakoutdoors.net)

MATHEWS OUTBACK

The Outback from Mathews finished a close second to Bow Tech's Liberty. With a length of 31 5/8 inches from axle to axle, it was the shortest bow in the bunch. Because of that, we expected it to be unruly. It wasn't. The diminutive stature of this bow, combined with its long brace height of 7 5/8 inches, made it handle like a European sports car in a tight turn.

The fit and finish tied for the highest score in the test, and the speed (238.6 fps) tied for second fastest. At 54.4 m/s2, the Outback is almost vibration-free--it was second only to the Hoyt. On the downside, as with the Bow Tech, we would like to see this bow's handle put on a diet so it would have a snugger feel at full draw. (608-269-2728; www.mathewsinc.com)

PEARSON DAGGER The Dagger shot a fast 236 fps in our test, was relatively quiet (91.8 decibels) and had a small amount of vibration and hand shock (78.7 m/s2). At 32 3/8 inches axle to axle, it proved to be maneuverable. The Dagger scored high marks for its fit and finish and ergonomics--its burled walnut handle caught the eye of the panel. I personally liked the innovative limb pocket system that locks them neatly into the riser. One panel member said this was "the bow he'd be shooting in 2004." Improvements would include updating its cable-guard system and trimming a bit off its 4.8 pounds. (251-867-8475; www.benpearson.com)

PROLINE STALKER

This was the dark horse in the race. The Stalker got high grades for its weight (3.9 pounds), speed (233.6 fps), vibration (61.2 m/s2) and noise level (88.1 decibels). In fact, this bow recorded the highest cumulative objective score in the test.

We liked its deflexed riser and generous brace height, both of which will make this bow an accurate shooter. However, there was a difference of opinion on its draw cycle--some liked it, others had harsh words. I personally found it to be a bit rough. Everyone agreed that its suggested retail price of $529.83 made it a great intermediate-level bow. Its hard black rubber grip needs help. (269-945-0344; www.prolinebows.com)

PSE SCORPION

At 8 inches, the Scorpion had the second-longest brace height of the group. Combine this with its very smooth draw cycle and tight back wall and you've got a bow that will keep you consistently on target. Our test team was particularly impressed with its grip and balance. I found the riser machining to be among the best of the group and especially liked the Scorpion's Mossy Oak Obsession graphics.

Its NRG one-cam produced arrow speeds of 225.3 fps. While not particularly fast, it's adequate if you prefer accuracy over blistering speed. Hand shock is minimal (77.6 m/s2) and construction is solid.

Our panel unanimously agreed that the bow could stand to lose some of its 4.1 pounds, and that its vibration dampeners were a distraction on an otherwise attractive package. (800-477-7789; www.pse-archery.com)

RENEGADE TR-4 Despite a reasonable suggested retail price of $475, the TR-4 was big on features. Its long 7 7/8-inch brace height makes it forgiving for a bow that shoots a fast 237 fps. Its mass weight of 3.6 pounds was the second-lightest in this test. Our panel, however, was divided in almost every subjective category. I found the TR-4 to be enjoyable to shoot, but another panel member found it very unfriendly to his shooting style. The bow's shortcomings included sharp edges on its riser and cosmetic oddities on its limbs and cams. You'll have to try the TR4 to see if it suits your own shooting style. (715-568-2730; www.renegade bows.com)

Innovations: Breaking the Mold

Drawing back and letting down the Concept Archery's Concept 99 (right) is jolting. The bow's let-off is 99 percent. You have to completely relax before the cam jumps to action. The Concept 99's cam utilizes a patent-pending axle notch that holds it in place. While the bow is not for everyone, it will find favor with hunters who struggle to keep their bow steady when they're at full draw.

At 2.8 pounds, High Country's TSSR (left) feels like a youth bow. As a result, it received a lot of discussion and scrutiny from the test team. The use of carbon fiber in its riser instead of machined aluminum makes this bow featherlight. High Country appears to have cured the ills of stress fracturing that plagued similar designs in the past. Only time will tell if consumers will embrace this radically different compound bow.

OUTDOOR LIFE EDITOR'S CHOICE 2004

Bow Tech Liberty Final Score: 92

This smooth operator took top billing for best all-around new bow. The first thing we noticed was its strikingly parallel limbs--at full draw they actually go beyond parallel. Next, we found that its FreedomCam resulted in a Teflon-smooth draw cycle. And though testers are supposed to keep their comments to themselves to avoid influencing others, a few were caught smiling as they drew and felt the Liberty's solid back wall, which was judged to be the best in the group.

In the objective portion of the test, the Liberty had very little vibration (59.9 m/s2). At 84.7 decibels, it was the second-quietest bow tested. Upon release, the Liberty shot smoothly without any appreciable hand shock and its AMO speed was clocked at 226 fps. While this is not considered fast, the bow had plenty of oomph to get the job done. The only negative thing we found was that its handle is a bit blocky--a minor criticism of an otherwise fantastic bow. ($729; 888-689-1289; www.bowtecharchery.com)

OUTDOOR LIFE GREAT BUY 2004

Reflex Grizzly

The Grizzly's unique "truss" riser design immediately caught our eye, and its performance impressed us. But its price is what really grabbed us. Despite a suggested retail price of just $299, this bow had it all. Its Cam & 1/2 system earned its draws a score of excellent. Its back wall was solid. The bow balanced well and shot smoothly. In fact, many of its scores exceeded those of bows priced more than twice as much.

At 224.6 fps, the Grizzly's speed isn't going to turn heads, but it's plenty fast enough to hang heads on your wall. Its 37.5-inch axle-to-axle length and its brace height of 7 1/4 inches made the Grizzly an accurate bow. Its hand shock measured a moderate 82.6 m/s2, and its sound a quiet 89.5 decibels. With all this performance for under $300, it's hard to nitpick; however, knocking a couple of ounces off its 4.1 pounds of mass weight would be a good thing. (801-363-2990; www.reflexbow.com)

THE TEST TEAM (Left to right) Todd Kuhn, Ph.D., OUTDOOR LIFE's bowhunting columnist, has a doctorate in environmental engineering and has been bowhunting for more than 35 years. Frank Miniter is a senior editor at OUTDOOR LIFE and an avid bowhunter. Will Snyder, an associate editor at OUTDOOR LIFE, is also a bow enthusiast. Ed Schlimme is one of the top archery technicians in the United States and has been actively involved in the sport for more than 25 years. Dr. Daniel Woodard is a research engineer at the Kennedy Space Center. He oversaw the technical aspects (noise, vibration and speed) of testing.

bow test results

MANUFACTURER/MODEL Alpine SVX Suggested Retail Price $439.00 Weight*(lb.) 3.9 Axle-to-Axle 35 in. AMO Speed*(fps) 214.7 Brace Height 7 1/2 in. Noise(decibels) 98.0 Horiz. Vibration 125.4 Vert. Vibration 71.6 Avg. Vibration 98.50 Fit/Finish F Balance/Grip F Back Wall VG Draw Cycle F Shootability G Noise F Weight E Speed F Vibration F Final Score G Comments The SVX scored high marks for its light weight (3.9 pounds); it was, however, the slowest bow, at 214.7 fps.

MANUFACTURER/MODEL Archery Research AR-34 Suggested Retail Price $599.00 Weight*(lb.) 4.5 Axle-to-Axle 34 in. AMO Speed*(fps) 230.6 Brace Height 8 in. Noise(decibels) 92.9 Horiz. Vibration 195.3 Vert. Vibration 62.8 Avg. Vibration 129.00 Fit/Finish G Balance/Grip G Back Wall VG Draw Cycle G Shootability VG Noise F Weight F Speed VG Vibration F Final Score G Comments The AR's strength lay in its firm back wall and overall shootability. Testers either loved or hated this bow.

EDITOR'S CHOICE MANUFACTURER/MODEL Bow Tech Liberty Suggested Retail Price $729.00 Weight*(lb.) 4.2 Axle-to-Axle 33 1/4 in. AMO Speed*(fps) 226.0 Brace Height 7 1/2 in. Noise(decibels) 84.7 Horiz. Vibration 90.6 Vert. Vibration 29.2 Avg. Vibration 59.90 Fit/Finish VG Balance/Grip VG Back Wall E Draw Cycle E Shootability E Noise E Weight F Speed F Vibration E Final Score 92 Comments Both the testers and the computer loved this bow. It was quiet, vibration-free and comfortable to shoot.

MANUFACTURER/MODEL Browning F-5 Tornado Suggested Retail Price $329.00 Weight*(lb.) 4.1 Axle-to-Axle 33 in. AMO Speed*(fps) 216.0 Brace Height 8 1/4 in. Noise(decibels) 97.7 Horiz. Vibration 181.8 Vert. Vibration 45.6 Avg. Vibration 113.70 Fit/Finish F Balance/Grip F Back Wall F Draw Cycle F Shootability G Noise F Weight VG Speed F Vibration F Final Score G Comments While the team didn't give it high marks, the Tornado is a good value for beginners who need an easy-to-shoot bow.

MANUFACTURER/MODEL Cabela's PL-1.5 Suggested Retail Price $449.00 Weight*(lb.) 4.5 Axle-to-Axle 35 in. AMO Speed*(fps) 230.0 Brace Height 6 1/2 in. Noise(decibels) 88.6 Horiz. Vibration 112.9 Vert. Vibration 34.9 Avg. Vibration 73.90 Fit/Finish F Balance/Grip F Back Wall F Draw Cycle F Shootability G Noise VG Weight F Speed F Vibration VG Final Score G Comments Cabela's PL-1.5 was fast, quiet and low on vibration. It stumbled at the range, where some felt it was unruly.

MANUFACTURER/MODEL Champion Scorpion Suggested Retail Price $699.00 Weight*(lb.) 5.6 Axle-to-Axle 35 5/8 in. AMO Speed*(fps) 229.7 Brace Height 6 7/8 in. Noise(decibels) 95.4 Horiz. Vibration 147.7 Vert. Vibration 60.2 Avg. Vibration 103.95 Fit/Finish F Balance/Grip F Back Wall VG Draw Cycle G Shootability G Noise F Weight F Speed F Vibration F Final Score G Comments With a little bit of refinement and a big diet, the Scorpion could be a top-notch performer worthy of its price tag.

MANUFACTURER/MODEL Concept 99 Suggested Retail Price $599.00 Weight*(lb.) 4.1 Axle-to-Axle 36 in. AMO Speed*(fps) 230.0 Brace Height 7 1/2 in. Noise(decibels) 96.4 Horiz. Vibration 110.4 Vert. Vibration 36.2 Avg. Vibration 73.30 Fit/Finish G Balance/Grip F Back Wall F Draw Cycle F Shootability G Noise F Weight VG Speed F Vibration VG Final Score G Comments The "99" stands for 99 percent effective let-off. Despite the high let-off, the 99 was fast. It was, however, clunky.

MANUFACTURER/MODEL CSS Contender Suggested Retail Price $499.00 Weight*(lb.) 3.1 Axle-to-Axle 37 1/2 in. AMO Speed*(fps) 241.3 Brace Height 6 5/8 in. Noise(decibels) 95.7 Horiz. Vibration 115.3 Vert. Vibration 40.5 Avg. Vibration 77.90 Fit/Finish F Balance/Grip F Back Wall F Draw Cycle F Shootability F Noise F Weight E Speed E Vibration VG Final Score G Comments The Contender was the fastest bow in our test (241 fps), but it balanced poorly and had a spongy back wall.

MANUFACTURER/MODEL Darton EXT Suggested Retail Price $649.00 Weight*(lb.) 4.3 Axle-to-Axle 40 in. AMO Speed*(fps) 232.7 Brace Height 7 1/2 in. Noise(decibels) 93.5 Horiz. Vibration 160.9 Vert. Vibration 56.6 Avg. Vibration 108.80 Fit/Finish F Balance/Grip G Back Wall F Draw Cycle G Shootability VG Noise F Weight F Speed VG Vibration F Final Score G Comments This long 40-inch bow was fun to shoot and, at 232 fps, was fairly fast. On the downside, it had a lot of vibration.

MANUFACTURER/MODEL High Country TSSR Suggested Retail Price $619.00 Weight*(lb.) 2.8 Axle-to-Axle 34 in. AMO Speed*(fps) 232.6 Brace Height 7 1/4 in. Noise(decibels) 87.3 Horiz. Vibration 157.7 Vert. Vibration 76.0 Avg. Vibration 116.90 Fit/Finish F Balance/Grip F Back Wall F Draw Cycle F Shootability F Noise E Weight E Speed VG Vibration F Final Score G Comments The TSSR weighed in at 2.8 pounds. It was fast, quiet and had little vibration. It was, however, difficult to manage.

MANUFACTURER/MODEL Hoyt XTEC XT Suggested Retail Price $749.00 Weight*(lb.) 4.3 Axle-to-Axle 35 1/2 in. AMO Speed*(fps) 225.7 Brace Height 7 in. Noise(decibels) 81.6 Horiz. Vibration 58.6 Vert. Vibration 35.0 Avg. Vibration 46.80 Fit/Finish G Balance/Grip VG Back Wall E Draw Cycle E Shootability E Noise E Weight F Speed F Vibration E Final Score E Comments The XTEC had the least amount of vibration and was the quietest bow in this test. It was smooth and shot well.

MANUFACTURER/MODEL Jennings CK 3.5 Suggested Retail Price $499.00 Weight*(lb.) 4.7 Axle-to-Axle 35 1/8 in. AMO Speed*(fps) 231.6 Brace Height 7 1/2 in. Noise(decibels) 93.8 Horiz. Vibration 98.9 Vert. Vibration 28.5 Avg. Vibration 63.70 Fit/Finish F Balance/Grip F Back Wall VG Draw Cycle VG Shootability F Noise F Weight F Speed VG Vibration E Final Score VG Comments The panel liked the CK 3.5's draw cycle; however, they thought its grip was clumsy and its balance was awkward.

MANUFACTURER/MODEL Kodiak Bow Logic 32 Suggested Retail Price $599.00 Weight*(lb.) 3.6 Axle-to-Axle 32 in. AMO Speed*(fps) 229.0 Brace Height 7 3/4 in. Noise(decibels) 98.3 Horiz. Vibration 168.4 Vert. Vibration 44.5 Avg. Vibration 106.50 Fit/Finish VG Balance/Grip VG Back Wall VG Draw Cycle VG Shootability G Noise F Weight E Speed F Vibration F Final Score VG Comments Just 32 inches long and weighing 3.6 pounds, the Bow Logic 32 is nimble. Testers found that it shot well, too.

MANUFACTURER/MODEL Martin SlayR SE Suggested Retail Price $649.00 Weight*(lb.) 5.5 Axle-to-Axle 35 in. AMO Speed*(fps) 226.6 Brace Height 6 3/4 in. Noise(decibels) 91.9 Horiz. Vibration 177.1 Vert. Vibration 51.2 Avg. Vibration 114.20 Fit/Finish G Balance/Grip VG Back Wall G Draw Cycle G Shootability VG Noise VG Weight F Speed F Vibration F Final Score G Comments The SlayR SE balanced and shot well. On the downside, it was a little heavy and its vibration was high.

MANUFACTURER/MODEL Mathews Outback Suggested Retail Price $729.00 Weight*(lb.) 4.3 Axle-to-Axle 31 5/8 in. AMO Speed*(fps) 238.6 Brace Height 7 5/8 in. Noise(decibels) 90.4 Horiz. Vibration 83.3 Vert. Vibration 25.5 Avg. Vibration 54.40 Fit/Finish VG Balance/Grip VG Back Wall VG Draw Cycle VG Shootability VG Noise VG Weight F Speed E Vibration E Final Score E Comments Mathews' Outback finished a close second to Bow Tech's Liberty. It did very well in every test category.

MANUFACTURER/MODEL Parker Phoenix 34 Suggested Retail Price $619.00 Weight*(lb.) 4.3 Axle-to-Axle 34 in. AMO Speed*(fps) 224.6 Brace Height 7 1/4 in. Noise(decibels) 86.0 Horiz. Vibration 154.3 Vert. Vibration 34.8 Avg. Vibration 94.60 Fit/Finish G Balance/Grip G Back Wall G Draw Cycle G Shootability VG Noise E Weight F Speed F Vibration F Final Score G Comments With a new grip the Phoenix 34 would have scored a lot higher. It was quiet and did well in the field test.

MANUFACTURER/MODEL Pearson Dagger Suggested Retail Price $659.00 Weight*(lb.) 4.8 Axle-to-Axle 32 3/8 in. AMO Speed*(fps) 236.0 Brace Height 7 1/2 in. Noise(decibels) 91.5 Horiz. Vibration 116.4 Vert. Vibration 40.9 Avg. Vibration 78.70 Fit/Finish VG Balance/Grip VG Back Wall VG Draw Cycle G Shootability G Noise VG Weight F Speed E Vibration VG Final Score VG Comments The Dagger shot 236 fps in our test. It did well overall; it was relatively quiet and its vibration was slight.

MANUFACTURER/MODEL Pro Line Stalker Suggested Retail Price $529.00 Weight*(lb.) 3.9 Axle-to-Axle 35 3/4 in. AMO Speed*(fps) 233.6 Brace Height 7 1/4 in. Noise(decibels) 88.1 Horiz. Vibration 93.3 Vert. Vibration 29.2 Avg. Vibration 61.25 Fit/Finish F Balance/Grip F Back Wall F Draw Cycle F Shootability F Noise E Weight VG Speed E Vibration E Final Score VG Comments The Stalker recorded the highest Cumulative objective score in the test. Some testers didn't like its draw cycle.

MANUFACTURER/MODEL PSE Scorpion Suggested Retail Price $599.00 Weight*(lb.) 4.1 Axle-to-Axle 33 in. AMO Speed*(fps) 225.3 Brace Height 8 in. Noise(decibels) 92.8 Horiz. Vibration 107.1 Vert. Vibration 48.0 Avg. Vibration 77.60 Fit/Finish G Balance/Grip VG Back Wall VG Draw Cycle VG Shootability G Noise F Weight VG Speed F Vibration VG Final Score G Comments Our test team was particularly impressed with the Scorpion's grip and balance, and it did well in most categories.

GREAT BUY MANUFACTURER/MODEL Reflex Grizzly Suggested Retail Price $299.00 Weight*(lb.) 4.1 Axle-to-Axle 37 1/2 in. AMO Speed*(fps) 224.6 Brace Height 7 1/4 in. Noise(decibels) 89.5 Horiz. Vibration 124.7 Vert. Vibration 40.4 Avg. Vibration 82.60 Fit/Finish G Balance/Grip VG Back Wall VG Draw Cycle E Shootability VG Noise VG Weight VG Speed F Vibration F Final Score VG Comments Despite a suggested retail price of just $299, this bow had it all: a smooth draw cycle, balance and little vibration.

MANUFACTURER/MODEL Renegade TR-4 Suggested Retail Price $475.00 Weight*(lb.) 3.6 Axle-to-Axle 35 5/8 in. AMO Speed*(fps) 237.0 Brace Height 7 7/8 in. Noise(decibels) 95.2 Horiz. Vibration 114.8 Vert. Vibration 49.8 Avg. Vibration 82.30 Fit/Finish G Balance/Grip G Back Wall F Draw Cycle F Shootability F Noise F Weight E Speed E Vibration F Final Score VG Comments The TR-4 is fast and has a forgiving high brace height, but testers were divided on its draw and back wall.

*As tested. Results may vary from manufacturers' specifications.

What the scores mean Fair: 60-69 points Very Good: 80-89 points Good: 70-79 points Excellent: 90-100 points

For more bow comments, go to www.outdoorlife.com/gear/fieldtested