The Best Compound Bows for the Money of 2023, Tested and Reviewed

These affordable compounds prove that you don't have to spend a fortune to get a great bow
The best bows for the money

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Compound bows have never been better, or more expensive. But there’s also never been more performance per dollar for bows under $800. The leaps in bow design over the last few years mean that for half the price of the best bows, you’re getting much more than half the performance. 

At the 2023 Outdoor Life Bow Test, we put 13 bows (9 flagship and 4 budget) through a head-to-head test that graded them on accuracy, build quality, features, and shooting experience. What we found out was that more expensive bows are easier to shoot accurately but that all the bows produced sub-8-inch groups at 50 yards. We also found out that some budget bows are very close to premium bows in speed.

So if you’re looking to get the best compound bow for the money, here are some great options. 

How We Tested the Bows

We shot the bows at 50 yards and measured group sizes. Derek Horner

Our parameters for a “budget bow” was a bow with a list price under $800, which puts our top-end price at less than half the cost of the most expensive hunting bows.

Three testers spent two days testing bows at the country’s premier archery shop, Lancaster Archery Supply. We tested bows for speed, accuracy, and overall shooting experience. Then we went to Stress Engineering to measure each bow’s sound and vibration. It’s extensive testing that will hopefully help you make a smart decision on your next bow. 

You’ll find the speed results, 50-yard group average, and scores in the test results section for each bow. 


We shot each bow three times and used a Labradar Chronograph to measure arrow speed in feet per second (fps). The three speeds were then averaged. The same 420-grain arrow, 60-pound draw weight, and 29-inch draw length was used for each bow.


Each tester shot several, five-shot groups at 50 yards. That’s a poke for a budget bow, but the accuracy test is telling because easy-to-shoot bows consistently print smaller groups for a wide range of archers. 

Build Quality

We looked over each bow and graded how well it was made compared to the other budget bows. We judged the machining, strings, stabilizer mounts, finish, and overall quality of the bow, then gave a score from one to five, with five being the best score. 

Back Wall

Once you draw a bow all the way back you’ll reach a point it stops, which is called the wall. Most archers like a wall that doesn’t have much movement because it feels solid. We graded this aspect from one to five, with five being the best.  

Draw Cycle

You can have two bows with the same draw weight, but one can feel easy to pull back and the other more difficult. That’s because bow draw cycles vary by design. Ideally, a bow will be smooth and easy to draw. We scored each bow’s draw on a one to five scale, with five being the best. 


A bow’s grip is important for accurate shooting because if the grip’s design causes the bow to turn in your hand, called torque, or produces inconsistent grip pressure, it will be difficult to shoot small groups.  

Stress Engineering 

Stress Engineering used an accelerometer to measure each bow's vibration. Scott Einsmann

We partnered with Stress Engineering Services’ Outdoor Division to test the bows. Stress Engineering uses specialized equipment to measure vibration and sound data. 


It’s important to note that we scored each bow against its own category. In other words, we scored budget bows against budget bows and flagships against flagships. We had an overall lower expectation for the subjective scoring categories with budget bows because, well, they are so much cheaper. 

Best Value: Elite Terrain

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  • Axle-to-axle: 32.5 inches
  • Weight: 3.9 pounds 
  • Draw Length: 25.5 to 31.5 inches
  • Draw Weight: 45 to 60 or 55 to 70 pounds 
  • Let Off: 85 percent
  • Price: $700

Test Results

  • Speed: 270 fps
  • 50-yard Group Average: 5.9 inches
  • Build Quality: 5
  • Features: 4
  • Back Wall: 4
  • Draw Cycle: 4
  • Grip: 4.5

If I didn’t know the Terrain’s price, I would have guessed it was around $1,000. That’s because the fit and finish is on par with the best flagships we tested this year. It also doesn’t feel like a budget bow as you draw it and shoot it, which is just as impressive. 

We put the budget bows through the same accuracy test as the flagship bows, and the Terrain printed a respectable 5.9-inch group average at 50 yards. Our biggest group average among the $800 and up category was the Bear Execute ($1,200), which had a 5.43-inch group average. So this $700 bow is hanging in there with a bow costing $500 more. 

elite terrain bow
The Elite Terrain was fun to shoot, but couldn't compete with it's big brother, the Era. Derek Horner

A major contributor to the accuracy was the fantastic grip. It’s a similar grip that’s on Elite’s more expensive bows, and it promotes proper technique with very little torque. An overlooked factor in buying a bow is how fun it is to shoot. A bow that’s fun to shoot will be fun to practice with, which means you’ll be more prepared for bow season. The Terrain’s draw cycle is easy, the back wall is solid, and it doesn’t rattle when you shoot—all the makings of a fun bow. In the Stress Engineering tests, the Terrain was the quietest and had the least vibration of all the bows under $800. 

A lot of budget-orientated bows have a wide adjustment range, but that usually comes at the expense of performance and a smooth draw. Elite’s engineers have managed to hit the sweet spot between a bow that’s adjustable from 25.5 to 31.5 inches and has 15 pounds of adjustment. Yet we measured the bow’s speed at 270 fps. Like the accuracy test, we tested the budget bows with the same draw weight, draw length, and arrow as the flagships. Our editor’s choice winner, the Elite Era, shot 271.5 fps and is more than twice the Terrain’s price. 

It’s exciting to see a bow provide so much value, and if you’re looking to spend less than $1,000, you must try this bow at an archery shop. I’d suggest shooting it along with a PSE Drive NXT since they’re both in the same price range. 

Best Under $500: Bear Legend 

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  • Axle-to-axle: 32 inches
  • Weight: 5.2 pounds (w/ sight and arrow rest)
  • Draw Length: 18 to 31 inches
  • Draw Weight: 14 to 70 pounds
  • Let Off: 85 percent 
  • Price: $460

Test Results

  • Speed: 263 fps 
  • 50-yard Group Average: 6.75 inches
  • Build Quality: 4
  • Features: 3
  • Back Wall: 4
  • Draw Cycle: 5
  • Grip: 3.5

You will not find a smoother drawing bow for the money than the Legend XR. It’s one of those bows that feels lighter than its actual draw weight. That’s going to make it nice to pull back on a frigid morning or when you’re shooting the 100th arrow of a summer practice session. 

The smooth draw cycle is the hallmark of the Legend XR, but it also has one of the widest adjustment ranges. It can fit a youth archer with an 18-inch draw length and pulling 14 pounds. With some quick adjustments, it can then fit a tall adult with a 31-inch draw length pulling a hefty 70 pounds.The Legend XR is a pretty quiet bow, which is nice for the fun factor of shooting and for hunting. 

It does have some residual buzz that you’ll feel in your hand, and it did the worst of the budget bows in our lab vibration test. The grip is a little too rounded, but it didn’t stop us from shooting a 6.75 inch 50 yard group average. The bow’s price heavily outweighs its minor cons. The Legend XR is right there with the Terrain in terms of what you’re getting for the money. 


See It


  • Axle-to-axle: 33 inches
  • Weight: 4.4 pounds
  • Draw Length: 24 to 31 inches
  • Draw Weight: 50 to 60 pounds or 60 to 70 pounds
  • Let Off: 80 percent
  • Price: $750

Test Results

  • Speed: 266 fps
  • 50-yard Group Average: 6.8 inches
  • Build Quality: 4
  • Features: 4
  • Back Wall: 3.75
  • Draw Cycle: 4.5
  • Grip: 2.5

PSE builds bows for all budgets and all archers. Their dedication to producing USA-made, high-quality, and affordable bows is impressive. The Drive NXT is at the upper end of their more affordable bows, but still costs half the price of their high-end bows. 

Drawing the Drive NXT takes a little effort at the beginning, but once you get its large cams moving, it’s very smooth all the way back. The back wall is softer than I like, but you can easily hold the NXT at full draw without worrying about the string lunging forward. It uses a ZF Quad-Track Cam System, which is what you see on PSE’s more expensive bows, and it allows for greater tuning capabilities than your typical bow in the $800 price point. If you’re looking to shoot fixed-blade broadheads or get the most accuracy possible from your bow, that cam system makes it easier for a bow tech to tune it. 

The Drive NXT is a well-built bow that's held back by a hard-to-shoot grip. Derek Horner

In the Stress Engineering tests, the NXT was right behind the Terrain in vibration, but it was about 1 decibel louder than the Legend XR and 2 decibels louder than the Terrain. 

The Drive NXT has a comfortable grip, but it’s not the best shape for consistent shooting. I think the grip is the reason we shot a 6.8-inch group average. The bow has wide limbs, good limb pockets, a proven cam design, and a machined riser—all the things you look for in an accurate bow. So I think the Drive NXT could shoot tighter with a different grip or time to get used to the grip. 

BlackOut Intrigue XST

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  • Axle-to-axle: 30.25 inches
  • Weight: 4 pounds
  • Draw Length: 19 to 31 inches
  • Draw Weight: 30 to 70 pounds
  • Let Off: 80 percent
  • Price: $350 (Ready to hunt package)

Test Results

  • Speed: 244.3 fps
  • 50-yard Group Average: 7.15 inches
  • Build Quality: 2.75
  • Features: 2
  • Back Wall: 2
  • Draw Cycle: 2.25
  • Grip: 2.5

It’s probably best to get the bad news out of the way with the Intrigue XST: This bow isn’t fun to shoot, it wasn’t accurate, it was the loudest, and it’s generally not a great bow. 

Here’s the thing, though. Our test team shoots the best bows made every year, and we have refined tastes in archery equipment. If you’re new to archery you can learn the basics and kill deer at 20 yards with the Intrigue XST. If you do decide to buy this bow, one of the best things you can do for yourself is to shoot this bow at a low draw weight. At 60 pounds, it feels like a 70 pound bow and it’s not easy to hold at full draw. You’ll shoot better and have more fun with the Intrigue XST if you keep your draw weight at a comfortable setting. 

Here’s another nugget of archery wisdom: Take archery lessons and have an archery shop tune your bow before you go hunting this fall. While the shop is tuning the bow, ask them to swap the peep sight that came with the Intrigue XST for a Trio Peep. That new peep will automatically align but doesn’t rely on an annoying rubber hose. 

If you’re really excited to start bowhunting and you need to spend less than $400 on a bow and accessories, then the Blackout Intrigue XST is a good option. If you can save up and buy the Legend XR, which is $560 with accessories, I think you’ll enjoy shooting it a lot more. 

Other Great Bows for the Money

We couldn’t test all the best bows, so here are a few great options we didn’t test this year. 

PSE Stinger

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  • Axle-to-axle: 32 inches
  • Weight: 4 pounds 
  • Draw Length: 21.5 to 30 inches
  • Draw Weight: 50, 60, or 70-pound peak weight
  • Let Off: 80 percent 
  • Price: $500 (Ready to hunt)

When I was coaching archery, I suggested the PSE Stinger to students as a first bow after graduating from a Genesis. That’s because the PSE Stinger is known for being a high-value bow and a great shooter for the money. It will fit just about anyone and is a good option for youth archers who will need to adjust their draw length and draw weight as they grow. It has a single cam, which means it will draw smoothly, but be average in arrow speed. 

Diamond Edge 320

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  • Axle-to-axle: 32 inches
  • Weight: 3.6 pounds
  • Draw Length: 15 to 31 inches
  • Draw Weight: 7 to 70 pounds
  • Let Off: 85 percent
  • Price: $470 (Ready to hunt)

Most bows adjust from the mid 20s to low 30s in draw length. But, the Edge 320 can adjust from 15 inches to 31 inches of draw length and 7 to 70 pounds in draw weight. That’s a huge benefit because it allows you to find the proper draw length and start with a low draw weight. A proper draw length means steadier aiming and better accuracy. A comfortable draw weight that you can slowly increase means avoiding injury and bad habits. If you’re looking for a bow with tons of adjustment, the Edge 320 should be on your list of bows to try. 

Bear Archery Limitless 

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  • Axle-to-axle: 28 inches
  • Draw Length: 19 to 29 inches
  • Draw Weight: 25 to 50 pounds
  • Let Off: 50 percent 
  • Price: $250

We’ve seen a lot of bows that can work for both adults and kids, but the Limitless is made specifically for youth archers. That’s important, especially for hunting, because bows that have a wide adjustment range will typically lack performance at short draw lengths. The Limitless adjusts from 19 to 29 inches, so the cam design is optimized for shorter draw lengths. It adjusts in draw weight from 25 to 50 pounds. For an adult, 25 pounds is pretty light and easy to draw. But it’s still a significant draw weight and not the starting point for a brand-new archer. Most young archers can comfortably draw 15 pounds and will be able to shoot 25 pounds and up as they progress. That’s why I would suggest a Genesis bow or something similar for a first bow, and then the Limitless would make a great first hunting bow. 

Buy Used

Bows have terrible resale value, and it’s not uncommon to see last year’s bows being sold used for 30 to 40 percent off. That means you can get a fantastic bow for a great price. But buying a used bow is a lot like buying a used car. There could be some unseen problems under the hood. In the worst-case scenario, you buy a bow that’s been abused, and the manufacturer will only honor the warranty for the original owner. Then you’re stuck with a bow that needs repairs. Even if you get a bow that’s in great shape, you’ll probably want to change out the bowstrings. Strings are like tires, and you should change them every one to two years, depending on how much you shoot. A new set of strings will run $100 to $200. 

One alternative to playing used bow roulette is to buy leftover stock from an archery shop. Flagship bows that go unsold are usually heavily discounted so the shop can recoup their expense. This is a great way to get a screaming deal on a bow. Plus, the shop will typically set it up and tune it for you for free. 

Final Thoughts

You don’t have to spend a lot of money to get a bow that’s both fun to shoot and deadly in the woods. The most important thing you can do is buy a bow that fits you properly and learn how to shoot it. Use the information I’ve provided to select a few bows in your price range and shoot them at an archery shop. That test drive is the final piece in deciding on the best bow for the money. 

Scott Einsmann Avatar

Scott Einsmann

Executive Gear Editor

Scott Einsmann is Outdoor Life’s gear editor. He oversees the gear team’s editors and writers who are subject matter experts in bows, knives, hunting, fishing, backpacking, and more. He lives in Richmond, Virginia with his wife and two bird dogs.