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Podcast: What You Need to Know About Budget Bows and Used Flagship Bows

Budget bows and used flagships are great options for bowhunters looking for a deal, but they have their pros and cons
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The best budget bow under $600
Photo by Scott Einsmann

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Today’s flagship bows are marvels of engineering and performance, and they have the high prices to match. You’ll spend $1,200 to $1,900 to get the latest compound bow technology. But as you’ll hear in my discussion with P.J. Reilly from Lancaster Archery Supply, you don’t have to spend that much for a decent hunting bow. 

Reilly has been reviewing bows for LAS since 2016 and that historical context makes him one of the most knowledgeable bow reviewers in the game. He just conducted a test of six budget bows that shot impressively well. Here’s what you should know if you’re trying to find a nice bow without breaking the bank.

What Is a Budget Bow?

Everyone is going to have a different definition of affordable, but consider that bows under flagship pricing range from $200 to $1,000. And within that wide price gap the bows vary in quality and features. Reilly tested bows between $550 and $1,000, which is where you’re going to get the best balance of performance and cost.

The bows he tested have great cams, and many of them have the same cam as their flagship counterparts. They all shot a 350-grain arrow at about 300 fps, so they have plenty of energy output. Their accuracy was impressive. Most of the bows shot under 2-inch groups at 50 yards. 

What they lack is features and build quality. Let’s take the two top performers in Reilly’s test: the Darton Consequence and Bear Alaskan XT. The Bear Alaskan XT has an older cam design, polymer limb pockets, and a cast, rather than machined, riser. You won’t find features like ¼-inch draw length adjustment or dovetail arrow rest mounts. And the bow has a harsher draw and more vibration than most flagships.

The Darton is a standout because it has a machined riser, aluminum limb pockets, and a flagship cam — no wonder it won Reilly’s test. It is loud though. And if a bow with its noise level entered the flagship test, it would certainly find itself at the bottom of the pack. 

So yes, budget bows can shoot well, but there are tradeoffs to be had.

Read Next: The Best Compound Bows for the Money

Buying a New Budget Bow or a Used Flagship

An older flagship, like the Mathews Halon above, is still a great option for bowhunters on a budget.

Photo by Natalie Krebs

If you can’t live with polymer components or some of the other drawbacks of a non-flagship, you can buy a bow that’s a few years old for a substantial discount. Forums and Facebook groups have no shortage of people looking to unload their old bow. Right now on a forum there’s a Mathews Phase 4 listed for $800. That’s a few hundred off last year’s flagship, and personally I’d buy that over a brand new $800 bow like the Prime Ronan, Elite Terrain, and PSE Vengeance. 

On the same forum there’s a Hoyt Carbon Spyder Turbo listed for $500. That bow came out in 2013, so if it has factory strings they’ll definitely need to be replaced ($150). It is carbon, but consider that 2013 carbon bows are nothing like 2022 to 2024 models. Those older carbon bows weren’t very light, the risers weren’t very rigid, and they had some hand shock. Another thing to consider is the cam on the Darton Consequence is objectively more advanced than the one on the 2013 Carbon Spyder. So you’d be downgrading some of the tech going to the older bow. Still, you could buy that old flagship and certainly be successful hunting with it. You’d just be utilizing better designs with a modern budget bow.  

I’ve bought many used bows on forums and I’ve had great experiences doing it. It allowed me to try different bows and if I didn’t like them, I could resell them for about what I paid. But just like buying a used boat, you could be buying someone else’s problem and you won’t have a factory warranty. 

Read Next: Hunting Bows Keep Getting More Expensive. Are Flagship Bows Worth It?

The Upshot

If you’re looking to get a quality bow for hunting, without spending over $1,000, you have options. And luckily, they’re good options. You can buy a brand new budget compound bow from a dealer who will fit it to you, set it up, and tune it. Or you can hunt for deals and buy a used flagship bow at a discount. Both have their pros and cons, but ultimately it’s your skill as an archer that matters most.