This year's bow test turned out to be a slugfest that went down to the wire. Techno advances were evident throughout the field, as manufacturers continued to ratchet up performance in their drive for shooting perfection. After shooting hundreds of arrows through the field, testing and re-testing, our panel was left with the formidable task of ranking and rating the competitors. Here's how the field shook out after we put the best new bows of 2011 through the toughest gauntlet of tests in existence. Win the bows that won the test!
Click here for more information! Photos by Monica Lopossay.
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THE TEST TEAM Dr. Todd Kuhn ( Top Left ) is Outdoor Life’s Bowhunting Editor and holds a doctoral degree in Environmental Engineering. Dr. Kuhn has been a bowhunter for more than 40 years and has been writing about archery and bowhunting for more than 20 years. Chad “Moose” Whitmoyer ( Bottom Left )is lead “Techxpert” at Lancaster Archery Supply. Whitmoyer is arguably the nation’s top bow technician, setting up equipment for high-profile bowhunters and target archers. He is a former member of the Penn State Archery Team. Larry Kaye ( Top Right ) is an avid archer with more than 30 years of bowhunting experience. Kaye is also an accomplished target archer. Kaye brings a broad-based knowledge of bowhunting and archery to the test team. Gus Edwards ( Bottom Right ) owns and operates Autumn Sky Outfitters in Street, Maryland. He also is considered one of the top bow technicians on the East Coast. Edwards shoots competitively and is an accomplished bowhunter.
OBJECTIVE SCORING: Each bow receives a score of 60-100 in 10 categories. Objective criteria include weight, speed (with a 350-grain arrow), peak noise and total vibration. SUBJECTIVE SCORING: Subjective criteria include fit-and-finish, ergonomics, solidness of back wall (let-off), draw cycle, overall shootability and Price/Value. The bows with the best Overall and Price/Value scores receive our Editor’s Choice and Great Buy awards, respectively. To test for vibration, bows are fitted with accelerometers and shot from a machine rest. Testers then shoot, evaluate and score each bow in six subjective categories. Those numbers are combined with empirical data to derive our overall scores. WHERE WE TEST Autumn Sky Outfitters, located in Street, Maryland, is a full-service archery, muzzleloader and crossbow retailer. Boasting 9,000 square feet of retail space, ASO houses a 20-yard indoor range and an AIS Techno-Hunt electronic shooting center. ASO sponsors outdoor 3D leagues, indoor archery tournaments and Techno-Hunt tournaments. Expert, one-on-one shooting instruction is also available, as the staff is made up of accomplished tournament archers as well as avid bowhunters. Additionally, ASO sells and services a wide range of crossbow brands, and they service everything they sell in-house. ASO also offers online services for crossbows at everythingcrossbow.com. ( 410-836-3660; autumnskyoutfitters.com )
Hoyt Carbon Element – 2011 Editor’s Choice Overall Rating: 4 stars Weight: 3.74 lb.
Speed: 321 fps
Noise: 86.3 dBA
Vibration: 16.34 m/s2 The Carbon Element is a shorter version of last year’s Matrix. At 32 inches axle-to-axle, the Element tips the scales at just 3 pounds 11.8 ounces–simply amazing. Even more impressive, it zipped arrows downrange at 321 fps, while registering a scant 16.34 m/s2 of vibration. That translates into truly shock-free arrow delivery. And at 86.3 dBA, the Element is pin-drop quiet. Three hollow carbon tubes anchor the bow’s design, providing an incredible strength-to-weight ratio. Amenities abound–squeaky-clean limb pockets, an offset stabilizer mount (to improve balance), a padded arrow shelf and the most innovative roller guard we’ve ever seen. The draw cycle is silky smooth, and Hoyt’s trademark cam-and-a-half power plant syncs the split limbs–casting arrows with sublime comfort. [ $1,199; hoyt.com ]
Mission Venture – 2011 Great Buy Overall Rating: 3.5 stars Weight: 4.24 lb.
Speed: 323 fps
Noise: 92.6 dBA
Vibration: 21.56 m/s2 The Venture continues along the lines that have built the Mission company: high-end, feature-packed bows at incredible prices. The Venture launches arrows at a 323 fps clip, while retaining its attractive figure with a weight of 4 pounds 3.8 ounces. The short 30 1⁄4-inch axle-to-axle length offers a substantial 7 1⁄8 -inch brace height for cat-like handling. However, at 92.6 dBA, the Venture has some hiss (loudest in the test). The Zebra Hybrid string is an unexpected pleasure, as is the machined double roller guard. Dual string suppressors and a dead-end string stop soaked up unwanted vibes. The fully machined riser is yet another top-end feature on a bow with a bargain price tag. A composite grip and limb pockets are the only areas where we could find room for improvement. [ $499; missionarchery.com ]
Ben Pearson Stealth II Overall Rating: 3 stars Weight: 4.66 lb.
Speed: 320 fps
Noise: 88.8 dBA
Vibration: 26.2 m/s2 The 32-inch Stealth II registered 320 fps–hot enough to catch up with anything you level your pins on. At 88.8 dBA, the Stealth fell into the middle of the field for noise, while producing a moderate amount of vibration. The Stealth was the second-heaviest bow in the field at 4 pounds 10.6 ounces. We liked the two-piece X1 limb pockets and split limbs, which combine to form an exceptionally clean and tidy system. A 6 1⁄4-inch brace height offers a good compromise between speed and forgiveness in the bow. The handsome burled grip drew mixed reviews; half the panel loved it, while the other half weren’t as thrilled. Draw length adjustments are made in half-inch increments, and the Stealth is available in draw lengths up to 30 1⁄2 inches. [ $849; benpearson.com ]
BowTech Invasion CPX Overall Rating: 4 stars Weight: 3.97 lb.
Speed: 331 fps
Noise: 89.6 dBA
Vibration: 17.5 m/s2 The Invasion impressed with its seductive styling and creative engineering. Pillow bearings mounted on top of the limbs hold the eccentrics steadfast, eliminating the need for drilled axle holes and their often suspect alignment. BowTech’s binary cam system delivers the horses to the split limbs, which blistered arrows at 331 fps (good for second-fastest). The Invasion is stingy on vibration, eking out a thin 17.46 m/s2 of vibration and 89.6 dBA of noise. The design is robust, yet the Invasion was the field’s third-lightest bow. The flexible cable guard reduces torque, while a 7-inch brace height promises crowded arrow groups. The camo dip needs some attention, as it stretches oddly on the riser, but this was the only design drawback we could find. The two-piece wood grip is a great throttle, and the Octane strings are as refined as they come. [ $949; bowtecharchery.com ]
Darton DS-3800 Overall Rating: 4 stars Weight: 4.46 lb.
Speed: 330 fps
Noise: 88.6 dBA
Vibration: 13.3 m/s2 The DS-3800 impressed on many levels; it was third-fastest (330 fps), while registering the least amount of vibration (13.3 m/s2). This bow is as shock-free as you’ll find. The bow has a buttery draw, transferring energy into a fluid shot. The bent cable guard minimizes cam lean; however, the cables tend to settle slightly inside the sight window. The bow is quiet (88.6 dBA) for a compound muscling out 330 fps. The 6-inch brace height wasn’t as finicky as that of other short-brace-height bows we’ve tested. A BCY-452 string will impress the harshest of critics. Split limbs with laminated skins were a visual delight, and the molded soft-rubber grip is the right remedy for ungloved paws on chilly mornings. A limited lifetime warranty seals the deal on this impressive package. [ $830; dartonarchery.com ]
Diamond Outlaw Overall Rating: 3 stars Weight: 3.89 lb.
Speed: 315 fps
Noise: 90.8 dBA
Vibration: 35.5 m/s2 The cost-conscious Outlaw ships with a four-pin sight, arrow rest, five-arrow quiver, wrist sling, alloy peep sight and 5-inch stabilizer, lending to its considerable value. The bow boasts one-cam eccentrics–arguably the best cam option for fuss-free shooting. Unique to the Diamond, cam bearings are placed on the ends of the limbs, which, according to the company, equalizes the tensions in the string and cables, eliminating string creep. A “throttle cam” provides the power, propelling arrows at 315 fps. The 32-inch-axle-to-axle Diamond has a fat 7-inch brace height, which provides relief for shooters whose form isn’t quite up to snuff. This lightweight Outlaw (3 pounds 14.2 ounces) barked a bit at 90.8 dBA (second-loudest), and recorded the most vibration in the group. [ $549; diamondarchery.com ]
Mathews Z7 Xtreme Overall Rating: 3.5 stars Weight: 4.45 lb.
Speed: 315 fps
Noise: 88.2 dBA
Vibration: 15.09 m/s2 At an unimaginably short 28 inches from stem to stern, the Z7 was the most compact bow in the test. The cavernous 7 3⁄8-inch brace height is well suited for cramped confines, where space is minimal and accuracy is essential. Mathews’ signature quality is evident throughout. The draw is slick, and the Z7 nestles confidently in hand. The downside of such a short bow is the acute string angle, which pitches the head forward when anchoring. At 4 pounds 7.2 ounces, the bow isn’t light; however, it handles with surprising agility. A quality string stop and suppressors squelch vibration to a minuscule 15.09 m/s2. Hand shock was noticeably absent, and at 88.2 dBA, the Z7 is practically mute (second-quietest.) However, with a speed reading of 315 fps (tied for slowest), the Z7 Xtreme lost points on speed. [ $899; mathewsinc.com ]
McPherson Monster MR7 Overall Rating: 3.5 stars Weight: 4.79 lb.
Speed: 329 fps
Noise: 90.2 dBA
Vibration: 22.02 m/s2 Billed as a speed bow with a forgiving 7-inch brace height, the 33-inch MR7 is compact. Our bow pushed the chronograph to 329 fps (third-best), with a very equitable draw cycle. At 90.2 dBA, this Monster grumbles a bit, but not to a point of distraction. At 4 pounds 12.6 ounces and generating 22.02 m/s2 of vibration, the MR7 handles well, balancing almost neutrally when gripped and during follow-through. The McPherson comes loaded with top-shelf accessories you’d expect on a Mathews (its parent company). A double-damper roller guard, string stop and harmonic damping system keep vibration in check. The Advanced Vectoring System is unique to the McPherson Series twin cams, with oversize off-center bearings synchronizing the cams for crisp timing. [ $999; mathewsinc.com ]
PSE EVO Overall Rating: 4 stars Weight: 4.54 lb.
Speed: 334 fps
Noise: 89 dBA
Vibration: 23.8 m/s2 PSE engineers continue to churn out some of the best-performing bows in the industry. The EVO is their latest hybrid, built on the exceedingly popular X-Force chassis. The EVO’s pull is effortlessly supple, yet the bow rattles the rafters with a screaming 334 fps (at 75 percent let-off). The back wall is granite-solid. Half-inch draw length increments (achieved using included inner modules) is sheer genius and a must-have feature for accuracy junkies bent on micro-adjusting their shot sequence. At 4 pounds 8.6 ounces, the EVO was the third-heaviest bow in the field. However, this bow hides its weight well. The slim grip distributes weight along the EVO’s length, settling in seamlessly at full-draw. At 32 1⁄2 inches axle-to-axle, and with a 6-inch brace height, this bow should find favor among the faithful. [ $849; pse-archery.com ]
Ross Crave Overall Rating: 4 stars Weight: 4.28 lb.
Speed: 318 fps
Noise: 88.7 dBA
Vibration: 19.14 m/s2 The design of the 33 1⁄2-inch-long Crave was the simplest of any bow in the field. Once you have it in hand, you’ll notice a distinct lack of peripheral “stuff” other manufacturers hang like ornaments from their bows. The 6 1⁄2-inch brace height offers the forgiveness needed when nerves get the best of a hunter. A two-track, dual-sync cam system propels arrows at 318 fps, while noise registers 88.7 dBA with 19.14 m/s2 of vibration. The faux carbon grip drew mixed reviews. The machined riser features an oversize sight window, which is nice for centering critters in your peep. The draw is a bit harsh, but it settles into a very solid back wall. Winner’s Choice Custom string and cables, LimbSaver anti-vibration accessories and a Realtree AP HD dip round out the package. [ $899; rossarchery.com ]
CUTTING-EDGE INNOVATIONS These four forward-thinking design advancements improve performance and push the envelope in overall bow design standards. BowTech Limb Pockets: Exacting manufacturing tolerances throughout a compound assembly result in a tightly performing machine. Typically, limbs pockets have the most slop in the system. The center pivot limbs and limb pockets on the Invasion CPX are impressively simple, using minimal material in construction. Limbs are notched at the bases to keep them solidly anchored while under the tension of pre-loaded limbs. The result is a trim, clean package devoid of excess.
Hoyt Silent Arrow Shelf: Hoyt’s silent riser shelf surface isolates the arrow from contacting the riser, eliminating unwanted noise in critical hunting situations, while minimizing drop-away arrow rest noise. Hoyt Cable Guard (background): While roller cable guards aren’t new, Hoyt’s treatment is. The totally enclosed string tracks keep the buss cables on track and enclosed on the pulleys at all times, eliminating the possibility of a cable jumping the track and spoiling a hunt.
PSE Draw-Length Adjustment: In the past, folks with odd draw lengths have resorted to twisting or untwisting strings to make small adjustments in the length of their bow’s draw. Doing so can negatively affect performance. PSE’s simple half-inch mod adjustment design eliminates the need to do this. Laser engraving on the cams is foolproof–simply align the corresponding letter on the cam and the indexing line on the mod and you have adjusted the draw length (the draw stop must also be moved).
100-97 – A+
93-96 – A
90-92 – A-
87-89 – B+
83-86 – B
80-82 – B-
77-79 – C+
73-76 – C
70-72 – C- Click here for the 2010 Bow Test
Our team of experts has conducted the most rigorous bow test in the industry. Read the reviews here and take our bow quiz to win the bows that won the test.