By Garth Jenson, March 2015
First off, let me just say that I am not the end-all, be-all when it comes to archery. With that being said, I do invest countless hours every year into preparing for my upcoming archery season. With bow manufacturers claiming to come out with the newest, latest, and greatest technology every year, it can get a little difficult to read between the lines of deciding which aspects to consider when selecting the right bow for you. I’ll share with you some of the things I look for in my hunting bow.
First is speed. Most bow manufacturers out there today build bows that have an IBO rating of 300+ fps. It seems today with binary and hybrid cam designs that 330+ fps is the norm on most top end bows. There are benefits and drawbacks to this speed game. For me, the benefits of faster arrow flight, in most cases, out way the drawbacks. For one, it will shorten your pin gap, which in turn makes for a little more room for error on your yardage guesstimation. If you are 2-3 yards off in your guess of the range, you will still most likely deliver a lethal shot.
Another benefit of a faster bow is it allows the archer to pound the bow down to lower poundage and still have enough arrow speed to get the job done. I think everyone would agree that it is a lot more enjoyable to draw back a 60 pound bow versus a 70+ pound bow. That is what attracted me the most to the faster line of bows.
One of the most obvious and important aspects of speed is deeper penetration. I understand full well that a heavier arrow has more to do with penetration, but a faster bow allows me to shoot a heavier arrow while maintaining a smaller pin gap.
However, there are some drawbacks associated with faster arrow flight. A faster bow will be less forgiving if you aren’t as polished on your form. Remember that with tighter pin gaps smaller movements are exacerbated that much more. Another problem that I have is some bow manufacturers are shortening the brace height (the distance between the grip and the bow string) to achieve these faster speeds. Although I don’t agree with most in the aspect that longer brace heights are more forgiving, especially with fast hunting type bows, I do find shorter brace heights not as comfortable to shoot as longer ones. The bottom line is that speed is an important aspect when finding a bow that fits your hunting style, but it shouldn’t be the only thing you’re looking for in a bow setup.
Let-off is one of those features that is definitely geared toward hunting bows more so than target bows. To achieve the most accuracy, you want to have enough weight pulling forward when you are at full draw so it will force you to hold solid throughout your release, but when I am hunting I am constantly finding myself in those all too familiar situations where I’m having to hold at full draw longer than I’d like. For this reason, I tend to lean toward a bow that has at least 75% let-off while at full draw. Accuracy is the most important thing, so I will always make sure I can maintain my accuracy while shooting a specific bow at higher let-offs before I make the purchase. If you have shoulder issues, more let-off becomes an even more important aspect of bow selection. Accuracy will definitely increase if you’re not struggling to hold your bow back at full draw. One important thing to remember with bow let-off is to check the state regulations where you plan on hunting; different states have different regulations regarding the amount of letoff that is legal.
Bow weight, for me, isn’t quite as important as other aspects of bow selection, but it could tip the scales if all other aspects are equal. Currently almost all bow manufacturers are striving to make the lightest weight bow on the market. When I try out lighter weight bows, I like to shoot them without stabilizers or any other added weight to get a good feel of how much vibration there is in the handle and how accurate they are to give me a good comparison from bare bow to bare bow. I do a lot of backpack hunting, so weight is always a consideration and I tend to lean toward bows that come in at 4.2 lbs and under. From there, I will go with whichever bow I shoot the best while considering all other aspects.
Axle-to-axle length is one thing I definitely pay attention to when selecting a bow. Some of the benefits to shorter axle-to-axle bows are less hand shock, bow hunting in tighter quarters, and overall less noise. Because shorter bows usually have parallel limbs, this pushes most of the vibration out through the limbs and not onto your grip, which makes for a much more comfortable bow to shoot. These shorter bows also make hunting out of a treestand or in a ground blind much easier. I’ve found that when hunting out of a treestand the more foliage you can leave on the tree to provide background and cover for concealment the better. Having a shorter bow makes it a little easier to leave branches on a tree that might otherwise get in the road with a longer bow. Having a shorter bow in a ground blind is without a doubt a huge benefit. Having as much room as possible in a ground blind can make all the difference when drawing your bow for a shot. More often than not you are more focused on the shot and not on whether or not your top limb is going to bump the blind when you draw back. Shorter axle-to-axle length also allows easier sitting and kneeling shots. However, one definite downfall to a shorter axle-to-axle bow is if you have a draw length of 30" or more. Oftentimes the steepness of the string angle makes it difficult to have all your anchor points line up when at full draw. Nock pinch can also be a problem experienced with long draws coupled with short bows. Nock pinch can lift your arrow off the rest when at full draw, which can lead not only to accuracy issues, but also to dangerous situations resulting in arrows being shot through hands. For me having a 29" draw, I prefer an axle-to-axle range from 31-33" as it allows me more versatility for all hunting conditions.
I touched on brace height briefly in the speed portion of this article. I won’t spend a lot of time on brace height as for me it’s not as big of an aspect in selecting a quality bow as the others I’ve listed. The theory behind “the longer the brace height, the more forgiving the bow” is basically the arrow will leave the string sooner with a longer brace height so there is less time for unwanted movement to affect arrow flight while still attached to the string. The problem I see with this theory nowadays is that the arrow leaves the bow so fast that between a long brace height at 7" and a short brace height at 5" you’re dealing with fractions of a second, which doesn’t leave a lot of time for movement. Personal preference will make the biggest difference in selecting a bow with long or short brace height. My preference is having at least a 6" brace height because with the way I hold my bow I noticed it would slightly slap my wrist with shorter brace heights.
Overall, almost all of the new bows on the market today shoot well enough to hunt ethically. Personally, I don’t put a lot of stock into how many trophies are won by one bow manufacturer versus another because those trophies won have more to do with the person behind the bow and how well the bow is tuned than the bow itself. Shoot as many bows as you can to determine which bow is right for you. After you select a bow, I would suggest finding a quality archery technician who can set your bow up with you and tune it correctly. Having a well-tuned bow can oftentimes make the biggest difference in how well your bow will shoot. Trust me, there is nothing better than a well-tuned bow. I have my favorites when it comes to bow manufacturers and bows. This year I am really excited to try out the new No Cam bow from Mathews. If this bow shoots and handles as well as the reviews say, I will definitely be packing it on my hunts this year. This is truly a bow that is breaking the mold of all these radical new giant hybrid cams that beef up speeds in excess of 365 fps. Remember, the most important aspect of selecting a bow is finding the one that fits you and your hunting style.