Today’s compound bows come in all shapes and sizes. The industry itself is filled with mixed messages: some tell you it’s all about speed, while others emphasize bow lengths or a smooth draw cycle. This makes buying a compound bow a bit of a challenge.
In fact, several manufacturers sell their wares based on raw speed alone, making you believe that’s the only consideration to be made. Others push only the shortest bow models possible, all while the best shots in archery—the winningest 3-D target shooters around—invariably wield longer models. It can all get a bit confusing. The biggest problem in specifying an “ideal” is that everyone has different needs, expectations and skill sets.
For example, I have a long draw length (30 inches) and live out West where the pursuit of mule deer, pronghorn and elk results in shots many would consider on the long side (though I’m also just as much a whitetail fanatic as the next guy). I gravitate toward longer axle-to-axle compounds (38-40 inches) to accommodate my tall stature and because these outfits promote the level of accuracy I demand for long-range success. But that’s just me.
I have a short but stout friend (27-inch draw length) who lives in Texas and bowhunts nothing but brush-country whitetail and hogs, and always from pop-up or brush blinds. He prefers shorter bows (30-32 inches) because he seldom shoots past 20 yards and short bows are easier to handle in tight quarters.
These two examples demonstrate two opposite ends of the spectrum. They also show you that different bowunters are going to have to make different considerations when selecting the right bow for them.
The compound bow buying advice which follows, therefore, is an attempt to best serve the average bowhunter subjected to average conditions—the avid whitetail hunter who occasionally ventures into elk mountains or onto pronghorn prairie.
- In my opinion, ultra-fast bows (340-plus fps) are largely overrated—unless you have the honed skills to handle them—especially in a whitetail context. When the pressure is on, short bows are always more challenging to shoot well. Speed bows typically have lower brace heights (less than 7.25 inches) which creates more speed by holding arrows on the string longer during launch, providing extra push. The longer your arrow stays on the string, the more time you have to introduce human error—like dropping the bow arm during release, for instance. As a result, fast bows offer less forgiveness. Secondly, speed bows are normally accompanied by radical cams that remain at peak draw weight longer during the draw cycle and let off more harshly. They can prove taxing on cold, stiff muscles after a few hours on a cold stand. Finally, the faster you push an arrow, the more finicky it becomes regarding tuning. Fast bows accentuate small shooting errors and make arrows more susceptible to small deflections after contacting the lightest obstacles.