I have to admit; I’m very conflicted over whether to use a stabilizer on my hunting bow. The dilemma is all about weighing the negatives of the added weight and length against the positives of the improved accuracy.
There is no one who obsesses over accuracy more than I do. When hunting here in the West, accuracy is paramount. But hunting in the West also means you are probably going to be climbing up and down mountains. And when you are covering a lot of miles and a lot of vertical feet, every ounce of weight you can shave from your gear makes a big difference at the end of the day.
If stabilizers were just for show, it would be an easy decision — I wouldn’t use one. But stabilizers actually do a couple of important things for you
(depending on their design). First of all, a good stabilizer will take a little of the shock and vibration out of the bow. This makes the bow quieter and more pleasant to shoot.
More importantly, when it comes to accuracy, a stabilizer acts as a counterweight. This just means it adds mass (weight) out away from the geometrical center of the bow. The further away from the bow and the heavier the added mass, the more difficult it is to start that mass moving.
This mass keeps sudden movements (shaking) in your hand from affecting the bow as much as it would without the added weight. The weight also keeps the bow from jumping when the string is released. The bow remains a more stable platform as the arrow leaves. All of this results in smaller groups downrange.
For optimal accuracy, you want a long stabilizer with a lot of mass at its end. My target bow, for example, has a very long stabilizer and is very heavy as well. The bow is nearly three pounds heavier than my hunting bow.
If I could hunt deer in my back yard or at the shooting range, my hunting bow would look and feel just like my target bow. Unfortunately, that’s not where I hunt, so I have to compromise.
I basically have two stabilizer setups, depending on where I’m hunting. If I’m hunting in easy to moderate terrain, or from a ground blind or a treestand, I use a relatively long (around 10 inch) hunting stabilizer. This stabilizer is going to add significant weight to the bow when it’s attached.
I want the vast majority of this weight to be as far away from the bow as possible to maximize its effectiveness. Because the rod holding the weight out away from the bow needs to be as light as possible, I prefer to use carbon. I try to keep the total weight of my hunting stabilizer at a pound or less.
The amount of weight I add to the end of the stabilizer is partly determined by how the bow balances in my hand. I want the bow to have no rotational forces acting upon it while I’m at full draw (in any of the three axes). If these forces exist at full draw, the bow will begin to move as soon as the string is released.
The bow will begin to move before the arrow has left the arrow rest. This movement during the arrow’s launch will cause inconsistencies downrange. Think of these forces as a twisted spring held in place. As soon as the spring is released, it starts rotating.
One set of these forces that is in place on nearly every hunting bow is the bow quiver full of arrows and the sight. Both are attached to the same side of the bow, and they both have significant weight. They pull down on the right side of the bow. This creates a rotational force acting to pull the top of the bow to the archer’s right (for a right-handed shooter).
A properly configured stabilizer system can neutralize this issue. Some bows have the stabilizer hole off-center, to the left, to help mitigate the problem. If your bow does not have this feature, but instead has a centered stabilizer attachment, you can use an offset stabilizer bracket to take care of the problem.
Ideally, the bow should move very little during the shot, remain upright and then fall slightly forward. If you add too much weight to the end of the stabilizer, the bow will have the tendency to rock forward at full draw and during the shot. The easiest way to tell if your bow is balanced properly is to hold it out with a relaxed bow hand as if you were following through on a shot. See how it reacts.
If it tends to rock forward or fall to one side or the other adjust things until it will sit upright in your relaxed hand. On a side note, very short axle-to-axle length bows with short brace heights can tend to feel top heavy. It may be necessary to attach weights to the lower part of the riser to make them easier to shoot.
The second stabilizer setup is the one I use when I’m covering a lot of ground each day, as I would on a backpack hunt. For these situations, I use a minimalist stabilizer or, if I’m really being a weight-weenie, no stabilizer at all. The small stabilizer I typically use on these extreme hunts is purely for vibration dampening. It is not long enough or heavy enough to function as an effective counterweight.
To create the best stabilizer setup for yourself, experiment with different weights and configurations. Find out what gives you the best hold and the best groups. If you are going on a physically demanding hunt, you will have to make your own determination on weight versus accuracy.