Bowhunting Report: 2013 Archery Industry Trends

Bowhunting Report: 2013 Archery Industry Trends

There are really two growing trends shaping what are arguably bowhunting's most important gear categories — bows and arrows. The newest products in these two categories are an extension of the line that leads to our future. But before we can truly understand what that future is, we must take a brief look back into the past.

Faster, Smoother, Lighter Bows

As I walked the aisles of this year's Archery Trade Show and examined 2013's crop of new bows, nothing truly revolutionary jumped out at me. This year's designs simply aren't earth shattering when compared to last year's bows. But that's why a bit more perspective is in order to truly understand what is happening, because if you compare this year's bows — even the budget models — to top rigs from a decade ago, there is no doubt they are significantly better. I recently upgraded models and in the process compared my new bow to an older model from six years ago. After shooting them side-by-side, I literally tossed the old bow on the grass — it was that bad by comparison.

Bow designs take small steps forward each year — a slow walking pace of evolution. Over time, the accumulation of sweet-shooting features produces a bow that feels so good in the hand that those from a half decade ago seem almost repulsive by comparison. That is what we are talking about with these trends. They sneak up on you. What seemed like small steps for a few years suddenly feels like a giant leap forward.

Today's bows are very, very good. If a company wants to compete in this market, it has to produce a fast bow that is smooth to draw and feels good in the hand during the shot. On top of that, the bow has to be very precisely made and accurate. The trend toward lighter bow weights also continues in full force.

It is possible for a bow to be both smooth and adequately fast. It may not be smooth and lightning fast, but most bowhunters don't need lightning speed. With improvements in bow efficiency — in the form of better cam designs, parallel limb geometry, enhanced limb materials and other features such as flexible cable guards — today's smooth-drawing bows shoot faster than the hard-drawing bows of just a few years ago. So, it's no surprise that bow models offering an attractive combination of smoothness and speed is where you'll find most of the action in the marketplace.

As a result, speed is no longer the most important marketing point. Another 10 feet per second in IBO speed doesn't make a big difference when virtually all competing models are also very fast. Modern bowhunters want sweet-shooting bows that are fast, smooth and feel good during the shot.

Key Features of Sweet Bows

Over the past few years, bows with brace heights less than 7 inches have become quite common. There is a school of thought that such bows are not less forgiving than bows with higher brace heights because today's fast cams are getting the arrows off the string quicker, and that means your follow-through doesn't have to be quite as good. Regardless of whether you buy into that argument, there is no doubt many bows with brace heights between 6 and 6'‰½ inches are being wielded very accurately by archers across the nation. You can find sweet bows with IBO speeds over 330 fps, but anything over 320 is really fast — more than fast enough in my opinion.

Today's sweet bows are also fairly short and light. Most tend to measure 32 inches or less between the axles, though there are still some longer-draw bows with correspondingly longer axle-to-axle lengths. A typical bow now weighs less than 4 pounds, some considerably less.

Possibly the number one feature of a sweet new bow is how it feels during the shot. Sweet shooting means a dead feel; the lack of recoil and vibration. To achieve this performance, nearly all of today's bows feature parallel limbs (or heavily pre-stressed limbs) so the cams and the bulk of the limb weight jump straight up and straight down at the shot, cancelling the recoil.

A lack of vibration is the result of efficient designs that have to dissipate very little energy in the bow itself after the arrow is gone. Ideally, the arrow — not the bow and its shooter — soaks up the energy of the bent limbs. That is one way you can actually feel advances in bow design.

Today's sweet bows also have ways to dampen the vibration of the string, making the bow quieter after the arrow slips loose. Some work better than others to actually quiet the bow, but all of today's most popular bows feature a myriad of dampening components on the strings, limbs, risers, etc.

Just about every bow company in business makes at least one fast, sweet-shooting bow. In fact, these days it is easier to differentiate yourself by producing a noticeably poor bow than a noticeably good one, because so many of them verge on greatness.

The Arrow Revolution

When it comes to the latest arrow technologies, what's old is new again. Back in November of 2001, I wrote a Center Shots column devoted to the subject of small-diameter arrows. That was well before the current trend of micro-diameter shafts. Back then, the only players offering small-diameter shafts were the few companies still producing pultruded carbon shafts. Pultruding is a manufacturing process in which long fibers of carbon are pulled through resin and then baked as they move around a mandrel and through a die. I watched it done at the AFC plant in Chatfield, Minn., back in the early 90s. It was fascinating.

The result of the pultrusion process was a very small-diameter arrow with thick walls. You had to use external components because the linear carbon fibers didn't wrap around the shaft. This made for strong, rigid arrows, but not arrows that could resist internal pressure.

Pultruded arrows lost favor when Beman introduced the first internal-component carbon arrows in the mid-90s. After that, arrow manufacturers largely shunned the pultrusion process, despite some advantages of these stout arrows. However, in the mid 2000s they resurrected the concept of a small-diameter arrow when new manufacturing processes permitted greater resistance to internal pressures. That is when Easton introduced its first HIT (Hidden Insert Technology) arrows. Now I am getting ahead of myself, so let's back up just a bit.

I shot enough deer with those early pultruded arrows, and had done enough scientific testing with them, to be very impressed. And my points from that 2001 column are still valid today.

A thick-walled, small-diameter carbon arrow with reasonable weight is the most efficient bowhunting design for two important reasons. First, they penetrate better. It is simple to see why: being smaller, they create less drag with the tissue or media they are penetrating. So, they go deeper with the same amount of forward momentum. This is something you can easily see for yourself at home. Just take a standard-diameter carbon arrow and a small-diameter carbon arrow of the same weight and length and shoot them into the target of your choice. The smaller diameter shaft will drive significantly deeper; a real advantage when it comes to shots at game in the field.

Second, small-diameter arrows have the potential, when outfitted with shorter vanes and low-profile broadheads, to be more accurate in windy conditions. Again, it is simple physics. Because the shaft is smaller in diameter, it has less surface area for the wind to contact. That means the arrow will have less side force while in flight and will drift less. The smaller the diameter, the closer it will hit to the aim point on windy days. That is another nice benefit on windy days in the field.

With no real downside, small-diameter shafts make a lot of sense. That is why the trend toward these shafts is so important for bowhunters and why each year, more arrow manufacturers are jumping on the small-arrow bandwagon.

Small-diameter arrows are now manufactured using the same methods used to make the internal-component arrows — using a wrapping method rather than pultruding. So, they have more hoop strength and can accept internal components without splitting open. That is where Easton first saw the opportunity and wisely found a way to corner a portion of that market by applying for a patent on the HIT system. The entire insert presses down inside the small  shafts, allowing traditional screw-in broadheads to work well with these small-diameter arrows.

Other manufacturers have joined this movement in recent years but have been forced by Easton's patent to opt for other point attachment systems. That is why you find two types of micro-diameter arrows on the market — those with purely internal components and those with systems that extend beyond the end of the shaft, typically called outserts. Depending on your viewpoint, you can make a case for either style. Rather than try to sway anyone, I will point out the pros and cons of both designs and let you decide for yourself.

Internal component micro-diameter shafts are sleek and simple. That is their lure. Since the insert doesn't extend beyond the shaft, the overall arrow can be a bit shorter.

Micro-diameter shafts featuring outserts do, potentially, offer additional protection for the front of the arrow. With the outsert, there is no chance of cutting the carbon shaft when a mechanical broadhead snaps open, for example. The outsert also has the potential to protect the front of the arrow if it hits something really hard. Outserts also increase forward weight of the shaft. Increasing F.O.C. results in an extremely stable, hard-hitting arrow. Finally, outserts accommodate standard broadheads, avoiding the need to purchase new hunting points to accommodate your new small-diameter arrows.

Arrow Options

Here is a quick rundown on the companies I am aware of that make small-diameter carbon shafts:

Easton: As mentioned previously, Easton is a leader in small-diameter arrow technology and currently offers more options than any other manufacturer. For 2013, Easton offers 14 models of small-diameter hunting arrows broken into three categories based on nock size. Easton's H Series shafts are roughly 8 percent narrower that standard-diameter carbon shafts, X Series shafts are 15 percent narrower and G Series shafts are 23 percent narrower.

The H Series is led by the all-new Hexx shafts, which feature extremely tight tolerances of +/-.001-inch for straightness and +/-1 grain per dozen for weight. Another newcomer in the H Series is the Aftermath, a value-oriented offering (+/-.005-inch straightness) allowing bowhunters to gain the advantages of small-diameter arrows at an affordable price.

The X Series includes Easton's popular Axis shafts (+/-.003-inch and +/-2 grains) featuring HIT inserts and N-Fused carbon nanotube technology for enhanced strength. It also includes Axis Full Metal Jacket shafts, featuring an alloy shaft sleeve for even more durability and bowhunting penetration.

The narrowest G Series includes the Injexion and A/C Injexion shafts, featuring +/-.002-inch straightness and .5-grain weight tolerances. Injexion shafts feature the same ultra micro-diameter measurements used in Olympic competition for maximum accuracy and downrange energy. They also use Easton's proprietary, stainless steel Deep Six inserts that are 65 percent stronger than aluminum and offer 25 percent more thread engagement than standard inserts. The heavier steel also provides an F.O.C. boost.

Victory: Victory's VAP (Victory Armour Piercing) shafts are another leading option in the ultra micro-diameter arrow category. Featuring an inside diameter of .166-inch and outside diameters from .218-.245-inch, depending on spine, VAP shafts use the company's Penetrator outserts that are available in three weights (33- and 43-grain aluminum and 92-grain stainless steel). VAP arrows are available with straightness of +/-.001-, .003- or .006-inch. All have a weight tolerance of +/-.5-grain per dozen and feature Victory's exclusive ICE coating for even greater penetration and easier target removal.

PSE: PSE's Carbon Force EXT Hunter shafts have an ultra-small diameter with a high degree of hand selection to assure the shafts match closely in spine, weight and straightness. Each arrow is marked with the shaft's spine (stiffest side) so you can apply your fletchings consistently from one arrow to the next. That way, every arrow will flex the same as it leaves your bow. EXT Hunter shafts boast a straightness tolerance of +/-.001-inch, weight tolerance of .5-grain per dozen and PSE's Whisper Coating for easier target removal.

Beman: Beman has two small-diameter offerings for 2013. The all-new Nightfall features Beman's exclusive, layered-carbon technology and Deep Six compatible HIT inserts, along with +/-.003-inch straightness. The MFX Bone Collector uses HIT inserts that accept conventional broadheads. Both MXF and Nightfall shafts are moderately heavy for a nice hunting weight and they carry a lot of kinetic energy for excellent penetration.

Muddy: Muddy introduced its new Bloodsport arrow line last year. The HT1 shaft features a very small inside diameter of .165-inch and an outside diameter that ranges from .209-.255-inch, depending on spine.

In addition to standard outserts, the HT1 can be used with an optional precision outsert that allows the use of an Allen-wrench setscrew to lock the outsert in the shaft. With this system, you can easily loosen and index the outsert to align the broadhead with the fletchings. You can also tweak the outsert to arrive at a perfectly centered position for better consistency with broadheads.

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