20 Great Bows For 2011
May 06, 2011
Faster, Leaner and Meaner -- Packed With Bowhunting-Friendly Features
Many of the Great Bows of 2011 follow the same three trends we have been seeing over the past several years; they are faster, more enjoyable to shoot and shorter or lighter than their predecessors. Some also include innovations that reduce torque and improve arrow flight. I had the pleasure of shooting nearly every one of this year's new bows at the 2011 Archery Trade Show and came away totally impressed. There are many good bows out there right now. I could take any one of these bows and shoot it for the next several years without complaint.Visit the next page to see the first Bow.
Overall bow geometry is an industry constant now. It goes without saying in the reviews that follow that nearly all these bows have parallel limbs, produce soft recoil and are comfortable to shoot. The biggest differences are in the areas of speed, draw cycle (how they feel) and features. That is where I will focus.
I didn't encounter a single bow that wasn't better than anything I shot just five or six years ago. They are all that much better. This fierce competition makes it hard for any company to stick around long unless they have a truly strong product.
Here they are -- the top bows on the market this year:
APA MAMBA M7
When you start to break down the Mamba M7, you find some surprises. The little, problem-solving features on the riser are more than just a gimmick. I like the fact there is a knife sharpener on the riser. It reminds me why I am out there -- to kill something so I can field dress it. I like the positive tone that sets! Also, the riser has a set of fangs you can use to hang the bow on a limb without worrying about it falling off. There is also a broadhead wrench built into the riser, a carrying handle that also stiffens and strengthens the riser and a place to store a cam axle that doubles as a method for taking the tension off the string and harnesses for in-field repairs.
The Mamba M7 is fast, mostly due to the bow's aggressive two-cam system. This is one of the few true two-cam systems on the market. One of the upsides of two-cam bows is their ability to store and deliver a lot of energy. Their number one downside is that they can produce erratic vertical nock travel if the harnesses aren't exactly the same length. With today's higher quality, pre-stretched, synthetic strings and harnesses, this is not as big a concern as it used to be. You simply have to know how to check and set cam timing once or twice per year. There is a good chance it won't change once the bow is broken in. These adjustments aren't difficult. Then you can enjoy the best of both worlds: speed and perfect nock travel.
BEAR ARCHERY CARNAGE
The Carnage was the last bow I shot at the ATA Show. So, I was getting a bit numb to the fit and feel of all those bows. It was going to take something special to make an impression on me by that point. The Carnage was just such a bow. Ever since Bear introduced the Truth several years ago, I have always enjoyed shooting their bows. They are smooth to draw, quiet, exhibit no hand shock or recoil and are at least fast enough to hang with the competition. Each year, the top bow in the Bear line has these same characteristics. Smooth shooting has become Bear's trademark.
The Carnage features Bear's new Skeleton Cam. This single-cam system produces plenty of speed but by no means produces a harsh draw cycle. It is impossible to make a hot rod drive like a luxury car and it is equally impossible to make fast bows draw like a target bow, but this one strikes a nice compromise between speed and smoothness. Significant advancements include the Dual Arc Offset String Suppressors and a new roller
cable guard system. The grip is narrow and comfortable. The take-away on this one is a nice mix of speed and feel.
BowTech has been a leading innovator in the archery industry for the past decade. I remember talking to the lead engineer several years back, and he told me his group has a blank design board every year. They can literally search every industry for any technology to solve archery's challenges. It is no surprise that such a commitment to leadership has produced several eye-opening designs. The engineer in me likes the fact that BowTech doesn't add new features just to generate marketing buzz. These features actually make the bow work better and shoot better.
One such feature is the OverDrive Binary Cam system. This system permits BowTech to spread the force of the harnesses across the limbs to eliminate limb twist and cam lean. They do this with a "bent" cam-action axle that turns with the cam to feed harness into the system at the end of the draw. According to BowTech's engineer, that is when it is needed to produce perfectly level nock travel. The FLX-Guard is another useful innovation. It flexes toward the arrow as you reach full draw to permit the harnesses to come closer to the bow's centerline, reducing torque on the cams. As a result, the cams lean less as you draw and release, producing better arrow flight. When I shot the Invasion at the ATA Show, I was impressed with the fact that what recoil did exist was focused straight toward the target -- no sideways kick. To me, that is one sign of a well-made bow.
CARBON TECH PHANTOM
Hoyt's recent bows have definitely raised the visibility of carbon risers and increased their popularity. While carbon risers are not truly new (they have been around in one form or another since the early '90s), today's carbon risers are more versatile. They have all the functionality of aluminum, plus two distinct advantages. Carbon naturally dampens vibration, making these bows quieter and more enjoyable to shoot. And, carbon is also lighter than aluminum when built into a durable riser, so the finished bows are slightly lighter, as well.
Carbon Tech is the only other company currently offering a carbon riser hunting bow. The Phantom is all black for a striking appearance. The riser has a traditional machined look, though, of course it is not machined. It's built by Win & Win, a well-known manufacturer of carbon recurve target bows. I was impressed with how smoothly the bow shoots and how quietly it performs. If you are interested in carbon bows but want one with a traditional appearance, check this one out.
Darton is the originator of the binary and the hybrid cams we see on so many bows today. These designs give engineers a few extra options when creating the ideal force versus draw curve and controlling nock travel. It is no wonder Darton has an awesome cam system on its bows. They call the new DS-3800 "a muscle bow with manners." It's a good description.
I found the bow very well behaved in the hand. It jumped straight forward lightly at the shot and had little overall recoil or vibration. The DS-3800's cable guard rod is bent so that, as you hit full draw, the harnesses move closer to the bow's centerline for reduced torque on the cams without reducing fletching clearance as the arrow speeds forward. This is one of the reasons it behaves so well in the hand. Darton calls it Progressive Torque Reduction. However, despite the pleasant shooting experience, the bow is very fast, taking advantage of the aggressive binary cams mentioned above.
DIAMOND DEAD EYE
Diamond bows are made by BowTech, so you can be sure they have access to all the latest technology. There are a few differences in the features, which serves to keep the lines distinct, but both sides of the family are burners. In fact, the Dead Eye is among the fastest bows on the market. On top of that, this good-looking bow feels and shoots great.
The feature set includes the FLX-Guard roller cable guard, which flexes inward toward the arrow as you draw the bow but leaps back out of the way of the fletching when you release the arrow. As I mentioned in the BowTech write-up, the FLX-Guard is ingenious in that it reduces the amount of side load on the cams, which in turn reduces the amount they lean at full draw. Zero lean means perfect nock travel. Like the BowTech Invasion, the Dead Eye lightly jumps straight forward on release, demonstrating that it is well designed for perfect center shot. It also features the Carbon Rod String Stop and Octane string and harnesses.
Elite has come a long way in the past three years. In fact, it may be growing faster than any other bow company today. The management team is a good group, but to see the real reason for Elite's popularity, look no further than the bows. They are simple and solid. Bows don't have to be complicated to be accurate and reliable. In fact, many bowhunters like to keep things simple. Elite believes so much in the reliability of its bows that the company offers a one-of-a-kind promise: if you damage your Elite bow on a hunt, they will overnight a bow to you in your specs, already set up, tuned and sighted-in. You get to use the loaner until you can get your bow fixed. Wow, I have been doing this for many years, and this is the first time I have heard of anything like this!
The Hunter is fast and is a solid and reliable tool for all bowhunting situations. It features a binary cam system, LimbSavers and a string suppressor. The cam produces excellent speed despite the bow's moderately high brace height. As I said, this is a serious hunting bow designed for reliable performance and accuracy.
HOYT CARBON ELEMENT
Hoyt created quite a stir in 2010 with its Carbon Matrix, a bow with a riser made from hollow carbon tubes. I was most impressed by the videos Hoyt produced showing the bow being driven over by a large truck on a concrete parking lot and then firing a perfect arrow a short time later. Obviously, this is one tough riser. It can take incredible abuse and not even flinch.
While the hollow carbon tubes give the Element (and the longer Matrix) a very cool look, it is the way the bow shoots that makes it stand out. Carbon doesn't transmit vibration as much as aluminum, so the bow feels very still and dead in the hand during the shot. It is an over-used descriptor, but the Element is a sweet feeling bow. Carbon doesn't transmit cold as well either, so it is warm in the hand, even on the coldest days. That is a big deal to me, because I hunt many days during the frigid late season. The new Fuel Cam & 1â„2 is a bit more aggressive than the XTR Cam on the Maxxis, but still smooth enough for comfort. This one is high on features and cool factor.
HOYT CRX 32
The CRX series (comprised of both 32-inch and 35-inch bows) is a natural next step for the Maxxis in the same way the Maxxis was the evolution of the AlphaMax. The CRX series features a very similar geometry to the Maxxis, but is equipped with the faster Fuel Cam & 1â„2, a hybrid cam system. This is an aggressive cam that produces good speed and a solid back wall. CRX bows also feature the new roller cable guard system and a rubberized silent shelf, along with Fuse custom strings and a string suppressor.
The most lasting impression the CRX 32 left was its movement after the shot. It moved straight toward the target, meaning it fits my shooting style and hand placement perfectly. If a bow kicks to one side or the other after the arrow leaves, you are actually torquing it during the shot, and this reduces consistency. While the grip shape and placement on the CRX 32 may not be perfect for everyone, it was definitely perfect for me. The CRX 32 is just a really nice, hard-working bow.
The Proton is the second-generation bow from LimbSaver with the forward slung limb attachment and pivot point closer to the center of the limb. This is a very popular design now among many bow companies, but LimbSaver was one of the first to employ it four years ago. By moving the limb's pivot point closer to the middle, and using a hinged pocket, LimbSaver makes the limb more efficient and spreads the stress of the load for greater reliability. The Proton also features the fast H.E.A.T. modular hybrid cam. Another unique feature of this bow is the Posi-Lock limb adjustment system that permits you to adjust draw weight by turning the limb bolts in and out in precise, two-pound increments. It also features Winner's Choice string and harnesses.
We know LimbSaver best for its bow-mounted accessories designed to quiet the shot and reduce bow vibration. The Proton continues this goal, as well. When shooting it at the ATA Show, I was struck by how quiet the bow is and how little hand shock, vibration and recoil I felt at the shot. The Proton is a very good, solid, quiet bow.
MARTIN ONZA 3
Martin has been around forever. Every year, it produces at least one bow that truly defines value. In my humble opinion, that is Martin's greatest strength. By value, I mean you get a lot of bow for a good price. The Onza 3 has a suggested retail price of just $599. That's hu
ndreds less than the top-of-the-line bows from other manufacturers. Martin's technology is cutting edge too. You aren't getting yesterday's technology at these prices. At worst, you are getting today's technology, and in some cases, you are actually getting tomorrow's. Martin is an innovative company.
Check out the features you get with this great bow. It has the new, torque-reducing cable guard that permits the harnesses to move toward the arrow at full draw to reduce side-torque on the cams. A string suppressor stops vibration after the arrow departs, and vibration-absorbing modules near each limb pocket help reduce vibration in the riser. It also features Hammerhead custom strings. I shot the bow at the ATA Show and it shot smoothly with a very nice, solid back wall. It is about average for noise and recoil, which means it is very good since the standard is high among all popular models this year. It is a good bow at a good price. That is what you get with Martin.
MATHEWS Z7 XTREME
Mathews has always been a trendsetter. The number of firsts on the company's resume is daunting. No doubt you are well aware of many of them, so I won't use up precious space going into details. Suffice it to say Mathews knows how to produce great bows, and when they come out with a new model, you can be sure they didn't do it casually. So, when I saw the new Z7 Xtreme is just 28 inches long (a full four inches shorter than its predecessor), I thought, "Well, they surely proved it was accurate or they wouldn't have done it." That is an amazing number when describing a bow's length. Other companies have made super short bows, but none with Mathews' clout. Now, we have to assume that sub-30-inch bows are the future.
The new ZX single-cam is very smooth, belying its ability to store and release great amounts of energy. The bow has a highly reflexed riser in order to achieve a reasonable brace height with parallel limbs at this short length. Unless Mathews goes with some sort of center-pivot limb, there is no other way to achieve these conflicting goals. The bow still balances very well despite the reflexed design. It is not possible to put more string silencers on a bow. It features four string-silencing elements, so it is no surprise this bow is very quiet. The parallel limbs produce a very soft shot. Overall, the experience is very pleasant. I didn't feel like the short length made the bow feel overly sensitive. It feels like there is enough weight at the ends of the riser to help stabilize it. Combine all these features with Mathews' cool red accents and you have a great new bow.
Mission is another high value company, with the goal of providing a lot of bow for the money. Being a division of Mathews, Mission has access to an incredible storehouse of technology and a wealth of manufacturing expertise. Producing a solid bow is no problem. This gives Mission a great foundation from which to tweak the feature mix to produce a product that performs well but lacks some of the high-end bells and whistles.
The Venture has a suggested retail price of $499. That is a good price for a reliable bow that is fast enough to handle any bowhunting situation. The Venture has a roller cable guard, string suppressors on the limb tips and on the riser, a compact overall size and custom string and harnesses. The Venture seems to scream the question, "If you aren't getting more, why are you paying more?"
Prime is a new bow line from G5 Outdoors, one of the most successful accessory companies in the bowhunting industry. The company actually arose from Lou Grace's engineering consulting business. So, the family business, which also includes Lou's sons Nate and Matt, is steeped in technology. If they can dream it, they can draw it and they can build it -- right in their own shop. Situations like that are usually where the farthest-reaching innovation comes from. That is what you get with Prime -- no limits.
The new Centroid features Prime's exclusive Parallel Cam Technology to balance the loads of the string and harnesses on the limb tips. The string splits to go around the cams and then rejoins into a single bundle for shooting using a unique, donut-shaped connection that kind of looks like a Meta Peep on each end. The harness then wraps between the string halves for much better balance. The result is a dramatic reduction in limb tip twist and cam lean for better arrow flight. The Ti-Glide cable guard flexes as you draw the bow to bring the cable guard in closer to the arrow -- more in line with the cam for even more reduction in cam lean. The Centroid comes already broken in and pre-tuned so you can be sure it will shoot a great arrow. The notes on my page after shooting the Centroid at the ATA Show: "You can't even feel it go off."
PSE X-FORCE DREAM SEASON EVO
I can easily remember when PSE first came out with the X-Force several years back. It was -- by far -- the fastest bow on the ma
rket that year with its aggressive cams, heavily pre-stressed curved limbs and low brace height. I remember thinking it would produce a poor shooting experience and be hard to tune. Overall, I expected it to be a hard bow to shoot accurately, just like all the low-braced, aggressive bows I had shot in the past. What a surprise! The X-Force was nothing like I expected. I put together a panel to evaluate all the new bows for Field & Stream magazine that year and, believe it or not, the X-Force won the best bow category. It shot like a dream. That was when the industry changed and speed bows suddenly became user-friendly and accurate. Today, PSE still leads that movement, and the latest evolution of the X-Force is the new Dream Season EVO.
This new bow really looks a lot like the original X-Force; same curved, pre-stressed limbs, same low brace height, same compact size and same high-speed arrow delivery. The only difference that really jumps out at me is the use of a more refined cam -- a more efficient hybrid than PSE used on the original X-Force. The cam has rotating inner modules that permit a wide draw-length adjustment range with a separate module built right into the cam that you can pull out and set in place for half-inch increments. You can make all these adjustments without a bow press. If you like fast bows that are fun to shoot, you will like the EVO. Associate Editor Dan Beraldo shot this bow at the ATA show and called it, "The Best X-Force model to date, thanks to a smoother draw cycle and deathly quiet shot."
PSE BOW MADNESS XS
The Bow Madness XS (eXtra Short) is the shortest bow in the PSE line and one of the most affordable. Some people love short bows. They love the maneuverability and the easy way you can carry them through thick cover and over every mountain in sight. I even know one guy who likes super short bows because he feels with less material, there is less for the deer to smell. While that is taking things a bit too far, there is no doubt short bows have a following. The Bow Madness XS is an ideal choice for the shorter-is-better crowd.
The Madness Pro single-cam on the XS permits an amazing six inches of draw-length adjustment. Like the Axe+ Hybrid cam used on the EVO, there is even an additional module stored in the cam itself that you can pull out and place for half-inch increments. The bow has heavily pre-stressed split limbs that produce a parallel configuration for recoil-free shooting. The XS is short, fast enough, sweet shooting, accurate enough and affordable. Dan Beraldo's notes state, "A definite shooter in a compact package. Forgiving, quiet and easy to maneuver. Also enjoyed the draw cycle."
Quest's new REV is very similar to 2010's Primal, with a few new features. Let's start with the Sync binary cam system. It produces a very smooth draw and excellent arrow flight. Like all binary cams, it produces good nock travel while staying synchronized easily. The I-Glide cable guard is also very innovative. The harnesses slide within ceramic-coated holes, eliminating moving parts. The bow has a string suppressor and factory-installed Bow Jax limb silencers. Finally, you have the option of purchasing the bow in a G-Fade Durafuse finish that creates a smooth color transition from full black at the grip to full camo at the ends of the riser. It is pretty cool. A good, solid bow by a good solid company.
RYTERA SEEKER 365
I have seen some amazingly adjustable bows over the years, but none compare to the new Seeker 365 from Rytera. Martin Archery makes Rytera, and this is where Martin lets its hair down, so to speak. The regular line of Martin designs is very good and value-rich, but the Rytera line always contains the company's wildest ideas and freshest technologies. The new Seeker 365 is about as far from the ordinary as you will find, but it does accomplish its goal -- incredible amounts of adjustability. Here are all the things you can adjust:
The most obvious thing you can adjust is the brace height (distance from string to grip). By sliding the grip mounts along their parallel carbon rods you can change the brace height of this bow from 5 ¾ inches to at least 7 ¾ inches. Of course, the draw modules on the cams permit you to maintain your draw length (within limits) as the brace height changes. Now, if you like a low-wrist grip, you can slide just one end of the grip mount along the carbon rods to change the angle of the grip. You can attach your sight to either the riser frame or the grip body. If attaching it to the grip body, you have the ability to change its angle to compensate for the grip angle. Obviously, you can fine-tune draw length right down to the fraction of an inch by sliding the grip forward or back. I shot the bow at the ATA show. There is no question it is amazingly adjustable. Two other things jumped out, and both would be obvious from looking at the bow -- it was heavier than traditional compound designs and slightly louder. But it was very stable and balanced well in my hand. If you like to experiment with bows, this one will keep you busy for months.
The real test of any bow is the way it shoots and feels. So, with the new Strother SX-1, that is where I will start. Starting with draw, I am looking back over my notes and see that I made a special point of mentioning that it is smooth. Smooth-drawing bows are still more enjoyable to shoot, no matter their speed. The next point on my notepad is, "Quiet." That is pretty self-explanatory. Finally, "No jump, slight recoil straight at the target." As I have said a few times in this Great Bows article, the ideal follow-through is one in which the bow jumps straight forward during the shot. If it doesn't, there is either something wrong with the bow or something wrong with your grip -- or the bow simply doesn't fit your shooting form. It is nice to find the ones that jump straight forward. I always shoot them much better than the ones I have to fight with during the shot.
So, I liked shooting the new SX-1. Here are features to consider. This is a simple bow. It has a string suppressor, smooth hybrid cam, basic riser, straight cable guard, nice narrow grip and split limbs. It is sort of like some of the other bows I have reviewed here -- not loaded with bells and whistles, but solid and reliable. For the Predator Camo fans, the SX-1 is available in a cloaking Predator Brown Deception finish.
WINCHESTER ARCHERY QUICKSILVER 34
Winchester Archery is a new company, and it is worth understanding how this works. This product is not coming from the gun company. In fact, it is coming from a group of individuals that has many years of experience in the bowhunting industry. Winchester licenses its name to certain product categories, so it is important to know this bow is made by bowhunters, not gun hunters. And for that reason, it is not surprising that the first year's bows are very good. There was no learning curve here -- Winchester came out of the gates strong with the Quicksilver 34.
A couple of aspects of the bow grabbed my attention. One is the use of their AST Two Track cam system to roll up the harness during the draw as well as let out harness to the other cam. It is the first time I have seen this design, and by making the cam thinner, I assume it permits some latitude in cam placement for better limb tip balance (less limb torque). The bow is fast too, among the faster bows on the market today. It also features a custom string and harness system, a string stopper and a roller cable guard. It is a very good entry into the market that I predict will do very well. Good job, guys!