Top Bowhunting Gear on a Budget
December 26, 2016
It is nothing to spend $800 or even $1,000 on a bow and another $500 on accessories and arrows. Fortunately, you don't need those high-dollar setups to kill just about anything that walks on this planet.
Today's bargain bows were yesterday's barnburners. Just five to 10 years ago, the highest-performance bows on the market were on level with the budget bows of today. They were fast enough and accurate enough then to grab headlines and make us yearn to buy one.
The deer and elk haven't changed, so if that level of performance was top shelf back then, you can be sure it is still more than adequate for effective bowhunting today.
Sure, buying the latest and greatest gear is fun. But it is not always practical and definitely not necessary. If you shop carefully in today's market you can piece together everything you need to upgrade your current setup, or get into the sport from ground zero, with a budget from $400-$700.
Machine time is one way manufacturers price their bows. Fortunately, you don't need an intricately machined riser to shoot a fast and accurate arrow. Lower-priced machined bows and bows with cast risers will do just fine. I've killed a lot of deer with cast-riser bows over the years!
Speed is another way to segregate the market. The fastest bows tend to cost the most. However, even those a step down from the top are still more than fast enough for effective bowhunting. An IBO speed in the range of 310 fps is very doable on a budget and plenty fast, especially by historical standards.
Many solid bows are now retailing for around $400. For example, you can get the Bear Wild for right at $400. And for $499, you can get a Bowtech Fuel with the company's R.A.K. (Ready. Aim. Kill.) package that includes an arrow rest, sight, quiver, stabilizer, wrist sling, peep sight and nocking loop.
Kit bows are the very best deals on the market. Of course, you give up the ability to choose exactly what accessories you select, but the ones that come with the kits are functional. Some companies, such as Mission, offer kits at different price ranges with slightly upgraded accessories as the price goes up.
Maybe I am overly trusting, but I would not hesitate to buy a used bow as long as the seller was reputable and the bow passed my three-point inspection.
There are many places online where you can buy used equipment. I have bought lots of camera equipment from these sites over the years. I think this makes sense for bows, too. Expect to pick up a good used bow for around half of current retail for the same (or a similar) model. Used bows are often sold with a money-back return provision, so you need to know what to look for as soon as the bow slides from the box. Here are the typical trouble spots:
The edges of limbs can crack with years of use — pull the bow back and look carefully at the edges of the limbs for any place where the fiberglass is separating. While this doesn't automatically mean the bow is not safe to shoot (I have used some bows for years that had small feathering along the edges) it is definitely a warning sign.
In general, if you see limb damage of any kind, don't buy the bow, or ask for a discount that is deep enough to allow you to buy a set of replacement limbs.
Cam lean is a problem when it occurs because it causes poor arrow flight and can be very hard to eliminate. Draw the bow and look at how both wheels turn. They should stay vertical. Look at the bow from the end, sighting down the string. Ideally, the cams should line up perfectly with the string, not tilted or canted.
Check the cam bushings too. The cams should roll smoothly with no grinding sounds. With the bow undrawn, physically try to wobble the cams back and forth with your fingers. If there is more than a very slight amount of play, the bushings are starting to wear out. I would not buy that bow. It is possible to replace the bushings, but it is best left to a bow technician. At the very least, seek a discount.
Strings and cables are going to wear out on any bow, no matter how carefully you maintain it. Inspect the cables and string for signs of abrasion or cut strands. Unless they are obviously in good shape, it is a good practice to replace them immediately upon purchasing a used bow. You should consider a new string and cables to be an added cost when buying a used bow. If they are sound, then count that as a bonus.
Only four aspects of a bow and its accessories really matter. The string has to be reliable and stable. The rest has to position the arrow consistently and eliminate fletching contact. The broadheads have to be durable, accurate and sharp. And the arrows have to be consistent in every way possible.
Of the four, arrows are the most important. You will see top shooters experiment with arrows more than any other accessory. As noted, consistency is the key to a great arrow.
There are many good carbon arrows on the market now and most will do an adequate job of killing game, but there are differences. I've witnessed testing where I saw a wide variation in critical specs (straightness, weight, spine stiffness) across only one dozen shafts. Stick with the better carbon shafts on the market unless you just need a dozen shafts to shoot at stumps or woodchucks. If you are going to skimp on shafts, I would still stick with the most reputable brands but drop down to shafts with a slightly wider straightness tolerance. As the straightness tolerance opens up, the price drops. A straightness of +/-.006-inch is fine for good accuracy at all bowhunting distances.
You can get a good bow sight without spending a fortune. Set your budget at $50 and look for the following qualities:
Pin-locking systems are one of the most important aspects of any sight, especially if you are shooting a moderately fast bow. The vibration will quickly rattle a cheap system loose.
Three pins are all you will need unless you are planning on hunting out West or will take shots past 40 yards. It will be less expensive than a sight having five pins. Pin protection is probably the most important aspect of any sight. Be sure the colored pin fibers on the sight you select are fully enclosed and protected all the way to the aiming point.
Like most people, I want to own the newest gear whenever I can. But there is also something to be said for saving enough money on bowhunting gear to afford that taxidermy bill I hope to pay each year! You can put together a very functional, solid bowhunting set up for as little as $400-$700. With the fine equipment now available, you can actually
upgrade and still stay on a budget.