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September 26, 2011

Top Five Bows of 2011

By Scott Bestul

We’ve been counting down the best bows of the 2011 season, and we’re down to the cream of the crop. In most years, whittling out the bottom half of 15 or 16 bows isn’t too difficult for my testing team. Deciding on the Top Ten involves a little quibbling, but is rarely a tough chore.

But the Five Best? We’ve never actually gotten testy with each other when picking the five elite bows of the year, but individual scores reflect how close the voting can get. No more than 20 points (out of a possible 160) separated the Number Five bow from our Champion (the Best of the Best winner), and this year even featured a tie for the runner-up bow. So without any more fuss, here are the five models that everyone in my test team shot over and over… Sometimes looking for that one little feature that made a big difference. And sometimes because a really, really good bow is just plain fun to shoot.

Bow Number Five
G5 “Prime Centroid”
(g5prime.com)
(MSRP: $999)

Hits: Most top-flight bows have a design feature that’s both innovative and problem-solving. In the case of the Prime, it’s called “Parallel Cam Technology ™” which is designed to virtually eliminate cam-lean, as well as reduce nock travel and limb fatigue. Basically two cams sit side by side, and the design change is both innovative and eye-catching; one of those features that jumps out at a shooter and says “this could be really cool…or really bad.” In the case of the Prime, it’s really good.

Misses: The only deductions my team gave to the Prime were in the shock/vibration category. This was nit-picking for two testers, but one team member gave it a big enough demerit to drop the Prime a place or two.

Takeaway: Major kudos go to the G5 team for incorporating an innovative design into a bow that’s just a pleasure to shoot. The Prime had a great back wall, a nice draw cycle and at 282 fps, sent an arrow zipping along. And once we got used to looking at parallel cams, we gave high marks to the Prime for fit-and-finish.

Bow Number Four
PSE “Dream Season EVO”
(pse-archery.com)
(MSRP: $849.99)

Hits: As they do every year, the engineers at PSE produced one of the speed leaders in our test. The EVO zipped an arrow at 292 fps, losing Top Gun honors by only a hair. Of course speed usually comes at a price…But not with this bow. The EVO lost only minor points for shock /vibration, and for a flamethrower it had a nice draw cycle and fine back wall.

Misses: Here’s the rub, and an explanation why a Top Five bow can be nosing toward champion and suddenly take a dive; one tester gave the EVO significant deducts for its slim grip. Were it not for that score, the EVO would have been whisker-close to winning.

Takeaway:
It’s tough to summarize all the thoughtful features the PSE folks put into this bow. There are major wow-factors like speed , smoothness, and forgiveness. But also nice little touches that just make for a wonderful bow, like the timing marks on the cams that make the EVO simple to tune. PSE has always produced wonderful bows and the EVO will be a very tough act for them to best next year.

Bows Number Two (That’s right we had a tie)
This is the fourth bow test I’ve participated in, and we’ve never had a tie until now. So here are two heavy hitters that we couldn’t separate when it came to the final standings:

*Mathews “Z7 Xtreme” (mathewsinc.com)
(MSRP: $899)

Hits: Mathews is known for producing buttery-smooth bows, and the Extreme continues that tradition. There are few bows out there that are as pleasant to draw and shoot. Felt vibration is almost zero on the Xtreme, and this is one of the few high-performance bows that no one on my team said “I bet this thing would be fun to shoot if we cranked it down 10 pounds.”

Misses: One tester gave the Xtreme demerits for shortness (the bow is 28” axle-to-axle) noting that “the extreme angle at full draw created a difficult sight window.” Two team members knocked the Mathews’ beefy wooden handle.

Takeaway:
A Mathews bow has won the last two bow tests, and the Xtreme nearly made it a three-peat. The Xtreme incorporates the smooth draw, solid back wall, and minimal vibration that hunters have come to expect of a Mathews product. And few companies pay as much attention to detail; like former Mathews winners, the Xtreme scored nearly perfect in fit and finish.

*Bowtech “Invasion CPX” (bowtecharchery.com)
(MSRP: $899.99)

Hits: The Invasion was scary-close to landing on the beaches of greatness; the 3rd fastest bow in the test, the Invasion didn’t shoot an arrow as much as launch it, and felt shock/vibration was simply great for a bow this quick. Some speed-bows feel like they want to jump out of the shooter’s hands at full draw, but everyone gave the Invasion high marks for a solid back wall. Even better, the bow is quiet and got high marks for in the grip/balance category.

Misses: It can take some effort to roll through the initial draw cycle of a fast bow; while the Invasion was smoother than the rest of the muscle cars in the test, it got a few deductions in this category. As one tester noted “this bow would be a joy to shoot at 60 pounds...But we test at 70.”

Takeaway: The Invasion was highly regarded by my entire test crew, and mere fractionals kept it from claiming the crown. This is a bow that combines some often-contradictory qualities; the Invasion was fast, but quiet and nearly vibration-free. It was light, but balanced nicely in the hand. Every year we have a bow or two that didn’t win and several testers are surprised. The Invasion fit this definition perfectly this year.

*Winner
Hoyt “Carbon Element” (hoyt.com)
(MSRP: $1,199)

Hits: Hoyt perfected its carbon riser—spawned by last year’s Carbon Matrix—in the Element, and this truly innovative design helped propel it to the top. Extremely light and tough, the riser also sports tight, rugged limb pockets and a grip that fits nicely in the hand. The draw cycle is wonderfully smooth which led most in my test team to rank it high in overall shootability.

Misses: Two team members felt the Element’s feather weight led to some felt vibration, and one commented that “adding some weight would result in a better balance.”

Takeaway: The Carbon Element is the perfect marriage of high-tech design and materials brought to bear in a pure hunting bow. At least one of my testers shot the Element for the pure joy of feeling a great bow do its work. The Element, which placed in mid-pack on our speed test, is living proof that while fast can be nice, most of us want a bow that just feels (and performs) great. This will be one tough act for Hoyt to follow, but we all look forward to seeing how their engineers will top the Element.

And, as requested by ndkeifer, the previous entries in the 14 Best Bows of 2011:
Bow #6
Bow #7
Bow #8
Bow #9
Bow #10
Bow #11
Bow #12
Bow #13
Bow #14

Comments (18)

Top Rated
All Comments
from Nixstyx wrote 2 years 29 weeks ago

Great overview. I've been waiting for this! It's interesting to hear how close the competition is, despite some big differences in design. Would it be too much to ask for next year's review to include a more detailed breakdown of the scoring? Maybe a chart with testers' scores in each category? That way, if I'm looking for a real smooth bow, but don't care as much about speed or fit and finish (which can be very subjective), I can know which will fit my preferences. Thanks again!

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from jjas wrote 2 years 29 weeks ago

...and the winner is....

The most expensive bow....again.....I think I'll just keep my 4 year old parker that I paid $400.00 as a package.

+2 Good Comment? | | Report
from jay wrote 2 years 29 weeks ago

G5 must be really proud of their bow. A relatively new and unproven bow company selling their bow for more than the well established offerings from PSE, Mathews, and Bowtech. I guess time will tell.

-1 Good Comment? | | Report
from Dan Whipkey wrote 2 years 29 weeks ago

I love the Dream Season EVO! Surprised the grip dropped it down so much. I'm not a fan of the bulky grips like the Mathews has, though I do like the Z7.

Did I miss which was the fastest?

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from Mr.12gauge wrote 2 years 29 weeks ago

I was wondering if they test the ONEIDA Eagle Bows. I Shot the brand new Kestrel and found it as smooth or smoother than the Mathews Z7 Extreme. I think it would be a great addition to the bow test.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from Neal Keifer wrote 2 years 29 weeks ago

Is there any where to view the whole list? I've shot all of the bows in the top 5 except the G5, and I have to admit, the new Elite Archery bows, are smoother, quieter, and all around the best shooting bows I have shot. Just interested if any of them ended up on the list at all. But as already stated, the most expensive bow wins again, and the 3 companies that spend the most on marketing take the top 3.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from Walt Smith wrote 2 years 29 weeks ago

I wouldn't trade my old Bear Polar II for any of them, with a 45" axle to axle length and a 65# pull I get more kinetic energy than those short bows will ever get, that and my bow is much easier to hold on target than those little ones that dance all over the place with the slightest twitch. My thought is if you're paying $800.00 or more for a bow, you're kinda braindead!

-2 Good Comment? | | Report
from Neal Keifer wrote 2 years 29 weeks ago

Awesome, thanks for the post from the rest of the bows, had no idea these comments were monitored so closely!

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from jbird wrote 2 years 29 weeks ago

Cool overview. I'd like some more of the details about speed and scoring too.

jay- sounds like G5 is using the "UnderArmour strategy"- price it as high or higher than everything else, and people will buy it cuz it's the most expensive.

The good news is this; "Bow-jocks" who have to buy the lates and greatest every year will have all these bows for sale on Craigslist next year at a huge discount.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from rootju wrote 2 years 28 weeks ago

Only thing I didn't like is that the PSE wasn't rated higher because one tester didn't like its thin grip? I find that a little off being that the slimmer grip is supposed to help reduce bow torque and more comfortable while shooting, and not necessarily for holding... Great review, although I feel the EVO got lowered by too much for something so minute...

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from Tom-Tom wrote 2 years 28 weeks ago

As Chief Dan George said once on the Tonight show in response to Johnny Carson's question about compound bows, "If my forefathers had bows like this, there still wouldn't be a white man west of the Mississippi River".

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from Kevin wrote 2 years 28 weeks ago

I'm really surprised that a thin grip was a downfall to the testers. A slim grip takes some getting used to but does results in more consistentcy and smaller groups. I shot mathews for years with the fat wood grip and now have two PSE Bowmadness XL's and have never shot better in my life. Even mathews is slimming their grips year by year. I think the Carbon Element may be well-engineered bow but I can't stand how it looks, plus I bought both my PSE Bowmadness XL's for less than the cost of one Hoyt Carbon Element.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from shadillac wrote 2 years 28 weeks ago

@Walt Smith - I'm glad that you are still so happy with your Bear Polar II but it produces NO WAY NEAR the kinetic energy of the bows in this article. Please keep your comments to yourself if you have no clue what you're talking about.

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from ray cummings wrote 2 years 28 weeks ago

I agree with Walt Smith and others about the high price of the bows tested. Since more than three quarters of the archers (your readers) out here can`t afford $1000 for a bow, why not have a contest for the best bow at a reasonable price.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from Gmon wrote 2 years 23 weeks ago

I agree with you Ray, they should put the effort into rating bows that are at a more reasonable price! I realize that new technology and new materials are going to cost more, but come on! I am looking to buy my son his first bow, and trying to find decent reviews of "reasonably" priced bows matched up against each other is almost impossible. And of course I am not going to go out and spend a thousand dollars on his first bow. But I would also like to get the most bang for my buck and get a good quality bow for him so he can enjoy bowhunting the way I do. The reason we dont see articles for these types of products is because the bow makers are pampering the testers and writers and sending them their most overpriced bow to have or test so the hype each year can be built up again. Bow makers dont want to make a big deal about the "reasonably" priced bows,thats not where the most profit per sale is. Dont get me wrong I know these are fine products and they do deserve the credit and recognition for being the best, but MOST of us are not in the market for a thousand dollar bow. I know there are great products out there that dont cost a small fortune, how about doing more match ups on them?

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from Titanic98 wrote 2 years 19 weeks ago

THis helped because I trying to get a new bow but I think I'll stick with a Parker always did me good

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from XPY wrote 1 year 24 weeks ago

How come you guys never seem to look at Forge Bows?

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from XPY wrote 1 year 24 weeks ago

Bow Hunting Ontario Canada
Come “Like” us; please ask your friends to join.
www.facebook.com/pages/Bow-Hunting-Ontario-Canada/152778298103414

0 Good Comment? | | Report

Post a Comment

from jjas wrote 2 years 29 weeks ago

...and the winner is....

The most expensive bow....again.....I think I'll just keep my 4 year old parker that I paid $400.00 as a package.

+2 Good Comment? | | Report
from rootju wrote 2 years 28 weeks ago

Only thing I didn't like is that the PSE wasn't rated higher because one tester didn't like its thin grip? I find that a little off being that the slimmer grip is supposed to help reduce bow torque and more comfortable while shooting, and not necessarily for holding... Great review, although I feel the EVO got lowered by too much for something so minute...

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from shadillac wrote 2 years 28 weeks ago

@Walt Smith - I'm glad that you are still so happy with your Bear Polar II but it produces NO WAY NEAR the kinetic energy of the bows in this article. Please keep your comments to yourself if you have no clue what you're talking about.

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from Nixstyx wrote 2 years 29 weeks ago

Great overview. I've been waiting for this! It's interesting to hear how close the competition is, despite some big differences in design. Would it be too much to ask for next year's review to include a more detailed breakdown of the scoring? Maybe a chart with testers' scores in each category? That way, if I'm looking for a real smooth bow, but don't care as much about speed or fit and finish (which can be very subjective), I can know which will fit my preferences. Thanks again!

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from Dan Whipkey wrote 2 years 29 weeks ago

I love the Dream Season EVO! Surprised the grip dropped it down so much. I'm not a fan of the bulky grips like the Mathews has, though I do like the Z7.

Did I miss which was the fastest?

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from Mr.12gauge wrote 2 years 29 weeks ago

I was wondering if they test the ONEIDA Eagle Bows. I Shot the brand new Kestrel and found it as smooth or smoother than the Mathews Z7 Extreme. I think it would be a great addition to the bow test.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from Neal Keifer wrote 2 years 29 weeks ago

Is there any where to view the whole list? I've shot all of the bows in the top 5 except the G5, and I have to admit, the new Elite Archery bows, are smoother, quieter, and all around the best shooting bows I have shot. Just interested if any of them ended up on the list at all. But as already stated, the most expensive bow wins again, and the 3 companies that spend the most on marketing take the top 3.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from Neal Keifer wrote 2 years 29 weeks ago

Awesome, thanks for the post from the rest of the bows, had no idea these comments were monitored so closely!

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from jbird wrote 2 years 29 weeks ago

Cool overview. I'd like some more of the details about speed and scoring too.

jay- sounds like G5 is using the "UnderArmour strategy"- price it as high or higher than everything else, and people will buy it cuz it's the most expensive.

The good news is this; "Bow-jocks" who have to buy the lates and greatest every year will have all these bows for sale on Craigslist next year at a huge discount.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from Tom-Tom wrote 2 years 28 weeks ago

As Chief Dan George said once on the Tonight show in response to Johnny Carson's question about compound bows, "If my forefathers had bows like this, there still wouldn't be a white man west of the Mississippi River".

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from Kevin wrote 2 years 28 weeks ago

I'm really surprised that a thin grip was a downfall to the testers. A slim grip takes some getting used to but does results in more consistentcy and smaller groups. I shot mathews for years with the fat wood grip and now have two PSE Bowmadness XL's and have never shot better in my life. Even mathews is slimming their grips year by year. I think the Carbon Element may be well-engineered bow but I can't stand how it looks, plus I bought both my PSE Bowmadness XL's for less than the cost of one Hoyt Carbon Element.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from ray cummings wrote 2 years 28 weeks ago

I agree with Walt Smith and others about the high price of the bows tested. Since more than three quarters of the archers (your readers) out here can`t afford $1000 for a bow, why not have a contest for the best bow at a reasonable price.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from Gmon wrote 2 years 23 weeks ago

I agree with you Ray, they should put the effort into rating bows that are at a more reasonable price! I realize that new technology and new materials are going to cost more, but come on! I am looking to buy my son his first bow, and trying to find decent reviews of "reasonably" priced bows matched up against each other is almost impossible. And of course I am not going to go out and spend a thousand dollars on his first bow. But I would also like to get the most bang for my buck and get a good quality bow for him so he can enjoy bowhunting the way I do. The reason we dont see articles for these types of products is because the bow makers are pampering the testers and writers and sending them their most overpriced bow to have or test so the hype each year can be built up again. Bow makers dont want to make a big deal about the "reasonably" priced bows,thats not where the most profit per sale is. Dont get me wrong I know these are fine products and they do deserve the credit and recognition for being the best, but MOST of us are not in the market for a thousand dollar bow. I know there are great products out there that dont cost a small fortune, how about doing more match ups on them?

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from Titanic98 wrote 2 years 19 weeks ago

THis helped because I trying to get a new bow but I think I'll stick with a Parker always did me good

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from XPY wrote 1 year 24 weeks ago

How come you guys never seem to look at Forge Bows?

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from XPY wrote 1 year 24 weeks ago

Bow Hunting Ontario Canada
Come “Like” us; please ask your friends to join.
www.facebook.com/pages/Bow-Hunting-Ontario-Canada/152778298103414

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from jay wrote 2 years 29 weeks ago

G5 must be really proud of their bow. A relatively new and unproven bow company selling their bow for more than the well established offerings from PSE, Mathews, and Bowtech. I guess time will tell.

-1 Good Comment? | | Report
from Walt Smith wrote 2 years 29 weeks ago

I wouldn't trade my old Bear Polar II for any of them, with a 45" axle to axle length and a 65# pull I get more kinetic energy than those short bows will ever get, that and my bow is much easier to hold on target than those little ones that dance all over the place with the slightest twitch. My thought is if you're paying $800.00 or more for a bow, you're kinda braindead!

-2 Good Comment? | | Report

Post a Comment

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