Compound Shootout 2014: 7 Best New Bows Ranked and Reviewed

Our experts put the newest top-of-the-line ­compounds head-to-head in a three- day test of everything from accuracy to aesthetics.

Photo by Adam Voorhes; Prop Styling by Robin Finlay

In April, the F&S bow-testing panel (see bottom) met in Murray, Ky., for our annual three-day shootout to evaluate the year’s top compound models. We started with more than a dozen new flagship bows from just about every company you’ve heard of and some you probably haven’t. We fitted each with a Trophy Ridge Whisker Biscuit rest and React sight, and set the draw weight at exactly 60 pounds and length at 28 inches. Next, we measured noise with a decibel meter and speed by shooting a 359-grain Easton Flatline arrow through a chronograph. Then we hit the range and shot and shot and shot to evaluate draw cycle; shock and vibration; balance, handling, and grip; fit and finish; and accuracy and forgiveness. We scored each category from 1 to 10 and doubled the key ones—speed, draw cycle, and accuracy—for a total possible score of 100.

Finally, we crunched the numbers on all of the 14 bows we tested and threw out any bow scoring under 75 to identify the top seven new flagship bows of 2014 (click here to see how all of the bows scored and get the methodology behind our test). Here they are, ranked and reviewed.

1. Bowtech RPM 360 (Best of the Test)

Photo by Adam Voorhes

New limb pockets designed to improve accuracy, a vastly different grip, and a radically rethought riser built to handle faster speeds mark the RPM as a major departure from what won this company back-to-back F&S Best of the Best Awards in 2012 and 2013.

Hits

The RPM was the fastest bow in this year’s test and the third fastest we’ve ever measured. Yet with all that speed it still ranked second best in vibration, second in noise, and third in accuracy.

Misses

The new riser may be stronger, but it’s also heavier and clunkier. No one liked the blocky grip.

The Skinny

Instead of coasting on its recent success, Bowtech built a very different bow for 2014. None of us liked how the RPM handled, me especially. But it proved so excellent in every other regard that it scored highest and ultimately won most of the testers over.

Specs

- 31" axle-to-axle
- 6" brace height
- 4.4 lb.
- 80% let-off
- 297 fps

Total Score: 88.25

Price: $999; bowtecharchery.com

2. Elite Energy 35

Photo by Luke Nilsson

Long and with a generous brace height, the Energy 35 is made for smooth shooting. The bow has an updated cam system, and a new Riser Cage that Elite claims increases riser strength and stiffness for improved accuracy.

Hits

Our quietest bow, it had the least vibration, and the second-best draw cycle.

Misses

This was the slowest bow of the test. Both Hurteau and Brantley gave it a minor ding in the forgiveness category.

The Skinny

How pleasant is the Energy 35 to shoot? It took dead last in the speed test and still almost won the whole shebang. Let me make it simple for you: If, like me, you value shootability most and don’t care that much about speed, buy the Elite. Otherwise, Brantley has summed it up well: “It’s like a slick-handling sports car…with a Prius engine.”

Specs

- 34 3⁄4" axle-to-axle
- 7" brace height
- 4.5 lb.
- 80% let-off
- 273 fps

Total Score: 85
Price: $899; elitearchery.com

3. Obsession Evolution

Photo by Luke Nilsson

Many hunters have never heard of this relatively new bow maker, but the Evolution is already gaining a reputation as a remarkably easy-shooting speed bow, thanks to its high-efficiency Evolution Cam.

Hits

Great draw cycle with an almost impossibly generous valley for a speed bow. The Evolution was runner-up in the accuracy test, and everyone gave it high marks for fit and finish.

Misses

Based on IBO rating (353 fps), the Evolution should have been our second-fastest model. But our test bow finished tied for sixth.

The Skinny

We all liked this one—a lot. If not for the somewhat disappointing chronograph readings, the Obsession would have threatened for the top spot. Still, it’s hardly slow, and we forgot all about inflated IBO ratings once we hit the range with this very accurate and pleasant-shooting bow.

Specs
- 32" axle-to-axle
- 6" brace height
- 4.1 lb.
- 80% let-off
- 285 fps

Total Score: 83
Price: $859; obsessionbows.com

4. PSE DNA SP

Photo by Luke Nilsson

SP stands for smooth pull and is PSE’s answer to hunters who want most of the original DNA’s speed with an easier draw cycle. This new version strikes that balance wonderfully thanks to the redesigned Source Cam.

Hits

Hands-down winner of the accuracy test, the SP was faster than most models at 286 fps. It has a nice draw cycle and balances very well in the hand.

Misses

There was a little vibration and also some noise. Both problems could be tamed.

The Skinny

We weren’t very kind to the original DNA in last year’s tests, mainly because of the demanding draw cycle and nonexistent valley, which can make it difficult to stay against the back wall at full draw. The SP satisfied those beefs. Plus, it shot like it was reading our minds. If you have been waiting for PSE to make a bow you can handle, this is it.

Specs
- 31 1⁄4" axle-to-axle
- 6" brace height
- 3.8 lb.
- 75% let-off
- 286 fps

Total Score: 81
Price: $899; pse-archery.com

5. Prime Alloy

Photo by Luke Nilsson

Prime redesigned and lightened its tough-as-nails riser for the Alloy. It also added an adjustable, flexing roller cable guard for a smoother draw and reduced riser torque.

Hits

Exceptional draw cycle and concrete back wall—best of the bunch. Everyone shot the Alloy well on the range and gave it high marks for fit and finish.

Misses

The Alloy finished well down the list in the speed category (279 fps), and no one liked the beefy, plastic grip.

The Skinny

If we had a most-improved category, Prime would have won it going away. The Alloy is a lighter, nimbler version of last year’s Impact, which we killed for being a “club.” The grip is still an abomination, but you can remove it with just a few turns of an Allen wrench, which is just what Hurteau did, saying, “O.K., shoot this bow now.” We did and, to a man, liked it much better.

Specs
- 33 1⁄4" axle-to-axle
- 6 3⁄4" brace height
- 4.2 lb.
- 80% let-off
- 279 fps

Total Score: 79.75
Price: $949; g5prime.com

6. Strother Vital

Photo by Luke Nilsson

The Vital sports new ZT Loc-N-Cradle limb pockets for greater stability and a new cam system for a smoother draw and greater adjustability. Strother also tweaked its popular riser for a sleeker look.

Hits

Solid back wall, excellent balance, and very quiet. Clean lines and careful craftsmanship yielded good fit-and-finish scores.

Misses

Shallow valley, and the Vital proved a little unforgiving on the range; its low accuracy scores (10th place) surprised us.

The Skinny

We started out admiring this bow. But the more we shot it, the more it slipped in the rankings. Hurteau liked the grip, but it pinched poor Brantley’s delicate hand.

Specs
- 32" axle-to-axle
- 7" brace height
- 4 lb.
- 80% let-off
- 286 fps

Total Score: 77.75
Price: $899; strotherarchery.com

7. Mathews Creed XS

Photo by Luke Nilsson

The XS is a compact version of last year’s Creed, with a slightly longer brace height. Radically shorter than any other bow here, it should be on the radar of any ground-blind hunter.

Hits

Good balance and excellent overall handling. Smooth draw cycle. As always, Mathews has perfected the fit-and-finish category.

Misses

The second-slowest bow in the test, the Creed XS also had a little jump at the shot. It was middle-of-the-pack accurate.

The Skinny

You may remember that we did not love the original Creed. We all thought this year’s version, however, would make a handy short-range woods bow—even though none of us shot it especially well.

Specs
- 28" axle-to-axle
- 7 1⁄2" brace height
- 3.8 lb.
- 80% let-off
- 274 fps

Total Score: 76.5
Price: $999; mathewsinc.com

Test Panel
Scott Bestul: F&S Whitetails editor with 40 years' experience shooting bows

Will Brantley: F&S contributor and crack bow shot

Danny Hinton: Owner of Hinton Archery ­(hinton​archery.com) in Murray, Ky.

Dave Hurteau: F&S deputy editor and veteran bow tester