Okay fine, a trade show may not the best place to thoroughly test new bows. It’s noisy and you only get to shoot each model a handful of times before having to pass it off to the next person in line. But you can get back in line as many times as you want, and you can absolutely get a solid first look at every bow at the show.

And so we did. At this week’s ATA show in Louisville, Kentucky, Bestul and I focused on the new flagship models for 2013. We shot, and waited to shoot, and shot, and got in line again…until we had a firm enough grasp of the new crop of compounds to share our first impressions with you. Here they are, in alphabetical order by manufacturer:


Bowtech Experience ($899; bowtecharchery)
Specs: 335 fps IBO; 32 inches axle-to-axle; Brace Height 7; 4.2 pounds
Skinny: After playing the speed game–and playing it very well–for the last couple of years, Bowtech has touched the brakes a little to offer everyday hunters a smoother, easier shooting experience.
Hits: Smooth draw cycle. Excellent valley; you can relax a little at full draw without the bow yanking your string hand forward–a critically important feature for the average hunter in the field. Good back wall. Good balance and feel. Fairly dead in the hand, but not perfectly so.
Misses: A little loud–but only a little, and we were shooting a bare bow.


Elite Answer ($899;
Specs: 330 fps IBO with smooth mod, 340 with speed mod; 33-1/2 inches axle-to-axle; Brace Height 7; 4.1 pounds
Skinny: Elite doesn’t have one flagship bow but several in different configurations at the same price level. After shooting the newest models, we liked the Answer because it offered the best combination of smoothness and speed.
Hits: Exceptionally smooth draw cycle (second only to the G5 Prime, see below). Very good valley, much like the Bowtech. Good balance, good feel, good fit and finish.
Misses: A little louder than some, and the Answer jumps in your hand just a little at the shot.


G5 Prime Impact ($949;
Specs: 340 fps IBO; 35 inches axle-to-axle; Brace Height 6.25; 4.5 pounds
Skinny: G5’s bows have been getting better every year–inching closer the perennial top contenders. This year, based solely on these preliminary tests, the Impact has cleared the bar. It should join the discussion for best bow of 2013. The other version of the bow is the 30-inch Defy, but we liked this one better.
Hits: **Smoothest draw cycle of all the bows at the show. Nice valley; doesn’t want to yank your string hand forward. Good back wall. Absolutely dead in the hand, more so, I thought, than any other bow we shot.
A tad heavy. It’s overpriced.


Hoyt Spyder 30 ($999;
Specs: 330 fps IBO; 30 inches axle-to-axle; Brace Height 6.75; 3.8 pounds
Skinny: **This bow is also available in a 34-inch version with a 340 IBO. Both shot and felt very much the same. As you would expect from Hoyt, this is a very well-built bow, featuring the company’s new Airshox Technology designed to tame limb vibration and noise.
Smooth draw cycle. Good feel and balance. Very little hand shock or vibration.
Misses: Back wall is a tad mushy. A little louder than some.


Martin Nemesis 35 ($899;
Specs: 335 fps IBO; 35 inches axle-to-axle; Brace Height 7; 3.8 pounds
Skinny: I’d like to be more generous here, but this bow just doesn’t compare favorably to the others in this price range. The hard truth is that even if you knocked $200 off the tag, you could still find as good or better a bow for the money.
Hits: Good draw cycle and valley. Fairly dead in the hand. Decent balance.
Misses: The loudest bow on this list. Fit and finish isn’t nearly as good as other similarly priced models.


Bear Motive 6 ($899;
Specs: 350 fps IBO; 32 inches axle-to-axle; Brace Height 6; 4 pounds
Skinny: Oh how I despise the suddenly ubiquitous term “game-changer.” And yet it seems apt for Bear’s new flagship. The Motive 6 is a pure speed bow, the company’s first dual-cam model since maybe forever, and their best shot at the top of the heap in years.
Hits: Bear’s fastest bow ever. Surprisingly smooth draw cycle for a speed bow. Good back wall. Pretty darn smooth at the shot. Nice fit and finish. Good feel and balance.
Misses: The valley is a little steep, but that’s what you get with such a fast bow.


PSE X-Force Dream Season DNA ($899;
Specs: 352 fps IBO; 31 inches axle-to-axle; Brace Height 6; 3.7 pounds
Skinny: Another real contender for the top spot in 2013, this is PSE’s latest in a long line of pure speed bows, and, at first blush at least, their best. If you don’t like a speed bow, you won’t like this one. If you do, oh Mama….
Hits: Holy s**t, it’s fast. The draw is surprisingly smooth–not easy–but smooth; it doesn’t roll over with a clunk like some earlier PSE speed models do. It is shockingly, insanely quiet for such a flame-thrower. Good balance and finish, as always.
Misses: The draw is smooth, but demanding. (What would you expect?) The valley is steep. (Of course.) It jumps just a tad at the shot–no big deal.


Strother Rush XT ($799;
Specs: **345 fps IBO, 33-3/8 inches axle-to-axle, Brace Height 6-3/8, 4.25 pounds
If you’re not familiar with this company, you should get that way. Strother is another bow maker that inches closer to industry’s top tier with each new model. Like Elite, it offers several bows at the same price level, of which we liked the new Rush XT.
Hits: Like many bows this year, the XT has a smooth draw cycle, but at the end of that cycle it outshines the rest. This back wall is concrete, titanium, diamond hard–the best of the bunch. Pretty smooth at the shot–and fast.
Misses: A little bit louder than some.