In a market crammed with great top-end compound bows, buying the right one can be a serious challenge, especially when it means dropping close to a grand. That’s where we come in. To help you make the right choice for the hunting you do, F&S assembled a crack team of shooters for the ultimate field test that included me, Will Brantley, Danny Hinton, and Dave Hurteau. For this year’s Best of the Best testing, we got together and shot nine new top-shelf bows all day for three days.
We oohed. We arghed. We measured. And we argued (then argued some more). Finally, we sat down and ranked them, one through nine. Here is how 2013’s flagship bows stacked up.
How We Test
Our evaluations took place at Brantley’s Kentucky farm, where we set targets from 10 to 60 yards. Hinton set up and tuned every bow, and then we shot the heck out of them.
Testers scored each bow from 5 to 10 in 10 categories, for a potential top-end score of 100. On the range, we tested for shock and vibration, balance and grip, draw cycle, back wall, fit and finish, valley, shootability (including accuracy and forgiveness), and overall impression.
Inside the shop at Hinton Archery, we tested for speed by shooting an Easton Flatline 340 arrow, tipped with a Velocitip (total weight, 353 grains), from each bow set at 60 pounds, averaging three shots for each bow. We measured speed and noise and gave corresponding scores from 5 to 10. Scores for all categories were averaged to get our final rankings.
#2 Elite Hunter – Score: 85.5 out of 100; Price: $859
This was easily the most pleasant bow to shoot. We raved about its wonderful draw cycle, solid back wall, and generous valley. Because it was so easy to shoot, we all shot it well–and really enjoyed doing so.
Hits: The Hunter is very quiet, with near-zero vibration. Excellent draw cycle, solid back wall, and nice looks to boot.
Misses: The slowest bow in the test. Although the extra-long valley is good for shooting, it can be problematic when letting down in a hunting situation.
The Skinny: If we’d finished testing after the first day, the Hunter would have won. Day two was the speed test, which knocked it down. But if smoothness and easy shooting is your thing, this is your bow.
31 1/2″ axle-to-axle; 7 3/4″ brace height; 4.3 lb.; 80% let-off; 277 fps
#3 Hoyt Spyder Turbo – Score: 84.1 out of 100; Price: $999
Hoyt bows have a reputation for toughness, and this one feels very solidly built. As with the Bowtech, it was hard to find fault with the Spyder Turbo. It’s plenty fast enough for a Western hunter, yet smooth and quiet enough for up-close whitetails.
It was the second fastest, and yet very quiet, with a nice draw cycle and enough valley.
Hinton didn’t like the grip, and both he and Hurteau deducted points for a spongy back wall.
Where the Elite’s score fell after the speed test, the Turbo’s went up. Given its other qualities, we were surprised it was so fast. If you’ve always wanted a superfast bow but can’t abide a nonexistent valley, run to your Hoyt dealer.
34″ axle-to-axle; 6″ brace height; 4.4 lb.; 80% let-off; 299 fps
#4 Strother Wrath Sho – Score: 83 out of 100; Price: $799
None of us had much experience shooting a Strother bow, and we were all highly impressed. Handy, smooth, and good-looking, this is an excellent hunting bow from a company that just celebrated its third birthday.
Wonderful draw cycle, solid back wall, good valley, and very nice fit and finish.
Not especially fast or quiet, the Wrath had a little hand shock and vibration at the shot.
This very short bow is not so light that it’s hard to hold steadily on target, making it both handy and accurate. It’s tough, too. Thanks to my absentmindedness, the Wrath survived a dry fire with flying colors. Kudos to any bow that can ace the moron test.
30 1/4″ axle-to-axle; 7 3/4″ brace height; 4 lb.; 80% let-off; 284 fps
#5 Bear Motive 6 – Score: 79.1 out of 100; Price: $899
Here is Bear’s first dual-cam bow and its entry into the speed wars. The Motive did well in that regard, although not quite so well as its gaudy 350-fps IBO rating would suggest. It was also the quietest bow in the test. And we gave Bear brownie points for innovation.
Quiet as moss, very little vibration, fourth in the speed test, and it sports a fine draw cycle.
Hinton clobbered it on fit and finish; Brantley thought the back wall was a tad mushy.
The Motive inspired epic debate. Hinton called it the ugliest girl at the prom, but Hurteau screamed, “Who cares? It’s fast, quiet, and it shoots well!” So if looks are really important to you, skip this model. Otherwise, consider Bear’s latest.
Specs: 32″ axle-to-axle; 6″ brace height; 4 lb.; 75% let-off; 292 fps
#6 Prime Impact – Score: 76.6 out of 100; Price: $950
Solid is the best adjective for the Impact; it notched 8s and 9s in many categories and generally makes for a good hunting bow. Prime risers are the toughest in the industry, but this was also the heaviest, most unwieldy bow.
A back wall you could smash a truck against, very nice draw cycle, good valley, decently fast. Everyone shot it well.
No one liked the weight and balance, and the broad, spongy grip scored some 6s, which hurt it considerably.
Hurteau’s comment–“This would be a hell of a bow if it wasn’t such a club”–sums up the Impact. However, for some long-distance shooters who favor heft and stability, it may feel just right.
Specs: 35″ axle-to-axle; 6 1/4″ brace height; 4.5 lb.; 80% let-off; 289 fps
#7 Matthews Creed – Score: 75.3 out of 100; Price: $999
Mathews continues its mastery of the silky-smooth draw and fine fit and finish with the Creed. Most of the team shot it pretty well, too, but it earned low scores in several categories. We expected more from a company that’s won the bow test multiple times.
Excellent draw cycle, classic good looks, forgiving, and pretty accurate.
By far the loudest bow, and the second slowest. No one liked the grip. And–a first for any Mathews bow I’ve tested–there was some vibration.
We probably shot the Creed more than any bow, disbelieving how poorly it stacked up against even the newcomers. “If you’re going to shoot a bow this slow, buy the Elite,” Hinton finally said.
Specs: 30″ axle-to-axle; 7″ brace height; 3.85 lb.; 80% let-off; 282 fps
#8 PSE DNA – Score: 74.1 out of 100; Price: $899
The DNA won the speed test, and we all shot it very well–Brantley was pinging 1-inch groups at 40 yards. But speed bows demand a price: If you can handle a no-valley bow, you’ll love the DNA. If not, this bow isn’t for you.
Blazing speed, excellent grip, very accurate, and a decent draw cycle for such a flamethrower.
A total lack of valley crushed this bow, especially with Hinton and Brantley, who also deducted points for looks.
Here’s the thing about a nonexistent valley: Either you don’t mind it or you flat-out hate it. The DNA scored so low because two testers were in the latter camp. If, however, you’re O.K. with an ultra-aggressive bow, there’s a lot to like. While the average shooter may not go for the DNA, PSE fans will eat it up.
Specs: 31″ axle-to-axle; 6″ brace height; 3.7 lb.; 70% let-off; 301 fps
#9 McPherson Monster Chill – Score: 71 out of 100; Price: $999
The latest in the Monster line from McPherson, this bow had us puzzled; Monsters are typically smoking fast, but the Chill cooled that expectation. For $999, this bow should have been better.
Good fit and finish, and Hinton marked it high for balance. Pretty quiet for the third-fastest bow in the test.
The Chill scored mediocre marks in most categories, and some low marks for its back wall. The draw cycle was fairly even but had a somewhat gritty feel. Just nothing exceptional for the price.
We spent some time trying to understand the Chill. The conclusion: It suffers from an identity crisis; it doesn’t know if it wants to be a hunting bow or a target bow, so it doesn’t do either particularly well.
Specs: 30 1/2″ axle-to-axle; 7″ brace height; 3.9 lb.; 80% let-off; 293 fps
#1 Best Bow of 2013: Bowtech Experience – Score: 88.7 out of 100; Price $999
The Experience does not necessarily bowl you over in any one respect. But whereas almost every other model had at least one significant flaw, this one scored well in every category. For some reason, Brantley, who can cut the whiskers off a chipmunk at 50 yards, didn’t shoot the Experience that well. But the rest of us shot it lights out.
Smooth draw cycle, solid back wall, virtually zero vibration, and one of the quietest bows.
Brantley gave it a minor ding on looks. For $999, it should be a bit faster.
Some guys are speed freaks; others value shootability above all. Everybody else wants the best combo of the two. For 2013, the Experience is it.
Specs: 32″ axle-to-axle; 7″ brace height; 4.2 lb.; 80% let-off; 291 fps
The Test Panel**
F&S field editor: At 52, I represent the geriatric demographic. But with age comes experience; I have been shooting bows for 40 years.
F&S contributor: A deadeye, veteran bowhunter, and a 3D shooter, he loses all his Southern charm when reviewing hunting gear.
Owner of Hinton Archery (hintonarchery.com) in Murray, Ky.: Never shy with an opinion, Hinton has shot and sold virtually every bow line on the market.
F&S deputy editor: Hurteau has tested more compound bows in an objective fashion than anyone I know, and he doesn’t mind telling you what he really thinks.
From the September 2013 issue of Field & Stream magazine.