When shopping for the perfect bow, you need to know what to look for and how to find it. Here’s a good routine for testing every bow you pick up.
1. Fit and Finish
Grab a bow off the shelf. Examine the materials and workmanship. Are the limb pockets plastic (O.K.) or aluminum (better)? Is the riser cast (O.K.) or extruded, forged, or machined out of a single billet (better)? Are the cutouts neat and tidy? Is the finish uniform? Does the bow feel durable? Do you like how it looks?
2. Draw Cycle
Ask the shop owner if you can draw the bow, and then do so several times, slowly. Ideally, the motion will feel even and smooth, with a minimum of grittiness or bumps as the cam turns over. Don’t expect a fast bow to draw like a slow one.
3. Back Wall
Draw the bow again, all the way back until it stops. How does the stop feel? Hard and solid, like a concrete wall? Or a little softer? Most shooters, especially hunters, prefer the former.
From the back wall, ease up a little. The valley determines how much you can relax at full draw before the string suddenly lets down. Steep or narrow valleys—common on speed bows—jerk your arm forward at the slightest relaxation, whereas generous or wide valleys offer more leeway, which many hunters prefer.
5. Shock and Vibration
Ask to shoot the bow. Step close to the target so you’re sure to hit it. Close your eyes, shoot, and concentrate on what you feel in your bow hand. Some bows, especially light, fast ones, will jump or vibrate a little. That’s not good. A bow with no noticeable shock or vibration is “dead in the hand.”
Shoot with your eyes closed again; this time, listen carefully. Some bows, even very fast ones, are noticeably quieter, and of course, the quieter, the better.
7. Balance and Handling
How does the bow feel in your hand? Does it balance naturally or list a little? Is it easy to settle on target? Grip is highly personal, but thin grips are in vogue and seem to reduce torque.
Look at the manufacturer’s IBO rating, which is usually listed on the bow. This number is often a little inflated, but it can still make for a serviceable apples-to-apples comparison between bows.