The 12 Best Compound Bows of 2016

We spent four days testing the year’s top new vertical bows and crossbows—more than 20 models in total. Here are the ones you’ll want to hunt with this fall.

new bows, bow hunting, mathews bows, hunting,
The new Mathews Halon 5, winner of our vertical-bow test.The Voorhes

Back in March, F&S deputy editor Dave Hurteau and I met hunting editor Will Brantley in his hometown of Murray, Ky., for the annual F&S bow and crossbow test. After four full days of shooting, crunching numbers, and arguing, we still didn't know which new flagship models would claim our top spots until we'd added up the last decimal points. It was that close. Out of a potential total score of 100, only a single point separated the top three compounds, and only 3 points separated the top three crossbows. The good news for you: There are lots of great new models on the shelves this year. Here are the very best of the bunch, plus the full scoop on one barn burner of a bow test.—S.B.

The Compound Test

First we fit each vertical compound bow with a Trophy Ridge Whisker Biscuit rest and React sight, then set the draw weight at exactly 60 pounds and the draw length at 28 inches. Next we measured speed by shooting a 28.5-inch arrow weighing 364 grains through a chronograph three times and taking the average. We gauged bow noise in the same manner, using a decibel meter. Then we hit the range for two days, shooting hundreds of three-shot groups, to measure out-of-the-box accuracy and forgiveness. All the while, we evaluated draw cycle, shock and vibration, balance and handling, and fit and finish. We gave each category up to 10 points and then doubled the key ones—speed, draw cycle, and accuracy—for a total possible score of 100 points.—S.B.

KEY / A-A = axle to axle • BH = brace height • Speeds reflect our test specs, not IBO.

BEST OF THE TEST

best bows 2016, new bows, hunting bows,
From left: Mathews Halon 5, Prime Rize, and Elite Impulse.The Voorhes

[1] Mathews Halon 5

Score: 91.8 • $1,099 • mathewsinc.com
Specs: 30" A-A • 5" BH • 4.6 lb. • 300.3 fps

The first dual-cam speed bow ever offered under the Mathews name, the Halon 5 is also the company’s best bow in years—and the fastest, thanks to its new Crosscentric Cams and beefy parallel limbs. The Halon joins only a handful of models we’ve ever tested to shoot 300 fps at our 60-pound, 28-inch specs. All that speed is married with a new dual-bridge riser that’s stout enough to flip an ATV. It’s a tad bulky and makes the bow a little heavier than some prefer, but it helps the Halon light up the chronograph and still win our shock-and-vibration category; the bow is totally dead in the hand. It also finished second best in draw cycle, better than some bows that were 20 fps slower. In short, it’s superfast and ultrasmooth. What more do you want?

[2] Prime Rize

Score: 91.16 • $999 • g5prime.com
Specs: 33" A-A • 6 3/4" BH • 4.3 lb. • 284.9 fps

Prime tied for the win in 2015 with the Ion, and this year’s Rize came whisker-close to giving the company back-to-back titles. Known for tough risers, Prime developed the new 82X for the Rize, its strongest riser ever, and yet it adds neither bulk nor weight. Also new is the Flexshock damper system, and a Sherpa accessory mounting system that accepts a slick quiver as well as mounts for a POV camera or smartphone. In terms of performance, the Rize is quite similar to last year’s flagship, which is a good thing: very respectable speed, smooth draw cycle, superior back wall, and good out-of-the-box accuracy and forgiveness. Put it all together and you get one heck of a nice bow.

[3] Elite Impulse

Score: 91 • $999 • elitearchery.com
Specs: 31" A-A • 6" BH • 4.2 lb. • 288 fps

Elite inexplicably slipped in our 2015 rankings but made up for it this year with the Impulse, which is the company’s fastest flagship bow ever, thanks to a new two-track cam system and a shorter brace height. To handle the extra heat, Elite armed the Impulse with a stiffer 6061T riser and an updated limb pocket system. But don’t worry if you’re among the many hunters who flocked to Elite’s shootability in recent years. The draw is a tad more demanding, but it’s still very smooth; the back wall is cement; there’s very little noise or vibration at the shot; and the bow finished near the top in accuracy and forgiveness. -Bottom line: The Impulse is just one of those bows that you want to hunt with.

MORE RESULTS: BOWS 4 THROUGH 10

[4] Obsession Def-Con 6

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Obsession

$999 obsessionbows.com
SPECS: 32 1/2" A-A • 6" BH • 4.1 lb. • 291 fps

Every year we shoot Obsession’s flagship, check the advertised IBO, and say, “I can’t believe a bow this smooth shoots that fast.” Then we put it on the chrono and find out we were right not to believe it. The Def-Con 6’s advertised IBO of 360 fps should put it first in speed—yet it finished fifth. Still, it’s a fantastic bow: great draw cycle, dead in the hand, and accurate.

[5, Tie] Hoyt Defiant 31

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Hoyt

$1,099 hoyt.com
SPECS: 31" A-A • 7" BH • 3.6 lb. • 285 fps

The winner of our accuracy test and runner-up in noise, the Defiant features a new DFX cam-and-a-half with modules that allow draw-length adjustments without a press. New top and bottom cable stops also offer the option of a harder back wall. A slightly rough draw cycle and some vibration knocked the Defiant down a little, but it pointed like a dream on the range.

[5, Tie] Bowtech BT-X 28"

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Bowtech

$1,099 bowtecharchery.com
SPECS: 31" A-A • 6" BH • 4.1 lb. • 302.2 fps

The BT-X beat all comers at the chronograph and was second in accuracy. A new Micro Sync Dial allows precise cam timing without a press. Our test bow, which we evaluated in the Classic setting, had some vibration, but what really hurt it was a hard bump near the end of the draw cycle. Some BT-Xs we’ve shot since don’t seem to have it, though, so try before you buy.

[7] Xpedition Xception

Xpedition

$1,049 xpeditionarchery.com
SPECS: 32 3/8" A-A • 7 1/4" BH • 3.9 lb. • 268 fps

After tying for the win with a speed bow last year, -Xpedition set out to make the ultimate smooth-shooting single-cam this year, and mostly nailed it. With a silky draw cycle and solid back wall, the Xception was our quietest bow and placed well in accuracy. It was, however, our slowest bow, by far. But if you value smoothness over speed, look no further.

[8] New Breed Blade

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New Breed

$949 newbreedarchery.com
SPECS: 34" A-A • 7" BH • 4.2 lb. • 282.5 fps

Astute readers will remember that we tested the Blade last year, but this is an all-new version for 2016. Like last year’s, this model has a fairly smooth draw cycle and a solid back wall. We shot the Blade well, and it got high marks for lack of noise. However, our test bow had quite a bit of vibration in the hand, which is unexpected for the -second- -slowest model in the test.

[9] PSE Carbon Air

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PSE

$1,500 pse-archery.com
SPECS: 32" A-A • 6 1/8" BH • 3.2 lb. • 293.6 fps

With a new one-piece carbon riser, PSE’s flagship lives up to its name, tipping the scales at just over 3 pounds. It is plenty fast, but our test model vibrated significantly at the shot. And we all had trouble holding such a light bow on target. As a result, it took last in out-of-the-box accuracy and forgiveness, a disappointment, since PSE had dominated that category in past tests.

[10] Bear Escape

Bear

$1,000 beararchery.com
SPECS: 32" A-A • 6" BH • 4 lb. • 295.2 fps

Thanks to new H15 hybrid cams, the Escape finished third in our speed test. Unfortunately, it finished last in noise and notched only so-so scores in draw cycle and vibration. On the range, we shot it O.K., but no better than that. Still, speed guys willing to put a little work into this bow to reduce noise and vibration would have a perfectly fine hunting tool.

BEST BUYS

We also tested five new compounds for under $600. And the winners are…

Hoyt Powermax

bow test, compound bows, F&S, winners, 2016, field test
Hoyt

$599 • hoyt.com
Specs 31" A-A • 6 3/4" BH • 3.8 lb.• 273 fps

Smooth and accurate, the PowerMax was on another level in terms of quality and performance. It’s truly not far off from the flagship we tested.

Diamond Edge SB-1

bow test, compound bows, F&S, winners, 2016, field test
Diamond

$449 • diamondarchery.com
Specs 31" A-A • 7" BH • 3.6 lb. • 271 fps

The SB-1 has 15 inches and 63 pounds of draw length and weight adjustability, yet unlike many grow-with-you bows, it’s a serious performer.

Be sure to check out the "Best Crossbows of 2016" here.