A couple of the hottest flagship bows demand more than $1,200 this year, so I figured anything under half that is a budget model. I picked out four such bows, all new for 2016. I set the draw weight at 60 pounds and draw length at 28 inches. I shot a 28½-inch, 364-grain arrow through a chronograph three times to calculate speed, and gauged noise using a decibel meter. I measured accuracy by averaging the size of 10 three-shot groups at 30 yards and evaluated forgiveness, draw cycle, shock and vibration, balance and handling, and fit and finish. I 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.
1. Hoyt PowerMax
Specs: 31″ axle to axle • 63⁄4″ brace height • 3.8 lb. • 273 fps
The Lowdown: The PowerMax won in every category except draw cycle, in which it tied for second. With its machined riser and quality fit and finish, the PowerMax has a rock-solid feel and high-end look that’s not far off Hoyt’s flagship models and clearly superior to the other test models.
Hits: It’s smooth, fast (for this price range), and very accurate and forgiving right out of the box. I shot this bow lights-out with an average group of 1.16 inch.
Misses: The valley is not as generous as some here, and the bow jumps just a bit at the shot. It’s the quietest model overall but did occasionally throw the odd loud shot.
Who Should Buy: The hunter who is willing to spend more to get more quality and performance.
2. (tie) Cabela’s Influence
$499 with R.A.K. package; cabelas.com
Specs: 311⁄2″ axle to axle • 7″ brace height • 3.1 lb. • 271 fps
The Lowdown: A Cabela’s branded bow made by Bowtech, the Influence has 52 pounds of draw-weight adjustability (from 18 to 70 pounds) and 10 inches of draw-length range (from 20 to 30 inches on one module), making it a great grow-with-you bow. But set at big-boy specs, this is a smooth shooter with plenty of punch. The R.A.K. package includes a three-pin sight, Hostage rest, stabilizer, quiver, sling, peep, and string loop.
Hits: It finished first in draw cycle, second in quietness, and tied for second in speed—a nice combination.
Misses: Its extreme light weight makes it a little tough to hold steady (I’d use a heavier stabilizer on this bow).
Who Should Buy: A beginner bowhunter or an experienced adult looking for a smooth and quiet whitetail bow at a reasonable price.
2. (tie) Diamond Edge SB-1
$449 with R.A.K. package; diamondarchery.com
Specs: 31″ axle to axle • 7″ brace height • 3.6 lb. • 271 fps
The Lowdown: It was no great surprise when I added up all the scores and this bow tied—to the tenth of a point—with the Cabela’s Influence. They are made by the same company and are very similar, with the same riser, same basic Binary Cam system, same accessory package, and same general look and feel. The SB-1 does allow for slightly more draw-weight adjustability (7 to 70 pounds), and a slightly different cam and mod provides a wider draw-length range (15 to 30). A little extra weight also makes this bow easier to hold on target.
Hits: Many highly adjustable bows are great for kids or beginners, but not for serious archers. Like the Influence, this is a notable exception, taking second in accuracy and forgiveness, with an average group size of 1.44 inches.
Misses: My test bow was quite loud—even after I retightened every bolt on the bow and accessories.
Who Should Buy: Any beginner or experienced bowhunter looking for optimum out-of-the-box accuracy at a can’t-beat price.
4. Bear Marshal
$500 bare bow; $600 with RTH package; beararchery.com
Specs: 311⁄8″ axle to axle • 63⁄4″ brace height • 4 lb. • 259 fps
The Lowdown: Bear has a long history of offering nicely priced bows that are both solidly made and smooth shooting, and that is exactly what the single-cam Marshal is. When you pick it up, it feels more substantial and durable than the Cabela’s or the Diamond, and like most affordable Bears I’ve shot, it’s fairly forgiving and surprisingly dead in the hand. My test bow did fall down a bit, however, in a couple of categories (see “Misses”). The RTH package includes a Trophy Ridge three-pin sight, Whisker Biscuit rest, quiver, sling, peep, and string loop.
Hits: With an average 30-yard group size of 1.54 inch, I shot this bow very nearly as well as the Diamond. It also finished second overall in shock and vibration. The Trophy Ridge RTH accessories are particularly nice at this price range.
Misses: It finished last in both speed and draw cycle, which really hurt the overall score.
Who Should Buy: Anyone who doesn’t need a lot of adjustability and likes a slightly heavier, more substantial bow.