Does a Short Bow Hamper Field Accuracy?

Here's the second in our seven-part series of tests designed to prove or disprove some common conceptions about compound bows. These tests all appeared in the July issue of Field & Stream, but keep reading for more content exclusive to our website.

I've long been skeptical about the short-and-light craze that has dominated compound-bow design for years now. This was a fun test for me, and an eye opener. So here we go, the second question and evaluation from the July issue's "Your Ultimate Bow" cover story--plus the unpublished inside story behind the test.

The Conventional Wisdom **
A longer axle-to-axle (ATA) bow is easier to shoot accurately because it is easier to hold steady on target. This must be right; why else would so many competitive archers shoot 45-plus-inch bows? **
****But Wait a Minute
How significant is the longer bow's accuracy edge? Is it enough to justify carrying a heavier, more unwieldy bow in the field? **

The Test **
I compared the Bowtech Insanity CPX (32 inches ATA) with the Insanity CPXL (35). Bestul shot the Prime Defy (31) and Impact (35). Brantley, the Hoyt Spyder 30 (30) and Spyder 34 (34). **

The Results **
Total average group sizes for short axle-to-axle, long axle-to-axle:
30 Yards: Short: 2.83; Long: 2.79
40 Yards: Short: 4.19; Long: 4.33
60 Yards: Short: 5.74; Long: 5.10 **

The Conclusion: **
Not at most hunting ranges. Sure enough, we shot the longer, heavier bows a bit better--but not significantly so until we stepped back to 60 yards. If you keep your shots within 30 or even 40 yards, a short, light bow is nice to have and will cost you next to nothing in accuracy. **

The Inside Story: **
In last year's bowhunting cover story, "Bowhunting Rules," I wrote this: _

Beware the Short-and- Light Craze
As a rule, longer, heavier bows are easier to shoot accurately. (That's why all the competition models are so long and have 3-pound stabilizers.) The hype is that an ultralight, super-short bow is easier to carry and maneuver. That's fine, I suppose, but I don't understand why a 6-pound rifle is a wand and a 4.5-pound bow is an anchor. And I don't know any archer who has ever said, "I would have killed that deer if my bow were 2 inches shorter." -D.H.

EXCEPT When You Find a Gem
There are a handful of very short, very light bows that break this rule and are real shooters. (One, from my recent tests, is the new Mathews Heli-M). If you find one that suits you, God bless.
I still think this holds, even after this year's test, but to a far lesser extent than I previously believed. I have to tell you, I thought the short bows would get crushed in this test at every distance, and I was absolutely wrong.

Here were our individual average groups for short axle-to-axle, long axle-to-axle: **

Brantley **
30 Yards: 2.69, 2.72
40 Yards: 3.90, 4.27
60 Yards: 5.27, 5 **

Bestul **
30 yards: 3.03, 2.8
40 yards: 4.8, 4.23
60 yards: 6.3, 5.8 **

Hurteau **
30 Yards: 2.77, 2.86
40 Yards: 3.87, 4.48
60 Yards: 5.66, 4.39 **
Both Brantley and I shot better with the short bow inside 40 yards. Bestul shot the short bows only slightly worse. What this means, of course, is that the vast, vast majority of whitetail hunters--as it pertains to this blog--don't give up any field accuracy with a shorter bow.

But beware: All three of us still believe, based on many previous tests, that there is a weight threshold (about 3.5 pounds) beneath which the accuracy of a short bow can really suffer. There are exceptions, as noted with the Mathews Heli-m above, but generally we all agreed that most of the truly ultra-short, ultra-light models we've tested over the years have not shot particularly well. So you can go short and light, just be careful about going crazy short and light.

We all shot better, and I shot a lot better, with the longer bow once we stepped back to 60. So if you're accuracy obsessed, especially at long distance, you should go with the longer bow.