Doing research for a new bowhunting book Bestul and I are writing, I have been peering more deeply than ever into the murky topic of bow forgiveness—and have found that the deeper you look, the murkier it gets.
One bit of advice I think I can pass along with confidence is that whenever you read the words “forgiving” or “forgiveness” in ad or catalog copy, you should replace them with “schmegeggy” and “clatfart.” It makes the reading way more fun and doesn’t alter the meaning in the least.
The concept of bow forgiveness is a marketing department’s dream. It has the benefit of being both unequivocally good—Who doesn’t want forgiveness?—and impossible to quantify. And so the term has been flogged senseless. Company X’s latest model is not only extremely forgiving but even more extremely forgiving than all their other extremely forgiving models. Total B.S.
And yet, bow forgiveness does seem to exist in the real world. Having shot scores and scores of different bows, I can tell you that some models really do seem to mitigate your mistakes moreso than others. Where one bow will put you only a few inches out of the bull if you punch the trigger, another will put you in the weeds, searching for your arrow.
Also, when we test bows using a panel of shooters—each with slightly different shooting form and each making slightly different mistakes—certain bows do shoot better, and they do so with obvious consistency among the shooters. In other words, some bows are more forgiving of a variety of shooter screw-ups.
But here’s the problem: There is very little obvious consistency in terms of which specific bow characteristics produce those results. About the only general rule I’d stand by is that heavier bows tend to do a little better than very light ones. But I’ve seen exceptions to this. As for the rest of the conventional wisdom about what affects forgiveness—brace height, speed, different cam system, cable guards, etc.—none of it has been borne out clearly in our tests or in my experience. I can’t tell you how many bows I’ve shot—several in the low- to mid-price range—that “shouldn’t” have been forgiving but nonetheless shot really well even when I wasn’t at my best.
In the end, if you want a forgiving bow, you need to ignore pretty much everything you read—with a few exceptions of course—and just go shoot lots of bows. Find a shop with a good range, a bunch of bows already set up, and a pro with the patience to tweak the specs for you. Then shoot until you find your perfect match.