Gear Reviews You Can Trust: Our No-B.S. Bow Test

bowtest

F&S's annual "Best-Bow Shootout," which hit newsstands in mid-June and appeared online last week, has whipped up a fresh and frothy mix of disappointment and outrage, as the ranking of anything—from sports dynasties to celebrity hairdos—will. We welcome all the buzz and debate, of course. But we also understand that the pain of not finding your favorite compound in our top seven might make you wonder: Just exactly how did they rank these bows?

Fair enough. We’ve got nothing to hide, and our only agenda is to give F&S readers the most unbiased, no-B.S. bow test anywhere.

And yet, it seems, there are a few who doubt this. So before we get into the nitty-gritty of the test, it bears pointing out a few things. First, F&S and our sister publication Outdoor Life are two of the very few if not the only outdoor magazines (we couldn't find any others) that actually rank new bows. That's because when you rank bows, you get one happy bow company and a dozen or more others that range from disappointed to angry. But we do it anyway, because honest gear testing is a core part of our mission, because we believe it serves you best, and because, frankly, earning your trust ultimately helps us. Second, when we find something we don't like about a bow, we actually say so. Maybe you've noticed how hard this is to find elsewhere? Third—and if this doesn't tell you what you need to know, I don't know what will—we have lost significant advertisers because of our tests, including this test. Yet we still run the results, unaltered, with zero pressure from within to choose one brand over another. Our loyalty lies with you, period.

Now, with that out of the way, here’s exactly how we conduct our test and rank the newest bows.

1) When all the new flagship bows are out, we invite every major and most of the not-so-major bow companies to send us their top hunting model for testing. Typically, all are happy to do so. This year, however, one bow company declined to send us their flagship bow. So we bought it from a dealer and tested it anyway.

2) As the test date approaches, we review our criteria and ask, “Can we make the test better?” This year, for example, we doubled the values for speed, accuracy/forgiveness, and draw cycle because we felt these were the most important criteria in a hunting bow. This is debatable, of course, and we are happy to debate it.

3) Just prior to the test, shop pro Danny Hinton set up all the bows with the exact same accessories and specs and then put a basic tune on each. It’s not practical in a test like this, of course, to tune each bow to individual testers. But a good basic tune, we believe, is enough to get a solid impression of a bow’s fundamental accuracy and especially forgiveness.

4) We measured actual speed (not IBO) with our specs (60 pounds, 28 inches, 359-grain Easton Flatline arrow) by averaging multiple chronograph readings. We measured noise with a decibel meter. Then each of the four testers shot, measured, and averaged 15 three-arrow groups with each bow to evaluate accuracy and forgiveness.

5) In the course of drawing and shooting and handling the bows for three days, each tester rated each bow for draw cycle; shock and vibration; balance, handling, and grip; and fit and finish. Of course, there is subjectivity to these categories. That’s why we choose testers with lots of experience. When you’ve shot and evaluated hundreds of bows—as our panel has and which most hunters never get the opportunity to do—you know what a smooth draw cycle is, and you know what “dead-in-the-hand” feels like, and maybe most important, you don’t get confused by brand loyalty.

6) We individually scored each category from 1 to 10, except the ones we doubled, for a total possible score of 100. After each tester handed in his score sheet, we crunched all the numbers and got what we got. None of us knew which bow would win or take fifth or 12th until we added things up. And, like many of you, we were surprised in some cases, disappointed in others. But that's neither here nor there because where surprises and disappointments speak to biases, the numbers don't. A perfect example: We were surprised that Bowtech took its third win in a row. First, none of us liked the RPM's grip, and some of us hated it. Second, a three-peat is rare, not to mention the sort of thing that makes folks cry foul. But, as Brantley said, the numbers don't lie—and neither do we.
Finally, if you have suggestions for how we can make this test an even better service to you, write them in the comments section below. Now to the scores.

The Full Test Scores, 1 Through 12

Some of you asked to see the results of all the bows we tested, not just the top seven. So here they are. We received 14 bows total, but because we allow only one flagship bow per brand, we eliminated two early on, leaving us with 12 test bows. It’s worth noting here that just because a bow finishes seventh or 10th doesn’t mean it’s not a good bow. A test like this boils down to very subtle differences. But, of course, these can make a big difference to discriminating archers. Here’s how the bows stacked up.

1) Bowtech RPM 360

Total Score: 88.25
Bottom Line: To a man, we didn't like the grip or handling, but the RPM did so well in every other category (including first in speed, second in noise and vibration, and third in accuracy and forgiveness), it took the win.

2) Elite Energy 35

Total Score: 85
Bottom Line: This bow was so pleasant to shoot that, despite taking dead last in the speed test, it still almost won the whole thing. It was the quietest bow, had the least vibration, and featured the second-best draw cycle.

3) Obsession Evolution

Total Score: 83
Bottom Line: Although not quite as fast as its IBO rating suggests, the Evolution had an almost impossibly generous valley and very little vibration for a speed bow. It was runner-up in the accuracy test, and everyone gave it high marks for fit and finish.

4) PSE DNA SP

Total Score: 81
Bottom Line: The newest version of the DNA trades a little speed for a smoother draw cycle. Still, it's plenty fast and won our accuracy-and-forgiveness test hands-down. There was a little vibration and noise.

5) Prime Alloy

Total Score: 79.75
Bottom Line: Though not especially fast, the Alloy impressed us with solid accuracy on the range, and a great draw cycle, including a concrete back wall. None of us like the grip, but it's easy to remove.

6) Strother Vital

Total Score: 77.75
Total Score: This sharp-looking bow was both quiet and fast, with excellent balance and a rock-solid back wall. However, its shallow valley and low accuracy-and-forgiveness scores cost it some points.

7) Mathews Creed XS

Total Score: 76.5
Bottom Line: A short, smooth-drawing bow with excellent balance, handling, and fit and finish, the new Creed would make a nice short-range woods bow. It was the second-slowest model in the test, however, and was middle-of-the-pack accurate.

8) Bear Agenda

Total score: 72.75
Bottom Line: The Agenda held its own with the faster bows, and it had good balance and grip. But so-so accuracy and low marks for shock and vibration knocked it from the front runners.

9) New Breed Genetix

Total Score: 72.5
Bottom Line: The Genetix had good scores for balance and grip, and very little shock or vibration. But moderate speed and a gritty draw cycle hurt it.

10) Hoyt Faktor 30

Total Score: 72.25
Bottom Line: Last year's Hoyt nearly won the whole thing, so the Faktor's low rank shocked us. Our best guess is that we just got a lemon. In any case, middle-of-the-pack speed knocked it on its heels, and shock, vibration, and noise did the rest. The Faktor did have solid marks for accuracy, great fit and finish, and wonderful balance.

11) Diamond Carbon Cure

Total Score: 71.75
Bottom Line: Good scores across the board in the fit-and-finish, noise, and shock-and-vibration categories, and the draw cycle was pleasant. But low marks for speed and accuracy dropped the Cure well down.

12) Darton DS3814

Total Score: 71.5
Bottom Line: One of the fastest bows in the test, the DS3814 also got high marks for accuracy. But the draw cycle was rough, and poor grades in balance, noise, shock and vibration, and looks took this bow to the bottom of the pack.