You don’t have to scout many pro shops to learn that top-end bows have gotten crazy-expensive. But you can save money and still get a sweet shooter. To prove it, tournament archer Trent Kleeberger and I put four bows that retail under $500 through their paces. We rated arrow speed with a chronograph, used a decibel meter to test sound levels, and hit the range to judge shootability and overall quality. Here’s what we found.

1 Bass Pro Shops RedHead Toxik ($499; 800-227-7776;

The Specs: 32 5/8 axle-to-axle; 7″ brace height; 3.9 lb.; 80 percent let-off

The Skinny: Well, the metal-band name was not a good start. But the Toxik’s overall performance thoroughly won us over. This bow didn’t run away with any one test result. It wasn’t the fastest, quietest, or prettiest. It was, however, plenty speedy (at 257 fps with a 29-inch draw) and quite quiet. The combination of its smooth draw, solid back wall, and lack of vibration made the Toxik such a joy to shoot that both of us were disappointed when the test was over. We kept shooting just for fun.

2 Cabela’s Interceptor XP ($499; 800-237-4444;

The Specs: 32 1/2″ axle-to-axle; 7.6″ brace height; 3.7 lb.; 80 percent let-off

The Skinny: Light and short has been the hot trend in bows over the past several years, and the Interceptor XP is the lightest, as well as the second-shortest, bow here. It looks great, feels good in the hand, and earned runner-up honors for speed (at 255 fps with a 29-inch draw) in our tests. The draw cycle was rough, however, and we expected less vibration and noise. But if light and short is your thing, this may be your bow.

3 Bear Archery Game Over ($429; 800-694-9494;

The Specs: 33″ axle-to-axle; 7.8″ brace height; 3.9 lb.; 80 percent let-off

The Skinny: Some bowhunters are speed freaks; others worship silence. The Game Over (which is far better named than the Toxik) is tailor-made for the latter. It was, in fact, the quietest bow of this group. It also had very little vibration and very respectable speed (at 249 fps with a 29-inch draw). The grip was a little clunky, the draw cycle was a tad rough, and the green-and-orange color scheme made me think of yesterday’s lunch. That said, this is one heck of a hunting bow for just over $400.

4 Darton AS50 ($499; 989-728-4314;

The Specs: 31 3/8″ axle-to-axle; 7 1/2″ brace height; 4.1 lb.; 80 percent let-off

The Skinny: For all you speed freaks previously mentioned, the AS50 blew away the competition on the chronograph (at 270 fps with a 29-inch draw) thanks to its CPS-G2 cam system. You should know, however, that all that velocity came at a price. The draw cycle was comparatively rugged and felt vibration was the highest of all four bows. Still, the AS50 does have a decent back wall and good balance, and you’d be hard pressed to find a faster bow at this price.


ARCHERY IS FULL of technical jargon. One example you might have heard lately is “nock travel.” For many bowhunters, it’s a vaguely familiar but little understood term. It’s something worth demystifying, because it could play a role in whether you hit or miss your next buck.

What is it?

Nock travel is very simply the path your arrow nock takes through the air upon release, from the shooter’s perspective. With perfect nock travel, the nock moves straight away from the shooter, who sees only a shrinking dot. With uneven nock travel, the arrow porpoises and the shooter sees the nock move up or down, or to one side or the other.

Should you care?

Yes. Uneven nock travel reduces arrow speed and degrades accuracy.****

What’s the solution

The most likely culprit is an improperly installed nocking point. If the arrow nock travels up or down or both in flight, you probably need to raise or lower your nocking point on the string.

Another possibility is that the nock itself may be too tight or too loose on the string, which can cause it to travel up, down, or side-to-side in flight. If your nocked arrow seems to almost fall off the string, then the connection is obviously too loose. If it takes a lot of pressure to snap the nock onto the string, it’s too tight. For a quick fix in the field, you can either squeeze or pry the nock’s horns together or apart, but replace the nock when you get home.

Finally, you may be pinching the nock with your release or fingers as you pull back. Have a friend look at your form at full draw. You may need to adjust your release, purchase a new one, or install a D-loop on the string. In the case of finger shooters, learn to relax your hand. And if none of these solutions do the trick, head to the bow shop. It may lighten your wallet some, but doing nothing could cost you a few bucks, too.