First, we fitted each bow with a Whisker Biscuit rest and a string loop. Then we weighed each and shot it through a chronograph. This year we used Easton Axis arrows tipped with a 100-grain field points; this relatively heavy arrow explains in part why our test speeds don’t match advertised IBO ratings. Next, each tester spent the afternoon shooting each bow and rating it on a scale of 1 to 10 in six categories: shock and vibration, balance, grip, draw cycle, back wall, and fit and finish. These factors were tallied up for each bow. Finally, I averaged the scores and ranked the bows as follows, from seventh place to first.
Seventh Place: Darton DS3900 ($949; dartonarchery.com) Weight: 4.4 pounds
Brace Height: 5 inches
Axle-to-Axle Length: 32-7/8 inches
Chronograph Speed: 308 fps
Hits: Once again, Darton was the speed champ in our test. The DualSync cams on the 3900 absolutely pounded arrows into the target. This company always makes a very handsome bow, and the fit and finish on the 3900 is no exception. The DS3900 is also lighter than previous Dartons, thanks to a slimmed-down riser.
Misses: Speed always comes with a price, and the Darton’s rugged draw cycle demands a king’s ransom. The 5-inch brace height will also affect accuracy for all but expert shooters. Every tester docked the Darton for hand shock.
Takeaway: Muscle-bow nuts, this is your baby.
Sixth Place: Quest Primal ($729; questbowhunting.com) Weight: 4.4 pounds
Brace Height: 7 inches
Axle-to-Axle Length: 32 inches
Chronograph Speed: 283 fps
Hits: Quest bows get better every year, and the Primal continues that trend. The Snyc-Cam system gives the bow a pleasing draw cycle while providing impressive speed. The team also gave the Primal high marks for a solid back wall, and good fit and finish.
Misses: Want to lose big points in the F&S test? Send us a bow with significant vibration. The Primal would have placed in the top five, except for low marks in this critical category.
Takeaway: Very solid hunting bow and the best value of the bows we tested.
Fifth Place: Bear Anarchy ($899; beararcheryproducts.com) Weight: 4.8 pounds
Brace height: 7.25 inches
Axle-to-Axle Length: 35.2 inches
Chronograph Speed: 278 fps
Hits: The single-cam Anarchy is a pleasant bow to draw, and the grip is the perfect compromise for shooters who like to feel something in their hand without having to worry about torque. The longest bow we shot, the Anarchy should please hunters that place a premium on accuracy and forgiveness.
Misses: Deductions included a mushy back wall and some noise at the shot. Fit-and-finish points were lost for Bear’s string stops, which are kick-the-dog ugly.
Takeaway: The Anarchy is Bear’s maiden voyage into the premium-priced market, yet the team felt this bow wasn’t quite ready for the trip; fine performance, but not a significant enough improvement to merit a $200 increase from last year’s model.
Fourth Place: Hoyt Vector 32 ($949; hoyt.com) Weight: 4.6 pounds
Brace Height: 6-3/4 inches
Axle-to-Axle Length: 32 inches
Chronograph Speed: 290 fps
Hits: It’s incredible that the Vector’s excellent speed doesn’t monkey with the silky-smooth draw. This is thanks to the innovative RKT cam-1/2 system. Another bow with an excellent grip, the Vector had wonderful balance and a solid back wall. The team loved the fit and finish, and we gave it high marks for rugged construction.
Misses: Here’s where the dogfights broke out among the team; from this bow on, everything is nit-picking. Here are the Vector’s nits: There was a little felt vibration, and the Vector was not a quantum leap up from the Carbon Element, which won last year’s test. Are previous winners held to a higher standard by the team? You bet they are.
Takeaway: Hoyt fans already know how good these bows are; at $300 cheaper than last year’s Carbon Element, the Vector will make it easier for others to catch on.
PSE Dream Season EVO ($850; pse-archery.com) Weight: 4.1 pounds
Brace height: 6 inches
Axle-to-Axle Length: 32-1/4 inches
Chronograph Speed: 298 fps
Hits: PSE is always one of leaders in the speed category, and amazingly, the EVO throws a fast arrow without significant vibration. The grip is great and the bow has wonderful balance. There are lots of nice touches, like adjustable draw-length and timing marks on the cams.
Misses: The EVO’s aggressive UF cams made this a tough-drawing bow at the 70-pound test weight. Two testers docked the EVO on fit and finish, but they were commenting on looks, rather than craftsmanship.
Takeaway: If you’re a speed freak and you can handle the aggressive draw, you will love the EVO.
Runner Up: Mathews Heli-M ($959; mathewsinc.com) Weight: 3.1 pounds
Brace height: 7 inches
Axle-to-Axle: 30 inches
Chronograph Speed: 287fps
Hits: Unbelievably light and smooth, the Heli-M won raves for its wonderful draw cycle, lack of vibration, and a balance so pleasing it made us question why a short bow couldn’t shoot the dust off a flea’s back. As always, Mathews topped our fit-and-finish category.
Misses: The Heli-M got docked for its clunky grip and relatively slow speed. Again–nit-picking here–this is a bow that does everything right, but lacks that single “wow” factor to push it to the top.
Takeaway: As always, a fine hunting bow from Mathews, and one that made us rethink whether a short, light bow affects accuracy.
Winner: Bowtech Insanity ($999, bowtecharchery.com) Weight: 4.1 pounds
Brace Height: 6 inches
Axle-to-Axle Length: 32 inches
Chronograph Speed: 301 fps
Hits: The only non-Darton bow to break the 300 fps barrier in our test, ever, the Insanity achieves that speed without the shooter having to pop a vertebrae. The back wall is just rock-solid, and, as always, Bowtech won high praise for weight and balance, as well as great fit and finish.
Misses: Three team members docked the Insanity for some felt vibration–not shocking for a bow this fast. None of us liked the price tag, especially in this economy.
Takeaway: The Insanity is the rare speed bow that hunters can comfortably take to the field. It should perform wonderfully whether you hunt from a treestand or on an antelope prairie.
_If you read the September issue of F&S, you know that the Bowtech Invasion CPX won our
annual bow test and grabbed a coveted 2012 Best of the Best award. What you may not know is that our winner had some very stiff competition.
A total of seven company’s sent us their top model for consideration. I conducted the test at Archery Headquarters in Rochester, Minnesota, one of the top pro shops in the Midwest, and my test team consisted of AH owner Marty Stubstad, bow technician and tournament archer Trent Kleeburger, veteran bowhunter/3-D shooter Tom VanDoorn, and me. Here’s how is how all seven bows stacked up._