Gear Review: New bows for 2006

Compounds Without Compromise
Similar appearances can be deceiving with this year's new crop of bows
By Bill Heavey The 2006 compounds are hitting the racks at your local retailer right now, and you, Mr. Archery Consumer, are in luck. Every bow out there is, officially, the ultimate in speed, accuracy, forgiveness, and shootability. This is because each manufacturer is pursuing bold and innovative designs based, mostly, on what the other guys are doing. That vision has paid off in new models that are about as different as hydroponic tomatoes. Of the six tested, five had axle-to-axle lengths between 31 and 33¿¿ inches. Brace heights were all between 7 and 7¿¿ inches. If you are one of the few non-millionaire bowhunters, consider the Reflex Highlander and the Fred Bear Instinct. These will kill deer, too. Click throught the following slides for details on each bow.
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Hoyt Trykon
Axle to axle: 33 in.
Brace height: 7 in.
Finish: realtree hardwoods green hd
Letoff: 65 or 80 percent
Chronographed: 272 fps at 61¿¿ lb., 28¿¿ in. The Lowdown: Hoyt and Mathews are the Ford and Chevrolet of the bow world, with devotees of each claiming only idiots would own the other. The truth is that both make fine products. Hoyt has split limbs and hybrid cams; Mathews has solid limbs and a solo cam. The XT has ¿¿ inch more brace height. The Trykon is 2 inches longer. As my speed tests show-"272 fps for the Trykon, 263 for the XT-"the difference all but disappears when you consider that the Trykon was set 1¿¿ pounds heavier. It all boils down to personal preference.
Hits: In this year's Mathews vs. Hoyt truck pull, my vote goes to the Trykon. It was slightly quieter, had a better back wall, and was, in my highly caffeinated hands, more forgiving. Shoot both before deciding (especially point-blank, eyes closed) or simply give in to peer pressure.
Misses: Same gripe as with every other bow: If this is the last word in speed, quiet, and accuracy, how come they're changing it for next year?
Price: $750
Contact: 801-363-2990; hoyt.com
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Mathews Switchback XT
Axle to axle: 31 in.
Brace height: 7¿¿ in.
Finish: realtree hardwoods hd
Letoff: 65 or 80 percent
Chronographed: 263 fps at 60 lb., 28¿¿ in. The Lowdown: Mathews took its successful Switchback, made it 2 inches shorter, added ¿¿ inch of brace height, and decided that three roller-guard dampers beat the heck out of two.
Hits: This bow is a tree-stand junkie's fix of choice: short, maneuverable, and accurate.
Misses: By superpremium standards, the Switchback XT is slow. I am first in line to trade speed for forgiveness, but this model didn't seem any more compassionate than its similarly priced competitors. The draw-stroke valley is narrow, suddenly unloading the shooter at the almost-too-soft back wall. I like a physical heads-up that the cam is about to break. And while the rest of the bow world is moving to slimmer grips, Mathews continues to deplete the earth's supply of walnut trees for its hourglass handles.
Price: $750
Contact: 608-269-2728; mathewsinc.com
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PSE Mach X
Axle to axle: 33 in.
Brace height: 7¿¿ in.
Finish: Mossy oak new break-up
Letoff: from 65 to 80 percent
Chronographed: 270 fps at 61 lb., 29 in. The Lowdown: In a field of cookie-cutter designs, the radical-looking Mach X stands out, with the longest riser (28¿¿ inches) and shortest limbs (9 inches) of any model tested. But it responds like a longer-axled bow, steady and aimable. PSE says this is a function of the limb pockets and handle being in a straight line.
Hits: The past-parallel split limbs would probably absorb shock and vibration without the (count 'em) 11 dampeners. A narrow, almost skeletal grip reduces torque effectively. And the single oversize X Cam (about the size of a Personal Pan Pizza) is perhaps the smoothest-drawing in the lot. A winner.
Misses: PSE is so jazzed about this bow, they couldn't stop designing it. There are threaded holes in the riser and pivots for an additional 32 threaded dampeners. Enough already.
Price: $750
Contact: 520-884-9065; pse-archery.com
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Diamond Liberty
Axle to axle: 33¿¿ in.
Brace height: 7¿¿ in.
Finish: mossy Oak new break-up
Letoff: 65 or 80 percent
Chronographed: 253 fps at 62 lb., 28¿¿ in. The Lowdown: Any bow is a study in trade-offs, and the 2006 Liberty makes smart choices. It was, by a hair, the slowest one I tested. But the round-feeling Freedom cam is easy to draw, and the bow offers lots of forgiveness.
Hits: The handle settles right into the bone at the base of your palm. And the adjustable post governing draw length actually delivers the "rock-solid back wall-¿ promised on every compound ever made. Parallel limbs make for low recoil, as do all the shock- and noise-canceling doohickeys on the limbs, string, and cables. The package is a deal-"for the cost of a superpremium bare bow, the Liberty comes out of the box sighted in, tuned, and test-fired with a five-pin fiber-optic Tru-Site Xtreme sight, Whisker Biscuit Quick Load rest, 4-inch X Flite stabilizer, detachable four-arrow quiver, peep sight, and wrist sling.
Misses: The dampeners are uncool looking.
Price: $649; $749 with accessory package
Contact: 541-689-2920; diamondarchery.com
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Fred Bear Instinct
Axle to axle: 31 in.
Brace height: 7¿¿ in.
Finish: realtree hardwoods green hd
Letoff: 75 percent
Chronographed: 258 fps at 66 lb., 28 in. The Lowdown: This is a good choice for the crackpot few who want a bow to hunt deer with rather than to show off in the parking lot.
Hits: A lotta bang for the buck, the Instinct is a no-frills, split-limb shooter. "No frills-¿ means the finish is not museum quality, the cable guard is not Teflon but plastic, and the stabilizer screws directly into the bow. But look under the hood and you'll find a short-axle bow with a smooth draw cycle, a bricklike back wall, and little hand shock and noise considering the price. Bear put its money into performance, and it shows.
Misses: Green on metal parts is, for this fashion-conscious hunter, too bright. It clashes with my camo. I'd have opted for an earthier tone.
Price: $400
Contact: 866-556-2754; fredbearoutdoors.com
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Reflex Highlander
Axle to axle: 36 in.
Brace height: 7¿¿ in.
Finish: realtree hardwoods hd
Letoff: 65 or 75 percent
Chronographed: 268 fps at 64 lb., 29 in. The Lowdown: Reflex, the brown-bag cousin of Hoyt, incorporates the company's signature "trussed-¿ riser and split limbs on the Highlander. This bow is unabashedly retro, with an ungodly 36-inch axle-to-axle length and limbs that don't even pretend to be parallel.
Hits: Shoot this thing and you realize that the extra four bills you spend on a trendy bow buys you little more than a few feet per second and some reduction in shock and noise. The back wall is a little soft. The Highlander kicks when you shoot, but the 36-inch length handles well. And I just now put five out of six arrows in a 6-inch circle at 40 yards without a stabilizer.
Misses: You will be judged on your skills, not your gear, if you buy this one.
Price: $350
Contact: 801-363-2990; reflexbows.com
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Bow Hunting Guide: 2006
Buy the Right Gear
If you need bow hunting gear, this is the right place to start. We've got reviews and field test reports on the latest bows, boots, broadhead, tree stands, and more.
Gear Review: New bows for 2006 We test six new bows from Hoyt, Matthews, PSE, Diamond, Bear, and Reflex, and break down the pros and cons of each. If you're shopping for a bow this season, read this article. Click here for the story
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The Best New Boots for Bow Hunters Happy feet will keep you hunting longer. So don't lug hefty "all-season-¿ boots into the warm early-season deer woods. Instead, keep your feet cool with lightweight, breathable models. Here are six great choices. Click here for the story
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The Best Broadheads of 2006 A bad broadhead can cost you a deer when a broadside animal takes a step quartering toward you just as you shoot, when your arrow nicks a rib on its way to the vitals, or when you make a slightly shaky shot. These six models, when used correctly, should help you avoid these problems. Click here for the story
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Tree Stands: This year's best fixed-position models Fixed-position stands have not been considered particularly stealthy in the past, but today's portable hang-ons, with vastly improved fastening systems, can be put up in virtual silence. Here are six great models: Click here for the story
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Gear Review: Two high-tech solutions to cold blood trails The Gerber Carnivore uses LED lights to make old blood appear brighter in low light. The Game Finder scans the woods for your downed deer's body heat. Keith McCafferty reviews both. Click here for the story
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