If you think today’s flagship bows are too expensive, just take a look at the prices of this year’s top new crossbows here. There, doesn’t that make you feel better?
No. Okay, then I have another solution. Don’t buy a flagship bow. You sure as heck don’t need one to kill deer. Even today’s bargain-priced, grow-with-you bows can handle that job, and some of the grown-up mid-price models can do it darn near as well as any flagship. The truth is, in many cases you don’t really give up a whole lot by paying less—usually a roller-guard, a degree of fit-and-finish, and a little cache, if that matters to you. You might lose a bit of speed, but you might not, as five of the bows below top 330 IBO and one threatens 350.
Today’s budget bows are the best they’ve ever been, and the mid-priced options are nearer than ever to offering flagship performance. They’ll all put meat on the ground, and when you’re showing off next season’s giant buck, no one worth listening to is going ask how much you paid for your bow.
Here’s what’s new for 2020, plus a few tried-and-true bargain options.
Bear Divergent EKO
Specs: 30-inch axle-to-axle, 6-½-inch brace height; 4.1 lb., 338 fps IBO
Just like last year’s Divergent, this one is no beginner’s model. It’s a straight-up performance bow, designed to be handy in tight spaces and easy on the wallet. At almost 340 IBO, it’s faster than four of this year’s flagship compounds. The draw cycle is fairly smooth for such a fast compound. I won’t lie to you, there’s a bit of hand shock, but it’s nothing major. The valley on the test bow I shot was a tad stingy too, just as it was with last year’s version, but new on this year’s model is an updated EKO cam that lets you put that valley right where you like it, via four let-off settings, from 75 percent all the way up to 90. Which is nice. All in all, this is a solid performer that you can set up to suit your preferences. $699; beararchery.com
Bear Paradox HC
Specs: Specs: 32-inch axle-to-axle, 6-inch brace height; 4.3 lb., 340 fps IBO
If you still want maximum speed, but your budget is capped at $500, this is your bow. The Paradox HC is a little longer and a tad heavier than the Divergent EKO, which a lot of hunters (myself included) prefer in an all-purpose model. The Hybrid Cam System produces an impressive 340 IBO rating and a manageable draw cycle. The valley, again, is a little stingy and there is some hand shock. But it’s nothing you can’t handle if you’re accustomed to shooting a fast bow. Also, if you’re someone who insists on a concrete back wall, keep in mind that the Paradox comes with a string stop only, so it doesn’t come to as hard a stop as some bows. Everything’s a trade-off in this game. If you’re willing to give up a little shootability for speed, 340 IBO for under $500 looks pretty darn good. $499; beararchery.com
Specs: 31-¼-inch axle-to-axle, 6-¼-inch brace height; 3.6 lb., up to 310 fps IBO
Elite’s new low-cost, high-adjustability bow is perfect for kids and beginners—but it ain’t no toy. And that’s a big deal. The problem I’ve seen with many of these inexpensive grow-with-you-bows is that they’re cheaply made; their plastic parts wear down and because they are very lightweight and their risers are not rigid enough to manage torque, they can be hard to shoot well. A mushy back wall often adds to the problem. The new Ember, on the other hand, is built right. There’s hardly a piece of plastic on the entire bow—riser, limb pockets, cams, and mods are all made of aluminum, plus you get a Winner’s Choice string and integrated limb stops for a harder back wall. Draw length is adjustable from 15 to 29 inches and draw weight from 10 to 60 pounds. I shot this little bugger on the range and didn’t want to put it down. If you’re looking for a first bow for yourself or someone else, the Ember is a great choice. $499; elitearchery.com
Specs: 30-inch axle-to-axle, 6-inch brace height; 3.9 lb., 348 fps IBO
This new Sniper should look very familiar to anyone who has been paying attention to Obsession bows over the years. Both the DefCon 6 cam system and the riser come straight off the company’s flagship bows from only a few years ago. The Obsession rep told me flat out: After upgrading their top-line bows for 2020, they had a lot of really good components from previous flagships in inventory. So, they used them to make the Sniper, a top-quality bow for less. The test-model I shot felt very familiar and reminded me of the shooting characteristics that created such a buzz when this company first came on the scene—a smooth draw, a surprisingly generous valley, and virtually zero shock or vibration. The 348 IBO rating is an eye-opener too, but you have to take that with a grain of salt, as our annual bow tests have found that Obsession consistently exaggerates IBO. But even if it were 10 fps off, you’d still have a pretty darn fast, high-quality bow for hundreds less than the current flagships. $799; obsessionbows.com
Specs: 32-inch axle-to-axle, 6-¾-inch brace height; 4.4 lb., 325 fps IBO
What impressed me so much about the original Centec when it debuted last year was its obvious build quality, including a machined forged riser and aluminum limb pockets, two features you rarely see at this price point. New for 2020, the Centec now has wider-set split limbs for more stability and an adjustable mod that lets you change draw lengths without a press. It comes in draw-weight ranges of 40-55 pounds or 55-70 pounds, and a draw-length range of 24 ½ to 30 inches (in ½-inch increments), and it features the same Centergy technology found on Prime bows, which puts the grip exactly in the center of the riser for better balance and aiming. Speaking of Prime bows, the Centec I tested on the ATA range reminded me of the shooting characteristics that the company’s higher-end line of bows are known for—a super-smooth draw cycle and a cement back wall. This one’s got some hand shock and vibration, but it’s a small tradeoff for such a deep discount. $499; questbowhunting.com
PSE Stinger Max
Specs: 30-inch axle-to-axle, 7-inch brace height; 3.8 lb., 312 fps IBO
PSE’s single-cam Stinger is one of the company best-selling bows ever for a couple of very simple reasons: It’s all any hunter really needs, and it comes at a rock-bottom price. This model has always been pretty easy to shoot too, but the new Stinger Max version takes that to another level by combining a modest IBO rating with a new larger SS (Super Smooth) cam. The result is a bow that’s a breeze to shoot, even for beginners. (And we all know that 312 IBO is plenty to get the job done.) Combine those qualities with decent adjustability, and the Max is pretty much ideal for anyone looking to get into bowhunting with a minimal investment. $399; psearchery.com
Note: For anyone looking for a little more performance, for a little more dough, keep in mind that the Drive 3B that I reviewed last year is still in the lineup.
Xpedition Mountaineer X
Specs: 33-¼-inch axle-to-axle, 7-inch brace height; 3.9 lb., 340 fps IBO
The Mountaineer X came out last summer, so while it’s not technically a new-for-2020 bow, we didn’t cover it at last year’s ATA show. Also, I’m not sure you can really call this a budget bow at over $800. But I’m including it here anyway, and I think you’ll be glad for it—because the Mountaineer X is a really nice bow. The forged aluminum riser is not quite as robust as that on Xpedition’s new flagship models, but it doesn’t have to be because this bow is also a little slower. “Slower,” however, does not mean “slow.” At 340, the Mountaineer X is as fast as many 2020 flagships from other companies, and it accomplishes this with a forgiving 7-inch brace height. The XS-V cam has a rotating mod for quick draw-length adjustments, and it produces a draw cycle that is classic Xpedition, meaning that the heavy lifting comes right up front, when you are strongest, and it gets easier and easier as you pull back. This, combined with the longer axle-to-axle length and generous brace height makes for an easy-drawing speed bow. The one I shot at the ATA range was smooth and dead-in-the-hand. It’s a flagship-quality bow at a discount. $849; xpeditionarchery.com
Back for 2020
Right now you may be thinking, Hey, where’s Bowtech and Hoyt and Mission? Well, those companies did not have new budget bows for 2020, but they do have budget bows. Bowtech and Mission unveiled new models in 2019 and Hoyt still offers the Powermax. If you need a refresher, here’s what I wrote about them in last year’s ATA roundup.
Specs: 31-½-inch axle-to-axle, 7-inch brace height, 4.1 lb., 330 fps IBO
Given the name, you might expect this to be the opposite of the Bear Divergent, and in one sense it is: With massive adjustability in draw length and draw weight, the Convergence is a grow-with-you bow that’s perfect for beginners. Yet at 330 IBO, it also has enough get-up-and-go for anyone. Inspired by the company’s long line of best-selling high-adjustability bows, starting with the Diamond Infinite Edge on through to the Bowtech Fuel, this latest version emphasizes performance and accuracy with its Binary Cam System and wider split-limb design, which provides more stability. The Convergence also features Bowtech’s FlipDisc technology, giving you the choice between Comfort and Performance settings. I shot it on Comfort, and I really couldn’t find a fault. $599; bowtecharchery.com
Specs: 30-inch axle-to-axle, 7-inch brace height, 4.02 lb., 324 fps IBO
The MXR features the Crosscentric Cam System, the same basic system that powers the Mathews $1,000-plus flagship Vertix, as well last year’s F&S Best of the Best award-winning Mathews Triax. The result is impressive speed (at this price range) in a bow that’s pleasant to shoot. The draw cycle is nice, the back wall is solid, and the valley is manageable, but what really impresses is how dead in the hand this bow is at the shot. The MXR also has a new, slimmer grip designed to minimize torque. Available draw weights range from 40 to 70 pounds, and replaceable mods deliver quick draw-length adjustments from 23 ½ to 29 ½ inches, no press needed. So, what you have here is a bow with enough adjustability to suit a youth or beginner, yet enough speed at the top end to make it a serious, affordable grown-up bow. At under $500, it’s tough to beat this much versatility and performance. $499; missionarchery.com
Specs: 31-inch axle-to-axle, 6-¾-inch brace height, 3.8 lb., 328 fps IBO
It should come as no surprise that budget bows tend to look and feel like budget bows. But there are exceptions to this rule—and probably no greater exception than the Hoyt Powermax. It is rock-solid. This model has been in the Hoyt lineup for quite a while. I’d shot it in years past, but I wanted a reminder—and what I was most reminded of is that this is a really well-built bow for the money. Just shy of 330 IBO, with good all-around hunting specs, the Powermax feels well-built, stable, and nicely balanced, thanks in part to the wide-stance split limbs. And it’s a pleasant-shooting bow for the price, too. Bottom line: If you want a rugged bow that’ll last many years to come, you can’t go wrong with the Powermax. $699; hoyt.com