As an outdoor writer and a pro-staff member of one of the leading compound bow manufacturers in the world I’m often asked which bow I shoot. That question is typically followed up with “what compound bow do you think is the best”? The simple answer to that loaded question is “the bow you shoot the best”. It really is that simple.
However, things get complicated when beginning (or even veteran) whitetail hunters head to the bow shop full of preconceived ideas regarding performance and shoot-ability based solely on someone else’s opinion; or, as in most cases, a ton of marketing dialogue.
Choosing a new compound bow is a very personal thing. Don’t make a decision based on what the media tells you or a close friend. Shoot them all and decide for yourself.
If you’re currently on the hunt for a new compound bow you need to know how certain bow characteristics will affect you when you’re in a treestand and not on the sales floor. You need to find the bow you shoot best. Here’s how.
Shoot as Many Makes and Models of Bows as You Can
I’m constantly amazed at the bowhunters I met who are dead set on purchasing brand “X” bow before ever having shot it. Most often it is the year’s latest and greatest model, the one their buddies swear by, or the one their favorite celebrity hunter uses.
Obviously, if you’re in the market for a new bow then you owe it to yourself to shoot as many different makes and models as you can. That really is the only way to determine which bow you shoot best. However, there is much more to consider before a final decision is made.
Check the Bow's Brace Height
A bow’s brace height is simply the measurement from the bows grip to the bow string when it is in the relaxed position. The long held theory regarding brace height has been that a bow with a short brace height was/is harder to shoot more accurately due to the fact that the shooter has more time to screw up the shot with hand torque because the arrow is on the string longer. Bows with longer brace heights are viewed just the opposite. Since the arrow leaves the string quicker, there is less time for the shooter to mess things up. The result is a more accurate bow. So the theory goes.
Longer brace-height bows will lend themselves to better overall shooting regardless of the weather conditions during the hunt. However, the difference might not be enough to justify the loss in speed that comes with longer brace-height bows.
In my experience it is hard to determine such an effect under “practice” conditions. However, being a bowhunter means I don’t always shoot my bow under practice conditions. I’ve learned over the years that a short brace height usually meant that my shooting form had to be “spot on” in order to shoot well. This was especially true under hunting conditions; a time when form isn’t exactly perfect.
Compound Bow Speeds
Back in the day all I cared about was speed; the faster the better. And it didn’t matter at what cost I achieved that speed. Today things are a little different. While there are certainly tradeoffs when it comes to shooting a speed bow, they aren’t as harsh as they were 10 years ago.
Maybe an aggressive cam system is for you. Maybe not. The only way to find out is to shoot several different cam systems for yourself and then decide. Pictured here is the Mathews NOCAM System.
Having said that, there are still aggressive bows with short brace heights and aggressive draw-cycles being produced today. And there is nothing wrong with that. You just have to decide if that sort of rig is right for you and your style of hunting. Personally, I look at how a bow will perform under cold hunting conditions.
If a draw cycle feels somewhat tough or aggressive during the warm summer months, imagine what it will feel like after you’ve sat motionless in a treestand for hours on end and then must come to full draw. Just remember, speed isn’t always good. However, manageable speed is lethal.
Choosing a Long or Short Bow
In case you haven’t noticed, short bows are the craze nowadays. In fact, this trend has been dominating the market for several years. This reduction in Axle-to-Axle (ATA) length has been well received. A short bow is obviously easier to maneuver in a treestand or under various “stalking” situations. I’m not an over-the-top fan of short bows but I will say that the majority of short bows I have shot perform very well despite their compact dimensions.
The thing to be aware of is that shorter bows have a tendency to respond easier to hand torque. This may sound like nit-picking but when it comes time to throw down cash on a whitetail bow rig I want all of the inherent accuracy I can find. In my experience, longer bows just seem to be more accurate; especially at longer distances. However, if you don’t plan on shooting beyond 30 yards then it’s a moot point and a shorter bow might be all you need.
Are Lighter Bows Better?
In addition to bows becoming shorter and shorter they have also become lighter and lighter. Even the accessories that adorn them have reached featherweight proportions. This is great when you’re on a week-long hike in rough terrain chasing elk, sheep, mule deer or mountain goats. But, what if you’re simply heading out near your home in pursuit of whitetails?
When considering the weight of your new bow, think about how far you have to travel to reach your whitetail stand. The answer could point you in the right direction for a new bow.
You can still opt for a lightweight bow rig. In fact, it is hard not to find a bow that is shockingly light. However, I have found that I shoot best when I have a heavy bow in my hand. That might not be the case for you, but for me the heavier the better.
Full Draw Comfort is Key
Choosing to shoot a bow with a draw length that is too long in order to shoot a faster arrow creates all sorts of problems with shooting form and accuracy. Not only is a consistent anchor point hard to find, pulling through the shot also becomes more difficult if not impossible. Instead, opt for a bow with the perfect draw length for you even if that means you have to lose a little speed in the process. After all, remaining comfortable while at full draw is one of the keys to shooting well.
Light, heavy, short or long? The bottom line is choose the bow YOU shoot best and your success in the deer woods is guaranteed to increase.
Speaking of comfort, choosing the correct draw weight is also vital to accurate shooting. All too often I see bowhunters pointing their rigs to the sky in an effort to gain leverage over the heavy draw weight they are using. This exaggerated movement not only alerts deer (or other game) to your presence, being “over-bowed” can become a major liability in cold weather when muscles are lethargic and slow to respond to quick hunting circumstances.
Final Thoughts on Choosing the Right Compound Bow
I’ve always felt that one of the coolest parts of bowhunting is how “personal” the sport is. After all, muscles and machine must work in harmony to deliver a lethal shot. So, if you really want to find the best shooting bow on the market then choose the bow that you shoot the best. It really is that simple.