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How to Choose the Right Bow for You

Written By:  Aaron Lasco, Venator Gear, Inc. President
July 13, 2009

With so many bow manufacturers and models to choose from these days, it is difficult for one to determine which make and model is right for him or her. Where do you even start? First and foremost, you must determine your intentions. Secondly, having some fundamental knowledge of bow technology will greatly enable you to choose the bow that’s right for you.

When selecting a bow to purchase, there are many factors to consider. The most important is too determine what your bow’s primary purpose will be. Whether your goals are target archery or bow hunting, the equipment you choose must be selected according to how much time you intend to train in order for your bow perform up to your expectations. If you simply want a recreational, easy–to–shoot bow for some back yard archery – technology, design, color, and shape will not be your priority. If you are a serious shooter/bow hunter, the investment that you make into your bow is critical to maximizing your success as both a target shooter as well as a bow hunter. When all of your parts and pieces are perfected, the return on your investment will be tenfold.

When choosing a hunting bow, you will usually “get what you pay for”. In other words, the higher quality bow and equipment that you purchase, the greater your chances will be at ensuring a precision and fatal shot placement when you are faced with a screaming bull elk 20 yards from you. Why? Because a high quality bow and equipment will enhance your accuracy and consistency when the moments counts even if you have not practiced all year giving you more room for “human error”.

What separates the low, middle, and high price point bows is the bow’s craftsmanship and components quality. Regardless of your choice in quality, a bow’s (1) axle–to–axle configuration, (2) brace height, and (3) cam options is the first order of business before quality options when selecting the bow that will perform for your intended purposes whether your goals are target archery, bow hunting, or simply recreational archery.


Axle–to–axle (the length of the bow) changes the stability of the bow. If your primary purpose is target archery where tight arrow shot groupings are critical, or your primary purpose of the bow is bow hunting over 40 yard shots, than a longer axle–to–axle bow model will give you the most accurate and consistent shot placement. If your bow’s primary purpose is short range shot placement bow hunting, a shorter axle–to–axle bow model will best serve your purposes. Shorter axle–to–axle bow models offer much more portability and maneuverability that you want for bow hunting purposes. Regardless of whether a bow has a 32″ axle–to–axle or a 40″ axle–to–axle measurement makes little difference. The longer the riser – the more stable the bow will aim and shoot in tighter shot placement groupings.

Before the parallel limb design, a 40″ axle–to–axle bow was the only way to achieve the stability and shot placement consistency that target and long range bow hunters needed in order to achieve their archery goals. The new parallel limb design still gives the same if not better stability and long range shot placement accuracy, but in a shorter axle–to–axle bow due to a longer riser.


Brace height is the most misunderstood and controversial of the new bow designs on the market today. Brace height is measured from the point most forward on the grip – to the string at rest (before you draw your arrow) position. Two differences result from brace height options. First, the longer the brace height distance, the shorter amount of time the arrow is on the string during the shot – making it more forgiving for shot placement accuracy. The shorter the brace height distance – the longer amount of time the arrow is on the string to gain power and speed creating an advantage for distance estimation, however, sacrificing shooting forgiveness. Two factors have greatly altered brace height demands from bow manufacturers. The first being the parallel limb design. The parallel limb design moves the limbs in a vertical direction opposite of each other at the shot – greatly reducing unwanted forward string travel, therefore, releasing the arrow from the string much more quickly given the same brace height as a bow without parallel limb technology. The other factor is a string stop. A string stop is engineered differently with each bow company, but essentially it is a rubber plunger to catch and stop the string from unwanted forward travel. Today’s 6″ brace height bows are more forgiving than yesterday’s 7″ brace heights use to be. 7″ brace height bows under slow motion video without these two features would release the string at 5 to 5 ½ inches from the grip. 6″ brace height bows release the arrows at 6″ flat. Also, snapping the arrow cleaning off the string without side to side oscillations.

In conclusion, the higher quality bows with parallel limb and string stop technology come with a 6″ brace height. If you want to shoot an elk at 60 yards, a 6″ brace height will do just fine. However, if your goal is to shoot “dime sized groups” at 60 yards, or you are a new shooter who needs more forgiveability vs. speed, lean towards longer brace height bows.


Lastly, the bows “engine”, or cams might sway an archer from one model into another. Single cam technology is still by far the most forgiving for tuning and consistency. However, dual and hybrid cam systems have been brought back coupled with today’s pre–stretched strings made from companies like Winner’s Choice producing a bit more power. Dual cam bows and hybrid cam (or binary) bows will sometimes give you a faster bow. However, unless you have access to an archery pro–shop who can ensure that your dual cams are synchronized (has not moved) on a yearly basis, than you will want to lean towards a single cam bow. Single cam bows require the least amount of maintenance.


Thanks to modern day machining and assembly technology, the quality of today’s middle price point bows are now comparable to the higher price point bows available five years ago. For less committed shooters/hunters, choose a more forgiving bow (greater margin for human error). Why? Think about it this way. Would you put your 16 year old student driver in a NASCAR that requires special skills, training, and experience? No. You would put him in a Buick where he would probably survive his first car crash.

Five years ago, the bow hunter looking for the more forgivable bow would have been told not to consider a bow with less than a 7″ brace height and 40″ axle–to–axle design in order to ensure accurate and consistent shot placement. That rule no longer applies with the arrival of parallel limb technology and string stops. So, if you are looking for a forgivable bow, stop looking for a bow with huge brace heights and long axle–to–axle designs! Today’s technology for forgiving bows consists of parallel limb design coupled with string stops by releasing the arrow sooner which increases forgiveability.

Bottom line, the less serious shooter/bow hunter can now get this comparable technology as the higher price point bows in order to achieve forgiveability. The trade off of investing in a middle to low price point bow is less consistency in arrow shot placement that serious shooters are looking for.

The best middle price point bows that I recommend are PSE’s Stinger and Fred Bear’s Showdown. Both of these middle price point bows are so equal in their technology that it is difficult to choose between the two. The Showdown has a bit more parallel limb design, therefore, is a bit more forgiving. PSE’s Stinger yields slightly higher speeds. Other than these two bows slight differences, you are left to narrow it down by each bow’s appearance.

An upgrade from the Showdown and Stinger would be PSE’s Brute LT  and Fred Bear’s Lights Out. The Brute LT carries a much longer riser than the Stinger offering great stability with their B.E.S.T. Grip which is exceptional in reducing torque (consistent and stable hand grip placement). The Lights Out offers greater parallel limb technology; a smoother drawing cam, and a string stop which stops the string releasing the arrow more consistently.


For the archer/bow hunter who is intending on shooting their bow all year long, or wants that bow that will shoot the most consistently and accurately regardless of how often they do shoot, you want the high performance to super performance bows.

What separates the more forgiving, middle price point bows from the high price point bows for serious bow hunters/shooters are the (1) machining tolerances in riser design; (2) limb–to–riser attachment point “pockets”; and (3) axles, bushings and/or bearings quality. The higher quality will significantly increase your long term shot placement accuracy and consistency.


Risers (center section of the bow) are manufactured in two different ways. Lesser quality risers are created by pouring the metal into molds (or casts). The result is minor imperfections of the riser’s straightness, strength for flexibility, and vibration dampening ability limiting shooting consistency and accuracy. The better way is by machining the riser resulting in a perfectly straight, non–flexing, and minimal vibration riser every time maximizing your shooting consistently and accuracy. The high price point bows will have the machined riser. The middle to low price point bows may or may not.


Limb pocket (attachment point) tolerances can only be visually seen when the bow’s strings are removed. If the bow’s limbs wiggle side–to–side, shooting inconsistency is the result. The tighter the limb–to–riser tolerance, the more consistent you will be able to shoot. The high price point bows will have the finest tolerances and tightest fitting limb pocket designs. The middle to low price point bows may or may not.


The great bows have high quality sealed, stainless steel ball bearings for a lifetime of consistent shooting. Low price point bows have plastic bushings that perform well early on, but will fail just about the time you are really getting accustomed to your equipment resulting in less accuracy leaving the archer to blame himself for poor shooting instead of equipment quality. Middle price point bows have lower quality bearings, but are better than plastic bushings. Axle (the “pin” that fastens the cams or wheels to the end of the bow’s limbs) straightness is paramount in order to spin the bow’s wheels or cams perfectly straight avoiding any side–to–side movement. Axles in middle to high price point bows will be machined from high quality steel and hardened to reduce bending resulting in long lasting, consistent and accurate shot placement. Low price point bow axles are built from lesser grades of steel which tend to bend resulting in allowing the cam to bend from side–to–side giving you less consistent and accurate shot placement.

For the archer who is looking for the bow that offers most of the high performance technology and components – I prefer PSE’s Bow Madness, and Fred Bear’s Truth 2. The Bow Madness has exceptional parallel limbs; the B.E.S.T Grip, and a factory installed string stop. The Truth 2 also sports great parallel limb design; a slimmer grip, and dual string stops while sporting Winners Choice pre–stretched strings.

The highest quality bow for forgiveness, technology and components are the Hoyt Alpha Max 32 and the Mathew’s Reezen. Both carry all of the best technology with care and attention to tolerances for long lasting consistency. The Alpha Max 32 is wrapped with five layer laminated limbs for durability and power efficiency precisely mounted to their TEC Riser design built like a truss to minimize riser flex. Hoyt’s Cam & ½ dual cam design draws very smooth yet produces unbelievable speed. Hoyts Alpha Max 35 offers all of the same technology and designs as the Alpha Max 32, but with a slightly longer riser resulting in more stability.

The Mathew’s Reezen is the fastest single cam bow ever produced. Single cam being the most dependable “work horse” for bow hunting abuse. The Reezen’s beyond parallel limbs suppress vibration hiding the fact that it produces speeds of 340 fps. When choosing between the two, it’s a personal preference between the Reezen’s speed, dependability and quietness vs. Hoyt’s shooting consistency, and smooth cam ½ drawing system.


Only committed archers should invest in ultra fast, flat trajectory, less forgiving, super performance bows. Why? Because serious shooters are less likely to error in shot performance leaving distance estimation the only possibility for error. A super high performance bow gives the serious archer less forgiveability in shot performance, but much more forgiveability in distance estimation. We are human and humans make mistakes. If you have polished your form to machine like performance and consistency, your high performance equipment will follow. If you feel limited in practice time, you can still purchase the best quality, but in more forgiving equipment to compensate for human error. Be honest with yourself because every bow hunter should respect animal’s rights from being wounded due to lack of a bow hunter’s equipment and/or training.

When choosing the ultimate high performance bow, I recommend PSE’s X–Force, and Mathew’s Monster Series. Both bows offer radical banana like limb designs that produce unprecedented energy for blistering speeds and exceptional energy–to–arrow transfer. The PSE X–Force GX and Mathews Monster yield identical speed, yet the Monster XLR8 produces 15 fps faster than both the X–Force GX and Monster with surprisingly shooting stability. These bows cast big cams with the PSE building weight early, and the Monsters peaking nearer the end of the draw. The X–Force GX has a bit of a kick due to its feather light 3.8lb. carry weight where as the Monsters shoot unnoticeably. These two bows are both one pin to forty yard hunting machines and are reserved for those that spend ample time shooting.


For ladies or youth on a budget, the Mission Menace and UX2 from Mathews are a great value for their adjustable weight and draw length range. The Fred Bear Young Guns and Ultra Light are packed full of technology goodies, and are also very adjustable. Hoyt’s Trykon and Trykon Sport are also packed full of technology with some adjustability at a great value.

Hoyt’s Kobalt is loaded with features and sports the fastest speeds for ladies bows.  Although not adjustable in draw length, Mathew’s Mustang and Ignition are the most consistent and efficient single cam bows for ladies on the market.


All of the above mentioned technology can now be found in a variety of bow makes and models. The bow’s price tag will get you started if you are looking for the best. The higher dollar bows will have the long lasting bearings, hardened axles, and extremely tight and long lasting limb pockets that you want if you are a serious shooter. Otherwise, look at the middle to lower price point bows that will still enable you to achieve your seasonal bow hunting success without requiring you to invest in unnecessary technology that you will not use to shoot recreationally. You can afford to invest in a lower dollar priced bow if you are not going to shoot all year because even though the nuts and bolts of that bow are of a lesser quality, they won’t wear out quickly because you are shooting less often. However, if you plan to shoot often and you purchase a lower quality bow, the nuts and bolts will wear out quickly.

Archery offers a variety of recreational and sporting opportunities regardless of age, gender, or experience. Choosing the right bow and equipment is the first step to discover a life time of rewarding fun and challenges.