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First Impressions: NAW Editors' Favorite New Bows

First Impressions: NAW Editors' Favorite New Bows

My wife once suggested that, for all the care and attention I give to my archery equipment, it's a wonder I don't sleep with my bow.

Point taken, honey. But unless you're a serious bowhunter, it's difficult to understand just how "personal" the relationship between the hunter and his or her bow can be. So when it's time to pick out the next addition to your archery arsenal, it pays dividends to spend some time on the range with the likely candidates.

To be certain, in the pages of North American Whitetail alone, you're exposed to any number of advertisements exhorting a given manufacturer's latest bow as "revolutionary," "legendary," "extreme," "deadly" and, yes, even "epic." But unless the bow in question feels comfortable in the palm of your hand, draws without the aid of a power winch and shoots without rattling your wisdom teeth loose, these fancy adjectives are fairly worthless. When your hand is on your wallet, what really matters is how you feel about the bow, and it's virtually impossible to figure that out without first shooting several of them.

After all, you wouldn't buy a new pickup without taking it for a spin, and you probably wouldn't pay for a new pair of boots without sticking your foot in one first. Why would you buy a bow without picking it up, drawing it and slinging a few arrows?

For that reason alone, North American Whitetail Editor in Chief Gordon Whittington and I did just that with eight of the latest bows to hit the hunting market. The results are far from scientific evidence of which bow performs the best. In fact, what we hoped to accomplish was just the opposite. Rather than subject our bows to scientific conditions, measuring arrow speeds and decibel levels, we simply picked up these eight bows, examined them and shot them, just like we would have done if we'd walked into a bow shop looking for next season's killing machine.

To level the playing field, we took each of the bows to my local bow shop — The Huntin' Shack in Cartersville, Ga. — and asked owner P.J. Johnson to set up each of the bows to the same specifications.

Each of the bows was set with a 26.5-inch draw length and a 57-pound draw weight, and each was fitted with a nock loop and an Apache Carbon arrow rest from New Archery Products. We did not outfit the bows with sights, stabilizers or wrist slings, and we used a Scott Archery release to draw and shoot each bow.

Whittington and I shot each of the eight bows in random order in a series of "evaluations." First, we focused on the overall "comfort" level of the bow, paying particular attention to the grip, the balance and the weight of the bow. Second, we focused on the draw cycle of the bow. And third, we scrutinized each bow's performance upon and after the shot, looking for perceptible levels of hand-shock, vibration, noise and general stability. We used Carbon Express Maxima Hunter KV 350 arrows with 100-grain field tips and Blazer vanes.

The results are, essentially, our first impressions of eight solid compound new bows. That's it.

While our work with North American Whitetail and North American Whitetail TV affords us the opportunity to handle a wide array of archery equipment and spend quite a bit of time in the woods with bows in hand, Gordon and I have distinct tastes in bows, and it's likely that our preferences will be different from yours. For that reason, we're hopeful that this review will provide you with some solid information on eight new hunting rigs, but we encourage you to visit a few local bow shops, shoot each of these bows, and find out for yourself which one feels right for you.

Bear Motive 6

PH: The Bear Motive 6 looks like it was chiseled out of rock, and that makes sense. From the riser design to the draw cycle, this bow is solid. Producing laser-like speeds up to 350 fps, the Motive 6 is Bear's fastest bow ever, but I didn't think it necessarily behaved like a 'speed bow. ' The draw cycle was fairly smooth, though I did feel like it stayed around peak draw weight a bit late in the cycle. With a brace height of just 6 inches, it's no wonder the bow is able to crank out impressive arrow speeds, but maintaining good form will be critical to achieving good groups with this bow. I liked the simplistic design of the grip, although it was a bit tackier than I prefer. All in all, I think the Motive 6 is a marked improvement over last year's Anarchy, especially with regard to balance and quietness.

GW: Bear has been moving toward 'edgier ' bows, and this one's jagged angles all but scream performance. As with most other speedsters, it's not the smoothest to draw, and I'm not a big fan of the short brace height. But the Motive 6 feels solid, sits in the hand nicely and spits out arrows in a hurry. While it's a bit longer and heavier than some other new bows, many shooters won't mind those differences.

Bowtech Experience

PH: Whoever came up with the name 'Experience ' was thinking along the same lines as me when I shot this bow. To be honest, when I first picked this bow up, I fully expected to have a negative impression of the draw cycle. To be certain, the Bowtech Experience looks cool, but the riser design, substantial overall weight and balance of the bow suggest an 'industrial strength ' quality that made me feel like I was holding a steel pipe. All of that changed when I drew and shot the bow. It was an experience I would gladly relive. Bowtech has clearly made large strides in improving the smoothness of their flagship bow. The grip was my favorite of all the bows we tested.

GW: Sometimes performance in a hunting bow comes at the expense of smoothness, but not with this bow. While the 2013 Experience isn't jumpy at all, arrows still fly off it in a hurry. The thin grip is nice, and despite the bow's relatively high mass weight, it balances well in hand.

Hoyt Spyder 30

PH: As soon as I picked up the Hoyt Spyder 30, I knew it was a bow that I would be comfortable hunting with in virtually any field setup, be it a tight treestand or a cramped blind. At 30 inches axle-to-axle and just 3.8 pounds, Hoyt's latest bow is extremely comfortable to hold, maneuver and shoot. Once I started the draw cycle, it felt like the bow wanted to finish drawing on its own. I wasn't surprised to detect a bit of vibration in the bow on the shot, but I didn't think it was anything that a decent stabilizer couldn't fix. I was impressed with the grip and the shelf design, which seems to funnel arrows toward center-shot, which should help to reduce the odds of an arrow banging against the riser or rest.

GW: When you grab the Spyder 30 it's light but still feels super solid, as if each part really were designed to be part of the whole. (That's not something you can say about every other bow out there.) I found the Spyder solid when I shot it, too; hand shock and noise were quite subdued. The bow is lighter than some others we shot, but it still settles well in the hand. Overall, it's a strong performer that lives up to the Hoyt name.

Mathews Chill

PH: Mathews' flagship bow, the Creed, seems to have stolen most of the spotlight this year, but the Chill is not a bow to ignore. Part of Mathews' McPherson Series, the Chill was among the most well rounded bows we tested this year. With an overall weight of 3.9 pounds, an axle-to-axle length of 30.5 inches and a middle-of-the-road brace height of 7 inches, the Chill captures the best of both worlds — a smooth, stable bow that's enjoyable to shoot and reasonably forgiving, combined with the capability of producing arrow speeds in excess of 330 fps. I was impressed with a smooth, consistent draw cycle, and the bow was well behaved in hand. I had visions of Robin Hood flashing in my head when I shot the Chill.

GW: Mathews hasn't been a huge player in the split-limb arena, but it's trending that way. The Chill felt great in my hand, being less top-heavy and weight-forward than some others in the category. And despite its speed, it has a quite manageable draw cycle. From the balance and grip to the overall attention to detail, I found this bow a fine compromise of speed and shootability.

Mission Ballistic

PH: There is definitely something to be said for a simple bow design, and Mission's Ballistic is proof. This bow was just fun to shoot. Topping the scales at 4.18 pounds, it's one of the heavier bows we tested, but it balances well and draws extremely smoothly, thanks in part to the same cam design that is included on the McPherson Series bows. I was not a fan of the grip design, the limb pockets were a bit clunky and the wall was somewhat soft for my taste, but the bow's balance, draw cycle and stability made up for those detractors. Considering that this bow retails for $350-500 less than any other bow we tested, its performance was on par with the competition. Mission has earned its place at the table with this bow.

GW: If you were blindfolded when you picked up and drew this bow, I'm not sure you could tell it was priced far below others in the group. And when you released the arrow — hopefully after having the blindfold removed — I think that impression would stay with you. The Ballistic's name might suggest a harsh speed bow, but any harshness is well under control, letting the performance shine through without distraction. Overall, it's just a nice hunting bow.

Obsession Sniper LT

PH: For a bow company that is a relative newcomer to mainstream archery, Obsession's Sniper LT is deserving of consideration. This bow was a bit tight at the start of the draw cycle, but it's smooth as a baby's butt the rest of the way back. The wall was one of the most solid of the group, and I felt like I could have held at full draw longer with this bow than most of the others. With a modest overall weight of 3.9 pounds, a 7-inch brace height and an axle-to-axle length of 30.75 inches, the Sniper LT was a good combination of speed, accuracy, stability and forgiveness.

GW: You never know what you'll get when you pick up a totally new bow. But any reluctance I felt about the Sniper LT quickly vanished when I picked it up, drew it and turned the arrow loose. It's a nice bow. The grip is a bit chunky by today's standards (which are far different from even five years ago), but it's still comfortable in hand. The balance is decent, and the bow doesn't try to escape upon release of the string. All in all, the Sniper LT will hang with many having longer pedigrees.

Prime Defy

PH: Everything about the Prime Defy is solid. From Prime's Parallel Cam Technology to a forged aluminum riser to the most solid wall of any bow I've tested, the Defy exudes sturdiness. But that's not at the expense of comfort or performance. The bow weighs a reasonable 4.1 pounds and balances well in-hand, and it produced little felt vibration or perceptible noise. I wasn't a huge fan of the bow's grip and the impact of the cam stops with the limbs produced an audible noise, but in general, the bow felt like a veritable killer.

GW: The Defy shows off a number of features that make Prime a player in today's hunting bow arena. By today's standards this is no featherweight bow, but many shooters like a little extra heft. Most other bows we shot have split limbs and single cams, but Prime goes the other way. If you're looking for a bow that shoots well but doesn't look quite like anything else out there, the Defy should be on your list to check out.

PSE X-Force Dream Season DNA

PH: PSE was chasing speed with its new X-Force Dream Season DNA, and speed is exactly what it got. The new PSE bow absolutely whips arrows downrange, but not at a huge expense of comfort. The bow has one of the shortest brace heights of those we tested and it did produce some noticeable report in terms of sound, vibration and hand shock, but at 3.7 pounds and 31 inches axle-to-axle, it's easy to handle. A minimalist grip helps reduce torque, and it had a surprisingly smooth draw cycle for what most would describe as a speed bow. The FleX Cable Slide is a cool twist on technology, but I did notice that I could pop the cable out of the slide without much effort. If you want to move arrows downrange accurately and in a hurry, PSE's new bow is a great option.

GW: PSE has always been known for being able to coax speed out of an arrow. Welcome to the bow that takes this approach to even higher numbers on the chronograph. The DNA doesn't ignore creature comforts, as the grip and overall balance are nice. That said, it's still a speed bow, and with that come some trade-offs. If you've always been a PSE fan, I think you'll find this model to be a continuation of the company's long legacy.

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