If you're in the market for a new whitetail bow, the good news is that quality and hands-free maintain-ability have never been better.
When choosing a great bow for whitetail hunting, you need a few basic qualities, and the rest is up to your individual sense of taste and feel. A quiet bow will buy you a few bucks over the lifetime of the bow, permitting second shots in some cases and reducing string jumping for better shot placement.
It should have a comfortable draw, but especially an ample let-off valley. High let-off is also an advantage so that you can draw early and hold long while a buck approaches. The ample valley lets you get into awkward positions without fear that the string will suddenly pull your arm forward prematurely.
The ideal whitetail bow should also produce good penetration energy (IBO speed is an indirect measurement of energy) so that you can make a clean kill with an exit hole when shooting downward from a tree stand. Granted, this is as much a broadhead and arrow issue as it is a bow issue, but the available penetration energy always starts with the bow's stored energy.
There are several great new hunting bows on the market for 2005. Quality and hands-free maintainability have never been better. Each year, bow designs evolve, and like a broken record, I continue to say that this is the best year ever to upgrade to a new whitetail bow. Here are the features and the bows that you should consider when selecting a new widow maker.
Hoyt's Tec compound bows feature the new AlphaShox limb-vibration dampening system, a joint effort between Hoyt and Sims Vibration Laboratory. I have shot the new VTec, and it is a very quiet-shooting bow -- one of the quietest.
There is also a new grip this year. This comfortable wood grip fits the hand well. Hoyt compounds still benefit from the tremendously popular Cam and 1/2 Performance System, the hybrid cam that Hoyt introduced in 2003.
The VTec uses the same longer riser as the UltraTec but carries shorter XT 1000 USD split limbs for a slightly reduced length of 35 1/2 inches and a brace height of 7 inches. The bow has great balance and, as stated, is very quiet. It is one of the sweetest-shooting bows on the market. Triax pockets ensure that the limbs will always remain square to the path of the string. IBO speed for this 4-pound bow is 305 fps. The approximate retail price is $799.
The new RinTec is the best youth bow that Hoyt has ever made. It is little different from an adult Hoyt bow. It has a machined Tec riser, split limbs, AlphaShox limb silencers, short-drawing Versa Cam & 1/2, and a comfortable narrow grip, all in a short draw length, low draw weight package. The Versa Cam And 1/2 permits an unbelievable 8 inches of draw length adjustability from 18 to 26 inches so the bow can grow with the child, and you can adjust it to fit other siblings.
The RinTec achieves excellent performance (270 fps at 50 pounds of draw weight, a 250-grain arrow), in part due to its 6 3/8-inch brace height. The RinTec is 33 1/4 inches long and weighs 2 3/4 pounds. The approximate retail price is $329.
The SaberTec is Hoyt's version of the short forgiving bow. It features all the Tec goodies and is 33 1/2 inches long with a brace height of 8 inches. It features ZR 100 composite fiber-glass split limbs. This new bow is reasonably fast for its high brace height, with an IBO speed rating of 300 fps. The approximate retail price is $639.
The TurboTec is the fastest bow in the 2005 Hoyt line. The IBO speed for the TurboTec is 330 fps. It has a 6-inch brace height and the aggressive Spiral Cam & 1/2. The bow is 35 1/2 inches long and uses the laminated XT 2000 limbs. This bow is only for accomplished archers who want raw speed. The approximate retail price is $859.
With its machined aluminum Tec riser, the Gamemaster is a modern-looking "traditional" bow. Hoyt de-signed the recurve so that you can use a conventional rest and sight or you can shoot the arrow right off the full-radius arrow shelf. You can take the limbs off using a standard hex wrench. The Gamemaster is solid, quiet and smooth without stack even out past 30 inches of draw. This is a worthy bow for anyone who loves the stick and string. The approximate retail price is $459. Contact: (801) 363-2990; www.hoyt.com.
Browning has always made quiet bows. I remember them as the first company (or one of the first) to put a rubberized buffer in the limb pockets to keep limb vibration from reaching the riser. (Browning calls this technology Impacstop.) Browning also pre-installs String Chubs string silencers on its 2005 bows. Finally, the newest bow in the line, the Illusion, also features a pair of rubber cradles to capture the string as soon as the arrow is gone, which in turn creates smoother vibration.
The Illusion: When it comes to sweet-shooting characteristics, this is one of the best new bows on the market. It is quiet and has almost no re-coil. I tested it at the Archery Trade Show in January and was amused when one of the reps from Browning stationed at the demo range compared it to the new Switchback from Mathews and the VTec from Hoyt. Once I had shot them all side by side, I could appreciate his enthusiasm.
The Illusion has a long riser and short, parallel limbs to cancel recoil during the shot. It is 32 inches long and has a 7 1/4 inch brace height, for an IBO speed rating of 305 to 312 fps. The Illusion also features Browning's new single-cam system, called the Trance. It produces level nock travel and equal tiller measurements for easier tuning and better arrow flight. Let-off is adjustable at either 80 percent or 65 percent. The suggested retail price is $649.99.
Oasis: The new Cyber 1.5 Hybrid Cam System, found on both the Oasis and the Mirage 1.5, promises 75 percent effective let-off, level nock travel, a smooth draw and four inches of draw length adjustment using Browning's patented inner cam module. At 37 inches, the Oasis is almost long by today's standards. The bow has a brace height of 7 1/4 inches and an IBO speed rating of 308 fps. Suggested retail price is $599.99.
Mirage 1.5: Like the Oasis, the Cyber 1.5 is the heart of this bow, but unlike the Oasis, the Mirage is short, with an axle-to-axle length of 32 1/2 inches. The brace height is 7 1/2 inches; the IBO speed ratin
g is 312 fps. Like the Oasis, the Mirage 1.5 weighs 3.7 pounds. The suggested retail price is $549.99 Contact: (520) 884-9065; www.browning-archery.com.
PRECISION SHOOTING SYSTEMS
PSE came out with a new hybrid cam this year called the NRG Hybrid cam system. It is available on four bows: the Mach 12, the new Vengeance, the completely redesigned Primos STL and the Firestorm Lite.
The NRG Hybrid cam system promises level nock travel and is smoother to draw than many other cams I've tested. Notably, it has a comfortable let-off valley, so you won't be fighting it if you have to lean out to shoot around a tree limb. Let-off is adjustable from 80 percent to 65 percent depending on where you position the draw stop.
Vengeance: The Vengeance is the only brand new bow from PSE equipped with the new NRG Hybrid cam. The Vengeance feels quite a bit like the Browning Illusion; it is very smooth and exhibits little recoil or vibration. It is also quiet and ranks among the best bows on the market. The Vengeance has pivoting limb pockets; the Phase III grip system, which allows for three different grip options; String Chubs string silencers; and a very good-looking machined riser. The Hybrid cam version of the Vengeance is 34 1/2 inches long with a 7 5/8-inch brace height and an IBO speed rating of 308 fps, while the One Cam version is 33 1/2 inches long and also has a 7 5/8-inch brace height and an IBO speed of 303 fps. The suggested retail price is $699.99.
Shark: The Shark has a brace height of 8 1/2 inches and is 40 1/2 inches long. This is about as close to target bow specs as you are going to get from a hunting bow. You might expect a bow with these specs to plod, but the Shark is a reasonably fast bow overall. The IBO speed rating is 295 fps with the super-smooth Rimfire One Cam system. The straight riser features the TRM wood grip, a very popular style through the years. The Shark weighs 3.9 pounds and carries PSE's pre-installed String Chubs. The suggested retail price is $549.99. Contact: (520) 884-9065; www.pse-archery.com.
This year Mathews offers just one new hunting bow, and it is the first from Mathews to take advantage of all the innovation the company has produced in the last 10 years.
Switchback: Mathews representatives told me that the company's owner and single-cam mastermind, Matt McPherson, calls the Switch-back his best bow to date. Here's why. The bow has a 7-inch brace height that combines speed and punch with forgiveness. It also has parallel limbs to cancel the shock and recoil that come from accelerating and decelerating the limbs. Mathews pioneered that concept six years ago. The bow's new Straightline Cobra Cam is super smooth and produces level nock travel. The cam and idler are the same size, so you can set tiller measurements identically. Though perimeter weighted, the cam weighs nearly the same as the idler wheel, so both limb tips create approximately the same amount of momentum, for a balanced feel.
String vibration suppressors eliminate string noise, and the Roller cable guard is silent and efficient. While the Switchback doesn't debut any brand new concepts, it is highly praised because it has everything. It is fast, stable, portable and loaded with every useful Mathews feature. I shot it recently and feel that it is at least as good as the very popular Outback from 2004. The new cam, with a bit longer valley, is certainly welcome. The Switchback is one of the fastest bows on the market, with an IBO speed of 318 fps and an axle-to-axle length of just 33 inches. The suggested retail price is $769. Contact: (608) 269-2728; www.mathews-inc.com.
Archery Research (AR) keeps things simple with only three basic bow styles. They are the AR-31, AR-34 and AR-37. For 2005, AR offers a new cam for each of the three bows. I tested it recently and like it.
AR Ram Plus bows: The original Ram Cam had a short let-off valley that was a bit hard to hold at times when faced with awkward shots. It was great on the range, where you can use your perfect form, but in a tree I worried about my ability to maintain those same positions for long seconds (even minutes) without breaking down. AR replaced their original Ram Cam (which they no longer offer) with the Ram Plus. It is smoother overall and has more generous valley at full draw.
AR Ram Plus
Specifications for the Ram Plus bows are as follows. The AR-31 is 31 inches long and has an 8 3/8-inch brace height and an IBO speed rating of 292-300 fps. The AR-34 is 34 inches long and has a brace height of 7 3/4 inches and an IBO rating of 297-305 fps. The AR-37 is 37 inches long and has a brace height of 6 3/4 inches and an IBO speed rating of 303-311 fps. Suggested retail prices on the AR Ram Plus line range from $649.99 to $699.99. Contact: (520) 884-9065; www.archery-research.com.
PARKER COMPOUND BOWS
Parker didn't introduce any new adult bows for 2005, but they did come out with a great new addition to their broad Phoenix family -- a youth model. Now they can truly say that there is a Phoenix for everyone.
Micro Phoenix: The Micro Phoenix is 31 inches long, weighs just 2.9 pounds and has a 7 1/2-inch brace height. It features the company's new Mini-Phoenix cam, which they de-signed to produce fast arrow speeds with a short draw and low poundage. Like adult Phoenix bows, the Micro Phoenix's riser permits perfect alignment between the pressure point of the grip, the center of the limbs, the bow's center shot and the sight pins. Everything is in line, the best indication of zero-torque shooting. It is a great bow for small-framed arch-ers and youth archers. The bow has a comfortably small grip and unique appearance resulting from both the cam and idler being film-dipped in bow-
matching Mossy Oak camouflage. The suggested retail price is $409.95. Contact: (540) 337-5426; www.parkerbows.com.
Ben Pearson Pride
Ben Pearson changed the way bows may be designed in the future: the company let the bowhunting public directly dictate what the bow should look like and how it should perform. The Pride is the result of an online solicitation of Ben Pearson faithful to produce the ultimate deer-hunting bow. Ben Pearson actually compiled all the input they received from archers and bowhunters to come up with a bow that addresses consumers' "want list."
Pride: You can be sure that what-ever features and characteristics you find on the Pride are today's most popular trends. The Pride is 32 inches long because most bowhunters want a short bow. It features a new sleek riser that company engineers shaped to reduce the transmission of vibration, and then they gave it a great-looking two-tone wood grip that looks and feels very rich. The Pride features a green anodized Hurricane Hybrid Cam system that produces a very fast 312 fps with the bow's 7 3/4-inch brace height. If the Pride isn't exactly what you were looking for, you have the chance to make your voice heard, because Ben Pearson is going to use input from its Web site as the basis for at least one bow design each year. The suggested retail price is $579. Contact: (251) 867-8475; www.benpearson.com.
McPherson Archery is a division of Ben Pearson, so you will find the same Hurricane Hybrid Cam among McPherson bows that you find in the Ben Pearson line. McPherson bows also take advantage of the same Frequency Ridged Riser. Ed McPherson designed the riser to dissipate vibration quickly by creating areas of interference where vibration waves cancel.
Bishop: The Bishop looks like a target bow, but it also has ideal specifications for serious hunters. While several bow company representatives I spoke with appreciate that most bowhunters look for short bows, they also note that their most serious customers (the ones who take most of the trophy game) look for longer bows. The new Bishop is 39 inches long and has a 7 1/2-inch brace height. The IBO speed rating is a very acceptable 308 fps with the 75 percent let-off Hurricane Hybrid cam. This is a very impressive combination of forgiveness and speed. As such, it offers one of the best combos on the market. While some bowhunters will fly right past the Bishop in their quest for shorter bows, this bow is the real deal. The suggested retail price is $749. Contact: (251) 867-8475; www.mcpherson-archery.com.
Parker has been making crossbows for several years. For 2005 they have two bows in the line: the Safari-Magnum and Safari-Classic. The Magnum is a fully camouflaged sys-tem with a composite stock, while the Classic features a wooden stock and distinct painted limbs.
Safari-Magnum Outfitter: As mentioned, the Safari-Magnum is decked head to toe in camouflage. Superflage is the single option. This includes the cams, limbs, riser and limb pockets. The Safari is a very fast bow in part because of its aggressive cams. At 150 pounds, it reportedly produces 320 fps with a 13-inch power stroke. The bow is 39 inches long and weighs 7.4 pounds with the accessories installed. The Outfitter package includes your choice of a triple reticle or triple red dot scope, a camo-matching quiver, four bolts, bow silencing accessories and a rope cocking device. The suggested retail price for the package is $600.
The biggest news from Horton this year is the exciting introduction of a custom trigger to their already accurate line of crossbows. The Talon Ultra Light Trigger is a two-stage trigger that is as smooth as silk, so the bow has the same customized feel as a fine rifle.
Hunter Max 200: The Hunter Max 200 is one of several new bows that feature the new Talon Ultra Light trigger system. The Hunter Max is a great performing crossbow with a speed rating of 320 fps from the 200-pound compound limbs with a com-pact 13 3/4-inch power stroke. Other features include harnesses that run inside a protective sleeve, solid glass limbs and attractive Advantage Max 4 camouflage. You can buy the Hunter Max 200 in a package form or just the bow. The bow-only retail price is $650. The package price is $775, and it includes a scope, quiver and four bolts. Contact: (800) 551-7468; www.crossbow.com