Which Bow Should I Buy

Research, research, research

When you’re looking to purchase your next bow, here is some advice on some of the strong and weak items in selecting a brand.

I have sold or carried most brands over those years, and I have settled on a number of good brands because in Canada we cannot carry them all and be viable. Archery is not as big a sport as in the US, unfortunately. In the States, they have more archers in one state than we have across all of Canada. This is why you don’t see a lot of qualified archery stores.

Credit: Howard Communications.
Credit: Howard Communications.

First, I would suggest you cannot buy a bad bow nowadays. The technology is so good that all bow brands put out a quality product. Buy the brand you like, but take into consideration things like, “Do I have a dealer in my area so I can get service and help in that brand?” If you buy some oddball brand, then you may have trouble getting help and or parts. The main brands, as most of you know, are Hoyt, Mathews, PSE, Prime and Bowtech, and they have all been around a long time.

Remember, most brands will not have parts available if the bow is too old. Once a bow gets to about five years or more, you may struggle to fine replacement parts. Remember this if you’re considering buying a used bow. For instance, if you need to find a module for adjusting your draw length, you may never find them. That’s one reason to look for a bow that has draw length adjustments right on the cam. Some high-end brands that offer that are Hoyt, PSE, Prime and Bowtech.

Other bows are adjustable by buying a module, like APA, Mathews, Elite and some of the Hoyt models.

Usually your department store bows, such as Bear, Diamond, Mission, Quest and PSE, have all adjustable cams. Most of the pro series bows are less adjustable. In fact, most of your department store bows have wide range in draw weights also, such as 15 to 70 pounds. Your pro series bows only have a 10-pound adjustment, so if a bow is a 70 pounder it should only be adjusted from 60 to 70 pounds and that’s it. A bow is designed to be at maximum efficiency and can only be there when the bow is at its maximum weight. That’s why the farther you adjust from the maximum, the less efficient the bow is. So if you buy a 70-pound bow and shoot it at 62 pounds, you would have been better off to buy a 60-pound bow and shoot it at 60 pounds, its maximum weight. If you have a bow with adjustment from 15 to 70 pounds, it becomes less efficient the farther you are away from 70. These bows are usually bought by beginners that have lots of other things to worry about than that in the beginning and shoot fine at that stage.

Up until two years ago, most Hoyt bows had three separate cams – the first was from a 24 to 26-inch draw length; a second that was 26 to 28 inches; and a third cam that went 28 to 30 inches. When you went to change from 27 to 29-inch draw, for instance, you would have to buy two new cams and a whole new set of strings and cables, all in excess of $400. That’s why we see a lot of people buy a used Hoyt bow and when they ask us to adjust the draw to fit them, they get a big disappointment because it’s quite costly to change, whereas a different bow may not have had that same issue. So beware of these small details when shopping around. Mathews and Prime, for most years, you would have to buy one or two full cams to adjust draw length, at a $200 to $300 cost. So when buying a bow, learn the art of good research. I get a lot of people saying they have done their research; however, if you’re new to archery, you do not know the right research. Don’t buy a certain brand because it’s pretty or shiny or has excellent marketing.

Also, is a bow a single cam or double cam? A single cam is simpler than a double cam or a cam-and-a-half bow. If you buy a less expensive bow, remember that the strings are also less expensive, and the strings stretch a lot more than a high-end bow and the bow’s cam synchronization gets out. If a single cam’s string stretches, it’s not as important, the cam just over rotates a bit. My advice is if you’re purchasing a less expensive bow, don’t buy a double cam, as you will have more tuning issues than if you purchased a single cam bow if it’s a less expensive model.

Most manufactures, outside of APA, are made in the US. Getting parts is slow due to the border issues. APA bows are made in Saskatchewan, and parts availability is fast. So if service is important to you, buy APA.

Some companies are better to deal with in regard to warranties. I find PSE to be the best in this regard, while others are not as accommodating and question things more than others.

Prime, for example, is the only company that gives free strings every two years with a purchase of their bows, for as long as you own that bow. In Canada, it’s not as free as it sounds because you may have to pay the freight and brokerage, but it’s still a good deal, as for most new high-end bows the warranty is on parts only, not on freight or installation, and does not cover strings.

Hoyts and PSE are the only manufactures to sell a true carbon bow, while Bowtech and Diamond make a partial carbon version. Carbon bows are warm to the touch in cold weather, whereas a cast or aluminum bow is cold in winter to hold, even when wearing gloves. So if you hunt a lot in the cold, carbon is a great option.

Next, I would talk to a shop about what bow might fit your budget and requirements. Shops don’t care which bow they sell you, but they can offer some good advice from having worked on them. For instance, some bows are nicer to work on than others.

So what makes one bow $1,500 and the other bow $400? Well, it’s in the quality of the materials and the technology in each model. Your high-end bows have the latest technology, the best bearings, the best strings, etc. in the flagship models. Your less expensive models have poorer strings, less strands in the strings and even less areas that are served. (Serving means where the string is wrapped with a protectant layer over the stress points, like over the cams or idler wheel.) You may notice on high-end bows that the strings are not split in half, with half strings on each side in the yolk area. They have one integral piece of string; they’re not split in half like less expensive models. The risers may be cast metal, not aluminum, plus some manufactures use higher grades of aluminum. Is the bow split limb or not? The new thinking is split limbs are wider, and thus more stable. Higher-end bows have speed nocks to be more efficient, while less expensive bows do not.

You do not need to buy an expensive bow to hit bullseyes. But a bow that has good strings is the most important thing for me, because everything operates off those strings.

If you’re new to archery, be sure to take lessons once you’ve purchased your new bow, so you don’t develop any bad habits. This is also a good idea if you’re upgrading from a beginner bow to a higher-end bow.

I hope some of these things help you in your research, so when you go to a shop you might know what to ask or look for on your own in purchasing your next or first bow.