Introduction to Compound Bows
Before we get down to the nitty gritty details, here’s a useful chart of some of the best compound bows on the market.
|Bow Name||IBO Speed||Let-Off||Draw Weight||Draw Length||Axle-to-axle||Brace Height||Bow Weight||Price||Editor's Picks|
|Diamond Infinite Edge||310 FPS||75%||5-70lbs||13"-30"||31"||7"||3.1lbs||$||
Best Beginner's Compound
|Martin Lithium||335 FPS||80%||50-70lbs||26"-31"||33.25"||7"||4lbs||$$$||
Best Overall Compound
|PSE Surge||320 FPS||75%||30-70lbs||19.5"-30"||32.5"||7.25"||4.3lbs||$$||
Best Value Compound
|Bear Finesse||285 FPS||80%||30-50lbs||23"-28"||29"||7"||3lbs||$$||
Best Women's Compound
|Bear Attitude||310 FPS||80%||50-70lbs||25"-32"||31"||7.25"||3.7lbs||$$|
|Bear Authority||315 FPS||80%||50-70lbs||24.5"-31.5"||31"||6.75"||4lbs||$$|
|Bear Cruzer||310 FPS||75%||5-70lbs||12"-30"||32"||6.5"||3.6lbs||$|
|Diamond Carbon Cure||325 FPS||80%||40-70lbs||27"-30.5"||32"||7"||3.3lbs||$$$|
|Diamond Core||313 FPS||80%||40-70lbs||25-30"||31"||7.25"||3.2lbs||$$|
|Martin Krypton||315 FPS||80%||30-70lbs||17"-30"||31"||7"||3.2lbs||$|
|Martin Pantera||320 FPS||80%||50-70lbs||25.5"-32"||34"||7"||4.1lbs||$$|
|PSE Momentum||330 FPS||75%||50-70lbs||26"-31"||31.5"||7"||4.2lbs||$$|
|PSE Prophecy||340 FPS||75%||25-70lbs||25"-30"||32"||6"||4.1lbs||$$$|
|PSE Vision||306 FPS||70%||15-70lbs||12"-30"||33"||7"||4.2lbs||$$|
Compound Bows are the mix of the traditional and the modern – the bow, a weapon that has been around for a few thousand years – modified and improved with contemporary engineering and design principles to create a modern weapon. A compound bow differs from traditional bow types (like the recurve or the longbow) in that it contains mechanisms to enhance the speed, power, and ease of use for the hunter/archer. The key mechanism that separates a compound bow from other bows is the ‘cam’ – essentially a system of cables and levers that allows for far more energy storage, and thus greater power and speed when shooting. Compound bows have gained popularity ever since they were introduced to the market in the 1970s and are now the most popular type of bow in the North American market. Compound bows are particularly favored by hunters, as the improved power, speed, and accuracy allows for a much higher success rate than can be achieved with any other kind of bow, but still requires much of the shooting skill and technique that comes with traditional bow hunting.
The compound bow market is full of options, and it can be daunting, particularly for someone new to archery. In this buying guide, we hope to help you pick out the best compound for your needs. We’ll let you know what separates the top compound bows from rest and help you find out which compound bow brands to look for. We also have a number of individual compound bow reviews to help you make an informed buying decision.
Check out this video on how to shoot a compound bow:
What criteria do we use for our Compound Bow Reviews?
Before we delve into the criteria of how we judge a specific bow, we should go into detail about the specs that compound bows have, since they are somewhat more complex than other bow types.
- Cam Type: There are four primary cam types available on the market today – Single/Solocam, Hybrid Cam, Binary Cam and Two/Dual/Twin Cam. We won’t go into this here – if you know what these are, you’ll probably know the advantages of disadvantages of each, and if you’re a beginner the only thing you need to know is that you shouldn’t pick a two cam bow as they are harder to maintain.
- Cam Grind: More important than the type of cam (which is largely personal preference) is the cam grind – a heavy cam grind is less comfortable for the archer to shoot from, but will produce better speeds and more power. Medium cams and the less popular round wheel cams tend to feel more natural to draw, and will often lead to a much better shooting experience, particularly for those just starting out. Expert archers may prefer the hard cam for the greater power it can offer.
- Let off: Compound bows are designed to help the archer shoot faster and more accurately with less work. One of the ways this is achieved is that compound bows have something called a let-off – as you draw the string back, at a certain point, it starts getting easier/lighter to pull and hold onto the string of the bow (whereas with a traditional bow , the string just gets more tight and more difficult to pull). This effect is known as the let-off, and typically bows will have a high let-off 75-80% let off compared to the maximum draw weight. This is what we would recommend for a beginner, though more knowledgeable archers may like the increased speed of a bow with a lower let-off. Also related to this is the ‘valley’, which is the cushion between the full draw length and the point where the resistance of the string begins getting heavier. Beginners will definitely favor wider valleys, whereas it may not be a huge factor for a seasoned archer.
- Brace Height: this is the distance from the string to the grip of the bow. Generally speaking, the shorter the brace height, the more effort and energy it takes to get to full draw (because you have to pull the string further). However, this naturally leads to somewhat better speeds. Beginners should probably look for brace height of 7″ or higher, whereas experts could consider faster bows with shorter brace heights. Shorter brace heights may also be suitable for women and youth archers, as the speed gained from the longer draw can partially make up for lower draw weights.
- Axle to axle length: This is the length of the bow from the middle of the axle at the end of each limb of the bow (the round pulley mechanisms). Keep in mind this doesn’t measure the whole height of the bow – if you’re buying a bow case or some such, adjust for the length that the axle extends beyond its center. Most modern compound bows for hunting have an axle to axle length of 32″ – 34″ bows can be good for both hunting and competitive archery, and 36″ bows are typically considered pure competition bows unsuitable for hunting. There are also 30″ bows that may be good for those looking for a smaller option, and anything under 30″ is likely to be a youth model.
- IBO Speed: All compound bows will have an advertised speed that is measured under a unified set of standards set by the International Bowhunting Organization. For many archery enthusiasts, this is the most important metric that a bow is measured by. Generally speaking, anything about 340 fps is considered very fast, 320 is about average, and anything below 300 would be considered quite slow and unacceptable to many experts. Keep in mind, these can be seen as ‘max’ speeds and are near impossible to duplicate in real life – but we see the IBO speed as a reasonable yardstick to compare different bows to each other.
Other factors to consider:
- Camo: The camo design/pattern on the bow is often an important factor for archery enthusiasts, particularly those that hunt. Obviously better camouflage can help with hunting, however we think the importance of this is overstated – there are some ‘branded’ camouflage patterns that cost the manufacturer money, and these costs are passed down to the buyer. Obviously a better camouflage design is a good thing, but we’re not necessarily prepared to pay a premium for it.
- Noise level: Hunters in particularly prefer a bow that is quiet – a noisy bow can but a damper on a planned hunting trip.
- Vibration: Top level compound bows will have very little vibration in the grip upon firing, whereas lower quality of less well regarded bows can have significant vibration.
All these factors need to be considered when deciding what compound bow to buy, and as you can see, many of them offer some trade-off between shooting comfort/ease of use and speed/power. In our selection of the top compound bows, we will try to find a bow that is reasonably easy to use, and suitable for beginners while also offering enough power that an expert would be satisfied with it. We’re also looking for a bow with some good bells and whistles that doesn’t totally break the bank. In our compound reviews, we actually came across many excellent bows, so it will be difficult to select just one. What we’re aiming to find is a compound bow that balances power and usability, a bow that is forgiving for a beginner but that also satisfies an expert.
Best Overall Compound Bow: Martin Lithium
So, which model is our favorite compound bow overall? We decided on the Martin Lithium. In our review of compound bows, we found many great bows (seriously, the number of top notch compound bows on the market is amazing), but even among the best compounds bows, every model tended to have one or two small setbacks that we noticed – on aggressive speed bows, the issue would often be a difficult handle – on some other options, the bows would be a little noisy or have too much vibration. The Martin Lithium was the only compound bow we could find that pretty much appeared to be flawless – it’s quiet as a mouse (probably quieter), there’s very little vibration, and it gets pretty good IBO speeds at 335 fps. The Lithium has 7″ brace height and measures 33.25″ axle-to-axle. It has 80% let down, with draw weight choices of 50-70lbs and draw length of between 26″-31″. The bow is reasonably light, weighing only 4.0lbs.
The thing we really love about this bow is that way that it handles. Much like with a car, while it’s hard to tangibly measure good handling, there is something about this bow that just feels great. It both draws and lets down smoothly, and is a real delight to use, like all the components in the bow are working in harmony to improve the shooting experience. If you’re looking for an aggressive speed bow, this probably isn’t the right choice for you, but for pretty much everyone else, we highly recommend the Martin Lithium- it’s our pick for the best compound. It’s a little bit pricey at $800, but we think it’s worth every penny.
Best Compound Bow for the Money: PSE Surge
Many of the best brands for compound bows have really strong offerings at moderate price points, so this was a tough choice. In the end, we decided that the best compound for the money was the PSE Surge. For a pretty reasonable $399, you get a highly efficient bow that wastes very little energy. 30-70lbs draw weights are available, and the draw lengths range from 19.5″-30″ – this makes the bow particularly good for a beginner who needs to ease in to the resistance of drawing a bow. The Surge has a 75% let-off, and the axle-to-axle length measures 32.5″ with the brace height coming in at 7.25″. This model weighs in at 4.3lbs, which is a tad heavier than we’d like but not to the point where it becomes a flaw.
Despite the name the Surge doesn’t jerk (or surge) much at all – the draw is smooth as butter and the motion feels easy and natural, which we find impressive given the price. The Surge gets pretty good speeds (320 fps) and is quiet with only a little hand shock. Both noise and vibration can be further reduced with the use of a stabilizer. If you’re a beginner and considering buying the Surge, you may want to take a look at the RTS package which includes the bow and a range of standard accessories that most archery hobbyists use on a regular basis. Whether you’re a long time archery enthusiast or a total beginner, we’re confident the Surge will serve you well – and given the fact that it’s extremely affordable at only $399, we can’t help but name it the best value for money compound bow.
Best Compound Bow for Beginners: Diamond Infinite Edge
We were looking at a slightly altered criteria when trying to work out what model is the best beginners compound bow. Whereas a seasoned expert might value speed over all else, this was hardly a concern when we thought about what a beginner would want. We were more interested in a bow that is adjustable, that handles really smoothly, and that is very forgiving (of bad form/technique). Typically the most forgiving bows are those with higher brace heights and longer axle-to-axle lengths. Also, we were looking for wide valleys and high let-offs. Obviously, we were hoping for more of a budget option too, since a beginner may not be willing to spend much money on a new hobby.
That seems like a long list of criteria right? Fortunately, we found a bow that meets most of them – the Diamond Infinite Edge. The Edge comes close to being infinitely customizable – the draw weight can be adjusted from 5lbs to 70lbs, and the draw length from 13″ to 30″. This means that the Edge can function as a youth bow, a woman’s bow and still work great as a bow for an adult male. It also makes it a great bow for inexperienced archers – beginners can slowly ramp up the draw weight without strain, and the flexible draw length allows them to experiment to find the perfect fit. Essentially, it’s a one-size-fits-all compound bow. The Edge has pretty standard physical measurements – 31″ axle-to-axle length, 7″ brace height, weighs about 3.1 lbs, and has a novice friendly 75% let-down.
On top of it’s fantastic adjustability, the Edge is also a pretty formidable weapon – when set to IBO standards (70lbs draw weight, 30″ draw length), the Edge clocks in at a very respectable 310 fps. Even without the aforementioned flexibility of this model, we’d think it’s excellent – it draws nicely and is very forgiving, and is relatively easy to tune – all great qualities for a beginners bow. Considering it’s awesome flexibility and solid performance, you’d imagine the Edge is a costly item – but to the contrary, it’s a pretty inexpensive $349. The Edge was actually also in the running to be the best value compound bow, and was only narrowly edged out by the PSE Surge in that category. the Infinite Edge is a great compound bow in its own right, but its great adjustability makes it the absolute best beginners compound bow in our view.
Best Under $500 Compound Bow: Hoyt Charger
(Not Sold Online)
As we’ve noted already, there are many excellent compound bow choices that can be had for under $500 – in fact, both the the PSE Surge and the Diamond Infinite Edge are excellent compound bows that cost less than $500. Since we’ve already talked about these two bows at length, we’ll exclude them from consideration in this case – and you should know that the bow that wins our vote as the best compound under $500 came pretty close to unseating the Surge as our pick for the best value compound bow. The bow that we decided was our favorite compound bow under $500 (along with the Surge and the beginner-friendly Diamond Infinity Edge) was the Hoyt Charger.
The Hoyt Charger is a extremely solid compound bow – while Hoyt is generally more well known for its higher-end bows, the Hoyt Charger delivers very good performance at an excellent price. It has 31″ axle-to-axle, 6.75″ brace height and weighs in at a pretty light 3.8lbs. It also performs reasonably well in terms of speed, with IBO fps of 325. Individual models of the Charger come with different draw weights and are adjustable by 10 lbs – (so you can buy a model with 50-60lbs draw weight). Similarly, draw length is somehwhat adjustable -24″-26.5″, 27″-30″ and 30.5″-31″ options are available. It also has a 75% let-off
The Charger is a pretty forgiving bow – making it a reasonable choice for less experienced archers who may have flawed or imperfect technique; the Charger also has a pretty wide valley which also helps with its accessibility. We experienced only mild vibration and very little noise when shooting it, and we suspect pairing it with a stabilizer will help get rid of most of the vibration. The only thing which prevented it from beating out the PSE Surge in the best value for money compound bow category is the slightly soft back wall on the draw – we prefer a real hard, solid back wall and the Hoyt lacks this. While we don’t’ feel this is anywhere near serious enough to call it a flaw, it barely allowed the Surge edge ahead of the Charger. Still, if you’re looking for the top compound bow for under $500 and for whatever reason you don’t like/want the Surge, we also highly recommend the Hoyt Charger. It’s also a particularly lightweight bow, so if you’re looking for something more portable/lighter that the Surge, that may be another reason to turn to the Hoyt Charger. Buyers should note that the Charger is a tad difficult to buy online – you may need to go to your local archery/outdoor goods store to purchase it.
Best Women’s Compound Bow: Bear Finesse
Women hold up half the world, and while they may make up much less than half of the bow hobbyist population, archery and bow-hunting is rapidly gaining popularity among women and we felt they definitely deserve their own section in this guide to help them decide on what bow to purchase. In a women’s compound bow, we’re mainly looking for slightly less draw weight, and potentially a longer draw length (or adjustable draw length) to help balance out some of the lost energy, and hence lost speed, that goes hand in hand with lower draw weights. We’re also probably looking out for a slightly smaller, lighter bow. What we are specifically NOT going to mention whether or not a bow comes in pink or anything else silly like that – while women are physically somewhat different from men and thus require bows with slightly different specs, they are just as serious about hunting as men and don’t need to be pandered to be cynical marketers.
Our pick of the best compound for women is the Bear Finesse (which has a far better name that the 2013 model named the ‘Bear Home Wrecker’). We are a big fan of this bow – specifically designed by Bear to be used by female archers, the Finesse is a smaller bow, measuring at 28.63″ axle to axle with a 7 inch brace height. It has a max draw weight of 50 lbs (specify when purchasing) and the draw length can also be specified – models come have draw lengths from 23″ to 28″ in 1/2 inch increments. IBO speed clocks in at 285fps, which is decent, and the bow is incredibly light, weighing only 3lbs, and it has a female-friendly 80% let-off and wide valley.
The Bear Finesse is just an all-around great bow – we like the size, we like the smooth draw, and we like the lack of hand shock and recoil. Obviously, it’s not a powerhouse, aggressive speed bow, but outside of speed, it’s overall an excellent lightweight bow specifically designed for female use, and it clearly shows. One of the only bows that we feel could compete with the Finesse as a bow for women would be the previously reviewed Diamond Infinite Edge, which is adjustable enough that it puts up a fight – but we for female use we prefer the super light Finesse. Along with all its positive qualities, the Bear Finesse sells for a very reasonable $399, so we pretty much couldn’t resist picking it as our favorite compound bow for women.
Best Youth Compound Bow: Bear Apprentice III
Obviously, the best youth compound bow will depend specifically on the age of the child you’re buying for, and we’ve tried to take this into account when thinking about the various youth compound reviews on this site as well as others. For the purposes of this category, we’re picking a compound bow for a ages about 10 through to 15/16 when they can begin to use a regular (adult) compound bow. This means that we’re potentially looking for a bow that is pretty versatile and flexible, and specifically looking for some adjustability so that the child can grow with their bow without needing to replace it every year.
The best youth compound bow in our opinion is the Bear Apprentice 3 – it’s a reasonably compact size, making it great for those with smaller frames, and its pretty forgiving, which is conducive for young people who re still learning the ins and outs of shooting technique. It has a adjustable draw length of between 15″ and 27″ and the draw weight is also adjustable from 20 lbs all the way up to 60 lbs. It has a 6.125″ brace height, measures 27.5″ axle-to-axle, and weighs 2.9lbs. The let-off is 70%, which is reasonable considering that the bow will most typically used with draw weights set below the maximum.
The excellent range of adjustability on both the draw length an the draw weight makes the Bear Apprentice 3 a bow that a young person can really grow alongside, adjusting draw length and weight as they get taller and stronger. The bow is also good on other fronts – it’s has reasonably low hand shock, a really nice, smooth draw cycle, and it’s affordable to boot. The Apprentice 3 sells standalone at $299, and we don’t know if there’s another youth suitable compound bow out there that can match it. The one and only potential flaw of the Apprentice 3 is the speed – it doesn’t shoot that fast, with IBO speed of only 265 fps. However, we don’t really view this as a negative – much like we don’t encourage kids to learn how to drive in Ferrari, we don’t really want them to learn how to shoot with a 350fps bow. With that said, we basically think the Apprentice 3 is hands down the best youth compound bow for any young person who wants to learn the ins and outs of archery and bow-hunting, and we highly encourage parents of interested children to give this compound bow a try.