Shoot Before You Buy

April 11, 2014 - Mathews Inc

By Jacob Edson

Most archers will realize which new bow is right for them when they try at the range.

Mathews BowsIt is a wonderful time to be a bow-hunter. Whitetail populations have never been higher, with trophy-class bucks more abun- dant. We have never had as much under- standing of what our quarry does and how to outwit it. And, of course, archery equipment has certainly never been as deadly. Broadheads are more accurate and effi- cient. Arrows have grown more straight, strong and lightweight. And then there are the bows: Comparing today’s models with those made just a few years ago is like compar- ing the modern lineup of automobiles with the foot-powered cars Fred Flintstone and his pals pedaled around. Today’s bows are faster, lighter, smoother and quieter than the models of a just a few years ago. Yet, just as each Ford or GMC model isn’t for every driver, each new bow line isn’t for every shooter. To continue the metaphor, some of us want a Cadillac, while others want a Corvette.

How Fast?

The Cadillac and Corvette comparison is apt because it illustrates one of the biggest factors bow consumers weigh these days: speed. It’s also useful because it can emphasize the point I often make about this argument.

Corvettes are known to be tire shredders, but I’ve never known anyone who owns a Cadillac to comment that it’s too slow. Compared to the bows made just a few years ago, almost every- thing rolling off a production line is fast, and it’s certainly quick enough to kill a whitetail. Marty Stubstad, of Archery Headquarters in Rochester, Minn., often helps his customers weigh the speed argument. “It isn’t as important now,” Stubstad said. “A few people are looking for speed, but in our area in the Midwest, because of the length of our shots, most new bows have all the speed we need.” That said, a fast arrow is deadly. And our current fascination with speed is what got us to this point. Of course, the key ingredient that speed adds is a flatter trajectory to the arrow. When an arrow takes a less-arcing path to the target, small miscalculations in range aren’t as big of a deal. Think of the difference between a Major League fastball versus a slow-pitch softball. With the plate in its normal position, both pitches have trajectories that produce strikes. Move the plate back 3 or 5 yards and the same fastball still hits the strike zone, while the same softball lands in front of the plate. A flatter trajectory allows archers more flex- ibility in judging range and also the ability to use fewer pins. With today’s faster bows, some- one who keeps all his shots to less than, let’s say, 25 yards, can use a single pin. And archers who want to extend their range can do so with fewer pins. Most archers will realize which new bow is right for the M when they try it at the range.


For someone hunting more open terrain, speed allows longer shots with  an appropriate amount of practice. For example, I know of several shooters who now practice out to 100 yards and will shoot at game beyond 50. These are folks who practice religiously, and who really use all that speed to their advantage. Of course, faster arrows are also more deadly in that they hit game harder. After all, in the kinetic energy equation (KE=MxV2), veloc- ity is twice as important as mass. As noted Arizona archer Bob Robb likes to point out, though, kinetic energy isn’t everything. Momentum (caused by the arrow’s mass) plays a big part in a projectile’s killing power, too. So what does all this mean? Speed is great. Speed is deadly. It makes us better archers and bow- hunters. But, it shouldn’t always be the end-all factor in choosing a bow because most new bows are plenty fast.

Chocolate and Peanut Butter

Tim Checkerowski, of MJC Archery in Royal Oak, Mich., tells his customers the most important thing to do when choosing a new bow is to shoot it. “Look at the specs, get an idea of price range, then come in and shoot it,” Checkerowski said. “You want to know how fast it is, but you also want to know how it draws; how it sounds; how it shoots.” According to Checkerowski, speed can carry a trade-off. “The speed craze has really picked up, but with faster bows you tended to lose something,” he said. “With the cams, you got a harder draw cycle, or you gave up brace height.” Stubstad agrees. “The draw cycle is important,” he said. “One thing I don’t think many people think about until they try a bow, but it can be important for hunting, is how a bow lets down. You’ve got to try it.” Cam design is a major driving force behind how smooth a draw cycle feels. When Mathews unveiled Solocam technology in 1992, it introduced shooters to a smoother draw. But until the recent addition of the Reezen, single-cam bows couldn’t quite compete with the speeds of dual-cam models. Even today, the dual-cam McPherson Series Monster and Monster XLR8 are slightly faster. Yet, now we have a ton of speed — really, all the speed we need — in single-cam bows with super-smooth draw cycles. Stubstad said today’s archers really do get it all: speed and a great draw. The key is to choose a bow that fits you and offers the right combina- tion of those two factors. “Take the new Creed XS,” Stubstad said. “I like to say it’s bringing the chocolate and the peanut butter together. It’s got the smoothness of the Creed and the accuracy and compactness of the Z7 Xtreme.”

Key Features?

Get A Headstart with MathewsOK, so today’s archers have it great. How do we choose the right model for our particular needs? Again, both pros say the key is to try out a few bows and see what features are most important for your individual needs. “Price is probably a key factor, because it’s a starting point,” Check- erowski said. “Then you can identify how fast and/or smooth you want to go.” Checkerowski added that he would urge his customers to spend as much on the base bow as they can afford and then worry about acces- sories. “It’s easier to upgrade accessories as you go,” he explained. “You can’t upgrade the bow without buying a new one.” Another factor is the physical makeup of the shooter. For example, ladies, young shooters and those with shorter statures might only look at models that come in shorter draw lengths, such as the Jewel. Or, they might want an adjust- able draw length model such as the Mission Menace. “What’s their draw length?” Stubstad said. “If they need a long draw, maybe something like the Monster, because it comes in 31- inch models.” Checkerowski said he also likes to try to identify the draw weight an archer is likely to shoot. “A bow shoots best at the upper end of it’s draw weight range,” he said. “But then, with a smoother draw, you might be able to increase the comfortable poundage. That’s something to think about with shooters with shoulder problems.” Hunting style should also be considered. Wide-open spaces might be cause to look for a true speed bow. Hunters who spend a lot of time walking might care more about the weight of the bow. Tree stand and ground- blind hunters might want bows that are shorter, while archers who do a lot of target shooting might like the stability of a longer bow. It used to be that axle-to-axle length was a huge factor, but modern bows have leveled the play- ing field a bit. With parallel limb designs, the longer, stiffer risers help balance even short axle-to- axle bows. Plus, the new Geo Grid Lock Riser on the Mathews Creed XS further strengthens and balances the bow, effectively taking the worry out of this equation.

Feel Factor

An individual’s price range and measurements are set variables. Then comes the factors that are more intangible, and this is where shooting a bow really helps a buyer make a decision. Shooting a few models will help you identify what factors are most important for you. For example: the wall at the end of the draw cycle. “I like a bow that’s smooth at the back end of the wall,” Stubstad said. “They’re very easy to control.” “Sound is also critical,” he added. “We’ll never reach the speed of sound, so that’s always a factor for hunters.” Brace height can come into play, too, effecting a bow’s “shoot- ability.” A shorter brace height — defined as the distance from the bowstring to the pivot point in the bow’s handle — means the string will stay in contact with the arrow for a longer period of time during the shot. This means more energy is transferred to the arrow, thus more speed. However, as Checkerowski often points out, a shorter brace height bow can be more critical to shooting form because the arrow stays on the string longer. “We were trending toward longer brace heights until the recent speed craze,” Checkerowski said. “Now we’re heading back that way again.” Checkerowski said this is where experience comes into play. Some- one with good shooting form might opt for a shorter brace height and faster bow, while someone with less experience might want a longer brace height. Grip design, and hand shock are other factors that you’ll only really be able to weigh by trying out bows.

In general, slimmer grips are easier to control in the exact same manner with every draw, but every shooter has different sized hands. Similarly, hand shock can be a major factor. Or, like a stiffer draw cycle, some shooters might not mind it at all. It depends on what they are used to. One note on hand shock: It usually goes hand-in-hand with noise. Bows with more vibration have more hand shock and noise, while bows that are deadened usually have less of both. In the end, Stubstad said most archers will realize which bow is right for them when they shoot it. “There’s a style to fit anyone,” he said. “We have the choices. Know your price and find bows that fit your body type and what you hunt. Test different companies. You’ll know when you shoot it.”

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