Updated: Jun 3, 2019
Generally the first thing to be broadcast when you see a bow advertised is it's speed. There has always been a big emphasis on speed. Is this a good thing or are there more important aspects to look at?
While speed may indeed sell bows and we have all been seduced at some point by the marketing, I think it’s time to take a different view. Until this year I hadn't bought a new bow in 5 years Sure I get to review and shoot new bows often but the reason is I now look closer at the specifications of the bows to determine whether they are going to be a good shooting fit for me. Until this year there hasn't been a bow that has had the specs I’m after. This year, however, there are two or three that fit perfectly. It is no secret that I prefer a longer axle-to-axle bow (in fact I think everyone should shoot longer ATA bows with larger brace heights), as generally they are easy to shoot. Having a bow that is comfortable and that I can shoot well is more important to me than speed.
I believe that choosing a bow on factors other than speed will enhance your accuracy (and therefore our ability to take game) more than just speed. Being able to shoot your bow comfortably in all situations will increase your consistency and accuracy. As many of you will no doubt have experienced at some stage, shooting when you are cold, or are in a seated position or after climbing a hill and found that it is much more difficult than when you are standing still on your flat practice range. It’s these situations that we find ourselves in more often than not when hunting. Therefore it makes sense to me to choose a bow based on how easy it is to draw, hold and shoot rather than how fast it is. Twenty years ago bows were slow compared to what is produced nowadays. The majority of bows produced now are able to shoot an arrow fast enough to easily take game and be more than adequate on a field or 3D course as well. So chasing the fastest bow is certainly not a necessity now.
Does increased speed actually give bowhunters an advantage?
Like most things in life there are pros and cons to increased speed. In the pros column you have the fact that the arrow gets to the target quicker. This can be a distinct advantage on an unmarked 3D or target course but maybe not so much in the bush. A faster bow may allow you to shoot a heavy arrow at a reasonable speed but there is a limit. A faster bow will also increase the kinetic energy or momentum (whichever you prefer) of your arrow. Higher kinetic energy or momentum will increase the penetration of your arrow. For those hunters that have a short draw a faster bow will enable them to get reasonable arrow speed. In the cons column however is the fact that faster bows are generally harder to shoot well consistently. They often have aggressive cams and shorter brace heights which make them harder to draw and shoot especially when you are shooting from an awkward position.
Faster bows, especially when shooting lighter arrows to get maximum speed, are generally noisier. Having a bow that shoots fast but is noisy probably defeats the purpose of having a fast bow as your target animal is going to hear that bow more easily and will react quicker.
Fixed blade Broadheads can be almost impossible to tune when you shoot over about 280fps so that is no advantageous. I get a lot of questions from bowhunters with regards to tuning broadheads and the one thing that they often overlook is the speed. Sometimes no matter how well you can get your bow to paper tune or bare shaft tune it will still not have great broadhead flight. The reason is sometimes the speed of the arrow is over 280fps. It’s hard to get enough stabilisation of the arrow with vanes, as the broadhead is practically acting like a wing on the front of the shaft. So actually shooting around 280fps or below makes it much easier to get good arrow flight with broadheads.
Let's look at one of the common misconceptions to shooting a fast bow, and the main reason bowhunters buy them, the speed at which the arrow gets to the target. Obviously a faster bow will shoot the same weight arrow faster than a slower bow. But is that really a necessity? Well as mentioned before, if you shoot unmarked field or 3d as well as hunting then it may help. Shooting these disciplines a faster bow will help a little if you miss judge a distance. It will also decrease your pin gaps or close up your sight tapes, which give the shooter more confidence when aiming. The reason you feel more confident is due to the fact that with a faster bow you can see there is more room for error in your judging when you are setting the distance on your sight or when you put your pins on the target. The pins will be closer together and therefore you will have more of them on the target, which gives us increased confidence that we won’t miss. You will also catch more lines and hence score better with more speed. However in a hunting situation I don’t believe that it is as much of an advantage. I don’t know anyone who doesn’t hunt with a rangefinder these days, so judging the distance in the bush is a thing of the past. Rangefinders give us the advantage of knowing the exact distance so you can adjust your sight according and not have to guess. If you don’t use a rangefinder or don’t get time to at least get an approximate distance I really think you are doing the animal an injustice if you just guess and shoot at it.
Some people may argue that having your arrow get to your intended prey quicker is a big advantage, but is it really? If we look at the numbers then it doesn’t seem such a big advantage. For example lets look at a bow shooting 280fps and another shooting 310fps both shooting a 450-grain arrow. Shooting the arrow out of the slower bow at a target 40 yards away will have the arrow take 0.42 sec to get there. The faster bow will have the arrow get there in 0.38 sec. therefore there is only a 0.04 sec difference. If you shoot under 40 yards then the difference is even less. Now while deer and other species have a much faster reaction time than humans 0.04 sec is not much extra time to get out of the way of your arrow. As we are bowhunters and the reason most of us hunt with a bow is the challenge of getting closer shooting well under 40 yards should be the norm. So the closer you get the less advantage speed is. Generally speaking bows shooting faster arrows make more noise than slower ones. If a speed bow is harder to draw then generally there will be more movement from the hunter as he or she draws the bow, which increases the risk of spooking the animal.
Faster bows are, on the most part, more difficult to shoot. The aggressive nature of the cams on speed bows mean the draw cycle is harsher. You normally feel a very quick build up of poundage that is maintained through almost the full range of the draw cycle. This is one way bows get their speed but also makes them difficult to shoot particularly when you are in a hunting situation. Quite often when taking a shot while hunting we are in a compromised position like kneeling or sitting or standing on even ground. It is much harder to draw a bow in these types of positions so if a bow is hard to draw and aim normally then it will be even harder in these positions. Another way speed is increased is by reducing the brace height. The longer the power stroke (which is the amount of time the arrow is on the string) the faster the arrow goes. The trade-off here is that the longer the arrow is on the string, the longer we have to affect the arrow. Hand torque, flinching, anticipation, poor form issues all become exaggerated the longer the arrow is on the string. So generally there are more inconsistencies in our shooting and that is not what you want when you are shooting at an animal.
Bows like the new Hoyt Defiant with its DFX cam or the Bowtech Reign are, in my opinion, a better option. They are not and out and out speed bows but are still quick. The cams have been designed to be smooth and easy to draw yet still fast. The other big design feature with these cams is the fact it makes the bow seem like a longer ATA bow at full draw. The design of the cam and limb has it so at full draw the string is coming from a higher point giving you a bow that shoots like one that is a longer axel to axel. While these are not the first bows to have these properties (think Bowtech Invasion) not all bows are designed this way. They are certainly not the only ones on the market that I would recommend. Others like the Xpedition Perfexion, the Elite Victory 37 or the Mathews Halon are all examples of a well-designed bow. They all are designed to be equally at home on the target course and in the bush.
My advice to bowhunters, and indeed any archer is for them to look at the other specifications of a bow, rather than speed. Things like ATA length, Brace height, cam design/draw cycle are the things I think we should pay more attention to when choosing a bow. Having a bow that is easy to shoot and that you can shoot accurately is a lot more enjoyable to shoot than when fighting a bow that is just plain fast. While there are bows on the market that are both fast and comfortable to shoot there are not too many so it is worth looking around. As always if you get the chance to shoot a particular bow before you buy it do so. If not ask around, as there is plenty of good bowhunters / archers that will help guide you. If you haven’t got anyone close by then feel free to contact me for advice.