When it comes to bow hunting, you can go with a recurve or a crossbow but the undisputed king is the compound bow. With the resurgence of archery for hunting in the 1980s, advancement in technology has led to some of the best compound bow setups ever. Each year leads to new innovations and better bows, so many that keeping up is almost impossible.
If you are new to bow hunting or just looking for an upgrade, we have scoured the current offerings. It would be all too easy to just list the big names that cost thousands but that would be out of reach for most of our readers. We found it better to go with classic options as well as some of the newest innovations to find the best bows for the average hunter.
If that’s you, read on for everything you need to know about bow selection and the best bows on the market for you!
- Why you should use a Compound Bow
- Compound Bow Considerations
- Compound Bow Comparison Table
- Compound Bow Reviews – The 10 Best for Any Budget
- Compound Bow Accessories
- Arrow and Broadheads
- Compound Bow Brands to Know
- Compound Bow Tips
Why you should use a Compound Bow
I will admit to a soft spot of recurves having just returned from a trip where I took two deer with one. But I don’t use a recurve because it’s the best tool for the job, I use one for the tradition and the challenge. If your goal is to put meat on the table, a recurve is not the best bow to use.
Crossbows are very effective tools and can be easier for some people to use. However, many states regulate crossbow use to certain areas. Other states may limit their use to those with disabilities. Even if you can use a crossbow where you live, you completely miss out on the mystique of bow hunting.
A good compound bow is the perfect blend between effective use and traditional feel. You may have the greatest technology and engineering in your hand but the methods are the same as our ancestors. If they had had access to the bows we do, you can bet they would have used them too.
Other than the crossbow, no other technology has the speed and accuracy of a modern compound bow. Even some crossbows have trouble keeping up. Even the fastest recurve doesn’t come close.
Speed is key when taking deer. Arrows are subsonic and sometimes the sound will be enough to spook the deer before the arrow hits him. This could cause a missed shot or, even worse an improper shot. Leaving a deer wounded is just poor hunting.
This also makes accuracy vitally important. Because compound bows have the arrow rest directly in line with the string, you get a perfectly aligned shot. This is not the case with traditional bows.
This straight line is what allows some shooters to put arrow after arrow on very small targets. When combined with sights and all the trimmings, nothing shoots like a compound bow. At reasonable ranges, most will outshoot even a crossbow for sheer accuracy.
The last and possibly most important reason to choose a crossbow is the power. You can get the same power out of a recurve but the effort to use such a bow is astounding. Compound bows make power comparatively easy. Shooting a 75-pound compound bow is as easy or easier than a 40 pound recurve.
These traits make it easy for the beginning archery hunter to get into the sport. The use of a bow has a narrow learning curve up front. It will still take practice to get where you need to be and once you have the skills down, you can look at other methods of bow hunting for the added challenge.
Compound Bow Considerations
Too many people make the mistake of purchasing a bow based purely on opportunity. Others look at just speed or power. Because of the many factors and the way they are engineered to work together, a little more thought is necessary to make the best decision.
Any discussion on which bow is best will have to start with draw length. This is personal to you and will decide which bows will work for you and how well they will shoot overall. This is step one in choosing a bow.
Draw length is the distance that the bowstring travels at full draw. You can get this measured at any bow shop which should have a rig solely for the purpose. If that is not an option, this video shows the easiest way to estimate your draw length.
Once you know your draw length, you can start looking at bows that fit. Most compound bows will have a range of draw lengths that work. To appeal to the greatest percentage of customers, it is likely that your draw length will be in this range.
If you are comparatively short or tall, you may have to use a little more discretion. Being shorter is actually easier, most companies make compound bows for women that have shorter draw lengths. In every other respect, these bows are identical to their standard models.
Don’t be ashamed to use one of these if needed. It is better to use a bow that works for you than to worry about your pride. A good buck kill will be enough to persuade you of the merits of the shorter bow.
Taller people may have to look for very specific models. Finding a compound bow with a draw length over 32 inches is tough. If you are over 6’5” you will need to be extra vigilant in our choices.
When we discuss let off, what we are referring to is the comparative difference in the weight you hold at full draw vs what your bows draw weight is. For example, a bow that took 70 pounds to draw but only 17.5 pounds to hold at full draw would have 75% let off.
The more let off the better. It gives you more time to aim and not feel rushed to take the shot before your arms wear out. This leads to more accuracy and an overall more confidence for new shooters.
Most quality bows will have let off in the 75-85% range. The higher the percentage the easier to shoot but the cost goes up dramatically. Next, to speed, high let-off percentage is probably the most sought after.
It is somewhat debatable how important speed is to a compound bow. Even the slowest is fast enough for hunting or any other use. That said, this is the number most often advertised as a selling point on modern bows.
There are upsides and downsides to having a hyper-fast bow. The most commonly thought of is the time a deer has to move after the arrow is shot. Even with a slow bow, this should be less than a second making this a moot point.
What is important about speed is its effects on accuracy and penetration. When you look at a bow and see its speed, you should be able to critically think about how that will affect your shot.
As a general rule, faster is less accurate. This is an unpopular thought but a true one none the less. Most compound bows for target shooting are comparatively slow. Hunters should take note of this little fact.
When it comes to penetration, we are going to talk a little about physics and force. Force equals mass times acceleration. A faster, heavier arrow will have more force than a slower lighter one. That should make perfect sense.
When it comes to penetration, how much do you need? My recurve shoots a 650-grain arrow at 200 feet per second with a 45-pound draw and it will kill any deer out there. Don’t be fooled by the numbers. Any product designed as a compound bow for hunting will have sufficient penetration.
Brace height is the distance from the bow rest to the nocking point on the string. This has a notable effect on both speed and accuracy. Luckily, it is a very easy relationship to understand.
The lowest common brace height on a bow is about 5 inches while the longest is rarely over 8 inches. The lower the brace height, the longer the string is pushing the arrow. This has the same effect as a longer barrel on a rifle, it imparts more speed.
As we said above, more speed = less accuracy. Lower brace height is inherently less accurate. This is by far not the only factor that determines accuracy but all else equal, it is true.
Most bows with brace heights under 6 inches are considered speed bows. Most competition bows will have brace heights over 7 inches to maximize accuracy. Any of those will work for hunting but most hunting bows will fall somewhere between 6 and 7 inches.
A final note on brace heights is the inevitable arm burn from a bow. This will likely happen at some point anyway but with a lower brace height, you are much more likely to have the string rub against your arm on release. Higher brace heights are much less likely to do so.
Weight & Size
This is the overall mass of the bow and should be taken into account when choosing. No one wants to pack more into the woods than they can help. When pricing bows, lower weight is one of the factors that will increase cost more than any other.
There are bows that weigh less than 3 pounds but those are very expensive. Most reasonable bows will fall in the range of 6 – 10 pounds. If in doubt, go with the lighter bow. You will be happier overall with that choice.
Size is similar. A shorter bow is easier to use and carry. This is especially true of a bow used in a deer stand. Be cautious of extremely short bows. Not only can they be harder to draw but can suffer from accuracy issues due to the extreme string angles.
Pick a size and weight you won’t mind carrying for a distance. This is hardly the most important consideration but one you should be aware of.
This is likely what most people were waiting for and here it is, at the very end of the considerations. Why? Because it really isn’t that important. Every other decision you make is at least as, if not more important than the draw weight of your bow.
Too many people go with the numbers that they hear and assume that is what they should shoot. Why choose a 70-pound bow when a lighter bow will do? My first compound bow pulled 75 pounds and shot decent but it was unnecessary.
Check your local regulations to see what weights are needed to hunt what game in your area. Most of the time, you can get by with a 45-pound bow. I still recommend somewhere between 50 and 60 pounds for most people just to get the speed.
Don’t get into a pissing match with who can draw the heaviest bow. It is senseless. I can draw a 75-pound bow but haven’t used one for hunting in years. I am a better shot with a bow with more reasonable weight.
Compound Bow Comparison Table
12 - 30"
5 - 70 lbs.
13 - 31"
5 - 70 lbs.
15 - 30"
7 - 70 lbs.
19 - 29"
30 - 55 lbs.
24 - 31"
30 - 70 lbs.
26 - 30"
55 - 70 lbs
25 - 31"
50 - 70 lbs.
25 - 31"
50 - 70 lbs.
19 - 29
30 - 55 lbs.
21 - 27"
19 - 45 lbs.
Compound Bow Reviews – The 10 Best for Any Budget
1 Bear Archery Cruzer G2
Bear Archery has done such an amazing job with their compound bow series. The legendary status is well deserved. Though the top three bows on this list are quite close in quality, this one edges them out just slightly.
One of the best features of this bow is the versatility. With draw lengths that should suit most anyone up to 6’4” or so and a draw weight that goes from an insane 5 pounds to 70 pounds with 70% let off. From a first bow for a young person to a perfectly suitable compound bow for elk hunting, you are covered.
The brace height is a perfect 6.5” and launches arrows at a solid 315 FPS. The deer are not getting out of your way with this amazing tool. It even comes kitted out with a full line of Trophy Ridge accessories. You add a release and you have the best value in bow hunting, hands down.
With a weight of just 3 pounds, this is the anybody bow. From the expert to the inexperienced, they would be well covered. This is my pick for everyone but would make a great compound bow for beginner female or male either one.
2 Diamond Archery Infinite Edge Pro
Every so often you run across one of those deals that is just about too hard to believe. Diamond is owned by Bowtech and has many of the same quality demands. There is little doubt of their quality to any serious archer.
If you want quality on a budget, this is it! This fully kitted out bow has an amazing max of 31” of draw for taller folk but goes as low as 13.” Draw weight is similarly customizable from 5 to 70 pounds. If you need a bow to start on and grow with, this is a sold compound bow for beginners but will stay with you until you hit expert.
The brace height is a spacious 7” which gives you some forgiveness in accuracy but you still get a burning 310 fps at 70 pounds. This comes from a bow weighing just a hair above 3 pounds. And that is not to mention the 80% let off.
Bowtech has been a favored compound bow for deer hunting for years. This Diamond will do the same thing. There is no way someone could be unsatisfied with this purchase.
3 Diamond Archery 2016 Edge SB-1
If you like the Diamond Archery bows and you want the real deal but don’t mind a bow a couple of years old, the 2016 version of the Edge is a serious bow for a serious shooter. It has everything the Infinite Edge has but just a little more of it.
Do you want speed? How about a blazing 318 fps with the right arrows and the full 70 pound draws worth of power? And you will only have to hold about 15 pounds thanks to the astounding 80% let off. All of that out of a 7-inch brace height that is well known for accuracy.
With a weight of 3.6 pounds and full adjustable draw length, this bow can be shot easily by most anyone. That is one reason it was immensely popular on its release. It just so happens that a few of these in new condition are still floating around.
The only reason this gets beat out by the Infinite Edge is the lack of a warranty. Once you buy it, you own it. They were known to be sturdy bows and should hold up if you feel like risking it.
4 Leader Archery Compound Bow Kit - 30-55lbs
If we step back from the big names for just a second, there are a lot of value-added bows on the market that can do the job quite well on a budget. This is were the full kits by companies like Leader Accessories come into play.
This has everything you need to get out and shoot the day you get it including arrows. This is the full kit plus some. The bow is reasonably well constructed and quite accurate and the accessories are top notch.
When it comes to the bow, you get a completely adjustable bow that can get up to a 29” draw and 55 pounds of draw weight. Brace height is 7” and let off is 70% for a perfectly shootable bow. Without the accessories, the weight of this bow is just under 3.5 pounds making a good midrange at everything.
This may not be the very best technology on the market but the bow shoots very nicely with very little shock of vibration. You could do a whole lot worse starting out.
5 Predator Archery Raptor
A good alternative to the kit above from a slightly better-known brand, the Raptor by Predator Archery has a decent following and is popular with novice shooters. This is a fully kitted out bow, just add arrows and you are ready to shoot.
Much like the last kit, this bow maxes out at 31” and 70 pounds of draw but the similarities stop there. With an astounding 75% let off and 315 fps max speed, this can keep up with some of the best bows out there. It may lack the fit and finish but not the quality.
For the first time hunter how doesn’t want to invest hundreds, this bow will get the job done. With a brace height of 7”, this bow shoots quite well. Add in the accessories and with some practice, it becomes a tack driver.
All of the included accessories are very nice quality and will not need to be upgraded anytime soon. Fully loaded this bow will come in under 4 pounds and still have the durability needed for use in the field. Believe, me there are many worse bows for someone just starting out.
6 SAS Rage
Southland Archery Supply has become quite the popular choice among new archers over the past few years. They make good products for very friendly prices. They may not top any of the professional hunter's lists but they do very well starting out.
Draw length of the Rage can be anywhere from 25” to 31” and weights between 55 and 70 pounds. This puts it in a sweet spot for most hunters. It has plenty of power for hunting and makes a great bow for a hobbyist.
With a more moderate speed of 270 fps combined with a brace height of 7”, you get a great setup for accuracy. With good arrows, you can group arrows in a surprisingly small area. And good arrows are easy with this bow that is quite forgiving of less than perfect construction.
This is a kit but not a full kit. It has sights and the important stuff but you will need a quiver at the least and probably an upgraded rest as you get better. For all of that, you can just add arrows and shoot if you are itching the day you get it.
7 Leader Archery Compound Bow Kit - 50-70lbs
This is a near clone of the Leader kit above but without the arrows and a more powerful bow thrown in. In quality, this bow is identical but in features, it actually does just a little more. If power is something you are after, this very budget option has it in spades.
Cranked up, you get 70 pounds of draw out of this bow and very close to 80% let off. You will lose a little power as you shorten draw lengths from the max 31” down to 25”. This is necessary if you have shorter arms but you will never drop below 75% let off.
Maxed out, you can expect to get about 310 fps out of this bow which is quite respectable. Able to hunt most any game, this is a great choice for beginner archers but will work well for those who have some experience.
You can get a variety of kit options that go from the full deal down to something a little more basic. If you want more choices, this is a good way to buy. All of the accessories are quite good quality if not quite professional level.
8 Leader Bow Only
Of course, if you want a bow you can grow into and customize on your own, you can just get the Leader bow by its self. This is close to identical to the kit above but there are a few differences in the ascetics of the bow.
While the quality and performance are identical, this option allows you full control over what you want to add to this impeccably accurate bow. Keep it as simple or as complex as you like. As a learner bow, this is a great choice that allows you to do things your way.
This option does come with a rest and basic pin sights so it can be shot as is. If you can learn to shoot well with the included gear, you are set when you upgrade. As a platform to get started with, this is hard to beat if you want to save a few dollars.
9 SAS Scorpii
Much like the Rage above, this Southland Archery bow is quite the buy if you are on a budget. The Scorpii is a scaled-back version of the bigger brother that may not take on the biggest game but would be plenty for some whitetail.
What the Scorpii really excels at is an accurate platform to build off of. With speeds of only 260 fps, you are close to what recurves will do. Add in the 7” brace height to a center shot bow and you get unbelievable accuracy out of such a budget bow.
Maxing out at 55 pounds with 70% let off, you do get enough power for most hunting needs. For most hunters, this is sufficient. And this bow will fit most hunters from youth to adult with a 19” to 29” adjustable draw length.
You can get this bow only or upgrade to the pro kit if you want to be out and shooting when it arrives. Starting out, the kits are the way to go but if you want to do your own setup, go for it! That is half the fun anyway.
10 Barnett Vortex Youth
We should do something just to cater to the youth shooters out there. They are the future of the sport and deserve to be started out right. Of course, you don’t want to invest a ton of money into something they will outgrow. Barnett has you covered.
This kit comes with everything you need to shoot and is adjustable from 19 to 45 pounds so it can be used for years. Check your local laws but that could be enough for deer hunting in your area. With 70% let off, you can get by with almost no weight for a pressure-free learning environment.
This bow has all of Barnett’s famous quality. They have made bows for years and this bow follows all of their normal protocols for craftsmanship. It may not be the very best out there but for learning, there are few better.
Made in the USA with a 5-year warranty, this is a full kit that is ready to go right out of the box. Get your kids or grandkids started the right way.
Compound Bow Accessories
1 Arrow Rests
Most bows will come with an arrow rest but it may be a simple pin or wing style rest. You may be fine with that or you may want to upgrade. The most common rests are capture, drop-away, and the whisker biscuit. I personally prefer the Trophy Ridge Whisker Biscuit on a compound bow.
You will have to have a good side saddle quiver to be effective with your bow. A few come with quivers but most do not. You can always choose to go with a quiver made by your bow manufacturer and that should work fine.
Whatever you go with, it doesn’t need to hold a bunch of arrows. 5 is usually enough and keeps the whole package light. For a universal quiver, once again I like Trophy Ridge.
3 Bow Sights
Most likely, your bow will come with sights and those should work for now. They may even be better for learning than the more advanced sights. When its time to upgrade, do your research. There are many styles and brands of sights that each have their own strengths.
I prefer pin sights over peep sights but I don’t like a lot of pins. Trophy Ridge makes great products and one of their sights happens to be my favorite.
4 Release Aids
I shot with just my fingers for years until I realized exactly how much more accurate I was with a release. I prefer a trigger style release personally but there are many styles. When it comes to ease of use and overall simplicity and affordability, they just seem to work better.
If you were only going to add one accessory to your bow starting out, this is what I would recommend.
5 Bow Stabilizer
When we talk about bow stabilizers, they really serve two purposes. The first is to put some forward weight on the bow to keep it from tilting when you release the string. The second is that they can remove vibration across the bow, making it more comfortable to shoot.
Many bows come with these up front. If yours does not, you can get by without one if you so choose. If you do decide you want one, you don’t have to get a huge one. Something in the 6” or 8” range is usually sufficient.
6 Bow Case
When transporting your bow, it is a good idea to keep it and your arrows protected. You don’t need the fanciest case on the market unless that is what appeals to you. I have had the same bow case for 20+ years and it has served me perfectly well. I could not recommend it more.
Arrow and Broadheads
If you are going to be shooting for fun or in competitions, you will want field points. For hunting, you will have to get deep into the world of the best broadheads. No matter which you choose, you will have to mount them on the best shafts to get the best results.
Starting out, you are better served by taking your bow to a pro shop to get arrows. There are a number of arrow selection guides on the internet but now will do you as well as professional guidance.
When it comes to broadheads, everything gets a little messy. There are different weights, styles, and types of broadheads. Choosing the best broadhead for your will be tricky starting out but at least there are guides to help.
Compound Bow Brands to Know
With bow hunting being such a big market, brands pop up all the time. From small companies producing a few bows a month to massive operations making hundreds of bows a month. Not all of these companies produce products that are equal.
While there are definitely more companies than those listed below, they are the ones to watch out for. They have been in the marketplace the longest and are well known for their products. Listed in no particular order.
Matthews is hardly an old company in the bow world but they have been making quality bows for a little better than 20 years now. Consistently, they produce products that make the top ten lists every year at the national level.
Everything about Matthews bows is top of the line and made with a dedication and integrity that is rare in today’s market. Each bow is tested before leaving the production facility to make sure it meets exacting standards.
If you want a Matthews bow, you will be getting top of the line but you can’t get them over the internet. The only way to get a Matthews bow is from an authorized retailer. This does keep the price higher but it meets with their expectations of quality. From the first step in production all the way to the archer’s hand, Matthews expects perfection.
Also on the newer side, Bowtech did not release their first how until 2000 but over the last 18 years, they have taken the archery world by storm. Quickly becoming one of the most well-known and well-loved archery companies in the world.
Their reputation stems for a 100% dedication to the craft and their customers. The fact that they have been leading innovators in the archery world since their inception helps. Currently, they produce some of the best bows on the market and are often favored at trade shows.
Bowtech has also acquired Canada based Diamond Archery and produces great quality bows under that name. They may not have reached the same fame as their parent company but Diamond bows are well-liked with a strong following of their own.
Though it has been sold several times, the original company was founded in 1933 by Fred Bear who stayed on as president of the company until the 1970s. There is no doubt that Bear was a driving force to the company and an innovator in archery.
More than that, Fred Bear was a hunter. They released their first compound bow in the 70s that was specifically designed to with hunters in mind. Over the last 50 years, that has been the sole, dedicated purpose of bear archery.
Bears tagline is “Walk with Legends” and each of their bows allows you to do just that. The history and engineering of their products were astounding. All of the designs have held up well but little has changed for Bear Archery since the 1990s. They have slowly fallen from what was the number one spot from a stagnant product line.
Hoyt Archery runs in a similar vein to Bear Archery. Earl Hoyt started his company on wooden bows back in the 1930s and innovated along the way. Eventually taking the top spot for several years with their compound bows. While Earl himself may have never made the fame that Fred Bear did, his company eventually overtook Bear Archery in sales and popularity.
Their products are sold only in pro shops that have shown the ability to properly sell and service their brand of bows. This limits their overall sales but ensures customer service. It is a sacrifice they have made for decades to ensure quality.
Over the past decade, Hoyt has been decreasing in popularity after a very strong run from the 90s until the early 2000s. This has nothing to do with quality but may be caused by the innovations of other companies.
Founded in the late 1950s, Martin Archery under the leadership of Gail Martin was an innovator from the start. With 24 archery patents to his name, most other companies are riding on his coattails somewhere along the line.
Many hunters started out with a Martin compound bow with the Lynx as probably the most popular bow of the 1980s and early 90s. Though Martin Archery continues to be an innovator, they have succumbed to the success of some of the more modern companies.
They still remain one of the big 6 producers but their time at the pinnacle of compound bow design has ended. It isn’t that anyone does it better, just that there are so many producers with more flair to their designs that it has been a trial for these classic companies to keep up.
Precision Shooting Equipment was the passion of founder Pete Shepley in 1970. What started as a small company in Illinois that worked with archery equipment and arrows has turned into the king of compound bow innovation.
Many of the processes used in modern bow making where first used at PSE. When it comes to lightweight, powerful, accurate bows, no one has managed to top them in their 50-year history. Along with 20 patents, PSE has the recognition of more top-of-class bows than any other company.
This does come with a hefty price tag. The level of R&D done at PSE costs money. But if you want the very best, you have to pay that premium.
Compound Bow Tips
Becoming a better shooter requires dedication and practice. No one got where they are overnight. This is the hard truth to any skill, you can’t just start at the top. You will have to work for it.
But these tips will help accelerate that growth:
Every other point will come back to this one. Every shot needs to be as close to the last one as possible. No matter what you are shooting from a rifle to a sling-shot, this is just the way accuracy is achieved.
There will always be some variables you can’t control like temperature and wind. The best you can do is get every other factor of the bow shot as consistent as humanly possible. This is the mark of the expert archer.
Nail Down your Form
The first part of being consistent is getting your form spot on. There are a number of articles from hunters to Olympians that can give you an exact breakdown. Listen to their advice and it will pay off in spades.
Not only is this your stance but also your nocking point, anchor, and release. It all needs to exact for the very best accuracy.
Don’t Skimp on Arrows
People will spend hundreds on a good bow but refuse to pay for decent arrows. They are two parts of the same equation. If you get them both right you will get accurate and consistent shots. If you let one side of that equation slip, you will never get the consistency you need.
A part of good arrow selection is overall quality but more importantly, your arrows should have the same amount of flexibility and overall weight. Each arrow will shoot slightly different from any other, make sure that any differences are a small as you can.
Tune for Broadheads
Just because your bow hits well with field points doesn’t mean it will hit well with broadheads. Your bow and broadheads will have to be tuned to each other to get the proper shot every time. This is a process that every hunter goes through.
You will have to repeat this every time you change broadheads, arrows, or bows. Some broadheads may come with a practice tip. If not, consider getting a few extra of the same just in case you break one.
If this is your first year bow hunting or if you are just getting into the hobby, this can seem very overwhelming but it doesn’t have to be. The goal of this article is to provide you with the most information it can on the topic to aid in making a good decision up front.
As long as you get a decent bow from the start, you should be good to go for a long time. A poor quality bow can be a huge setback and should be avoided. You can add to your setup and get better gear as you progress in the sport. Nothing is cheap but it doesn’t have to cost a fortune.