Archery hunting is one of the fastest growing parts of the hunting industry and is very much "in vogue" at the moment. This means legions of hunters every year head into the field with their favorite stick and string chasing deer, hogs and heavy game like elk.
Buying a compound should, at least in theory, be the easiest part of the task at hand. In reality, there’s far too many options on the market for you to try every single one and know exactly which one you like best. There’s just too many manufacturers and too many good products on the shelves these days.
To really nail down the best compound bow, you have to understand what you’ll need in the field, and what contributes to an effective bow in the first place.
The 5 Best Compound Bows
Best beginner compound
Best under $400
Best compound for youths
Best value for the money
Great compound for women
Benefits of Compound Bows
Compound bows are substantially more expensive than traditional bows and they are far more complex. This may lead you to ask, why use one? The reason lies with the fact that they represent the most efficient game killing weapon that is reasonably still archery.
The advantages of the bows are pretty far reaching and you certainly “get what you pay for” but you get more bang for your buck compared to a traditional long bow or recurve. The compound bow is a very effective tool that is much easier to use than just about any other vertical bow you can buy.
Compound bows have faster speeds because they store greater energy in their engineered limbs and transfer more of that energy into power using their cams. The cams look like lop sided pulleys and allow for let-off, a lessening of the force required to hold back the string, and a faster acceleration of the arrow when you let the string fly.
Because the bow has greater energy and speed, you can shoot an arrow further with a flatter trajectory. This increased range can mean the difference between a missed shot and meat in the freezer. The less highlighted feature of the compound bow is the fact that traditional archery ranges, less than 35 yards, are much more attainable because of the increased technology in the compound bow.
The acceleration of the bow string happens faster on a compound than on a recurve or traditional bow. This makes for a more powerful bow. The materials used for creating the limbs on a compound bow are designed specifically to snap the string quickly and work in concert with the cam of the bow to dump as much energy as quickly as possible into the arrow. This increase in power allows you to use heavier arrows and be more assured of a double pass through.
Compound bows are more accurate because they’re made and tuned for hunting and target use all through design and construction. The engineered construction makes for a bow that is more consistent and can be equipped with better sights and aiming systems for the bow. Be it a pendulum, multi pin or movable sight, the compound bow is a better base for sights and optics on a vertical bow.
The D shaped design of modern compound bows makes for less vibrations, and much less hand shock delivered to your arm while shooting because the D shape sends the vibrations upwards and downwards to be absorbed by the limbs. Compound bows are also more readily equipped with vibration dampening devices to keep the shakes down.
Compound bows are quieter because they’re designed to deal with vibrations and are easily equipped with dampening material to make your bow quieter and more deadly. String jump, especially on pressured hunting grounds can be a huge problem and wound deer that would otherwise be burger meat. Compound bows are the best in this area.
Drawbacks to Compound Bows
Compound bows are impressive pieces of hunting technology and very lethal weapons. They are not however, without their flaws. The problems with compound bows stem from their very design and are hard to get around:
Compound bows are simply more expensive than other types of bows. They start at $300 for a decent one and the sky is the limit in cost.
Compound bows have many more moving parts and many different things can go wrong with them. The answer is to buy a quality bow and keep on top of routine maintenance.
Best Compound Bow Brands
The Archery market is very much crowded with manufacturers all vying for their sect of the market share. The similarities of these brands far outweigh the differences but each manufacturer has their own niche and reputation they’re known for:
Bear Archery is a longtime company that make high value bows. They are carried by most big box outdoor retailers and are very easy to find offline. Their best attributes are their low priced packages and beginner kits to get started in hunting. They make high quality bows and use Trophy Ridge and other high quality accessories on their bow packages.
Matthews bows are some the highest quality and most expensive bows on the market. They’re sometimes hard to find online because they focus on setting up bows in person and some pro shops carry exclusively Matthews bows. They have specialty bows with no cams, mini-ultralight bows and bows that are stronger than any other on the planet. They are very much an expert’s bow company.
Hoyt bows are a middle of the road manufacturer that make excellent hunting weapons. They make a number of crossbows as well and focus on great all around compound bows for hard use. You can count on a Hoyt bow.
PSE is an excellent company that is known for brining excellent bows, with new high grade technology to the market at low prices. They’re products are upper middle to high end but they can compete in price with many cheaper bows on the market. They make some of the best youth bows because they’re cheaper than many other brands without sacrificing quality. This is one of the highest recommended bow brands by die hard whitetail hunters.
The bottom line is that the market is currently flooded with good products and great brands. The best advice for brands is to stick to a major manufacturer and it’s very hard to go wrong.
Price Ranges & Expectations
There’s no getting around it, compound bows are expensive. While you can find a cheap one, you’ll certainly be missing out on a lot of performance. What you need to do is focus on compound bow packages that offer up value at a low cost.
This is the realm of bow that are of dubious quality, and youth bows. If you’re a smaller statured person there’s no shame in using a youth designed bow and arrow. They are lighter and often much, much cheaper than bows geared towards adults. The only difference is largely the size.
If you’re a normal sized male, save up the money to buy a bow from a higher price bracket. Firstly, you will get better quality and a bow that lasts much longer. Also, you’ll most likely come out ahead anyway because bows in the sub $300 category are often lacking accessories. Many bows slightly more expensive come ready to hunt and will save you some cash.
This is the “bread and butter” price range of the industry. These bows are very well thought out and well packaged with accessories. These are the best compound bows for beginners because they tend to be very general bows that have standard, quality sets of features.
You’ll want a bow from this price range and the good news is, you can often find these bows for cheaper than $300 if you buy out of season while they’re on sale or you buy a model year older. Just like cars, bows lose value quickly and you can cash in on this.
$500 & Up
This is the expert’s category. If you’re a beginner then I’d advise you to not purchase bows this expensive because they’re generally more specialized and will require odd methods for maintenance, accessories and shooting style. While very high quality bows do exist, as a beginner bow hunter your money will be better spent on other gear and accessories. Unless you have an unlimited budget, then by all means, go wild!
Compound Bow Reviews
Below you will find reviews of our 5 favourite compound bows and you'll see why.
Best Beginner Compound Bow
One of the best things you can do to get a kick start into archery is to get a good set up cheaply and get on your way. This is the wheelhouse of Bear Archery. They’re known for excellent packages and ready to hunt “kits” that allow you to get out arrows and head out to practice.
The Bear Encounter is my favorite bow by far, because it's worth every penny the package costs and everything else is icing on the cake. The bow is a D shaped design and tops out at 60lbs draw weight with 80% let off.
This is a great bow for general hunting that’ll last. It could easily go up against others double in price and come out on top because they focused on the areas of a compound bow that is needed, and left everything else out of the equation.
You can buy just the bow, or in a package. The package comes with a sight, quiver, installed peep, D-loop, and stabilizer. The included accessories are all Trophy Ridge and good quality. It doesn’t come with any dampening material, but the design of the bow makes it very quiet. That is one of the reason we love this bow so much; it's super quiet and has very little vibration.
The quality of this bow is everything you need and nothing you don’t. The critical parts of the bow, the cam pulley, and bow string are squared away and good to go. The downside is the tradeoff you make in the way of finishing. While the cam is immaculate, the camouflage finish leaves a little to be desired.
Get the Bear Archery Encounter if you want a high quality, no frills compound bow or want a backup for traveling.
Best Compound Bow Under $400
Diamond Archery is a smaller company that makes packages and high quality bows. Not very well known they make medium quality bows for very little money. They also make some very nice specialty bows, such as bows made for taller shooters that need more draw length.
This is a dual cam bow that makes for very fast and smooth shooting. The back wall is very comfortable and solid but has an aggressive cam. When the let off kicks in you can feel it. It features an extended draw length making it one of the best bows for tall archers or someone with long arms. This bow is a tad on the heavy end and these two facts make this a bad bow for women or youth hunters.
The accessories that come with this bow are made specifically for Diamond Archery and are of decent quality and certainly usable. They won’t compete with the very high quality offerings but will work if this is your first bow, you’ll be impressed and be served well. All in all you get a sight, a quiver, a sling, and a 5-inch stabilizer.
This is an excellent bow that comes in all black, Mossy Oak Brush, and a pink camo. If you’re considering this bow for a woman or young lady make sure they’re strong enough, and tall enough to use it effectively. This bow is available in both left and right handed configurations and the entire bow is set up and ready to go when you get it out of the box.
Best Youth Compound Bow
When you go out and look for a youth bow you’ll quickly run into several problems that almost forces you to buy a bow specifically designed for youth hunters. This is the real of a company like Barnett that makes a few models for the little guys and they do it well.
The hardest part of selecting a bow is dialing in the correct level of quality and price because a youth hunter will likely outgrow their bow within just a year or two. Barnett has put together this package that includes everything a youth hunter would need to get some serious practice in before they head into the woods. This kit includes an arrow rest, a sight, and three arrows with field points.
The bottom line on this bow is that it’s a great “first bow” but probably won’t be the weapon of choice while hunting. It does top out a 45lbs of draw weight with 80% let off, making it an excellent practice bow. It lacks features that make it a decent hunting bow, including high quality accessories and quality components that allow for reliable operation.
Best Compound Bow for the Money
This is an excellent choice either as a standalone bow that you deck out with your own accessories or if you buy the kit with the included accessories. It feels very much like an updated Bear Encounter bow and the features that were lacking in the Encounter were updated here.
The greatest strength of the Bear Archery attitude is the price. You get a supremely useful bow set up for under $400 decked out with useful accessories. This is an ideal set up for a first bow, a backup bow or to give to someone as a gift. Just because it’s so basic, but well done you could hunt literally anywhere with it.
The accessories that come with the bow are all from Trophy Ridge and include a multi pin sight, a 5-inch stabilizer, a sling and a whisker biscuit arrow rest. They’re all very nice for the price but the sight leaves a little to be desired, because the fiber optic pins are a tad large. The other major downside is the cheap plastic peep that comes installed above the D loop. It works well, just leaves something to be desired and seems to be cheap.
The stats of the bow are standard with a 305fps speed, topping out at a 70lbs draw and 80% let off. It's really just a standard compound bow that's sold at a great price with excellent bang for your buck.
Best Compound Bow for Women
Quest is a smaller company that makes excellent bows and few extremely nice bows for women. Women’s bows tend to be an in-between size of youth and adult bows because women tend to be shorter, weaker and have smaller hands. Therefore, the bows have smaller grips, shorter overall length and a lighter mass with lighter draws and more let off, as a general rule.
The other benefit is that most also come in pink cam, if you’re so inclined.
This bow from Quest is a classic women’s bow with a huge draw length adjustment from 17-30”, draw weight from 15-70lbs, and a mass weight of just a tad over 3lbs without accessories. Those accessories include a sight, a quiver, an arrow rest, an installed peep and a sling.
This is an excellent bow for a woman, small statured man, or young lady who wants a full-sized bow. The entire bow is well done and is very inexpensive compared to other brands and bows on the market. A definite buy for someone looking for a women’s compound bow.
Youth vs Adult Compound Bows
Youth bows come in all shapes and sizes but a few key aspects need to ring through namely size, and adjustability. You might be tempted to get the shortest, and lightest bow you can get your hands on but this is a bad idea. An extremely short and light bow is hard to keep on target and the reasonable addition of both is important.
The hallmark of a good youth bow is adjustability and light weight. Both in draw weight and in overall mass. A youth hunter is going to have trouble holding their bow up for long periods of time if it is too heavy for them. This can make practice difficult and not enjoyable. If your little hunter doesn’t like practicing, the chances that’ll hurt their game in the field goes up exponentially. If you run into this problem, consider taking off an arrow quiver or other accessories and focus on short, realistic practice until they get stronger.
Adjustability can be huge because kids grow so fast their draw length could change several inches in just one or two seasons. Look for a bow that fits them in size and weight that’ll be able to grow with them until they’re ready for an adult bow.
Here are some more tips to help you make the right choice when buying a compound bow.
1. Don’t Rush the Process
When you go to buy your new compound, make sure to give time to try out enough bows, save up enough money and go through all the steps to getting the right one. Your weapon is one of your most personal items, and one of the most expensive things you’ll purchase for hunting. Take your time, do it right.
2. Get the Measurements Right
Bows are sized for the individual shooting it. If you’re small statured, you might do better with a youth or ultralight sized bow. Remember, there’s absolutely no shame in using the best tool for the job.
When you get sized for your bow, you’ll also want to get your draw length measured. Sure, you can divide your arm span by 1.5 but you’re better off having a professional measure you in a shooting position with the anchor point you’re going to use in the field. Most bows these days can be adjusted for draw length without having to chuck it up into a bow press, so you could do it, or just pay them to do it when you get your bow setup.
3. Buy Out of Season
Most archery companies come out with updates every few years and some even yearly. Look for late model bows the same you would late model cars. I’d advise against buying used, because you can’t verify if it’s been dry fired or not, but a bow that's at the archery shop will usually be in terrific shape and be marked down if the newer model is sitting next to it.
4. Kids Camouflage
New colored camouflage colors like blue, pink, lime green and yellow come out every year. If you or anyone in your family are into it, go for it. Odds are, the camo won’t make that big a difference in a treestand or ground blind where 99% of bow hunting takes place.
5. Overall Length
The length matters, as does width. Longer bows, with longer stabilizers spread out the center of gravity of the bow to force the muscles in your hand to hold it balanced and upright. The longer the bow is and the more the weight is spread out, the less leverage you have to tip it one way or the other. Shoot the longest bow with the longest stabilizer that you’re willing to carry into the field and you’ll be more accurate.
6. Try Before You Buy
If you can, shoot the bow before you buy it. This will eliminate any fears or doubt you have when you go to buy. Even if you can find an archery range 45 minutes away that offers a bow that is from the same manufacturer, go shoot it. The afternoon and small fees are worth not making a several hundred-dollar mistake. Also, shoot your friends' bows. This is a great way to look at a lot of different manufacturers without spending a ton of time or money.
7. Look for a Skinny Grip
Make sure to buy a compound with a skinny grip. Unlike a hammer or a rifle stock you don’t want a molded in, comfortable grip on the bow’s riser. You want something loose that doesn’t have much real estate. The reason being is, the smaller the footprint of the grip in your hand, the less of a chance you have to torque the bow one way or the other and miss the shot.
8. Ditch the Foam
The foam that comes with most (if not all) factory quivers dulls broadheads like nothing else on planet earth. Carve out the foam or upgrade the quiver before heading into the field. If you’re worried about the arrows rattling around and making noise, buy the correct size clamps that go with the arrow and you won’t have any problems.
9. Get it Setup
If your kit comes unassembled and you’re a beginner, have the bow professionally set up. Especially the sight and arrow rest. It’ll just make learning to shoot much, much easier and headache free.
10. Inspect the String
Bows can sometimes sit for up to a year before being sold and they rarely get a string waxing during this time. Before you buy and especially before you head out for a serious practice session, make sure the bowstring is in good shape and is well waxed.
Related: Best Compound Bow Tuning Tools
11. Check the Warranty
Almost any compound bow worth buying is going to have a manufacturers warranty. If a company refuses to stand by their product, don’t buy from them. Pretty much every major bow manufacturer makes a great product so if you do run into trouble, most archery pro shops that sold you the bow will help you send it back to the manufacturers or get it fixed. As a last resort, use the store’s return policy.
12. Find the Best Compound Bow Packages & Stay Legal
Most compound bows are sold in packages that include several other accessories needed to shoot them. Among these are sights, vibration dampening equipment, and sometimes arrows and practice points. It depends on that manufacturer and the model of the bow and these kits can vary wildly from model to model, and year to year.
Make sure you know exactly what you’re getting before you invest in a pre-set-up bow. Make sure all the components are legal in your county and state. Some states forbid lights on bow sights, so it's a good idea to check that you’re compliant.
If you plan on upgrading a sight or rest, look at the cost of just buying a bare bow, and using your old or buying your own accessories. You’ll spend more money but if you had your heart set on a certain sight or a rest, it’s a simple trade off. Some components can be sold online to help recouped the cost of buying a second accessory but this is usually a crap shoot.
When you’re shopping for a compound bow there’s a dozen things to keep in mind. Your best bet is to visit local pro shops and purchase gear from a qualified person who knows how to size you up and deliver a good package for you to shoot and hunt with.
Technical details like draw length, peep sight adjustments, sight alignment and arrow rest set up require skills that are obtained by working at an archery shop. You could do the work yourself if you’re an experienced archer but a new shooter should learn on a bow they know 100% is set up properly.
The market is flooded with great compound bows that are offering more and more technology making the bows light, more powerful and easier to use. You should certainly be looking to upgrade an old-school compound bow with a modern high performance bow, or start your hunting hobby with a great weapon. New compound bows are simply deadlier than your grandad’s bow and the best compound bow is out there waiting for you.
Whatever you do, make sure you tune up, sharpen your skills with lots and lots of practice and head out into the woods to use your gear for what it was intended for!