As the ATA show approaches and bow manufacturers are announcing their new bows for 2016, one factor is without a doubt the most advertised metric for why one bow is better than another: speed. We love speed in this country and we tend to think that if it is faster, it must be better. Well, before we go applying that logic to bows, let’s take a look at speed to see if it really is the game-changer some think it is.
The Speed Misunderstanding
Speed is an often-misunderstood metric that gets people into trouble.
Here is what I mean…
If I were looking at two different bows, one that had an IBO rating of 330fps and one that had an IBO of 340fps, I would be foolish to base my decision on the number alone. An IBO rating is meant to be a baseline metric to help differentiate between the speed potential of different bows on the market. However, some manufacturers are more realistic than others when advertising IBO ratings. The result? A bow with an IBO of 330fps might shoot a 400-grain hunting arrow at 290fps while a bow with an IBO of 340fps might shoot that same arrow at 280fps. This is an extreme example, but I would be lying if I told you I had never seen it happen… Just sayin.
Additionally, when you add things like peep sights, d-loops, and string dampeners to your bowstring, you slow your bow down. A hunting rig will have a very hard (if not impossible) time hitting IBO speeds with a hunting arrow because it is an apples-oranges comparison between an IBO set up and a hunting set up.
So let’s take a real-world look at arrow speed for a minute: Let’s pretend as though IBO rating are always dead-on accurate and there are no smoke and mirrors tactics. Now, for the sake of argument let’s say that Bow A shoots an IBO arrow at 330fps while shooting a 400g hunting arrow at 282fps. Bow B shoots an IBO arrow at 360fps while shooting a 400g hunting arrow at 313fps. A real world difference of 30fps—Seems like a pretty drastic difference in speed, right?
Now let’s look at it from a different angle and see if it still seems like a big difference. Let’s take those same two bows with the same 400g hunting arrow. Bow A is shooting the hunting arrow at 282fps. This means that it will reach a 40-yard target in 0.42 seconds. Bow B shooting the same arrow at 313fps will yield a time on target of 0.38 seconds. That is a difference of 0.04 seconds. That is literally the exact amount of time it takes for your eyes to blink… It is that small of a difference. Bring that distance to 20 yards and the difference is half that. Take the distance out to 60 yards while taking into account the deceleration of the arrow between 40-60 yards and you have a difference of approximately 0.2 seconds. That is still not enough time to notice a significant difference in flight speed. Obviously, these numbers will differ one way or the other with a heavier or lighter arrow, but you get the point.
The Cost of Speed
Now that we have established the fact that speed is not the end all be all that some bow manufacturers would have you believe it is, let’s look at the cost of choosing speed over everything other factor. In order to make a bow faster, two things are usually done: shorter brace height and/or more aggressive cams. The shorter brace height means that you are drawing over a longer distance compared to a bow with a longer brace height. This equals a more difficult draw under strenuous, cold conditions. The second option, a more aggressive cam, yields two outcomes to varying degrees depending on cam design: (1) a harsh draw cycle; and (2) a jumpy cam at full-draw. Ultimately, this all boils down to a bow that is more difficult to draw and more difficult to hold at full draw.
What is sacrificed in the name of speed? Shootability. If I have a harder time drawing a bow or if the draw cycle is harsh enough that it disrupts my shooting process (i.e., harsh roll-over), I am not going to be as quick to get on target or as smooth in my release. The result: accuracy suffers and consistency is reduced. I’m not saying it is impossible to shoot a fast bow well, I am just saying it is harder to shoot a fast bow well.
Speed Has its Benefits
While speed may not be the most important thing in bowhunting, it does have its benefits. The two most significant are flatter arrow trajectory and increased arrow momentum.
An arrow that travels faster between two points will drop less between those two points – it is a fact of science. This doesn’t make too much of a difference inside of 40 yards, but is drastically more obvious beyond 40 yards. With modern sights however, this fact is not too significant as it becomes a matter of simply adjusting pins.
An arrow that is moving faster will carry more kinetic energy than an arrow of equal weight traveling slower. This means better penetration upon impact. However, any modern bow shooting a relatively heavy arrow will have good penetration. It is more about finding the best arrow/broadhead combo, not simply a matter of speed.
The Most Important Factor
Shootability is the most important factor in finding the right bow. By “Shootability” I mean a bow that fits you and is comfortable to shoot, thereby leading to consistent shooting. Speed is good, but not when it comes at the expense of comfortable, consistent shooting. I would rather shoot a “slow” bow that I can confidently shoot well than a fast bow that I can’t group beyond 20 yards. This is not just important for the comfort of the shooter; it is also important for the ethical taking of wildlife. If I can’t confidently put the arrow where it needs to go, then I can’t ethically take that animal because I risk missing the mark and wounding it rather than killing it. Do the right thing: choose a bow that fits well and that you can shoot well. I promise you that you will find that you shoot it better and become a better hunter. In the long run, you will be glad that you chose shootability over blazing speed.