Update: This article includes the Ion from PRIME, though the Rize was the actual flagship bow from PRIME for 2016. There is a full write up review of the PRIME Rize here
There are so many bow companies out there that it is nearly impossible to get a good look at all of them before making a choice as to which bow to purchase. For example, Field and Stream published their bow comparison and included 12 bow companies (with even more than that being left out of the test). To complicate matters even more, there are significantly more new bow manufacturers than ever before who have not been around long enough to have developed much of a reputation. Many seem to be more of a flash in the pot than a long-term powerhouse. When you need to start looking for a bow, the task can be daunting.
I recently found myself needing a new bow after mine was stolen following my Oklahoma deer hunt. I had been shooting an Xpedition Xcentric 7 and I really enjoyed it. I could easily have just bought another one, but I decided to use this as an opportunity to try out other bows to see what I liked and didn’t like. I am not sponsored by anyone so I can shoot whichever bow I please. I decided to head down to my favorite place in New Mexico, Hit or Miss Archery Center, to test out a few of the big name bows they carry.
What I love about going to a local dealer to try out the bows (rather than making a decision solely based on what I have read online) is that I am able to ask questions, get a feel for the bow, and draw my own conclusions. The people at Hit or Miss are some of the most knowledgeable people I have met when it comes to archery and they are all bowhunters. They have always given me the help and info I need.
What I Want in a Bow
Of utmost importance for me is that the bow fits me well. I want a bow that is comfortable to hold at full draw. If the grip is too thick or too narrow, it will not fit well; balance is also a key factor in fit and comfort. This is a completely subjective item that will differ from person to person; however, you should also be mindful of this in your own search. If you have your heart set on a specific bow, but it doesn’t fit well, you should not get that bow.
Along the same line as fit of the bow is a shorter axle-to-axle – I do not want a 36″ ATA bow. I know there is a place for it and I know that some guys like it, but a shorter ATA bow is going to be easier to carry and easier to store on my pack while hiking.
Another important issue is noise – more specifically, lack thereof. Elk are notorious for string jumping your arrow and a noisy bow doesn’t help this. While it is impossible to have a completely silent bow, my next bow will be as silent as possible.
A lower, but still noteworthy desire is that the bow have decent speed. I am not a speed freak by any means; however, I also understand the value of having as much speed as you need. For this reason, I want to have a bow that has reasonable speed while also being shootable. There are lots of ways to get speed out of a bow, but some of them lead to a harsh draw cycle while others lead to a bow being difficult to handle well. I want enough speed to be able to shoot a 475g arrow (for elk hunting) at a fast enough rate to be able to reasonable take shots out to 60 yards… And no, you do not need a 360fps bow to accomplish that.
While it might be impossible to get a bow that is the very best in all of the above-mentioned categories, I want to find a bow that excels in as many of these categories as possible.
Let me repeat myself for the sake of being very clear: I am not paid/sponsored by any manufacturer. This is a no smoke-and-mirrors, true search for my next bow. There is no brand loyalty here and no bias. Everything that you read is based on my experience and perception and is in no way influenced by anyone else.
Each bow that I tested was a 70# model that was turned down to about 63# as I am still recovering from a shoulder injury. They were set to a draw length of 28″ and shot through a Whisker Biscuit rest. This test is limited to the bows carried by Hit or Miss Archery Center (Sorry, Bowtech and Hoyt fans… No dice in this test).
Lastly, I purposely do not talk about specific speed numbers in this comparison. Take a moment and read this article about the misunderstanding of speed and you will see why. Any of the bows in this test are plenty fast to kill anything that moves; therefore, it is not necessary to quibble over a few fps from bow to bow.
31″ ATA – 7.25″ brace height – 85% let-off – 3.9lbs.
The first thing I noticed about the Prime Ion was the PCXL dual-track cam system. In theory this promotes accuracy and reduces torque by balancing the cams on both ends. For me, it just seems like more parts that can wear out. Also, a non-dual track cam does not necessarily equal an unbalanced cam; otherwise, other companies would have moved to a design like this sooner than now. The timing of such a design change is especially suspicious given that we are at a performance plateau in bow engineering so bow companies are looking for that “it factor” that will set them apart… Enter the PCXL cam. I could be wrong, but it is at least food for thought. Time will tell if this design truly is a game-changer or not.
Upon shooting this bow, I immediately noticed the ease of the draw cycle. Whereas many bows stack later in the draw cycle, the Ion was tough to draw initially, but the draw smoothed out noticeably throughout, easing into a solid back wall. It was a very pleasantly drawing bow. The long brace height definitely contributed to this.
What I did not like about this bow was how it balanced in my hand. This is a subjective measure, so it might not be an issue for you. It just did not sit comfortably in my hand and therefore I would not be able to confidently shoot it.
This bow is a great option for someone who needs an easy, smooth draw; however the fit in my hand was enough for me to cross this bow off my list.
32.25″ ATA – 6″ brace height – 80% let-off (adjustable) – 3.9lbs.
The Xcentric from Xpedition Archery is the shorter brace height brother of my old bow, the Xcentric 7. This bow utilizes the same riser while having a 6″ brace height. The cams appear more aggressive than some of the other bows (but not nearly as aggressive as say, the Hoyt Nitrum Turbo).
This bow balanced well in my hand and the grip felt natural. The draw cycle gradually stacks, but it is not too harsh. The roll-over is noticeable, but the limb-stops make for a rock solid back wall. At full-draw, I did notice that the cams were a bit jumpy. If I lost focus for a second, it was easy for the draw to let back down, which was pretty aggressive when it happened.
There is no doubt that this bow is fast and relatively quiet. There was more vibration in the Xcentric than in the other bows, but it didn’t bother me. This bow offers a good mix of everything I am looking for, which isn’t surprising since it is essentially the same bow that I previously owned before it was stolen.
Elite Impulse 31
31″ ATA – 6″ brace height – 4.2lbs.
The Elite Impulse 31 has been a much anticipated addition to the Elite line of products. Elite prides itself on carrying “the most shootable bows” and Elite has made a name for itself in that regard. I could not find anywhere on their site where they gave the exact let-off percentage, but after some research and some math it seems that it is +/- 85%.
The Impulse is well built and handles very well. It felt natural in my hand and the shorter ATA was very nice. There are not a lot of frills to this bow – it is straight forward and simple.
When it came to shooting the Impulse, the draw cycle was shocking, honestly, and not in a good way. It started out effortless, smoothly came back, and then it felt like it stacked 90% of the weight into the last inch of the draw. It was noticeably more difficult to get through that last portion of the draw as compared to the other bows, even the other bows with more aggressive cycles overall. I shot it a few times and confirmed that the draw cycle was too rough on the backend for me.
To the Impulse’s credit, it was very quiet and had zero vibration. It was also not jumpy at all. The Impulse balances very well in hand without a stabilizer as well. For what it’s worth, if it weren’t for the draw cycle on this bow, I very likely would have bought it.
As a side note, the Impulse also comes in a 34″ ATA model, which could have a different draw cycle so it is worth looking into if you are among the Elite faithful.
30″ ATA – 6″ brace height – 75-85% let-off – 4.55lbs.
The Mathews Halon (pronounced hay-lawn) is brand new for 2016 and comes from arguably the most respected and recognized company in the archery industry. It is the shortest bow in this comparison as well as the heaviest. The added weight is partly due to the riser-integrated dampener (top of riser) and harmonic stabilizer (bottom of riser). It is available in 5″, 6″, and 7″ options; I chose to shoot the 6″ model in order to compare it with the Xcentric and the Impulse.
This bow feels good in hand and is very well balanced due to the integrated harmonic stabilizer in the bottom of the riser; for those who take shots inside 40 yards, a traditional stabilizer might not even be necessary. With regard to the cams, the Crosscentric cams are dinner plates – they are huge! However, once you get past their size, you discover they are well-designed and very efficient.
Upon shooting this bow, it became clear that the larger than life Crosscentric cams are large on purpose; they drastically smoothed out the draw cycle. The overall cycle was definitely the smoothest from start to finish and the back wall was a brick. All draw weights were equal between bows, but the Halon did not feel like I was drawing as much weight as the others. While at full draw, the cams were not jumpy in the slightest; it actually took a considerable effort to get them to let down. Additionally, the Halon was by far the quietest of the test. There was also very little, if any, vibration. This bow is a legitimate contender with anything else on the market and was a pleasure to shoot.
Marketing and popular opinion can often lead a well-intentioned archer astray. If someone tells you there is only one brand that is worth shooting, walk away and don’t take that person’s advice. Additionally, marketing statements that suggest that your bow can somehow be responsible for a missed shot or can compensate for one’s poor form do nothing to educate and only confuse (I can assure you… The human being shooting the bow missed – it was not the inanimate object’s fault). In order to get an idea of what bow is best for you, you need to go shoot it.
This article is intended to give you an idea of what each bow was like so that you can have as much information as possible when it comes to choosing your own bow. But don’t take my word for it – Go to your local dealer and shoot these bows for yourself. Only then can you truly be sure that you are getting the right bow for you.