The main drawback with traditional archery is the strength required to pull the bowstring. The solution is the compound bow. Its ingenious system dramatically reduces the muscle power needed, so you can concentrate on accuracy.
However, with twin or single pulleys, various materials, and numerous possible features, choosing the right compound bow isn't straightforward.
We've put together a quick and easy guide to look at the key points, and we've made a few recommendations. Our favorite, the Diamond Archery Infinite Edge Pro, offers power, flexibility and, for the money, one of the best feature sets on the market.
Considerations when choosing compound bows
Compound or recurve?
When man wanted a weapon he could throw further than an axe, he (or she) invented the recurve bow. It's been with us for many millennia. Although still popular for their simplicity, you need to be strong to use one effectively. All that changed in the late 1960s with the introduction of the compound bow. The mechanism makes the pull much easier — and on better bows, it can be adjusted. Young archers can learn without the muscle fatigue that will ruin their accuracy, and stronger users can take full advantage of the range available.
The drawback with the compound bow is its relative complexity. However, though there are many parts to break, components can be replaced fairly easily. As long as the bow riser (the central portion) and limbs (those extended curves) are intact, bows can almost always be repaired. They can also be accessorized with better sights, arrow rests, stabilizers, and other components.
Single cam or double cam
A compound bow is either single or dual cam, which has a lot of impact on the energy the bow creates and how smoothly it operates.
In general, single-cam bows are easier to draw, while double-cam models deliver more speed and distance.
You might expect the latter to be preferred by hunters. However, the single cam is quieter and requires less tuning. That said, the double-cam bow usually offers more adjustment, so you can get a better personal fit.
Unfortunately, there's no easy answer. It's a good idea to try both — perhaps at a local archery club — if you have the chance.
Draw weight is the amount of force you need to pull the bowstring back — though because of the compound effect, you're only actually pulling a fraction of that (called the "let off"). On good bows, weight is adjustable — some more than others.
Draw length is the distance the bowstring travels from rest to fully extended. If you have particularly short or long arms, this can be very important. However, many entry-level compound bows are designed to take this out of the equation. Your draw length is the distance from fingertip to fingertip with your arms out, then divided by two and a half. Draw length also determines the length arrow you need.
Much is made of arrow speed because the numbers are impressive, but unless you're an experienced archer, it has little real-world impact.
One problem with compound bows can be vibration — and that's going to affect accuracy. The better the bow, the less this will be a factor, but if it's a problem you can usually add a stabilizer.
Another consideration is that your compound bow may or may not come with a sight — but a sight can always be fitted later. Some arrow rests come included with compound bows are not ideal, but replacing this part is easy. It's common for archers to customize their bows over time.
There are some very cheap compound bows around, though we recommend starting at $80 for decent quality. Good adjustable bows cost anywhere from $200 to $400, but it's quite possible to spend $800 or more for high-end compound bows.
Q. Will my compound bow arrive ready to shoot?
A. Most are ready right out of the box, though you may need to fit a sight (if supplied). To get the best from your bow, it will probably need a little tuning. Instructions should be provided. Tuning is not difficult, and it's a good way to get comfortable with your bow.
Q. Can I use any kind of arrow in a compound bow?
A. You do have a lot of flexibility, but some arrows, typically traditional wooden ones, are really only suitable for recurve bows, not compound bows. The most important thing is getting the right arrow for your bow weight. Charts are available online. Experts actually recommend starting cheap and trying a few different arrows until you find a favorite.
Compound bows we recommend
Best of the best: Diamond Archery's Infinite Edge Pro Compound Bow
Our take: Feature-packed high-performance bow for the archery enthusiast.
What we like: Tremendous quality and flexibility make this a great bow for recreational or hunting use. Strong, smooth and fast. Exceptional variation in draw length and weight. Stabilizer included.
What we dislike: Cheap sight. Occasional component failure.
Best bang for your buck: Siege's SAS Compound Bow
Our take: A powerful and very affordable bow for beginners or those switching from recurve.
What we like: Very smooth twin-cam pull. Adjustable for high accuracy and consistency. Can be used for small to medium game hunting (with appropriate arrows). Bargain price without sacrificing quality.
What we dislike: Variable bowstring durability. High draw weight. Right-handed only.
Choice 3: Genesis Bows' Original Compound Bow
Our take: Widely recognized as one of the best compound bows for kids and beginners.
What we like: Excellent introduction to archery. The low draw weight is suitable for all physical abilities. Variable draw length so young people won't outgrow it. Official bow for National Archery in Schools Program. Good value.
What we dislike: Very little. Colors may vary. Not for hunting.
Bob Beacham is a writer for BestReviews. BestReviews is a product review company with a singular mission: to help simplify your purchasing decisions and save you time and money. BestReviews never accepts free products from manufacturers and purchases every product it reviews with its own funds.
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