The Best Compound Bow: Our Top Picks for Hunting and Target Shooting
Welcome to the Complete Guide to Archery! In this post, we’ll discuss our picks for the best compound bow. We’ll review a range of bows that are excellent options for target archery and/or bow hunting, and we’ll describe how each bow is unique and why it’s a good fit for certain styles of shooting.
After that, we’ll provide a full introduction to compound bows. We’ll describe the features of a bow, the measurements you’ll need to know in order to get the right-sized bow for you, and the gear you can use to develop your skills. If you’re a beginner, it’ll reveal much of what you need to know about compounds (and if you’re an intermediate, it’s a great refresher!).
Because compound bows are designed for very specific uses, we've organized our reviews according to those usages: we'll look at compounds for beginner archers, compounds for target shooting, compounds for hunters and bow hunting, and compound bow kits for people who want all the gear they need to start shooting ASAP. At the beginning of each section, we'll describe what factors are important, and what you should look for.
We'll start with...
Compounds for New Archers and Beginners / Novices
If you're looking for your first compound bow, perhaps the most important feature is an adjustable draw weight. Draw weight is the amount of pressure you feel when pulling the draw string back, and a low draw weight will be easy to pull back, but will shoot slower, weaker arrows, whereas a high draw weight will be difficult to pull back, and shoot faster, more powerful arrows.
For a beginner, using a bow with an adjustable draw weight is a good strategy: it will allow you start at a lower draw weight and switch to a higher draw weight as you develop skill and strength. The following two bows feature an adjustable draw weight, along with a few other features that make them great starter compounds:
The Genesis Pro Bow
- Easy to set up;
- Customizable—you can add gear you like;
- Long axle-to-axle length designed to make the bow easy to aim
- Maximum draw weight is only 25 pounds
The Genesis Pro is, in our opinion, a fantastic bow for a new archer. It's got a low draw weight of 15 to 25 pounds, and that makes it a great pick for younger archers and folks who want to develop their strength. It's got a long axle-to-axle length of 35.5 inches, which makes the bow easier to hold steady and aim. Finally, it's got a solid back wall (meaning, you can only pull it so far back, and then the bow string stops), and that makes it simple to anchor—and a reliable anchor is the building block of accuracy.
Outside of all that, though, there's another reason it's a great option for new archers: it's kind of a blank slate when it comes to gear. It doesn't have a bow sight, a stabilizer, or anything else—which means you can select all of those tools, install them, and learn as you go. When we instruct new archers, that's what we do—give them a high-quality but relatively basic bow, and let them build it (we should note—if you like the Genesis but want one with gear, there's a Genesis Bow Kit we discuss below, that includes some more gear).
Of course, because it's a great bow for beginners, that means it's probably not a great bow for experts—and chances are, if you use this to develop your skills and really fall in love with archery, you may eventually want to buy a bow with a draw weight of more than 25 pounds (and 25 pounds is the maximum draw weight on this bow).
If you want to develop your knowledge about the sport, the Genesis Pro can be a great bow to do so.
The Raptor Compound Hunting Bow Kit
- Very wide draw weight range, so you can use the bow as you develop strength;
- REALLY impressive specs, including 315 FPS and 75% let-off and 3.6 pounds weight;
- A whisker biscuit arrow rest!
- Shorter axle-to-axle length
The Raptor Compound is that rare breed that's both a good option for new archers, but also very adaptable, and therefore a good option for target shooting AND hunting. It's got a number of features that are great for new archers, including a widely adjustable draw weight, that you can start as low as 30 pounds, and dial all the way up to 70 pounds; a very wide adjustable draw length of 24.5 inches to 31 inches (which makes it great for shorter folks, but also great for taller folks—and great for young adults who might go through a growth spurt, and have their draw lengths grow); and it comes dressed with a lot of the gear you'll need, including a 5-pin bow sight, a whisker biscuit arrow rest, a stabilizer, and a quiver. If you're a new archer, all that included gear takes a lot of guess-work out of acquiring your first bow.
But in addition to all that, it's also got some specs that make it a good option for hunting: when shot at full strength, it features a feet-per-second (FPS) measurement of 315, which is very impressive for a bow of this caliber. Its total weight of 3.6 pounds is also a benefit—you can take your time aiming, and it won't tire out your arm like heavier bows will. Finally, with a let-off of 75%, your draw weight at full draw will be 1/4 of the actual draw weight—meaning, you'll have to expend less energy when aiming at full draw. All that adds up to a versatile bow that you can bring to the range, or to the woods.
The only concern is that the shorter axle-to-axle length of 30 inches may make this a little more difficult to aim, but that's actually a good thing if you'll be hunting—it makes for faster arrows (and the shorter axle-to-axle length is why it can shoot 315 FPS).
If you're a new archer who wants a bow with a lot of gear that can be used for both target shooting and hunting, the Raptor Compound can be a good bet.
Compounds for Target Shooting and General Recreation
If you've ever seen a compound bow tournament, you may have noticed that the archers are all using really long bows. There's a reason for that—-one of the most important factors in a target compound bow is the axle-to-axle measurement (that is, the length from the cam on the top limb to the cam on the bottom limb). A longer axle-to-axle length makes the bow easier to hold, and it makes it a little less wobbly when you're aiming—and that steadiness can lead to increased accuracy.
Plus, longer bows tend to have longer brace heights, and longer braces are believed to be more "forgiving" of any imperfections in your draw.
Generally speaking, a long axle-to-axle length is 35 or more inches. With those measurements in mind, we like the following bows for target shooting and general recreation:
The Siege SAS 29-Inch Compound Bow
- Great axle-to-axle length to enhance aim;
- Comes with bow sight, stabilizer, and other gear;
- Lightweight with great let-off
- For righties only
We'll start off with the best feature of the SAS Siege: it's very long axle-to-axle length. At 41.5 inches, it's one of the longest/tallest bows on our list, and that length can provide a lot of balance to the bow when you're shooting at targets. It comes with a stabilizer to further enhance your aim, and that's a great addition (although you may want to eventually get a longer one, as it's a bit on the short side).
It also comes with a lot of great gear—the five-pin bow sight is great for distances both near and far, and you can develop your ability as you shoot at closer-range targets and then graduate to more difficult shots—and it's got some pretty decent specs: the let-off of 70% is very good for a target bow of this size, and the low net weight of 4 pounds will make it easier to use shot-after-shot than some of the heavier bows you'll find. The draw weight is adjustable between 40 and 55 pounds—perfect for target shooting, although it might be a little much for beginners (and if you're a beginner looking for a target bow, jump up our "For New Archers" section above).
This is not a hunting bow—with its somewhat-slow 206 FPS measurement and long axle-to-axle length, it's not a great bow drag into the woods—but it's a great option for round-target and 3D shooting.
The Southland Archery Supply SAS Rage Compound Bow
- Good axle-to-axle length can augment accuracy;
- Long stabilizer enhances aiming capability;
- Great for target archery but can be used for hunting
- High draw weight might not be a great option for beginners
Southland Archery Supply makes a lot of great products, and their SAS Rage may be one of their most popular models. If you've been in the archery world for a while, chances are you've seen one at the range or at an archery shop.
And there's a reason it's so well-known: it's got a very decent axle-to-axle length of 35 inches, making it a little easier to aim than shorter compound bows, and it comes very nicely dressed, with a generously-sized stabilizer, a 5-pin bow sight for shooting at closer targets (20 to 30 yards) and longer targets (40 and 50 yards), and a detachable quiver. That stabilizer is a little longer than you'll see come with many bows, and that's a really nice touch: as a general rule, the longer a stabilizer gets, the more balance and heft it adds to the bow.
The Rage is something of a hybrid bow—it's long enough for target shooting, but it's also short enough for hunting, and it's got specs that make it worthy of bowhunting: a draw weight of 55 to 70 pounds will provide enough strength to hunt most game; the FPS is 270, which is fast enough to connect with game within 20 or 30 yards; and the let-off is 70%, which should allow you aim for great periods of time when you find game you want to hunt.
We think this is a great bow; it's a high-quality option great for target shooting that you can also take hunting, should you get the hunting bug.
The Best Compound Bows for Bow Hunters
Ask any bow hunter, and they'll tell you: performance is pretty darn important, and there's a LOT you need to consider when you're looking for a good hunting bow. The most important factors include: a shorter axle-to-axle length, so that your arrows will fly with more speed and have a higher FPS measurement; a low overall weight, so you don't get tired carrying your bow through the woods—and aiming it when you find game; a draw weight strong enough to meet your state's draw weight requirements (usually more than 40 or 45 pounds, but you'll have to check on your state's website); and a decent let-off, so that your arms don't get tired when you're aiming.
The bows below all fit those requirements, and our first favorite is...
The Bear Archery Cruzer G2 Compound Bow
- Widely adjustable, so you can hunt different types of game;
- Comes with excellent gear;
- Manufactured in a variety of colors and patterns.
- 70% let-off is good but not great for a hunting bow
There are a lot of hunting bows that have a set draw weight and draw length, and if you're going to be hunting a single type of game—that's a great option. You can find the exact measurements for the exact bow you want, find a bow to match, and off you go. Many high-end bows are like that, and that's great.
However, Bear Archery—and a bunch of other manufacturers, as well—were smart to realize that a lot of hunters actually want bows with adjustable draw weights and adjustable draw lengths. When you have the option to change the strength of the bow, you can change the draw weight so you can hunt smaller or larger game, and when you have the option of adjusting the draw length, you can give the bow to a young hunter who may eventually go through a growth spurt (so you don't have to buy yet another bow for your young person).
And that's the big benefit of the Bear Archery Cruzer: it's highly adaptable. It's got an incredible draw weight range of 5 to 70 pounds, so if you want to hunt small game like rabbits and squirrel and grouse, you dial it the draw weight way down, and if you want to go after larger game like deer or hog, you dial the draw weight up towards 70 pounds. That variability is a huge boon, and when you consider that the Bear is a bow you can use as you gain strength, that's a double benefit (the Bear Archery marketing teams has described the Cruzer as "adjustable from child to legend," and that's pretty clever).
That adaptability is fantastic, but it's also got some truly solid hunting specs: a 315 FPS measurement can provide enough speed so that your arrows reach your game quickly; the let-off of 70% isn't amazing, but it's very good; and the overall weight is a very low 3 pounds, which is on the very, very low side. With some great gear included—a four-pin sight (very good—many bows in this range come with a 3-pin), a whisker biscuit, a quiver that holds five arrows, a stabilizer, and a peep sight—it's a great set-up for a hunt.
This is the kind of bow that just *was not available* 20 years ago, and we're glad it's around now. It's adjustable, easy to use, and when tuned and operated properly, incredibly capable.
The Diamond Infinite Edge
- Highly adaptable, and can be used on different types of game;
- Wide range of draw weights and a long draw length up to 31 inches
- A *fantastic* let-off of 80%
- Features 3-pin bow sight instead of a 5-pin bow sight
The Diamond Infinite Edge is another bow that has incredible versatility: it's got an incredible draw weight range, from 5 pounds to 70, so you can adjust it for any size game you want to hunt, and it's got an adjustable draw length that actually goes all the way to 31 inches, which is a really great feature—if you're a taller archer, a draw length like that can be hard to find. It's another bow that you can adjust to meet your needs—both in terms of your personal measurements, and the game you'll be hunting.
The hunting specs on the Infinite Edge are formidable: at 310 FPS, it's on the faster side of bows in this range; at 3.2 pounds, it's on the lighter side, and that can relieve you of some burden when you're still hunting or stalking; and it's got a truly fantastic let-off of 80%. If you're at full draw weight of 70 pounds, an 80% let-off would feel like you're pulling only 14 pounds, and that may be the best feature of the Infinite Edge: if you've ever found game, got it within shooting range, and then waited, and waited, and waited to get a clear shot—and felt your arms tire out considerably, messing with your aim (and your confidence), you know the value of a good let-off. 80% is excellent for a bow of this caliber.
The only misstep is the 3-pin bow sight. That's a bit limiting, and if you're going to be hunting game at distances greater than 30 or 40 yards, you may want to consider upgrading to a 5-pin bow sight.
This may be one of our favorite bows overall. It's a high-end bow, sleek and small enough for still hunting, spotting and stalking, and ambush hunting, and when adjustable properly, it's powerful enough to hunt game big and small. We're big fans.
The Bear Archery BR33 Hybrid Cam Compound
- Blistering fast 330 FPS;
- Forgiving brace height of 7 inches;
- Axle-to-axle length of 33.25 inches;
- Total weight of 4.2 pounds is good but not great;
- Not manufactured for lefties at the time of this post
Remember how we mentioned earlier that high-end hunting bows tend to be less adaptable than other bows? Well, here's a great example: The Bear Archery BR33 Hybrid Compound. It's not as adjustable as some other hunting bows, but if it's the right fit, it can be an incredibly powerful tool.
We're start with the draw weight: the BR33 is designed specifically for larger game, and it's got a draw weight that you can adjust from 55 to 70 pounds. That makes it not a great fit for beginners—novice archers may need to start at a lower draw weight and work their way up—but it's a great fit for a veteran archer with the strength to draw the bow. It's also a draw weight that's high enough for you to use mechanical broadheads, which are increasingly popular among bow hunters. The draw weight is also more specific, but at 27 inches to 32 inches, it's a good match for average height males to taller males.
So what about the specs? Well, that's where the BR33 really shows off: it's got a blistering FPS measurement of 330 FPS, and while there are faster bows on the market, that's among the "best in class." Surprisingly, the brace height isn't incredibly short—it's 7 inches—and that can provide a little extra "forgiveness" in your shot, if there are some imperfections in your draw. We're not quite sure how they got that brace height to 7 inches—usually, bows with an incredibly high FPS require shorter brace heights, and are therefore less forgiving, so that brace height is actually a really unique feature.
The total weight is good but not great—4.2 pounds is definitely lower than many bows, but not exceptional—but the 80% let-off can counter some of the total weight, so that even full draw weight, you'll feel as though you're pulling 14 pounds instead of 70 (70 pounds x 0.2 = 14 pounds). A high let-off percentage can be incredibly helpful if you've found game and drawn, but need to wait until you have a clear shot.
Finally, the included gear—Trophy Ridge bow sight, stabilizer, peep sight, and stabilizer—is highly functional, and hunt-ready (you'll just have to adjust the bow sight so that it's accurate, of course).
We think the Bear Archer BR33 is a great compound bow for larger game, and with its 330 FPS measurement, it can shoot some seriously fast arrows.
Bow Packages That Include a Lot of Gear
Getting started in archery can be very difficult. There's a ton of equipment you need, and it can be a challenge to figure out all the gear you need.
That's why archery kits can be so helpful: they can save you time and effort, and provide you with the tools you need to get started. Some kits have just the essentials, while others include the whole kit and caboodle (or a lot of the kit and caboodle, anyway).
The items we've reviewed below combine a lot of the elements you'll need to get started.
The Genesis Original Bow Kit
- Easy-to-use bow requires little tuning;
- Good for archers of all ages, all sizes, and levels of ability;
- Includes arrows, and arrows can be difficult to choose
- Doesn't include absolutely everything you'll need
We reviewed the Genesis Pro above; this is the Genesis Original, and it's a fantastic package kit, and a great kit for new archers and younger folks. In fact, the Genesis Original is the bow that NASP, the National Archery in the Schools Program, has selected as their go-to bow.
It makes sense that NASP chose this bow as their go-to: it's got a long axle-to-axle length, meaning it's easier to aim than regular-sized bows; it's got a low draw weight, which makes it easy to pull the bow string back; and it's a sleek, easy-to-use design that makes it simple to operate.
And, as far as kits go, the Genesis Pro Kit has that one element that so many new archers have trouble with: arrows. It can be really difficult to choose the correct arrows for your bow, and it's something that we've noticed a lot of new archers struggle with. After all, selecting the appropriate arrow is difficult when you're starting out (and we've written a "Complete Guide to Arrows" post to de-mystified the process). It comes with a quiver, too, and that's a nice touch—that's one of those tools you can easily overlook.
Plus—and this matters a little less the deeper you go with archery, but it's still a nice feature (and a smart marketing move)—the bow is manufactured in a wide range of colors and patterns, from black to blue/pink/bright colors to all sorts of camouflage patterns.
We think the Genesis Original Bow Kit is a great package kit that includes just enough to get you started... but not enough to get confused!
The Leader Accessories Compound Bow
- Includes a LOT of gear;
- The gear included is sturdy and solid;
- Takes all the guesswork out of getting started in archery
- Bow sight only has two pins;
- Only for righties
We'll be honest: the Leader Accessories Compound Bow is the kit that we *wish* we had when we first started in archery.
We may have mentioned this above, but archery is an intensely gear-heavy pastime, and there are a couple of reasons why starting a gear-heavy pastime is difficult: not only does it take a long time to gather all gear you need, but it takes a long time to *figure out* what gear you need!
And THEN, when you do figure out what you need, you need to make it sure it's the right size, that it will fit your bow, and that you know how to attach it to your bow. It can be kind of overwhelming, if you're just figuring things out.
And that's why we love this set so much. It's got a tremendous amount of gear, from the bow itself, to 12 arrows, to the stabilizer and arrow rest, to the bow sight, to the bow release (a VERY nice inclusion that most kits overlook), to the soft case for storage, to the quiver, to the numerous other pieces involved. The bow sight only has two pins, and that's a bit disappointing, but other than that, we're really impressed with the range of gear included, and we kind of wonder why there aren't other kits like this on the market.
The only thing it doesn't really come with is a support for the target face, which you'll need because you can't just shoot at paper targets, and broadheads if you want to go hunting, and... maybe a few other things. But it has almost everything else, and this is the only set that we currently know of that includes so much.
Perhaps what is most surprisingly, though, is that the gear is durable and high-quality. Many package deals include pieces that aren't that great, but the bow included has some great specs: it's got an adjustable draw length of 25 to 31 inches, an FPS of 310 (surprising), 80% let-off (also surprising), and an axle-to-axle length of 31.5 inches (pretty good). The draw weight is a little on the high side at 50 to 70 pounds, and we'd expect that to be a little bit lower, but 50 pounds is do-able for most archers.
If you're planning on target shooting, we think it's a great option. If you're thinking about bow hunting, we think it's a great option. In fact, this is the best compound bow kit we've seen.
If you want a quality bow and don't want to go searching around for much of the gear you'll need, we don't know of a better option than the Leader Accessories Compound Bow Kit.
How to Select the Right Compound Bow for Your Needs
The rest of this post will be a clinic on compound bows, and by the time you reach the end, you’ll have a clear idea of their features, the measurements you’ll need to select a bow that fits you, and the gear you may want to use to develop your skills. It’s a helpful tutorial for new archers, but it’s a great review for advanced beginners and intermediates, too. Let’s start at the beginning:
Features of a Compound: The Basics
Here's our guide to the features you'll see on a compound bow. These are the characteristics bow manufacturers will use to describe their bows, so we'll go over each feature in detail, and describe why it’s important (or not).
The first feature is an important one:
Axle-to-Axle Length: The defining feature of a compound bow is its pulley system—the cams (wheels) at the top and bottom of the limbs, that hold the bow string and give the bow such incredible power. The axle-to-axle length is the distance from the center of the top cam to the center of the bottom cam.
Here's why axle-to-axle length is an important consideration: longer compound bows—that is, compound bows with a longer axle-to-axle length—are usually a little bit easier to aim, and a little more accurate. If you’re planning on any type of target archery, a longer bow usually makes sense, and target compounds are usually 34 inches or more.
Shorter compound bows, on the other hand, are great for bowhunting. They’re shorter axle-to-axle length makes them easy to maneuver through thick forests and brush, and they typically shoot arrows faster and with more force—two very important things to bow hunters. They’re not as accurate as longer target bows, but bow hunters don’t need the same pin-point accuracy that target shooters need—bow hunters are usually aiming at the vital organs on deer or elk or boar, and that area is usually bigger than the bullseye that a target archer would be aiming for. For bow hunters, the features of a shorter bow—arrow speed and force—are worthwhile trade-offs. Hunting bows tend to have an axle-to-axle length of 28 to 31 inches.
Brace Height. If axle-to-axle is the height of your bow, the brace height is the width: it’s the distance from the back of the grip to the bow string (when the bow string is not drawn).
That may seem like an arbitrary measurement, but brace height is actually an important feature of a bow. Bows with a shorter brace height tend to shoot arrows at a great velocity, whereas bows with a longer brace height tend to shoot slower arrows, but with more accuracy.
Again, it’s one of those trade-offs that every archer must make—faster arrows, or more accuracy? Usually, target archers—those who need pin-point accuracy, but not arrow speed—will opt for a bow with a greater brace height, whereas bow hunters—who need arrow speed, but not as much pin-point accuracy—usually look for smaller brace heights.
In terms of actual numbers, a six-inch to seven-inch brace height is usually good for hunters; target shooters using compounds usually look for brace heights of seven inches or more.
Feet Per Second. Feet per second—usually shortened to FPS—is a measurement of how fast your arrows will fly. This is somewhat important to target archers (after all, they’d rather shoot a slow arrow accurately, than have it speed through the air but with less accuracy), but FPS is very important to bow hunters, who want their arrows to reach their game before it can run away. A good FPS is about 270; over 300 FPS is very good; and 310 FPS or more is excellent.
Keep in mind, if you’re a bow hunter, your average shot distance is a factor when looking at your FPS needs. If you hunt game in close quarters—say, 20 yards or less—you may be able to get away with a lower FPS, but if you’re shoot at game from greater distances—say, 30 yards or more—you’re going to want something with a higher FPS.
Let-Off Percentage. Another unique feature of compound bows is that when you’re at full draw—when you’ve pulled the bow string back and you’re just about ready to shoot—the draw weight of the bow plummets. That decrease is referred to as “let-off,” and it’s measured as a percentage. So, if you’re using a 50-pound bow and it has a let-off of 80%, at full draw, it would feel as though you’re only pulling back 10 pounds of draw weight (80% of 50 pounds = 40 pounds à 50 pounds minus 40 pounds = 10 pounds).
Let-off is important to target shooters, because it allows them time to aim, but it’s vitally important to bow hunters, who may find an animal in their wilderness, draw their bows, and then have to wait seconds or even minutes in order to wait for a clear shot.
Let-off varies great from bow to bow; 65% let-off is decent; 70% if very good (and it seems many bows have 70% let-off); 80% or more is excellent.
Cam Design. As we mentioned above, the cams are the wheels at the ends of both limbs. Those cams are manufactured in different shapes, usually ranging from perfectly round to ovoid (aka elliptical, aka egg-shaped). Those shapes determine the “feel” of the draw cycle and how fast the bow shoots arrows, and they’re what enable your bow to have a let-off when you’re at full draw.
There are four main configurations, and we’ll describe them now, but please note—if you find cams confusing, that’s totally fine, and you can skip to the next feature. There is a lot of complex physics behind cams, and many of the modern compound bows you’ll feature a hybrid or dual cam, so if you’re a beginner or intermediate, you don’t need to think about it too much.
Single Cam: a perfectly round “idler” wheel on the top limb, and an elliptical / egg-shaped “power cam” on the bottom limb—easy to draw, easy to tune, but not very powerful, and common on beginner bows;
Hybrid Cams: two egg-shaped, asymmetrical cams, with a control on the top limb and a “power cam” on the bottom limb—easy to draw, somewhat easy to tune, and very powerful, these are very common on today’s compound bows, and particularly hunting bows;
Twin / Dual Cams: two cams, either round or elliptical, that match each other perfectly—twin cams are very fast, very accurate, but very difficult to tune and require frequent maintenance, and you’ll see them on super high-end bows; and finally
Binary Cams: just like twin cams, but both of the cams are connected to each instead of to each of the bow’s limbs—incredibly fast, incredibly accurate, incredibly hard to tune and maintain, these are very rare (and none of the bows we review have binary cams).
When people use the term “soft cams,” they usually mean cams that are very easy to draw, and when people say “hard cams,” they usually mean cams that are very difficult to draw.
Again, if the concept of cams seems a little elusive to you, don’t worry about it too much—it’s kind of an advanced concept, and by understanding the rest of the bow’s features (particularly the let-off percentage and the FPS), you get a good sense of the bow and if it’ll meet your needs.
Included Accessories. It’s easy to imagine the archery is just bows and arrows, but the truth is, there is a looooooooot of gear involved, and it can take a while to compile everything you’ll need—and, honestly, to figure out what you need in the first place!
Many bows come as package sets, and include an arrow rest, a bow sight, and a stabilizer (and that’s great); others come with absolutely everything you’ll need, including an arrow rest, a bow sight, a stabilizer, a bow release, arrows, a target, a carry case, etc. (and that’s fantastic). If you’re new to compound bows and you’re not sure what you need, those can be a great option.
If you’re interested about the types of accessories compound bow users often select, we go into detail about all of them below.
Actual Bow Weight. Not to be confused with draw weight—this is the actual weight of the bow. Higher-end bows tend to way a lot less. Target archers, who fire arrows again and again and again, usually look for lower bow weights, whereas bow hunters, who may only fire off a couple rounds (or even a single round), may be willing to overlook a higher weight if a bow features other advantages.
Last but not least…
Colors / Design. Mass-market bows for target shooting are usually offered in a dozen or more colors and patterns, and there’s no reason why one color or pattern is better than another, so you can select whatever strikes your fancy. Bowhunting bows, on the other hand, are usually manufactured in black, grey, and various camouflage patterns, and if you’re heading out to hunt game, you’ll want to consider the environment in which you’ll be hunting.
And… there you go! Those are the main features to look for.
Measurements You’ll Need When Selecting a Compound Bow
There are three measurements you’ll need to have when selecting a compound bow, and they are draw weight, draw length, and dominant hand/dominant eye. Here’s how to get your measurements.
Draw Weight. A bow with a lower draw weight will be easy to pull back, but it will shoot slower arrows; a bow with a heavier draw weight will be tougher to pull back, but it will shoot faster arrows. In most cases, more arrow speed equals more accuracy—but again, a bow with a heavier draw weight requires more physical strength, and it can tucker you out after repeated draws.
In general, kids can usually pull a draw weight up to 15 or 25 pounds, teens can usually pull a draw weight up to about 30 or 40 pounds, and adults can pull a draw weight from 30 pounds up to 75 pounds or more. If you’re going bow hunting, most states will require you to use a bow that’s at least 35 / 40 / 45 pounds; if you’re just doing target shooting, 30 to 50 pounds is usually sufficient.
Some compound bows feature an adjustable draw weight—meaning you can increase or decrease the draw weight as you see fit. That’s a great feature to look for in you’re new to compound bows, because you can start a low draw weight, and then increase the draw weight as you gain strength and ability.
Note: some manufacturers use a hashtag instead of the word “pounds,” so if you see bow described as 35#, that means it’s a bow with a draw weight of 35 pounds.
Draw Length. Draw length is the measurement, in inches, of how far back you comfortably pull the draw string when you’re shooting an arrow.
Perhaps more than any other factor, knowing your draw length is essential, because it ensures that you’ll be able to draw the bow string to the same exact anchor point every time you shoot—and if you’re going to be consistent in your shots, drawing your bow string the same way every time is vitally important.
The most accurate way to figure out your draw length is to go to a pro shop or outfitter, and have the shop’s bow tech take your measurement with a tool called a draw length indicator. It looks like an arrow but it’s got inch measurements on it.
Luckily, there’s a test you can do that usually just as accurate: you can spread your arms out wide, measure the distance in inches from the end of your left hand to the end of your right hand, and then divide that number by 2.5—and there you have it! Most times, that’ll accurately reflect your draw length.
So, here’s an example: let’s say you measure your wingspan, and you find that you’re 5-foot-10-inches tall. That means you’re actually 70 inches tall (12 inches per foot x 5 feet + 10 inches = 70), and when you divide 70 by 2.5, you get 28. Wallah! You’ve got a draw length of 28 inches.
Higher-end bows tend to a have fixed draw length, but most beginner and intermediate bows have an adjustable draw length, and you can set the draw length of your bow to match your measurement.
Dominant Hand vs. Dominant Eye. This is the last measurement we’ll discuss. Most new archers assume that you should buy a bow that matches your dominant hand—if you’re a righty, you buy a right-handed bow (one that you draw with your right and hold in your left hand), and if you’re a lefty, you choose a left-handed bow (one that you draw with your left hand and hold in your right hand). That’s actually not how it works, and usually archers select a bow based on their dominant eye, instead of their dominant hand.
That may be a little confusing, so let’s unpack that.
In the same way that you have a dominant hand—you’re either a righty or a lefty—you have a dominant eye. That may seem odd, because you can see with both your eyes, but one eye is actually doing most of the focusing, and that’s your dominant eye.
There’s no intuitive way to know which is your dominant eye, but there’s a test you can do to figure it out: hold up both your hands in front of you, and fold them over each other to make a triangle shape, like this lady here is doing. When you’ve done that, look at something about 10 to 20 yards away—a doorknob, something small across the room, or something out the window.
When you’ve got an object in your sight—let’s say a doorknob—close your left eye and then your right eye. You’ll notice that you can see the doorknob when one eye is open—but you can’t see it when the other eye is open. They eye with which you can see the doorknob is your dominant eye. If you can see the doorknob when your right eye is open, you’re right-eye dominant; if you can see the doorknob when your left eye is open, you’re left-eye dominant.
If you’re right-eye dominant, you should select a right-handed bow, and if you’re left-eye dominant, you should select a left-handed bow. Doing so will allow you to aim properly.
For the great majority of people, that works out fine, because most right-eye dominant people are right-handed, and most left-eye dominant people are left-handed.
But… what if that’s not the case? What if you’re left-handed but right-eye dominant, or right-handed but left-eye dominant?
That’s known as “cross-dominance,” and if you’re cross-dominant, coaches usually say that you should still go with a bow that matches your dominant eye.
It might feel awkward at first if you’re a right-handed person with a dominant left eye and you’re shooting a left-handed bow, or if you’re a left-handed person with a dominant right eye and you’re shooting a right-handed bow, but it makes it much easier to shoot accurately. When cross-dominant archers use a bow that doesn’t make their dominant eye, they end up seeing double, and it’s very difficult to aim.
With that said…
If you say “The heck with it” and you still want to get a bow that matches your dominant hand, just because it feels more comfortable—and many successful archers do so!—you’ll need to close the eye that’s not behind your bow string when you shoot. Your sight will be hampered a little bit, but it’s absolutely do-able, and there are plenty of successful archers who do so.
It’s up to you. Standard practice is to go with a bow that matches your dominant eye, but plenty of archers get a bow that matches their dominant hand, and simply close the eye that’s not behind the bow string when they’re aiming.
Gear and Equipment for Your Compound Bow
Many archers start on recurve bows, because they’re sleek, powerful, and they’re relatively simple: they’re basically two limbs, a riser, a bow string, and maybe an arrow rest and a bow sight.
Compound bows, on the other hand, are a LOT more complicated, and they’ve got a lot more parts.
Here, we’ll offer a (very) quick run-down of each piece of gear that you can add to your compound bow. Dressing up a compound is part of the fun, and as you gain experience and knowledge, you’ll be able to put together a bow that’s suited exactly to your needs.
The Bow Sight. There are two main types of bow sights you’ll find on compound bows: fixed-pin bows sights and single pin bow sights.
Fixed Pin Sights: Here is a fixed-pin bow sight that has three pins, and you can set each pin to a certain distance. Many archers set their top pin to 20 yards, their middle pin to 30 yards, and their bottom pin to 40 yards—and if they’re going to be shooting at distances of more than 40 yards, they’ll buy a 4-pin or 5-pin model.
Single Pin Sights: A single-pin bow sight only has—you guessed it—a single pin, but by using a dial, you can adjust the pin to whatever distance you want. If you’re aiming at a target 12 yards away, you adjust it to 12 yards; if you’re aiming at a target 34 yards away, you adjust it for 34 yards.
If you’re interested in bow sights, we’ve written a review of our favorite bows sights here.
A Bow Stabilizer. These are basically rods that stick out of the front of the bow. They look pretty simple, but they’re actually very helpful, and there’s a lot of science behind them. They serve two purposes:
1) To help you hold your bow steady. By adding weight below the grip, they promote stability and keep your bow vertical, allowing you to hone in on your target; and
2) To eat up some of the vibration when you release an arrow. That’s great for target archers who want their bows to shake as little as possible, but it’s also great for bow hunters, because a bow that vibrates less is quieter, and bow hunters don’t want to frighten the animals they’re hunting.
Target shooters—especially target shooters in a competition—usually select as long a stabilizer as the competition will allow, because it can really help accuracy and precision (and if you’ve ever seen recurve archers at the Olympics, their stabilizers can be a couple of feet long). Bow hunters, on the hand, would go nuts if they had to use a long stabilizer—it would get stuck on just about everything as they trudge through the woods, and it would be impossible to aim in close, tight quarters—so they usually opt for stabilizers that are a couple inches to a foot long.
We’ve reviewed our top stabilizers here.
An Arrow Rest. There are two main types of arrow rests for compound bows: containment rests and drop-away arrow rests.
Containment Rests: These tools are circular and hold the arrow in place as you draw the bow string back, and they look like this; they’re a great choice for bow hunters who let off shots at odd angles and from tree stands. One of the most popular types of containment rests is a whisker biscuit, which holds an arrow using very soft bristles. The bristles are strong enough to hold the arrow in place, but flexible enough so that the arrow and the arrow’s fletchings pass through it after you release the bow string.
Drop Away Arrow Rests: The other type of rest you’ll find on many compound bows is a drop-away arrow rest. Both bow hunters and target archers like drop-away arrow rests because it allows your arrow to travel forward without touching the bow release in any way (for an example, check out this slow-motion capture of a drop-away rest in action). An arrow that doesn’t touch the rest in any way is less likely to get knocked off course, and is more likely to be land where you want it to. Containment rests may come into contact with an arrow’s fletchings, and while that’s usually not a big deal—plenty of archers use containment rests, with a lot of success—some people want every advantage possible, and why not?
A Bow Release. You will very rarely see archers using their fingers to draw a compound bow, because compound bows can have such high draw weights, and pulling one back with just your fingers—or even a glove—would 1) be incredibly painful, and 2) not be as accurate as using a bow release. Bow releases diminish some of the torque your fingers create on the bowstring, and that can add up to more accurate shots and more consistency and groupings.
There are two types of bow releases common on compound bows: trigger releases and thumb releases.
Trigger Releases: A trigger release has a strap that you wrap around your wrist, and a caliper or hook that attaches to the D-loop on your bow string (a D-loop is this grey puppy here that’s shaped like a “D,” and it’s where you attach your bow release). When you’ve pulled back the bow string and you’re ready to release an arrow, you pull the trigger and release the arrow. They’re easy to use, comfortable, and they’re great for bow hunting, because after you wrap a trigger release around your wrist, you can use your hands for other things. Here’s an image of a trigger release.
Thumb Releases: These are similar to trigger releases, with two differences: 1) instead of being strapped around your wrist, you hold a thumb release in your hand, and 2) when you’re ready to release an arrow, you pull or push a button with your thumb. These are slightly more accurate than trigger releases, but they can be a pain to use when bow hunting, because it’s not attached to your wrist and you have to retrieve it—and you may not have time to do that when an animal has entered your sightline.
There are also hinge releases, but those are a little less common and a lot more difficult to describe, so we’ll leave those for another post. If you want to learn more about bow releases for compounds, we’ve written a full post about our picks, and how to use them.
These next few are pretty simple, so we’ll plow through them:
A Peep Sight. On the upper half of your bow string, you may see a small bead-y type thing. That’s the peep sight, and when properly set, it can help with your aim—you can line up the peep sight on the string with your bow sight on your riser, and that can lead to much more accurate shots.
A String Silencer. These are very important to bow hunters. When you release an arrow, potential energy is released and most of that potential energy transfers to the arrow, but a lot of it remains in the bow, and cause the bow to vibrate. Vibrations create sound, and if you’re in the middle of a quiet woods, eyeing a buck that’ll dart away at the slightest noise, you want to be as silent as possible.
There are a number of different styles of string silencers you can buy, and many of the bows we’ve reviewed in this post come with string silencers already attached to the string.
A Quiver that Attaches to the Bow. Another item important to bow hunters. Hunting requires a lot of gear, and having a quiver attached to the bow makes arrow retrieval a lot easier. Target shooters tend to skip the attachable quiver because it adds weight to the bow, and they can carry their arrows in a hip quiver.
Arrows! If you asked a skilled archer whether he’d like to use a great bow and shoddy arrows, or a shoddy bow with great arrows, he’d/she’d most likely opt for the second choice. Arrows are a truly important part of the equation, and believe it or not, arrows are a lot more complicated than bows, and we’ve written a full-length post explaining how to select and use arrows.
Here’s the long-and-short of it, boiled down to the essence: to choose arrows, you need to know your draw weight, how long your arrows should be, and the stiffness of the arrows. We’ve shown you how to get your draw weight in the sections above; to get the length of your arrows, you add two inches to your draw length (if you’re a beginner) and one inch (if you’re an advanced beginner or an intermediate). The length of your arrows is important, because if they’re too long, they’ll fly unpredictably, and if they’re too short, they’ll fall off your arrow rest when you draw them (and you can end up shooting them into your hand, which you obviously don’t want).
Once you have your draw weight and the proper length of your arrows, you’ll consult an arrow chart, to figure out the correct arrow stiffness. The charts look something like this:
Line up your draw weight and your arrow length, and you’ll find the correct spine for your arrows, and you’ll know which arrows to purchase. For instance, in the chart above, if you’re using a compound bow that has a draw weight of 55 to 60 pounds, and you’re looking for arrows that are 29 inches long, you’d need arrows with a spine of 350. Easy peasy!
If you’re looking for arrows—both for target shooting and/or bow hunting—we like the Carbon Express PileDriver Series. They’re durable, they’ve got 2-inch vanes, and it’s pretty easy to find out which arrows you should select.
Compound Bow FAQs and Answers
We get a lot of questions about compound bows (and if you’ve got any yourself, feel free to jump over to our “Contact” page and drop us a line), and here are some of the most common inquiries we get. The first question we get at least once a week:
Q: What's the difference between a right-handed bow and a left-handed bow?
A: A right-handed bow is one you hold in your left-hand and draw with your right hand; a left-handed bow is one you hold in your right hand and draw with your left hand. If you’re right-handed, a right-handed bow will feel most natural; if you’re left-handed, a left-handed bow will feel most natural (although you want to keep in mind your dominant eye, which we discussed above).
Q: Are there women's bows? If so, should I get one?
A: Any bow you’ll come across can be used by a man or woman. There’s really no such thing as “womens’ bows” (although there are a couple of manufacturers who market bows specifically for women). It’s not like bicycles, where the variations between male and female bodies requires equipment to be slightly different. You can use whatever bow you like, regardless of whether of your gender.
That said, there are two things to keep in mind:
1) You’ll see a lot of bows marketed to women, and they usually have a different color set (pinks, purples, etc.), but there’s nothing really different about these bows than other bows, other than that they’re usually made in smaller sizes; and
2) If you are a female, the most important thing you can do is great a bow that’s the right size. For a long time, compound bows skewed larger, because it was mostly men who used them. That’s changing—and that is AWESOME—but many compound bow sizes are still sized for the average male. Gear that fits is super-important, so make sure you find a bow that’s the right size for (and specifically, one that matches your draw length).
Q: Is there anything I should do when I get my bow?
A: We advise that you bring it to a range or pro shop and get it tuned. A lot of the bows we’ve reviewed above arrive ready-to-shoot, but it’s still a good idea to bring them in and have a professional look at them. They can adjust the draw weight, suggest any pieces of equipment you may not have, and give you some tips on how to get started.
And, while you’re there, ask questions—particularly, ask how to increase/decrease the draw weight so that you can do it at home. If you’re new, you’ll be kind of surprised at how you develop strength, and you’ll most likely want to increase the draw length, so ask the bow tech to show you how. Usually, you’re just tightening the limbs, but seeing it done in front of you is very helpful.
Q: Is archery safe for kids?
A: We get this question a lot in the late spring, when kids are getting out of school and there’s a renewed interest in archery. Short answer: when everyone is following safety rules, archery is absolutely safe for kids, and studies have actually shown that there are more golf injuries than archery injuries. Yes, you read that right—a study has shown that golf is more dangerous than archery.
BUT… and you knew there was a “but”…
Archery can be incredibly dangerous if you don’t follow safety rules. Archery may be a sport and a hobby, but a bow and an arrow are still weapons, and literal wars have been fought with them. If you’re not safe, archery can become very dangerous.
So supervise your kids, and sure they’re following all the relevant safety protocols. We've written about safety rules in our "Commandments" category, and our “Compound Bows for Youths” has a section delineating safety rules.
Q: Can I use wooden arrows with my compound bow?
That’s a big fat NO. You should never use wooden arrows with a compound bow. Compound bows are incredibly strong, and if you nock a wooden arrow and release the bowstring, it can shatter the wooden arrow and send pieces of the arrow flying everywhere. Shooting a wooden arrow from a compound bow is a bad, bad idea.
So no wooden arrows with compounds, and you want to be careful with aluminum arrows as well, because they occasionally aren’t strong enough for compound bows, either. When you’re buying arrows, look at the arrow chart to make sure the arrow you’re buying is strong enough for the bow you’re shooting.
Q: What's the best way to store my compound?
A: If you’ve got space, there are bow racks you can buy, and they make retrieving your bow very easy. If you’ve got kids or pets or unpredictable, handsy guests who might take your bow down when you don’t want them to, you may want to consider a bow case. You can lock your bow in them, along with scads of other equipment—many cases enable you to store almost everything you’ll need to shoot, from bows to arrows to releases to arm guards etc.
Bow cases come in hard shell varieties (hard cases) and durable fabric (soft cases), with hard shells being a lot more durable.
Q: What's the best way to travel with a compound bow?
A: If you’re travelling to and from the range and putting your bow in the trunk or the bed of your truck or the back seat, a soft case can be OK. If you’re travelling via train, plane, or bus, you’ll usually need a hard case, and you should contact your train, plane, or bus company, and inquire about their rules.
Q: Will my compound bow require any upkeep?
A: Yes, and we recommend bringing it in to a bow shop once a year for a look-see and tune-up. A bow tech will be able to check the riser, the bow string, the cams, etc. and make sure everything is in good shape and safe to use. The service is usually pretty inexpensive, and it’s worth knowing your bow is in working order.
That said—you, too, should also give it a look before every practice session, to make sure everything is up to snuff. Check the cams and look for cracks and jagged edges, look at the bow string and D-loop and look for signs of wear and tear, and check the riser to make sure the grip is solid, the sight / stabilizer / bow release are all attached correctly, and that everything is lining up.
Q: I've never gone bow hunting before, but I think I'd like to. How do I get into bowhunting?
A: That’s wonderful! Over the last couple of years, we’re seeing a renewed interest in bowhunting, and that is AWESOME. A great deal of the monies states spend on conservation efforts come from hunting and bow hunting, so not only will you be starting a very satisfying pastime, you’ll be helping the environment!
We’ve got a lot of content for new bow hunters on our site, so check that out, but also visit your state’s website and read about bow hunting licenses. You’ll need to take a hunting and/or a bow hunting class before you get your license and go on your first hunting trip, and your state’s website will have all the info you need.
Q: When was the compound bow invented, and by who?
A: The compound bow was created by an absolute genius named Holless Wilbur Allen in 1966, and his insight—that a pulley system could dramatically increase the speed and force with which we shoot arrows—changed archery and bow hunting forever.
It’s pretty incredible, if you think about it—humans were using bows for more than 60,000, and Holless Wilbur Allen came along with a new design that revolutionized bows forever. We do a fair bit of hero worship of Holless Wilbur Allen on this site, so poke around if you want to learn more.
Q: Can I use my compound bow for bow fishing?
A: You can, but you’ll have to get some specialized equipment, including a special arrow rest, a reel so you can retrieve your arrows after you shoot them into the water, and arrows made specifically for bow fishing. Bow fishing is a ton of fun, but you’ll need the right equipment, and luckily the risers on many bows are capable of accepting all the gear you’ll need.
Q: Is it fun running such an awesome website?
A: What a great question. Yes, yes, it is! It’s pretty darn awesome. We get to write about our passion, and we get to share that excitement with everyone who visits.
If you’re new to archery and you’re thinking about starting out with a compound bow, WELCOME to the community or archers! We’re glad to have you, and we wish you all the best!