The Best Deer Hunting Bow: Options for New and Veteran Hunters
Welcome to the Complete Guide to Archery! Today we'll be looking at our picks the best deer hunting bows. There are a lot of options out there, and some are fantastic—but many fall short of the mark.
So in this post, we'll start with a quick "buying guide" of features you'll want to keep in mind when selecting a bow—and which don't matter too much—and then we'll jump into our reviews, and inspect a range of bows for hunters of all skill levels, and then we'll talk about what we consider to be the best-performing deer hunting bow overall.
Deer Hunting Bows: Quick Picks
Here's a quick list of the bows we'll discuss:
- The Southland Archery Supply SAS Rage
- The Leader Accessories Compound Bow
- The Diamond Archery Infinity Edge Pro Bow Package
- The Bear Archery Cruzer Compound
- The Bear Archery BR33 Hybrid Cam Compound Bow
How to Select the Right Deer Hunting Bow for You
If you're new to bowhunting, here are the factors you'll want to consider when selecting a bow for deer hunting. We'll start with the first—and perhaps most important—question:
Choose Your Bow: Recurve vs. Compound
This is your first choice when you're selecting a bow to hunt deer with: choosing a recurve bow or a compound bow.
Generally speaking, more hunters use compound bows to hunt game, and that's probably a good thing: they're easier to draw, easier to aim, and they're usually a lot more powerful than recurve bows. For all those reasons, if you're new to hunting and looking for a bow, we'd suggest you start with a compound bow, instead of a recurve.
If you are going to choose a recurve, though, you'll have fewer features to consider—recurve bows are far simpler than compound bows, and if you've got a well-made, quality bow, the only features you need to think about are the draw weight (in most states, you'll need a bow with a draw weight of 40 pounds or more hunt game) a bow sight (and many folks who use a recurve to hunt usually embrace traditional hunting, and forego a bow sight altogether). A high quality bow with a draw weight of 40 pounds or more and a bow sight (or not!) is all you need to hunt deer with a recurve—but again, if you're just starting out, we'd urge you to use a compound bow to hunt, because they're easier for new hunters to use, and you're more likely to put down an animal, rather than just wounding it.
Bottom Line: If you're new to bowhunting deer, it's usually better to go with a compound bow, rather than a recurve bow.
So, if you want to use a compound to hunt deer, here are the features you need to consider:
Sound Quality (The Less, the Better)
You wouldn't think to look at a deer, but those fellas can jump! They're light on their feet, and if they hear a sound they don't like, they bound away instantly. That's true for mule deer out west, but it's especially true for white-tail deer out east. The first time you see it, you'll be amazed—they've got great hearing, and they're quick.
So, the sound that your bow makes is important. Luckily, this is one of those features that manufacturers have REALLY worked on over the last decade or two—probably because deer hunters kept telling them, "THE MOST IMPORTANT THING YOU CAN DO IS MAKE A QUIET BOW"—and we're happy to announce that all of the bows we review in this post are quiet enough for hunting deer.
Keep in mind that no bow is totally soundless, and there will always be some noise when you release your draw string and let an arrow fly. That said, the only time your bow may make a VERY loud "twang" or "thwack" sound is if it is improperly tuned (and your local archery shop or range can help you with that), or if there's a problem with your draw. One good work-around is a string silencer, which can gobble up a lot of the vibration from your string, and dramatically quiet things down. We like Limbsaver Dampeners.
Bottom Line: Bows are a lot quieter than they used to be, but higher-end bows are usually quietest; if you're having noise problems, a sound dampener may do the trick.
Important (Depending): Feet per Second (FPS)
Over the last decade or so, you might have noticed that each one of the big bow manufacturers have been knocking themselves out to make faster bows. There's are a couple of reasons for that, but the simplest explanation is that an arrow that travels faster will make impact sooner, and when you're dealing with deer—a species of animal that gets spooked very easily—you want every advantage you can get. The quicker your arrow can connect, the more likely you will harvest that deer.
Most compound bows have a FPS range of around 270 FPS on the lower to side, to about 330+ FPS on the higher side. You might imagine the FPS is vitally important, but...
But here's what most people forget: most bowhunting is done with 30 yards of your game. At that range, your arrow is going to arrive at the animal very quickly, and difference in time between a 270 FPS and a 330 FPS bow isn't going to make much of a difference.
If, however, you're accustomed to taking long shots—that is, 30 yards or more—then FPS becomes incredibly important, because your arrows are going to take a much longer time to reach the deer, and a higher FPS will help you. If you're within that 30-yards-or-less range, FPS becomes a little less important.
Bottom Line: If you're shooting at close range, FPS is very important, but if you're shooting at longer distances, FPS is very important.
A Crucial Tool: The Bow Sight
We mentioned traditional archers above, who shoot game without the use of bow sight. That's an incredible ability, and it's important to remember it's a SKILL. It takes years of practice to aim at a target with the naked eye and hit it. For the rest of us, that's where bow sights come in.
Most compounds come with a basic bow sight included, and for the most part, a basic bow sight will do you just fine. As long as it's got three pins, you should be able to adjust it to aim at targets up to about 40 yards away, and most hunters seem to set their three-pin bow sights at 20 yards, 30 yards, and 40 yards. That's especially true on the East Coast of the United States, where deer hunting is done in denser forest, and things are a little more "up close and personal."
If, however you're going to be aiming at targets more than 40 yards away—and that happens frequently in the broader expanses of land in the Western United States—then it can make sense to get a five-pin bow sight, and set your pins at 20, 30, 40, 50, and 60 yards. Remember, though—if you're shooting at a deer 30 yards away or further, you want to be very confident in your abilities. There's a lot that can go wrong aiming at a target that far away, and it's not ethical to take a shot at that distance if you're not sure you're going to hit it.
Bottom Line: A good bow sight is important, and for close-range hunting, a 3-pin sight is usually fine; for longer-range shooting, a 5-pin sight is usually a better idea. Also, remember—if you find a bow you really like but don't like the bow sight, you can usually replace it with one that you like more.
Axle-to-Axle Length: Not as Important as It Used to Be
For the longest time, bow manufacturers insisted that if you wanted to go hunting, you wanted a shorter bow—one that had a small axle-to-axle measurement. The thinking made sense: bows with shorter axle-to-axle lengths usually shoot faster arrows, and they're easier to lug through around during a hunt (and that can be a huge benefit if you're spot-and-stalk hunting, and doing a fair amount of walking).
The trade-off, though, is that bows with a shorter axle-to-axle length aren't as accurate as longer bows. That's why target archers in competitions tend to have enormously long bows—they're easier to hold in a single position, and they can prove to be a little more accurate.
So, in our humble opinion, the length of the bow isn't the most important thing in the world, and if you're fairly new to bowhunting deer, it might make sense to get a slightly longer bow, because it can provide some added stability and aim. If you're a pro and your marksmanship is on point, a shorter bow with a shorter axle-to-axle length, can be a good choice, because it can offer a lot of speed.
Bottom Line: If you're an inexperienced archer, a shorter axle-to-axle length may be challenging and a mid-length bow can be a good bet; if you're an experienced archer, a shorter bow can provide some extra speed.
Rest: Biscuit vs. Drop-Away
Some bowhunters sweat that drop-away arrow rests are the be-all end-all, whereas plenty of other bowhunters say a regular old whisker biscuit performs just fine. That's our, experience, too. Drop-away arrow rests offer a little more accuracy because it allows the arrow to be shot without any interference whatsoever, but the truth is, we've had no problem maintaining accuracy using a whisker biscuit.
The one verifiable difference is that a whisker biscuit offers better containment for an arrow, so if you let off arrows from all sorts of weird angles—maybe you're bent over at a weird angle in a thicket, or all wrapped up in a ghillie suit and hunkered down in some brush—a whisker biscuit may be a better choice.
Bottom Line: Either is a good option, but if you find you end up shooting from odd angles and need some arrow containment, a whisker biscuit will hold your arrow steadier as you aim.
Poundage and Let-Off: Pay Attention to These
This may be the most important feature, and we've saved it for last: the draw weight of the bow, and the let-off of the bow.
In most states, your bow must meet or exceed a minimum draw weight in order for you to hunt game. That makes sense, if you think about it, because if the draw weight on your bow is too low, your arrows won't travel with enough force to properly penetrate game and put it down humanely. Your bow needs to be strong enough to shoot arrows that will penetrate, and usually, for deer hunting, the minimum draw weight that states require is 40 pounds (although you'll need to check with your state to make sure).
So, here's what we'd advise: if you're a new bowhunting, a bow with an adjustable draw weight can be a great feature. You can practice on lower draw weights, gain skill and musculature, and then move up to higher draw weights that'll send your arrows flying at higher speeds and with more kinetic energy. If you're a pro, and you've been shooting for a number of years, and you know exactly what your draw weight is—and your draw weight meets your state's minimum requirement for the game that you'll be hunting—then it can make sense to buy a bow with a set draw weight.
The let-off, too, is important. When you pull the string of a compound bow all the way back, you'll feel the draw weight suddenly decrease. That decrease is called let-off, and it's usually measured at a percentage. If you were pulling a 100-pound compound bow that had 80% let-off, when you're at full draw, the draw weight you will feel will be 20 pounds (100-pound bow —> minus 80% —> 20-pound draw weight). That's an important feature when you're hunting, because you see a deer and pull the bow string back, you might need to wait a little while until you get a clear shot. Having a bow with significant let-off can be a great thing to have, particularly if you're shooting a high-poundage bow.
Bottom Line: Most compound bows provide significant let-off and should suit most bowhunters; if you're shooting a bow with a very high draw weight, a high let-off percentage is an important factor.
The Best Deer Hunting Bows: Options We Like
Now that you have a clear idea of what to look for, here are the bows we consider good options for deer hunting:
The Southland Archery Supply SAS Rage 70
- Can equip bow with whatever gear you deem important;
- Excellent let-off (70%) to make aiming at full draw easier;
- Strong enough for big game, including deer.
- Not a good pick if you’re looking for a fully-equipped, ready-to-rock bow;
- Does not feature a sight, stabilizer, etc.
The Southland Archery Supply SAS Rage is a great option if you're new to bowhunting and you want to figure out how to put a bow together. It comes without any of the items you'll need for deer-hunting—that is, a bow sight, a bow stabilizer, a quiver, arrows with broadheads, and so on—but that can be a good thing: whereas most hunting bows come pre-assembled with all those parts, you can add them as you see fit. Learning how to pick accessories for a bow can be a fantastic way to learn about archery and bowhunting.
The best part about this bow is its draw weight: at 55 to 70 pounds, you'll be able to shoot most big game you'll encounter in the United States. 55 pounds can be a lot to draw if you're new to bowhunting, but the 70% let-off helps a lot, so even if you're pulling at 70 pounds, it'll feel like 21 pounds at full draw.
The feet per second on the SAS Rage is 270, which is slightly above average, but what we'd expect for a "no frills" bow like this, and 270 feet per second will work fine for shots at about 25 yards, which is where most deer hunting is done. At 25 yards, an arrow shot at 270 feet per second will arrive at your deer in 0.2777777 seconds—just a little over a quarter of a second—and that's pretty darn good.
Our assessment: A good no-frills option with slightly above-average FPS that you can accessorize as you like it.
NOTE: if you'd like the SAS Rage bow *with* a lot of the gear you'll need to go hunting, you may like the Southland Archery Supply SAS Rage Package. It comes with a LOT of equipment, including a bow sight, a stabilizer, a quiver, a release aid with a trigger function, arrows, broadheads (which is fantastic, because most packages don't come with broadheads), and a flight-approved hard-shell bow case (which is another great feature that we don't see too often).
Leader Accessories Compound Bow
- Comes equipped with a lot of the gear you’ll need to bow hunt;
- Lower draw weight is great for younger / novice hunter;
- Maximum feet-per-second of 296 feet, with a 70% let-off.
- Only available for righties—sorry, lefties!
- It's probably worth a trip to your local outfitter to get it tuned, especially if you're new to archery.
If you're new to bowhunting, you may have noticed: there's a lot of gear you need, and that's why we think the Leader Accessories Compound Bow is such a fantastic "ready to rock" option: it comes equipped with a bow sight, drop-away arrow rest, a bow release, a stabilizer, 12 carbon arrows, a soft case for transporting it, and a bunch of other accessories. And, not only does it come with most of the accessories you'll need, it actually features some extras—for instance, it features a drop-away arrow rest, but also a whisker biscuit, so you can choose with works for you.
In the grand scheme of things, the draw weight range—30 to 55 pounds—is a little low for hunting big game, but it's perfect for deer, because most states require you to have a draw weight of 40 or 45 pounds to hunt deer. The max FPS is 296, which is above average for a bow of this caliber, and the let-off of 70% is also pretty decent for a bow in this range (for whatever reason, most starter bows are in the 270 FPS range). We're big fans of this bow, and we like that it makes getting started pretty easy.
Our assessment: A fantastic ready-to-rock package that comes with many of the things you'll need to bow—our #1 pick for bowhunters who are new deer hunters. A great value and a quality bow.
Diamond Archery Infinite Edge Pro Package
- Stiff back wall that encourages consistent aim;
- Feet-per-second of 310—that's getting up there;
- An incredibly broad adjustable draw weight makes it good for beginners; and
- High let-off of 80%, which makes holding at full draw very easy.
- Needs to be tuned;
- The bow sight is good but not great; and
- The stabilizer is a little bit short.
When you start looking at more "high-end" bows, the specs start to get a lot more impressive, and that's definitely true of the Diamond Archery Infinity Edge Pro Bow Package. The 310 FPS is better than a lot of bows out there, and once you edge into the 300+ range, you're really starting to shoot some fast arrows, and the 80% let-off is pretty impressive, and that comes in really handy when you finally get strong enough to kick up the draw weight towards 70 pounds.
Our favorite aspect of this bow is the adjustable draw weight, though—that feature makes it something you can start at a low draw weight, build your ability, and then dial up the draw weight as you become a stronger and more capable archer. That's a fantastic feature, and because it's a well-made bow—we've had our model for years—you can really use it for a while.
It's also a great fit for taller bowhunters, as well—most bows feature a maximum draw length of 29 or 30 inches, but the Diamond Infinite Edge has a maximum draw length of 31 inches, making it a great fit for taller folk.
For a high-quality bow, there are a few less-than-perfect features—the bow sight is a 3-pin, as opposed to a 5-pin, so if you're going to be hunting at longer distances, you may want to consider upgrading the sight so you can shoot at deer 40 or 50 yards away. The stabilizer, too, is pretty basic, and you might want to consider getting a longer one, to give yourself a little more steadiness.
All told, though, the Diamond Infinite Edge is a fantastic bow for deer hunting, and it's pretty popular, as well. For a lot of hunters, it's one of the first high-caliber bows they get when they finally commit to bowhunting. We wrote a longer review of this bow that includes images of the bow itself and each of its accessories, which you can read here.
Our assessment: A high-quality utility bow that's a great fit if you're ready to make a commitment to bowhunting; a fantastic bow for deer hunting that delivers a great FPS that can last the test of time.
Bear Archery Cruzer G2 Adult Compound Bow
- Adjustable draw of 5 pounds to 70 pounds;
- Very light—only 3 pounds, which makes it easier to hold and aim;
- Has a string suppressor to dampen noise from the shot;
- Four-pin bow sight;
- FPS of 315—excellent for a bow of this caliber.
- Needs to be tuned;
- 70% let-off is a little low for a bow in this range.
The Bear Archery Cruzer Compound is actually similar to the Diamond Infinite Edge, and that's on purpose: Bear and Diamond fight over customers, and they're both trying to make a bow that fits a wide range of bowhunters. That's why the draw weight on both the Bear Cruzer and the Diamond Infinite Edge has that incredibly wide range from 5 pounds to 70 pounds—they're trying to create a bow that folks of all draw weights can use.
That said, the Bear Cruzer is a few advantages over the Diamond Infinite Edge in terms of specs—it's maximum FPS is 315 (five feet more than the Diamond Infinite Edge) and it comes with a four-pin bow sight, that'll allow you to broaden your firing range a little bit. The only place it lags behind is the 70% let-off, which, in the grand scheme of things, is still pretty good. The 4-pin bow sight is such a great addition—it adds a good deal of versatility to the bow, and expands its range quite a bit over a 3-pin sight. It's still not as good as a 5-pin sight if you're looking to hunt deer at great distances, but it's a good start.
The thing that makes this bow a great match for deer hunting, though, is the RockStops offset string suppressor. As we mentioned in our "Features to Look For" section, deer are difficult to hunt because they're so sensitive to sound. If they hear something they don't like and they get spooked, they're gone. The RockStop feature gobbles up a lot of the sound, and that can be a big advantage when you're out hunting.
Our assessment: A great option for a hunter looking to commit to bowhunting, that offers great FPS of 315, a four-pin sight for longer-distance shots, and RockStop string suppressor that dampens sound and vibration during the shot.
Bear Archery BR33 Hybrid Cam Compound Bow
- Extremely high FTPS at 330;
- Lightweight frame at 4.2 pounds;
- Let-off of 80%;
- Axle-to-axle length of 33.25 inches makes it very "forgiving."
- Longer axle-to-axle length can make it difficult to carry through the forest.
Bear Archery has been in the bowhunting game for decades, and their Bear Archery BR33 Hybrid Cam Compound Bow is a great example of what how a high-end bow can offer a compilation of features that lower-tier bows can't. Whereas lower-tier bows might have one feature that sticks out—a good let-off, or a great FPS—they're usually a trade-off for another feature that falls short.
The Bear Archery BR33 doesn't feature any trade-offs, and its specs are pretty intimidating: with a weight of just over four pounds, it's something you can hold and aim for a while—important when deer-hunting; with a let-off of 80%, you can keep an arrow drawn until you hopefully get a broad-side shot; with a max FPS of 330, arrows travel at great speeds; and with the long axle-to-axle length of more than 33 inches (hence the name, the BR33), the bow is manufactured more along the lines of a target bow, and the extra length can provide some stability for your shot (most hunting bows have an axle-to-axle length of 30 or 31 inches—those extra inches can mean a lot). It's got a maximum draw length of 32 inches, too, and that's pretty unique among bows, making it a good match for taller bowhunters.
It comes with the accessories you'd need to hunt—bow stabilizer, whisker biscuit, 4-pin bow sight, and sound dampeners both on the frame and on the string. It's a high-end choice and not one we'd recommend for beginners, but it's a fantastic bow, and one that gets our "best overall" vote.
Our assessment: With all of the specs that the BR33 offers, it gets our vote for best deer hunting bow overall.
Happy Deer Hunting!
As with all our product review posts, we try to education as we discuss bows, so hopefully there's something here that will illuminate the art and science of deer hunting. If you have any questions, please feel free to contact us.
As always, be safe, have fun, and happy hunting!