My name is Kyle and I recently became an archery fanatic. I bought my first bow in December 2007 with full intentions of becoming a fairly skilled archer/bowhunter. I have not bowhunted in the past and only owned a very old model compound bow when I was around nine years old. No one in my family or close friends bowhunts or participates in any form of archery. So I feel that I am fairly qualified to write an article from the perspective of a brand new archer with almost zero knowledge about the sport of archery and no help from trusted family and friends on getting into the sport. The goals of this post are to help inform new aspiring archers to select the right starting equipment that has the best chance of keeping them interested in the sport with a desire to learn more and become the best archer they can be. Perhaps this post can help the already seasoned archers by taking a view from a different perspective than one they already hold.
The first place to start is always with a budget. There is a WIDE range of archery equipment out there for all different price ranges. Knowing what you can realistically spend on your gear is going to help you make decisions easier and keep the hurt on your pocketbook to something that is manageable. One thing that I have learned quite quickly is that archery can get very expensive very quickly. With proper planning you should be able to minimize the amount of surprises in equipment costs.
My recommendation is that you set a budget for total cost of a ready to shoot package. Keeping in mind the things that are absolutely necessary versus the nice trinkets and gadgets that fall in the want category. Things like arrows, an arrow rest, a sight, some form of release either a finger tab or mechanical release, broadheads if you plan on hunting and other accessories that are essential add up to a lot of extra expense. I would try to find average prices for these pieces of gear and try to match with a bow that will fit the price range you have limited yourself to. Many pro-shops and outfitter stores will have a good idea of price ranges of entire packages for out the door prices when you talk with them. These tools are all vital components of the total package, but the remainder of this article will remain focused on selecting the right bow, (keep in mind this article is geared toward compound hunting bows, as that is the only area of archery I have entered so far) perhaps in the future I can spend time on other necessary pieces of equipment.
If you are lucky enough to have friends or family members that already have archery equipment and are willing to help you get started that is great. I would caution you to be careful of bias in the archery world though. Many people are very opinionated on archery gear and not very open minded about things. I think this is one of the biggest downfalls in the archery world. My recommendation is that you try to keep everything that you have heard in commercials, from friends and family, and from pro-shop techs in perspective. Although they have very valuable information, be skeptical of hard pressed opinions. Websites like Archerytalk have a huge wealth of information available at your fingertips; all you have to do is seek it out. What hasn’t worked for someone in the past that they “will never try again in their life” has more than likely worked flawlessly for countless other people. Have an open mind when exploring the sport of archery.
Archery is a science, and many people have done a lot of work to improve on the equipment that is available. There are great resources that allow you to get their reviews on gear for free. I will caution you here however, try to keep in mind that references might not always be playing fair when it comes to reviews. If a bow manufacturer is a huge sponsor of theirs, you might find biased results. Archerytalk is a great source of case study and personal experience material. Archeryevolution.com is a really good source of objective material on hunting compounds. I would recommend reading up on some of the issues dealt with in their studies and use that information to help guide what you want to look for in a bow.
Fling some arrows
The only way to truly decide what bow is best for you is to shoot different kinds of bows. Head to your local shop and ask for some help on finding a bow in your price range. Hopefully they will have multiple bows that fall in your price range and you should shoot all of them. They will be able to give you a release, some arrows and a few instructions on what to do when you start shooting.
Before you shoot
Have the pro-shop staff determine your draw length. On many bows today draw length is a set feature and you need different cams to change the draw length of the bow. Having the right draw length for you is essential, and once you know it you will be able to try out bows that match that length. Shooting a bow that is either to short or to long is going to be a serious disadvantage for you because it produces bad form while shooting.
Find a comfortable draw weight. Not everyone is capable of drawing back 70 pounds. Some people might not even be able to handle 40. Have the shop staff help you in finding a draw weight that you can comfortably and safely draw back. Select a bow that is comfortable for you to draw and does not require you to over exert yourself to reach full draw. Archery is a sport of repetition, if you have trouble drawing a bow five times in a row practice sessions are going to be painful experiences. On that note, keep in mind that archery muscles are not something used in everyday work. You will need to build these muscles and potentially have to shoot a lower poundage at first until you have strengthened those muscles enough to pull heavier weight.
Now lets get to testing the bow. The things to evaluate from bow to bow are:
This is how the bow pulls for you and how much effort is required to reach full draw. Each person can be different and a harsh draw cycle to one person might feel like very smooth to another. It is important to keep things equal between the bows you are testing. Make sure they are all set at the same draw weight. Pulling 70 pounds on one bow and then 50 on another is obviously not a fair comparison. If they do not have the appropriate limbs to match draw weights on the bows make sure to keep that in mind when you evaluate each.
This is essentially how much recoil is in the bow after the shot is taken. If you have ever took a swing at a solid object with a metal baseball bat and the resulting vibration made you drop the bat in pain you have an idea what hand shock feels like. Of course it is not that extreme in any bow on the market today (at least to my knowledge). However, like a harsh draw cycle, an abundance of hand shock can make practice sessions with a bow displeasureable. Try to look for a bow that does not vibrate much when you shoot. Note that it is probably impossible to eliminate all hand shock from any bow, but you should be able to find something that does not feel like a baseball bat hitting concrete in your hand.
Some people might disagree with me here, but I think it is important to have a bow that you like the looks of. Many people are generally proud of their bow and like to show it off. It is similar to having a car or home you are proud of. Remember to keep this in perspective though as well. Looks are not nearly as important as functionality. However, all things being equal between two different bows go with the one you like the looks of better.
If you are consistently shooting great groups with one bow and they fall apart with another, go for consistency. It might be your form, or torque on the bow that is making you shoot worse, but it could be something that just doesn’t work for you. Perhaps the grip is different and you can’t hold one bow without torquing at the shot, whereas you can hold the other steady and straight. Just remember that one bow needs to be consistently different from the other. Don’t just shoot one group with each and choose the one that has the better group. Also, don’t think that because one group is closer to the bullseye than the other it is automatically better. Once again, sighting the bow for yourself will produce better accuracy than when you are just testing the bow.
Inspect the bow for manufacturing defects and flaws. You are paying for a piece of equipment that should be free of them. Look at the machining on the different parts of the bow. Check for defects that could affect a bows performance and also affect the look of the bow. You wouldn’t buy a new car with a big scratch in the paint, you shouldn’t buy a bow with one either. Also make sure the replaceable parts on the bow are in good shape. Check to make sure the string is not frayed and looks like it is in good condition. Some of the bows in shops get used quite a bit before they are sold. Make sure you have a good string on the bow that is going to last instead of needing to replace it not long after you have bought it. If you are unsure about the quality of the string you are getting ask the shop to replace it before you buy the bow.
Things NOT to worry about
Don’t worry if you can’t hit the bullseye with a bow the shop is letting you try out. To get accurate you will need to have the bow set up for you and sighted in to your anchor point. Most shops are going to let you shoot the bow to get a feel for it, I think it would be a rare occasion to have them sight the bow in before you have even bought it.
Brand names. Just because a bow shop is a Hoyt, Mathews, PSE, Bowtech or other dealer, does not mean that those are the right bow for you. Most people could be happy shooting a bow from just about any company out there. Try to remember the points I made about bias. It comes from all angles in the archery world, so remember to be cautious.
Equipment that is already on the bow is something you shouldn’t put to much stock in either. If you don’t like a piece that you are trying out such as the rest or the release, remember you don’t have to buy those pieces. You can dress your bow with whatever you want on it later.
Ultimately you are looking for a bow that you are going to enjoy shooting. Try to recognize what makes shooting one bow better than shooting another bow FOR YOU, whatever that characteristic(s) is(are). Be informed and take your time making this decision, it can be a difficult task to find the right bow, especially the first time. As with anything else, experience will guide and direct you on what qualities you like in a bow, but hopefully this article will help you make a more informed decision on your first. If this isn’t your first time buying a bow, hopefully this article will help you refine your decision making process or perhaps encourage you to try something new and compare results. Either way, I wish you the best of luck and take care.