Top-of-the-line compound bows get all the hype. No surprise. The very best of them are indeed unequaled. But here’s what nobody tells you: The best new midpriced bows are as good as some of the most expensive models out there. How do I know? I’ve tested pretty much all of them. And while you may lose a little speed with a budget bow, you can still get one heck of a deer slayer–and save about $400.
1. PSE X-Force Drive
The Specs: 30 1⁄2″ axle-to-axle • 71⁄2 ” brace height • 4.6 lb. • 326 fps IBO
It’s a little slower than PSE’s higher-priced X-Force models, but if there’s a difference in quality, I can’t tell what it is. The Drive looks and feels high-end in every regard. Smooth drawing with a cement back wall, it was the quietest bow in the test and is pretty darn dead in the hand. In losing a little speed, you gain a little valley, making the Drive easier to hold against the back wall compared with some of the company’s faster models. This one is a tad heavier than the other bows here, but I think that contributed to the fact that I shot it best, even at long range.
Bottom Line: The best bow in the test. A killer bargain.
2. Cabela’s Regulator
The Specs: 32″ axle-to-axle • 61⁄2″ brace height • 3.9 lb. • 325 fps IBO
Made by Diamond, the Regulator comes ready to shoot with more than $100 worth of accessories, including an Apex three-pin sight, a Hostage XL rest, a Dead-Lock Lite Octane quiver, a wrist sling, an alloy peep, a 5-inch Octane Hunter stabilizer, and a string loop. Smooth drawing with an excellent back wall, this bow balances nicely and points well. It was, however, the loudest model by far, with the most recoil.
Bottom Line: If $550 is your max, including accessories, this is a good deal. With a little tweaking, you might be able to tame the noise and vibration.
3. Hoyt Charger
The Specs: 31″ axle-to-axle • 63⁄4″ brace height • 3.8 lb. • 325 fps ATA
Ultralight, the Charger handles like a wand and points like a finger, yet it feels solid in the hand. Unlike many wispy bows, this one stacked arrows tightly for me, even at longer ranges. The draw cycle is smooth with plenty of valley, and there’s not much vibration at the shot. Fit and finish are excellent. On the downside, the back wall is just a tad mushy (not bad), and it was a bit (only a bit) louder than the PSE and Mission.
Bottom Line: If you like short and light, this is a fantastic bow for the price. It missed the top spot partly because I like a little more heft in a bow.
4. Mission Ballistic
The Specs: 30 1⁄2″ axle-to-axle • 7″ brace height • 4.18 lb. • 330 fps IBO
There’s much to like about the Ballistic: It is the fastest, most dead-in-the-hand, and second-quietest bow here. The back wall, however, is the spongiest. Fit and finish are O.K. but not on par with the Hoyt or PSE. And I just wasn’t crazy about the big, clunky rubber grip. You can remove it, but the sharp corners of the riser beneath make for a very uncomfortable handle.
Bottom Line: Try out the grip in the store. If you’re happy with the feel of it, you will almost certainly like this fast, smooth bow.