The ATA show may not be the best place to test bows. World Youth Day and Manhattan’s N Train might be better. But—and this is key—it is the media’s big opportunity to handle and shoot pretty much all of the new bows for 2015. It is an exciting first look, and enough of one to get a pretty solid sense not only of what many of you will be hunting with next fall, but also of major new trends in the industry.
And this year, there was a monumental shift—a near-universal movement toward longer axle-to-axle lengths. Thirty-three, 34, and 35-inch hunting models were everywhere. Which is big. So big that you might want to mark this down someplace: With 2015 ATA show, the Short Bow Era is over—at long last.
Of course, there were still plenty of short bows to satisfy the dedicated ground-blind hunter, but most of the models propped directly under the spotlight or twirling in glass cases at the exhibiters booths were 32 inches or better. What’s more, a remarkable number were right around 34 inches and roughly 340 IBO. I love this trend and will go into far too much detail about why in another post. But for now, here are the top new bows for 2015 (in alphabetical order).
1) Bear Archery Arena 34
So here’s the first of many models that reflect the longer axle-to-axle trend. This one is 34.5 inches, has a 6-inch brace height, and shoots 340 IBO. As I say, really like these specs. A long bow helps smooth out the draw cycle, allowing for a shorter brace height and more speed without having to pay for it too much when you pull the bow back. All of this is evident in the Arena 34 ($899; beararchery.com), with is pretty darn fast, but in my opinion, at least, also pretty smooth drawing.
Hits: A new limb stop makes for a very solid back wall, if that’s what you like. But you can remove it and go with a cable stop if you like a softer wall. To my eye, the combination of a sleeker riser and solid colors (olive green, tan, or black) makes for a pretty cool-looking bow. (Two camo finishes are also available.)
But the biggest hit here is value. While most other bow company’s have hiked thier flagship-model price to $999 or $1099, Bear has kept theirs at $899. I think this is both a smart move by the company and great for the consumer. Bear Archery is known for offering solid performance at a fair price. I think they got away from that a little with their flagship models in past years. But not with this one. This is indeed a solid performer, for $200 less than some other flagships.
Misses: The length makes for a fairly smooth draw, but it’s not exactly butter. It definitely wasn’t as smooth as some. I also felt a little jump and vibration. That said, we were shooting bare bows. This can probably be tamed.
What Else You Should Know: The Arena also comes in a 30-1/2 inch axle-to-axle model. It’s even faster, at 345 IBO, but you don’t get that extra speed for free. You do feel it in the draw cycle. If you can handle that, more power to you, literally. If not, look at the longer bow.
2) Bear Archery Tremor and Traxx
As I have often said, what I really like about Bear Archery is the value they offer in their mid-priced and low-priced bows. Today’s flagships are routinely topping a cool grand, which is a pile of cash to drop on a bow almost no matter who you are. But Bear has two new models this year that deliver near-flagship performance for several hundred bucks less. If you’re a smooth-bow guy, you’ll want to look at the Tremor. This single cam has a 33-inch axle-to-axle length, 6-3/4-inch brace height, and shoots 322 IBO. If you’re more of a short-bow, speed guy, the hybrid-cam Traxx has a 31-5/8 axle-to-axle length, same brace height, and goes almost 340 IBO.
Hits: Except for a different riser and cable guard, the Tremor is pretty much last year’s flagship single cam—the Vendetta—for significantly less dough. Ditto the Traxx, except it is basically the Agenda. Great value either way. Both have an MSRP of around $650, which means you’ll probably be able to find them for under $600.
Misses: The Traxx has a fairly demanding draw cycle, buy hey, what do you want for 338 IBO at this price. The fit-and-finish is not top-end, but the deer won’t care.
What Else You Should Know: For another hundred bucks or so, both are available with the Ready to Hunt package, which includes a Trophy Ridge Whisker Biscuit rest, Ridge 5-pin sight, stabilizer, sling, quiver, and a D-loop.
3) Bowtech Prodigy
New isn’t good enough at the ATA show. New is everywhere. I want to see something big, something radically different. Last year, Obsession Archery grabbed me—and everyone else—by the wattles with the Evolution. How could so fast a bow have so generous a valley?
This year, so far at least, it’s the Bowtech Prodigy, with its never-seen-before Powershift Technology, which features a three-position gear that allows you to change the bow’s draw-force curve.
In the Performance setting, the Prodigy is a speed bow, with an IBO of 343 fps. In the Comfort setting, is a smooth bow with a generous valley. The Classic setting splits the difference. In my tests, the speed differential from one setting to the next is about 6 fps. The Prodigy has a 7-inch brace height, 32-inch axle-to-axle length, and weighs 4.2 pounds—good all-around hunting specs.
Hits: Each setting delivers a noticeably different shooting experience, and going from Performance to Comfort transforms the whole character of the bow. Changing the settings is easy, too, requiring only an Allen wrench.
Misses: In the Performance setting, it’s not as fast as most of this year’s speed bows. (But it’s still plenty fast.) Also, one can reasonably argue that most shooters will rarely, if ever, bother to switch from one setting to another. Haters are already calling it a gimmick. Maybe I could go along with that somewhat if the new technology somehow negatively affected the bow’s overall performance. But I’ve shot the Prodigy quite a bit (I’ve killed two deer and three pigs with it) and can tell you that it doesn’t. It’s an extra, a bonus feature for which there’s no big tradeoff.
What’s more, many shooters never get to own or shoot enough bows to really know what kind of draw-force curve suits them best. With the Prodigy, they can do that with just one bow. As I say in this video, it’s like your bow shop pro sending you home with three bows for the price of one and saying “keep them as long as you want, and when you figure out what you like best, just bring me back the others.” Except you don’t have to bring back the others.
What Else You Should Know: The new Bowtech Boss is basically a long-draw version of the Prodigy, including Powershift technology, with Performance, Classic, and Comfort settings. The 36-inch axle-to-axle length, 7-inch brace height, and 4.6-pound weight, and 333 fps IBO delivers the smooth-drawing, steady-on-target shooting experience long-draw archers love.
Two Bonus Bows: One sure sign at the ATA show that a bowmaker is doing something right is a long line to shoot their bows. Bowtech’s shooting station was backed up from the start of day one through the end of day three. We kept saying, let’s come back when the line is shorter. By the time I actually shot all the new models, our video editor was running to catch a flight. So, we’ll just have to show you pictures, because there are two other Bowtech bows you need to see.
The Carbon Icon: For anyone who likes an ultralight bow and a bargain, the Icon weighs a mere 3.2 pounds, thanks to its carbon riser. It’s short, but not crazy short, at 31 inches axle to axle, with a 7-inch brace height and an IBO speed of 335 fps. What really impressed me on the range is how little shock, vibration, and noise it produces for such a light and fairly fast bow. It sports Bowtech’s Binary Cam System (as opposed to the Binary Overdrive System on the flagship models) and has a basic cable slide (as opposed to the FLX-Guard roller). But it does feature the new Powershift technology, in the form of a Flipdisc, which has two settings, Perfomance and Comfort. The real key here is the price. It’s a lot of bow for $649, and you can get it all decked out with the company’s R.A.K. (Ready. Aim. Kill.) package for another $100 or so.
The Eva Shockey Signature: Here’s what so cool about this: Bowtech has gone and made a true flagship bow for women. They asked women shooters what they wanted in a bow, and to no one’s surprise the ladies said: The same thing everyone else wants: top-end technology and performance. So, with the input of TV host Eva Shockey, Bowtech put a pile of premium features into this lightweight, carbon-riser bow, including Binary Overdrive cams, Powershift technology, and FLX-Guard cable roller. The Eva Shockey Signature ($849) is 31.5 inches long, weighs 3.3 pounds, with a 6.55-inch brace height, and an IBO speed of 332 fps. It shoots very much like the Carbon Overdrive—in other words, nice.
4) Elite Archery Synergy
As you may remember, Elite Archery’s last two flagship bows took consecutive runner-up honors in our annual bow test. Although not blazing fast, their latest offerings have been so darn pleasant to shoot that even those of us who favor a few extra feet per second can’t deny their appeal. With the Synergy, Elite pulls further on the reins of the long-running speed craze and may be poised to usher in a new era of shootability.
This bow is exactly what you’d expect from the company; it’s a well-built, hunting bow that’s just a joy to shoot.
Hits: Easy draw cycle, generous valley, concrete back wall, and a minimum of vibration and noise. At 33 inches axle to axle and 4.4 pounds, it has the kind of hunting specs I really like. A little more length makes for a smoother draw, and a little more weight makes a bow easier to shoot well. (I got the brace height wrong in the video; it’s not 7 inches but 7 3/8.)
Misses: At 325 IBO, it doesn’t rock the chronograph (as usual), but it’s plenty fast enough for just about anything you might want to do with it. If you are a raw speed guy, the Synergy is not for you. But if you are anybody else—and especially if you are a deer hunter who will shoot at typical ranges—you will be hard pressed to find a better hunting bow.
What Else You Should Know: I got a chance to set up and shoot a test-model Synergy this fall. As I say above, the bow has the kind of specs that should make it easy to shoot well, and it didn’t disappoint on the range. My test bow averaged 1.82-inch groups at 30 yards, based on 10 three-shot groups. That may not be good for you, but it’s good for me. Whatever level of accuracy you’re looking for in a hunting bow, I don’t see any reason why the Synergy won’t deliver.
5) Hoyt Nitrum Turbo
The biggest eye-opener in Hoyt’s 2015 line is the new Nitrum Turbo—and it’s 350 fps ATA rating. Hoyt has made a speed bow before, but this takes things to another level. Basically, the Nitrum Turbo replaces the 340-fps Hoyt’s Faktur Turbo, which placed second in our annual bow test two years ago. This one has some major differences, though—the most obviously being the completely redesigned and really bad-ass looking riser. The Nitrum also has a new, more aggressive cam and a totally redesigned roller guard made to minimize torque. The specs are 33 inches axle-to-axle, 6-inch brace height, 4.2 pounds, and 350 fps ATA.
Hits: It’s really fast—faster, I believe, than any bow Hoyt has ever made. The new riser, which has a cage on the bottom and an offset up top for greater strength and stiffness, makes the Nitrum the best-looking bow I’ve seen at the show so far.
Misses: There’s usually a price to be paid for an increase in speed, and there’s no exception here; the draw cycle is fairly demanding, with a noticeable roll-over and a narrow valley. The bow wants to go—which may not be a problem for the speed nuts out there.
What Else You Need to Know: Hoyt also offers the Nitrum Turbo in a carbon-riser version. It may be even more badd-ass looking than the aluminum one, and the bow is .4 pound lighter at 3.8. That said, you save about $400 by going aluminum without sacrificing any performance.
6) New Breed Archery Blade
Every year there are a few surprises at ATA, and this is one of them. New Breed is a very young bow company, and nobody expects the new kid to jump into the game and hang with the big boys. But the company’s 2015 flagship, the Blade, is a player. A lot of guys we’ve bumped into at the show have said, “Have you shot the New Breed? You need to.” The specs are: 34-inch axle-to-axle, 6-1/2-inch brace height, 4 pounds, and 335 IBO. But as I say in the video, it’s a very smooth 335.
Hits: Exceptionally smooth draw cycle; it loads up early and eases into the let-off. It also seemed to be dead in the hand and quiet (though the later is hard to judge in this environment).
Misses: The valley is not particularly wide, but I’m not sure you can call it a miss; because the bow eases down so gradually, it doesn’t yank you forward at all if you creep. So it’s very manageable at full draw. In a hunting situation, that gentle let-down is actually a plus if you have to draw more than once on a buck.
What Else You Should Know: All New Breed bows are 100 percent handmade in the U.S.
7) Obsession Archery Fusion 6
As I say in the video, Obsession Archery blew the doors off the 2014 ATA show with the Evolution. Folks just couldn’t wrap their heads around a true speed bow that offered so much valley and so little vibration and noise. For 2015, the company decided not to mess (too much) with a good thing. The Fusion 6 pretty much is the Evolution. The only significant difference is that this year’s flagship has a draw-length-specific cam, which is slightly more efficient and therefore delivers a few more feet per second. The specs are: 32-1/4-inch ATA, 6-inch brace height, 4.1 pounds, and 356 IBO (compared to 350 for this year’s Evolution).
Hits: Despite the extra speed, the Fusion has a lot of the same qualities as last year’s flagship. Fairly smooth draw, good back wall, and little vibration or noise. What really stands out though is the almost unthinkably generous valley for so fast a bow.
Misses: A draw-length-specific cam means that if you want to change the draw length (because you want to sell it, or buy one from a friend, or you just realize that you’ve been shooting too long or too short a draw), you need a whole new cam, which runs maybe $80 or so. In other words, make sure you get your draw length right before you buy.
What Else You Should Know: There is also a Fusion 7, which you can probably guess has a 7-inch brace height. All the other specs are the same except the IBO, with is still-pretty-smoking 346.
8) Prime Rival
While Prime has been a solid contender in the last few years in our annual bow test, we’ve always felt they were a step or two away from greatness. Their 2015 flagship model, the Rival, may be just the boost they need to step in to the Big Time. It’s a smartly designed, high-performance bow that Hurteau and I truly enjoyed shooting. What’s more, it totally nailed two big trends at this year’s ATA show; a longer axle-axle (35″) and impressive speed (340 fps). It’s not easy to combine those qualities, but Prime appears to have pulled it off with the Rival.
Specs: Brace height: 6-1/4″, Mass weight: 4.3 lbs., Draw length: 26-30″, draw weight 30-70# (in 10-pound increments).
Hits: Amazingly pleasant draw cycle and a solid back wall; really impressive for a bow this fast. While it won’t compete with the true flame-throwers out there, 340 fps is plenty fast for most of us. The new roller guard system is tunable, and the fit and finish on the Rival truly stood out. And in a real sea-change for Prime, the grip is slim and comfortable, which our testing has proven promotes greater accuracy.
Misses: Hunters who sit in ground blinds and tight stand setups won’t like this long bow. And, as with any bow with a generous valley, the Rival will be difficult to let down if you need to re-draw on a buck.
What else you need to know: There’s a shorter axle-axle version available. And if you register your Rival at the time of purchase, you get a new set of strings/cables free after two years.
9) PSE Bow Madness
And here we have yet another 34ish-inch bow (34-1/4) that shoots right around 340 IBO (342, to be exact). These specs are popping up like fruit flies at this year’s show. But this bow is something of a special case because unlike most of the other’s we’ve covered, this is not a flagship model. This is PSE’s Bow Madness 34, which is part of the company’s Mainline series (as opposed to their Pro series) and retails for just $699 (not $799 as I say in the video). The Bow Madness line has always been comprised of mid-priced single-cams. They are still mid-priced, but for 2015, PSE has put a brand new hybrid-cam system on both this and the 32-inch models, both of which have a 6-inch brace height (The 30-inch Bow Madness is still a single cam.) So, you get a little extra performance for the price.
Hits: I’ll say it again: I really like these specs. You get a whole lot of speed and yet the long axle length helps smooth out the draw cycle, making it more manageable than it would be otherwise. The extra length, which almost always means a little extra weight, too, makes for a more stable shooting platform as well. This hunting bow can cross over to the 3D range, no problem. And it’s a solid value.
Misses: The fit and finish isn’t great, but I doubt the deer (or the deer targets) will care.
What Else You Should Know: The Bow Madness 32 has a 32-3/8-inch axle-to-axle length, shoots 340 IBO, and cost $100 less, listing at $599. If you like a shorter bow for hunting and you don’t mind putting a little more effort into the draw cycle, this is a great bargain, too.
10) PSE Decree HD
PSE has long produced some of the most innovative, high-performance bows, none of which have been honored well in the F&S bow test. Mid-range scores in one category or another have shaved just enough points off their entry to keep it from besting some very tough competition. That might change with the Decree HD, a bow that proves PSE can still produce a speed bow with a pleasant personality. Features: 35″ axle-axle, 6″ brace height, 4.2 pounds, 342 fps IBO.
Hits: The long riser makes a 6″ brace height and plenty of speed easy to handle. As is typical with PSE, the Decree is pretty dead in the hand at quiet.
Misses: Fit and finish on the bow I shot was pretty blah; a minor beef.
What you need to know: Speed freaks accustomed to PSE’s usual gas-burners can get the Decree in a shorter axle-axle version, which bumps the speed up around 350 IBO and drops the physical weight of the bow down to 3.8 lbs.