There’s lots to gawk at on the floor of the Archery Trade Association (ATA) show, but at or near the very top of the list for any hardcore bowhunter are the new flagship compounds. Which is why I headed straight for the shooting lanes as soon as the show opened. So far, I’ve been impressed. Speeds are hovering in the 330 to 350 IBO range, yet most of the bows have been pleasant to shoot. Here’s a rundown of the top-end new vertical-bow models for 2019 (in no particular order), including the coolest new features and my first impressions of shooting performance. We will be adding to this gallery as the show progresses.
Specs: 30-½-inch axle-to-axle, 6-¾-inch brace height, 4.1 lb., 332 fps IBO
The Lowdown: The Ritual 30 is a shorter version of the 33-inch axle-to-axle Ritual from 2018, and designed for hunters who want Elite performance in a shorter, more maneuverable bow. The riser does feature some cut-outs and redesigns that weren’t present last year, and the Ritual 30 is very slightly slower (3 fps) but lighter (.2 pounds) than last year’s longer version.
First Look: The Ritual also comes in a new 35-inch axle-to-axle version, which I liked very much, but I’m concentrating on the 30 here, because it was a pleasant surprise. I tend to dislike shorter bows. Because I have long arms, a long or mid-length bow tends to fit me better. So I was prepared to dislike the shorter Ritual. But I actually loved this bow. It’s got Elite’s smooth draw and solid back wall, and it pointed great for me. Bows at the ATA shooting lanes never come with sights, so you just eyeball the bullseye and hope your arrows come somewhat close. I chunked three arrows in 1-inch group with just instinctive shooting, and never did the same with any other bow at the show. There’s nothing particularly fancy or wildly innovative about the Ritual 30, but it really seems to be a shooter. $1,049; elitearchery.com
Specs: 30-½-inch axle-to-axle, 6-inch brace height, 3.9 lb., 342 fps IBO
The Lowdown: Hoyt was the pioneer in carbon riser design and technology, but the RX3 proves they aren’t resting on any laurels. The riser is completely redesigned and features a new weight-forward balance designed to produce a steadier, reduced-vibration shot. The new ZT Cam ™ works in conjunction with a patent-pending split cable system to reduce torque and nock travel. Also new is a sight plate that allows more streamlined mounting of the sight to the riser, plus a new adjustable grip.
First Look: Several things work together to make this one of the nicer Hoyt’s I’ve shot in recent years; the carbon riser obviously makes this a lighter bow, yet it settles in immediately and balances very well. And while the RX3 is plenty zippy, the valley is totally manageable and the back wall solid enough that I didn’t feel like the bow wanted to jump out of my hand. I also liked the redesigned grip a lot. $1,699; hoyt.com
Specs: 30-inch axle-axle, 6-inch brace height, 4.67 lb., 343 fps IBO
The Lowdown: Long a leader in smooth, quiet, and pleasant-drawing bows, Mathews continues that tradition with the Vertix. Powered by Mathews’ successful Crosscentric™ cam system, the Vertix also sports the new Switchweight™ technology, which allows shooters to change draw lengths, as well as peak draw weights (in five-pound increments), without changing cams. Mathews also incorporated its Engage™ grip for better balance and handling, as well as 3D Damping™ technology for reduced vibration and recoil.
First Look: I’ll admit to another personal quirk; while I’ve always enjoyed the smooth draw cycle that is the Mathews’ trademark, I always feel a little wobble somewhere in there that would bother me on a bow that doesn’t settle in right at full draw. And yeah, the Vertix has that wobble—but it does settle in, and beautifully. Of the bows I shot on Day One, the Vertix provided the absolute best overall shooting experience; it had a solid back wall and is remarkably dead in the hand at the shot. I was also impressed with the innovation in this bow; the Switchweight™ cams are an awesome idea, and the new Engage grip is the best Mathews has produced. $1,099; mathewsarcheryinc.com
Specs: 33-inch axle-axle, 6-inch brace height, 4.6 lb., 335 fps IBO
The Lowdown: The CT3 (and the 35-inch CT5) use Prime’s center-grip riser design from last year, but it’s integrated into a new riser design. And the new TRM™ parallel cam design allows limb- and cable-stop options that allow a shooter to customize the feel of the back wall. Also new this year are an integrated mounting system for Prime’s Sherpa™ quiver and several new camo and finish options.
First Look: Last year Prime took a hit in our annual bow test for a rougher-than-usual draw cycle, but the new CT3 feels like a different bow, with a pleasant draw that ends in the brick-solid back wall that’s a Prime trademark. The slimmed-down grip is another nice improvement and, at 15 fps faster than last year’s Logic, the CT3 looks like another high-performance, pleasant-shooting hunting bow from Prime. Honestly, it performs more like previous Prime models that have done so well in our test in the past, plus more speed. $999; g5prime.com
Specs: 31 axle-axle, 6-inch brace height, 4.2 lb., 342 fps IBO
The Lowdown: The Evoke is PSE’s answer to upping the game on last year’s popular Evolve, which came whisker-close to winning our 2018 bow test. The Evoke’s three-track binary cams promise high performance and let-off adjustments from 65 to 90 percent, and the Wedge Lock™ limb pockets are designed for rigid support. The Evoke’s riser is also new, with bridges above and below the handle for increased stability. Finally, the all-new Flex Rod System (FRS) is designed to eliminate torque during the draw cycle, and works in conjunction with PSE’s new RollerGlide™ to deliver precise tuning and arrow clearance. The Evoke is also offered in a 35-inch axle-axle model for those who want a longer, more forgiving bow.
First Look: One of the first things I noticed about the Evoke is that is one good-looking bow. While I’m not a big stickler on fit-and-finish, PSE has always taken a minor hit in this category during our bow tests, and their new Kolorfusion finish should result in a jump for them in this category. PSE has also been known for their stiff draw cycles and stingy valley, but the Evoke I shot showed none of that, thanks to a cam that allows customized let-off of up to 90 percent. There was a slight tingle of hand shock on the shot, but not enough to dissuade my belief that this, along with last year’s Evolve, is one of PSE’s best-shooting bows ever. $999; pse-archery.com
Specs: 32-¾-inch axle-axle, 6-inch brace height, 4.5 lb., 360 fps IBO
The Lowdown: Obsession’s new Trax Cam™ promises to deliver blistering speed without a brutal draw cycle; the 6061 aluminum alloy cams also feature draw-length specific modules that can be switched without a bow press. Also new are FX limb pockets that insure rigidity, Axion™ limb dampers for a more silent shot, and a rear stabilizer mount.
First Look: At 360 fps, the FX6 claims the fastest IBO speed of any bow I’ve shot so far. Any time you promise speed like this, there’s a price to be paid somewhere, and I knew the draw cycle of the FX6 wasn’t going to be a total joy ride. Still, I shot both 60- and 70-pound models, and while there is a noticeable hump before you drop into the valley, I shot both weights well. I liked the balance of the FX6, and for such a zippy shooter it seemed pretty quiet. If speed is your thing, this may very well be your bow for 2019. $999, obsessionbows.com
Specs: 32-inch axle-axle, 6-inch brace height, 4.3 lb., 352 fps IBO
The Lowdown: The “SR” stands for “speed redefined”, which mean this is an even faster version of Bowtech’s popular Realm series from last year. The cam on the SR6 looks much like the aggressive shoulder-puller on any other speed bow, but the company’s engineers designed it to put the stiff stuff at the beginning of the draw cycle, when you’re strongest. Copper weights on top and bottom cam add to the speed and performance. The FlipDisc offers two settings: Comfort and Performance.
First Look: It’s fun when marketing promises match up with reality; most fast bows make you pay right before the cams roll over, but the speed bump in the SR6’s draw-force curve was over before I knew I’d hit it. I’m continually impressed by Bowtech’s attention to detail, like swapping the letters for numbers on the draw-length setting so you no longer have to refer to the owner’s manual to know what’s what. This is kind of old-school, but I believe if you pay over a grand for a bow, the thing should look as good as it performs; Bowtech never disappoints in this area, and the SR6 is no exception. $1,099; bowtecharchery.com
Specs: 33.3-inch axle-to-axle, 5-inch brace height, 3.9 lb., 364 fps IBO
Overview: The Mako X is Xpedition’s flamethrower model for 2019. The bow’s 5-inch brace height and new XS cam™ combine to makes for an IBO rating that tops everything else on the show floor this year. Draw length can be adjusted in ½-inch increments on the modules without using a bow press.
First Look: This was one of the most pleasant surprises of Day Two. AT 364 IBO, I figured this thing was going to rip my arm off. Instead, the Mako ranks as one of the better bows I shot at this year’s ATA. Even with the 5-inch brace height, the bow’s draw cycle is quite manageable, and there is very little vibration for a bow this speedy. Also notable was the fit and finish, which I rank among the best I’ve seen from Xpedition. This is an impressive bow. $1,099, xpeditionarchery.com
Specs: 30-inch axle-axle, 6-inch brace height, 4.1 lb., 345 fps IBO
The Lowdown: Bear has rolled out two flagship-type models for 2019: the Perception and the Kuma 30. The Perception is a 350-fps-IBO speedster with a radical new shoot-through cage riser that has a lot going for it. But it’s the Kuma 30 that hit the sweet spot for me in terms of performance and value. The Kuma is an update of Bear’s 2018 model of the same name. Inspired by customer demand, Bear reworked last year’s model with a smaller frame and lighter weight, designed to bring the same speed and comfort to a bow that delivers easier handling.
First Look: Over the last bunch of years, I’ve done more and more hunting (especially in the late season) from blinds on elevated platforms, which has made me appreciate shorter bows like never before. I had that in mind when I shot the Kuma, which has a smooth draw cycle and balances nicely for a bow short enough to maneuver well in a tight spot. With a 345 fps IBO, the Kuma 30 is plenty fast, nice to shoot, and for a flagship-quality bow, the price is right. $899; beararchery.com
Specs: 30-inch axle-axle, 7-inch brace height, 4.2 lb., 350 fps IBO
The Lowdown: Darton made some significant tweaks to its Dual Sync™ cam system to produce a bow capable of churning out muscle-car speeds on a bow with a generous brace height. Along with impressive speed, the cam allows for half-inch draw-length adjustments (from 27 to 30 inches), and the limb stops can be tweaked for arrow tuning and let-off. Darton fans who hunt from tight treestands and blinds will appreciate how compact and maneuverable the Lightning XT.
First Look: I’ve shot my share of Darton bows over the years, and the Lightning was probably my favorite. The Michigan-based company is synonymous with speed, and while this year’s bow offers plenty of that, the 7-inch brace height results in the smoothest-drawing Darton bow I’ve shot. I also watched a tech change the draw length on the module in about 15 seconds; this is a new feature on Darton’s bows and should be popular for shooters and dealers alike. $1,049; dartonarchery.com