I’m tempted to call 2021 the Year of the Budget Bow. But that begs the question: What was 2020 the year of? Dog doo? In any case, there are a lot of great new bargain-priced compound bows this year. I’d like to think that bow manufacturers have considered that lots of people are taking up the outdoor sports during these crazy days, and they want to make it easy for them. Whatever the reason, the upshot is that whether you’re just getting started and want a beginner model or you’ve been at it for years and want a serious, high-performance compound at a killer price, this is the year to find it.
In the past, when we’ve said “budget” or “bargain” bows, we generally meant compounds for under $500, and there are plenty of those on the list below. But I think some of the best values in 2021 are bows in the $600 to $800 range. These are models that offer near-flagship performance, in some case with IBO ratings up near 340. You may not not get a roller guard or as many finish options. But you’ll shoot just as many deer and save some money in the bargain.
So here we go. Below is a first look at the best new budget bows for 2021, plus a few tried and true options still in production.
Hoyt Torrex & Torrex XT
If you’ve been in the budget-bow market for long, you remember the Hoyt Powermax, which for years was one of, if not the, best-built value-priced bow around. The new Torrex and Torrex XT replace the Powermax in the Hoyt lineup and offer new features, more options, and faster speeds. The standard Torrex is 30¾ inches axle to axle with a 7-inch brace height and a 327-fps ATA speed rating. For an extra $100, the XT model gets you nearly another 10 fps, thanks to a 6-inch brace height. It’s also a tad shorter and a couple ounces heavier at 4 pounds even. There’s a long-draw XT version, too. So you’ve got choices, which is great. But as with the Powermax, the best thing about these bows is that Hoyt makes them. The company has a reputation for making tough, built-to-last compounds, and they don’t compromise that with their lower-priced models. Lot’s of bargain bows feel a little cheap. That’s to be expected. What’s unexpected is how solid and tight these bows feel by comparison. ($599 for Torrex, $699 for Torrex XT and XT Long Draw; hoyt.com)
Bowtech Carbon Zion
Speaking of well-built budget bows and updates, Bowtech’s Carbon Zion is an improved and renamed version of the truly excellent Carbon Icon. I hunted with the Icon for part of a season and loved it. Afterward, I gave it to a buddy who has since refused to replace it with anything newer. The Zion might just change his mind. At just 3.3 pounds, it is the lightest carbon bow to date, and it is driven by Bowtech’s synchronized Binary Cam with Powershift, which allows you to choose between Comfort and Performance settings. At 335 fps IBO it’s got near-flagship speed, and the new tapered grip is an improvement on the original Icon, which took some heat for being too squared off and angular. I haven’t shot this bow yet, but there’s no reason it shouldn’t shoot much like the Icon did; in other words, very impressively for such a lightweight bow. ($749.99; bowtecharchery.com)
Another upgrade, the new Amplify replaces the Convergence in the Bowtech lineup, maintaining the same $599 price tag, but giving you another 5 fps of speed and some updated tech. With 62 pounds of draw-weight adjustment and 9 inches worth of draw-length options, this is a grow-with-you bow that’s perfect for beginners. Yet at 335 IBO, it’s got some oomph. Any high-adjustability bow with the name Bowtech or Diamond is inspired by the original best-selling Diamond Infinite Edge. But whereas that was a true beginner’s model—one you’d be apt to replace before too long—the Amplify delivers serious performance and accuracy with its Binary Cam System and wider split-limb design, which provides more stability. It also comes with Powershift technology and the new Orbit Dampener to reduce noise and vibration. ($599; bowtecharchery.com)
PSE Drive NXT
I remember raving about the original PSE Drive after it won one of our Budget Bow Shootouts. That was years ago, and the Drive has only gotten better since. You’ll often see cast risers and plastic parts on budget bows, but not here. The new Drive NXT has an all-new machined aluminum riser and aluminum limb pockets, which not only boost overall quality but also add strength and stability that typically translates into better accuracy. The ZF Quad Track Cam System delivers a 330-fps IBO rating and offers more adjustment and easier tuning compared to previous Drive models. With 7 inches of draw-length adjustment, this bow can grow with you, but it’s not a kid’s bow. With peak draw weights of 60 and 70 pounds, it’s targeted at hardcore grownup hunters who want a good deal. This one has some nice extras, too, including PSE’s swappable ComfortGrip System. At first glance, the cams of my test bow looked pretty aggressive, but I was pleasantly surprised with the easy draw cycle. ($699; psearchery.com)
Bear Whitetail Legend
It was always Fred Bear’s mission, according to the company, to make archery accessible to everyone by offering quality bows at an affordable price. And that, I think, is exactly what Bear Archery does best. I have always been impressed with what they offer in the lower price ranges, and the new Whitetail Legend is a good example. Nothing mind-blowing here; just a good solid hunting bow with more than enough zip at 320 fps, and it comes ready to shoot, with higher-end Trophy Ridge accessories than their previous kit bows, all for under $500. It’s a nod to the classic Whitetail Hunter introduced by Fred Bear in the 70s, but with modern capabilities—and all anyone needs to go out and get their buck. ($480 for RTH package; beararchery.com)
The MXR is listed as “New” on the Mission Archery website. I know that the model was introduced in 2019, and I don’t see any apparent upgrades or changes, but I’m going to include it here anyway, because if you’re shopping on a budget, this is a bow you need to know about. And what you need to know, above all else, is that the MXR borrows much of the same CrossCentric Cam technology that has vaulted Mathews’ flagship bows to the top in recent years. This is a handy bow at 30 inches and 4 pounds even, and it has more than enough speed to get the job done. If 324 fps doesn’t blow you away, you need to remember a couple things: First, the listed IBO is for this bow’s max draw-length setting of 29.5 (as opposed to the standard 30), and with the CrossCentric tech, that speed is comparatively high for the amount of effort you have to put in. ($499; missionarchery.com)
If you like the MXR above, but you want even more adjustability for, say, a younger hunter, and you want it for even less money—well, here you go. The new Mission Switch has a brand-new cam system that is heavily inspired by that same Crosscentric Cam technology but offers even easier draw length adjustments from 18 inches all the way up to a 30. You give up a little speed, obviously, but that shouldn’t be an issue for a bow targeted at younger archers. Plus, 305 fps used to be fast, remember? So, the Switch has plenty of speed for Junior’s first buck, and second, and third…. ($399; missionarchery.com)
Great Budget Bows Back for 2021
Not every company put out a new budget bow for 2021, but several have models that were new last year and are still in the line up in 2021. If you need a refresher, here’s what I wrote about them in last year’s ATA roundup.
Bear Divergent EKO
This is another straight-up performance bow, designed to be handy in tight spaces and easy on the wallet. At almost 340 IBO, the Divergent EKO is faster than four of the 2020 flagships. The draw cycle is fairly smooth for such a fast compound, and the bow comes with both a string stop and a limb stop, so you can make the back wall as hard as you want it. I won’t lie to you, there’s a bit of hand shock, but it’s nothing major. The valley on the test bow I shot was a tad stingy too, just as it was with last year’s version, but new on this year’s model is an updated EKO cam that lets you put that valley right where you like it, via four let-off settings, from 75 percent all the way up to 90. Which is nice. All in all, this is a serious performer that you can set up to suit your preferences. ($699; beararchery.com)
Elite’s new low-cost, high-adjustability bow is perfect for kids and beginners—but it ain’t a toy. And that’s a big deal. The problem I’ve seen with many of these inexpensive grow-with-you-bows is that they’re cheaply made; their plastic parts wear down and because they are very lightweight and their risers are not rigid enough to manage torque, they can be hard to shoot well. A mushy back wall often adds to the problem. The new Ember, on the other hand, is built right. There’s hardly a piece of plastic on the entire bow—riser, limb pockets, cams, and mods are all made of aluminum, plus you get a Winner’s Choice string and integrated limb stops for a harder back wall. Draw length is adjustable from 15 to 29 inches and draw weight from 10 to 60 pounds. I shot this little bugger on the range and didn’t want to put it down. If you’re looking for a first bow for yourself or someone else, the Ember is a great choice. ($499; elitearchery.com)
Xpedition Mountaineer X
I’m not sure you can really call this a budget bow at over $800. But I’m including it here anyway, and I think you’ll be glad for it—because the Mountaineer X is a really nice bow. The forged aluminum riser is not quite as robust as that on Xpedition’s new flagship models, but it doesn’t have to be because this bow is also a little slower. “Slower,” however, does not mean “slow.” At 340, the Mountaineer X is as fast as many 2020 flagships from other companies, and it accomplishes this with a forgiving 7-inch brace height. The XS-V cam has a rotating mod for quick draw-length adjustments, and it produces a draw cycle that is classic Xpedition, meaning that the heavy lifting comes right up front, when you are strongest, and it gets easier and easier as you pull back. This, combined with the longer axle-to-axle length and generous brace height makes for an easy-drawing speed bow. The one I shot at the ATA range was smooth and dead-in-the-hand. It’s a flagship-quality bow at a discount. ($849; xpeditionarchery.com)