I should be in Indianapolis right now, shooting 2021′s hottest new flagship compound bows by day and eating lamb chops at St. Elmos on the company’s dime at night. Instead, I’m at home making mac ‘n cheese for the kids lunch and trying to remember how to divide compound fractions. Thanks to COVID-19, the in-person annual Archery Trade Association show was cancelled this year, and replaced with a virtual version. A Zoom ATA.
Well, I don’t know how to shoot a bow virtually. So I called in as many new models as I could my hands on, set them up, and shot them in my backyard. And I can tell you this: For all the things that COVID has put the kibosh on since last March, it doesn’t seem to have slowed down the country’s bow manufacturers one bit. The 2021 crop of new compounds is as big and impressive as ever. There are screaming-fast bows, insanely lightweight bows, new high-performance models designed for female shooters, value-priced flagships, and—all told—truly something for everyone. I think the biggest trend in bows this year is choice, with most companies offering their latest flagship model in a variety of axle-to-axle lengths and specs to meet your preferences, whatever they may be.
So, let’s get to it. Here is a first look at the top new compound bows, from the biggest names, for 2021.
Let’s just say this the way it is: Mathews’ CrossCentric Cam System is the best in the business coming in to 2021. You can argue otherwise, but I can’t, knowing that the company has either won or finished runner-up in every single F&S/OL annual bow test—the most rigorous, no-b.s. test anywhere—since they introduced the technology back in 2016. The reason for its success is pretty simple: The system delivers what every bowhunter wants—a fast bow that shoots like a slow one. If you think the new V3 looks a lot like last year’s VXR (which looked a lot like the three before it) there’s a simple reason for that, too: Mathews are no dummies. They know they’ve got something special, so why change it? Instead, they have been giving us incremental improvements on an already excellent design.
This year, with the V3, the company is introducing a CenterGuard Cable Containment System, designed to optimize cam timing a provide more vane clearance. The riser is lighter, too, and it’s longer in relation to axle-to-axle length, which, according to the company, allowed them to make a shorter overall bow without sacrificing accuracy and stability. This is plain to see on the V3 27 (see specs above), which is the company’s shortest flagship bow ever at 27 inches and will be especially handy in tight spaces. If you like a slightly longer bow, the company also offers a V3 31 version, which is 4 inches longer, less than a quarter-pound heavier, and has the same IBO speed rating. Both, of course, have the CrossCentric Cam System, which as of last year, includes a mod that lets you change draw weight in 5-pound increments without touching the limbs. ($1,199; mathewsinc.com)
Bowtech says that their new-for-2021 flagship compound is the solution for anyone who wants “bone-crushing speed” and a “silky smooth draw.” Having shot the bow, I can tell you that there is something to that. But it also looks like a welcome remedy to what was lacking about last year’s top offering. The 2020 Revolt introduced the company’s DeadLock technology and was a great-shooting bow, but at 335 IBO, it was a fair bit slower than the company’s previous flagships. This year’s big debut, at 11-fps faster, does in fact seem to be, well, the Solution.
The marquis tech here is the DeadLock Cams, which can be moved left and right along the axle with just the turn of a few hex bolts. This lets you quickly tune your bow for perfect arrow flight and then lock in both cams and the tune, all without a press. The new Orbit Dampener is designed to reduce vibration and offset the weight of other accessories. On the range, the Solution is just what you expect from Bowtech—a rock-solid, pleasant-shooting bow—plus a little extra zip compared to its predecessor. ($1,199.99; bowtecharchery.com)
If you don’t care about the extra speed and you want an even easier drawing bow, the 30-inch Solution SS is also new for 2021. The “SS” stands for “super smooth.” I haven’t shot this bow yet, but knowing how the standard model shoots and given this one’s longer brace height (7 inches) and modest speed (332 IBO), I have no doubt that it is very smooth indeed. A good choice for easing back to full draw on skittish whitetails in tight cover.Also new in Bowtech’s 2021 flagship lineup is the Solution SD, the last letters of which stand for “short draw.” At 30 inches axle to axle and just 3.9 pounds, the SD has all the same tech as the other Solution models, with a cam that is adjustable from 23.5 to 28.5 inches for short-draw archers.
Bowtech Eva Shockey Gen 2
What made Bowtech’s original Eva Shockey model so popular, besides the personality behind it, was that it gave serious female shooters what they wanted and deserved—a serious bow. Not a beginners bow, or a grow-with-you bow, or a flagship-lite. The company took their very best technologies, the same stuff that was on their top-of-line models, put it on the Eva Shockey bow, and made a big splash. Well, those technologies have changed, so Bowtech decided it was time for an update. That means that the Gen 2 has the company’s new Deadlock everything: cams, limb pockets, cable guard. The cam’s signature tuning system is here, of course, which allows you to put bullet holes through paper with just the turn of a couple bolts. A lighter-weight riser gives the bow an overall weight of just 3.9 pounds, but it still has plenty of punch. Available in draw lengths from 23.5 to 28.5 and peak draw weights of 40, 50, and 60 pounds. ($1,199.99; bowtecharchery.com)
Elite is ascendant again. Last year’s Kure was their best bow in years. It took runner-up in our test thanks in part to an innovative new tuning system that lets you adjust cam lean with the turn of a few bolts—but mostly because it combined good speed with the sort of super-smooth draw cycle that put Elite on the map in the first place. I have shot the new EnKore and my early impression is that I like it even better than the Kure. And I’m not the only one. F&S hunting editor, Will Brantley, who spent a good part of the fall hunting with the EnKore, told me that he thinks it’s the best bow Elite has ever made. That’s not the same as testing bows head-to-head. We’ll get to that. But it’s a very good start for Elite’s latest, which has a new ASYM Tri-Track Cam System for increased speed and a mod system that lets you adjust let-off from 70 to 90 percent and draw lengths from 25 to 30 inches. ($1,099.99, Elitearchery.com)
If you’re looking for a slightly longer bow, go with the new Remedy, which is essentially the same bow with different specs (34 inches axle to axle, 6.375-inch brace height, 4.6 lb., 331 fps IBO). And if you want a really long bow—a pure target bow or something you can take from the field to your next 3D shoot—look at the Rezult 36 (36 inches axle to axle, 6.8-inch brace height, 4.7 lb., 330 fps IBO). The Remedy is the same price as the EnKore, and the Rezult 36 is $1,549.99.
Xpedition X Series
Xpedition is forging a reputation as one of the industry’s new speed leaders. Last year’s MX-16 was among the fastest bows in our test, and this year’s new X30 has the second-highest IBO rating (352 fps) of all the new 2021 models on this list. But speed is not, by any stretch, the only thing that Xpedition is bringing to the table this year. Their entire X Series of bows introduces a new state-of-the-art riser material called X-Loy, a blend of alloy infused with carbon that the company says is lighter than many carbon bows and yet stronger than aluminum. One thing’s for sure: it’s light. The X30 weighs just 3.6 pounds. The new bows also sport brand-new LVR cams and an ETS Energy Transfer System, both designed to max out performance and efficiency. The modular cams also allows ½-inch draw-length adjustments without a bow press. To me, this is one of the most exciting new launches of 2021, packed with innovation. I can’t wait to get it on the range for some serious testing.
The X Series includes the ultra-handy X30 (specs above), the X33 (32.5 inches axle to axle, 6.5-inch brace height, 3.7 lb., 350 IBO), and the long-draw X37 (37.5 inches axle to axle, 7.5 brace height, 3.9 lb., 334 IBO). Basically, there’s a new Xpedition X bow for everybody. ($1,300 for X30 and X33, $1,499 for X37, xpeditionarchery.com)
Note: If you haven’t shot an Xpedition bow, you should. It’s a different experience, and one that a growing number of shooters prefer. Whereas most draw cycles stack up as you pull, becoming increasingly demanding until it lets off into the valley, Xpedition puts the pork right upfront, at the start of the cycle, when you are strongest. So, while it can be a little tough to get started, it seems to get easier as you pull. This allows Xpedition to offer impressive speed with what feels like an easy-drawing bow.
Prime’s new flagship Nexus, which comes in axle-to-axle lengths of 32, 34, and 36 inches, promises to be the company’s best bow yet. Yeah I know, they all promise that. But the upgrades and innovations on the Nexus strike me as perfectly targeted. F&S testers have always loved the draw cycle of Prime’s flagship bows, which also have a great reputation for toughness. If ever we have nitpicked—always very politely—it has most often been about speed or noise and vibration. Well, the new Nexus introduces Prime’s fastest cam ever. The 34-inch model has an IBO speed of 345 fps. And according to the company, the Nexus also has 50 percent less noise and vibration than last year’s Black series. If that’s true—and we will test it— the Nexus should be fast, tough, quiet, and dead-in-the-hand, with a smooth draw cycle that ends with their signature concrete back wall. What else do you want? Oh yeah, accuracy. We’ll test that too. But for now, the Nexus is an especially promising new flagship from Prime.
One thing can be said unequivocally about the Nexus: It has the fanciest new grip of the new 2021 bows. The riser’s new Nonogrip features Aerogel technology, developed by NASA to protect astronauts from extreme cold. The idea is that even on the bitterest late-season hunts, the grip will have a comparatively warm feel, if that’s important to you. Finally, we can’t forget one of the very best features of this bow, and that’s the price. Prime won our bow test some years back, and even when they’ve missed the podium, they’ve never been far out of it. In other words, their bows are right there with the best. So for the price to be $100 or $200 more or less is big deal. ($999 for Nexus 2 and 4, $1,199 for Nexus 6; g5prime.com)
PSE Archery Xpedite NXT
PSE always puts out a bunch of new bows, and this year is no different. True to form, the company has introduced a couple of high-performance models for 2021 that can be considered flagships. The first is the Xpedite NXT. If, as I mentioned earlier, Xpedition Archery has been threatening to become the industry speed leader in recent years, the original speed king, PSE, is having none of it in 2021. The new Xpedite NXT is in fact the most expeditious of all the new flagships, with an IBO of 360 fps. If you’ve become a big fan of PSE’s recent flagships with the smoother-drawing Evolve cam, don’t worry. First, see below. Second, this bow borrows some of that Evolve technology to help smooth out its speed cam—including adjustable let-off up to 90 percent. In years past, whenever PSE sent us a real screamer for our annual test, we often complained about the hard draw cycle, because we’re always looking for the best model for the majority of shooters. It’s a little unfair, though, because there are plenty of folks who don’t care about a draw that demands a bit more. They can handle it, and they want the speed. Well, if that’s you, here’s your bow—and as a bonus, you’ll find it smoother than past PSE speedsters. And if you don’t need no stinking smoothness, and you just want max speed, you can get a 65- to 75-percent left-off module and go nuts. ($1,099.99; psearchery.com)
PSE Archery EVO EVL
All of the F&S testers have been big fans of PSE’s Evolve Cam ever since it hit the market back in 2017, and it has been such a success for the company that—with tweaks and improvements along the way—it has been the main engine powering their top models since. The latest of which is the EVO EVL, which introduces a number of new technologies. A Precision Buss Tuning System allows for micro-adjustments of the buss cable for exact tuning, and PSE Quick Disconnect mounts offer integrated connections for accessories. The riser is now machined for the QAD Integrate Rest mounting system, and the companies widest-set split limbs promise better stability. I haven’t shot this bow yet, but I have shot enough Evolve-cam-driven PSE compounds to know exactly what to expect: a smooth-drawing bow with a generous valley (this one ships with 90-percent let-off), and yet with a top-end IBO of 345, you know this one will also have plenty of gas. I have no doubt that the EVL will, in fact, be pretty darn nice. ($1,099.00; psearchery.com)
Bear Redemption EKO
What I really like about the new Bear Redemption is the value you get here. This model has just about ideal specs for an all-around hunting bow. At 31 inches, it’s handy but not too short. At 4.1 pounds, it’s light but not wispy or unstable. And at 342 fps IBO, it has all the performance you want in a flagship bow. And yet, it cost under $1,000. When I shot this bow, it felt more dead-in-the-hand than I remember some of the company’s previous flagships being; that’s probably due to the new Vibration Reduction System, which the company says reduces noise and felt vibration by 25 percent. There’s also a lot of customization available with this bow. You can set the let-off to 75, 80, 85, or 90 percent, and I like that it comes with two grips and a limb stop so you can set it up just the way you like it. The Redemption may not be quite as refined as some of the pricier flagships on this list, but that’s kind of the point: It sacrifices a little there to save you 100, 200, or 500 bucks. That said, the fit and finish on this particular bow is quite good—a step up for Bear and nice touch that a lot of shooters will appreciate. ($999; beararchery.com)
Hoyt has not announced all of its new flagship models for 2021 yet (stay tuned), but they have rolled out a brand-new high-performance compound called the Eclipse that’s made specifically for female archers. What does that mean exactly? Well, first, Hoyt asked female shooters what they wanted, and then they set out to check off everything on the wish list. For starters, the new Eclipse cam is designed to optimize performance for the shorter draw lengths that many women require. The bow also has a thinner, lighter TEC riser and a Xact Grip with a narrower profile from front to back. It comes in draw length ranges from 23.5 to 25.5 and 26 to 28, as well as peak draw weights of 30, 40, 50, and 60 pounds. And keep in mind, the 314 peak speed listed in the specs above is not IBO; that number reflects this particular bow’s max specs of 28 inches at 60 pounds. In other words, the Eclipse has plenty of performance—and at a nice price, too. ($899; hoyt.com)