So you’re thinking about getting a compound bow.
Hunter or target shooter. Good choice.
I’m going to assume you’re an adult or an older youth aged 13+ because the process of choosing a good youth compound for younger kids is different to choosing your first adult size compound bow.
Compounds are popular with hunters and target shooters for their power and let-off.
There’s a lot of choice out there on the market. Let’s quickly run through our picks before we get into the detail….
The second iteration of the infinite edge is innovative, extremely versatile and adjustable, offers 310 fps, 80% let off and normally comes in a package that is well priced. This bow can be adjusted to suit any beginner from youth to adult. This is our pick for price/performance.
Bear is always a good choice, this one matches the Diamond on nearly all fronts including adjustability and also has a G2 and Lite version which are slightly higher and lower respectively in price than our RTH pick which is going to be the most popular of these 3 Bears.
Best on a budget the SAS Rage is a great bow, whilst it can’t quite match the Bear or the Edge on specs it normally beats them hands down on price. Sorry lefties this is a right hand only model.
Note: Our individual reviews are below, but you can click any of the links above to check current prices on Amazon.
Before you can effectively choose your first compound bow there’s a few things you need to know.
Which handedness of bow you need…
If you don’t already know this, here’s a quick recap.
Which way round do you shoot? Which hand picks up the bow and which draws the string? If you know which is your dominant eye and your dominant hand then use our guide to figure that out.
The hand you’d use to draw back the bowstring IS the handedness of bow. So…
- Right handed bows are held in the left hand and the string is pulled back in the right hand.
- Left handed bows are held in the right hand and the string is pulled back with the left hand.
Compound bows are made for either the right hand or the left hand. Some are only made for right handers (sorry lefties), but if you’re a leftie that sometimes will limit your choices, but not too much so don’t sweat it.
Bow Size Specs, ATA, Brace Height and Draw Length
Measure a compound bow from “Axle To Axle” (one cam to the other) and you’ll get the ATA measurement. This is usually specified on bows and lets you know how large they are.
It can help with choosing good case or backpack to suit the bow but other than that, unless you’re shooting long distances regularly (say 60 yards) then a shorter bow will be lighter and will be just as accurate as a longer bow.
Modern compounds have a brace height that’s set by the manufacturer. Brace height is the distance from the bowstring to the back of the bow grip.
The longer the brace height, the less time the string is in contact with the arrow after release and conventional wisdom would have you believe that this makes a bow more forgiving. With today's fast bows you’d be okay to ignore conventional wisdom and go for any brace height you like. Longer brace heights sometimes make for slower bows but they certainly make for an easier draw cycle.
Finally your draw length is something you can figure out pretty easily using the armspan method, but there are other methods (see our guide).
Hold your your arms to your side, measure the span from middle finger to middle finger tip and divide it by 2.5. Round-up to the nearest cm or ½ inch and this is your draw length.
A little about IBO speeds and FPS
IBO speed is measured in feet per second (FPS) and is measured using a standard weight of arrow and a standard draw weight and draw length. It doesn’t tell you exactly how fast your bow will shoot, but it DOES give you a relative yardstick you can use to compare different bows.
310 fps for example would be considered a pretty fast bow.
What you can safely use that speed for is dependent on the weight of your arrow and the type of arrow-head you’ll use.
With a 310 fps bow and an arrow equipped with the right broadhead weighing 500 grains you’d be safe to hunt pretty much any game animal on the planet.
Draw Weight and Let-Off Percentage
With a compound bow you get the benefit of lef-off. To draw a 70 lbs compound as you pull back the string through the full cycle, at some point in that draw you will have to pull through 70 lbs of weight.
At full draw however you’ll only be holding back the draw weight minus the let-off percentage.
For example a 70 lbs draw bow with 80% let off will only require you to hold back 14 lbs at full draw whilst aiming
That let-off makes aiming for extended periods much easier with a compound.
The ideal type of starter bow needs is adjustable. Adjustable for BOTH draw weight and draw length.
Fortunately most compounds bows can be easily adjusted, but some more than others.
Starting out you want a light weight on the draw that allows you attain proper form.
As your technique improves you’ll want to increase the weight of your draw because you’re muscles will be able to handle more weight and keep that form.
You’ll also find that as you shoot more and use your tendons and muscles you’ll naturally stretch and find yourself wanting to draw further.
If you happen to be a youth, you’ll also benefit from the ability to adjust draw length and weight as you grow.
RTH Packages and Accessories
Lots of compounds come RTH (ready to hunt) out of the box. That’s going to mean you’ll get a sight, stabilizer, silencers, bow-sling and sometimes other extras alongside the bare bow. This type of package is a good idea for a starter compound as you’ll save money vs purchasing them individually and you’ll be pretty much guaranteed to get piece of kit that you know will work well together.
The Price/Performance Ratio
As with many things, you can pay top dollar if you want to and can afford it. That’s not where our recommendations will lie. Pay 5x the price of a ‘regular’ item, you won’t be guaranteed to get 5x the quality or performance. Too far up the scale and you’re throwing money at things you won’t ever appreciate, we call that the price/performance ratio.
Our starter bow picks sit well in that range of gear that’s not too expensive but provides a good level of performance that a beginner will be more than happy with.
Our Picks In Detail
Diamond Infinite Edge Pro
"versatility and performance and a great price"
The second generation of the Infinite Edge is something most people will never outshoot. This has been an incredibly popular bow for Diamond and with the level of versatility and performance it shows for a reasonable price point it isn’t hard to see why.
You can adjust the draw weight from 5-70 lbs, the length from 13-31”. This has what some might say is the ‘ideal’ brace height of 7” and sets out the stall at 310 fps on the IBO speed rating front coupled with an 80% let-off.
People rave about the Diamond and they have been doing so for years, it’s been their best selling bow of all time. Checkout our full review here.
- Adjustability and Versatility
- 3 Color Choices
- Solid Back Wall
- Lifetime Warranty
- If anything you could say the grip was a little 'square', but aftermarket grips are available if this bothers you.
Bear Cruzer RTH
"bear bows are always a good choice"
More than enough to hunt big game and versatile enough to grow with a new archer learning the basics. Bear bows are some of our favorites and the Cruzer offers a wide range of adjustments. 310 fps is the IBO speed you get from a bow that will adjust from 5 to 70 lbs of draw weight and 12-30” of draw length. Couple that with a 75% let-off and the only thing you may be left wondering about is why you’d ever choose the Cruzer G2 or the Cruzer Lite instead of the RTH..
Well if you’re of a smaller frame and don’t need all the power the Lite might suit you better, whilst if you’re a more experienced shooter who wants ALL the performance and weight reduction they can muster the G2 is where you’ll sit. For the beginner though, the RTH fits just fine.
This bow has a smooth draw, a lifetime warranty and this particular version is an RTH package with stabilizer, sling, sight and quiver. Also read our full review and our Bear vs Diamond 'bow-off' article.
- Smooth draw
- Lifetime warranth
- L&R Handers
- 3 Color Choices
- Sloppy back-wall
- Slightly heavier than the Diamond
"the affordable alternative"
SAS make bows that are affordable and don’t compromise too much on the quality. They’ve got a good range of kit that comes in the lower end of the price spectrum. The Rage isn’t as powerful as the Diamond or the Cruzer, it only gives you 270 fps with 70% let-off and a lower adjustability range, 30-55” on the draw and 55-70 lbs on the weight, it’s also a heavier bow overall.
If you’re looking for something to get started with that offers ‘some’ easy adjustment and don’t want to break the bank, this might be the right choice for you.
A standard deer and turkey hunter or range target shooter would be fine using this bow even though the top end FPS figure can’t match the Diamond or the Edge. Our review.
- Long A2A (35 inches)
- 3 Color Choices
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