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Rifle Magazine
January - February 2004
Volume 2, Number 1
Number 7
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With so many new bows incorporating state-of-the-art vibration dampening systems into their risers, limbs and strings, has the use of a stabilizer for bow hunting become a thing of the past?

I spend a lot of time traveling to bow-hunting camps from California to the Carolinas, and when I see someone with a hunting bow without a stabilizer, I’m a bit surprised. These accessory items have become so commonplace that if a guy or gal doesn’t use one, you almost think they are clueless. “How can they shoot accurately without one?” I ask myself. “Doesn’t the bow noise spook game? Doesn’t the vibration sting their hands?”

Yet I know several serious, highly accomplished bow hunters who don’t use one. My friend Chuck Jones, a member of the Knight & Hale Game Calls Ultimate Hunting Team and the crew’s head videographer, is one of the finest bow hunters I have ever hunted with. He is also a fine bow shot and hasn’t used a stabilizer for many seasons. “I don’t like the weight and bulk, and it seems like that thing is always bumping into limbs or brush,” Jones said. “Not using one doesn’t seem to affect my shooting.”

Derek Phillips, field staff manager for Mathews Archery, is both one of the nation’s finest professional tournament archers and a superb bow hunter. “I’ve always believed that anything you do to reduce noise and/or vibration is accumulative,” Phillips said. “Although the new Mathews LX compound bow, as well as its preceding models, offers tremendous reduction in both areas, a quality stabilizer will only enhance it even more. The effect of the stabilizer is actually less than it used to be, before bows had such state-of-the-art vibration dampening systems built in, but it is still slightly evident. Just as important, a good stabilizer can help balance a bow, depending on the accessories that have been mounted on it. With sights, quivers or other mechanisms added on, a bow can become a little top-heavy. Using the right stabilizer can help with that balance and improve any bow’s shootability. The bow will seem to hold in position better and the follow-through will be smoother.”

Stabilizers Through the Years

From nothing more than an elongated piece of metal screwed into a bow’s riser, stabilizers have evolved into a high-tech product designed to maximize efficiency.

“It’s really interesting to see how stabilizers have evolved,” said Bob Mizek, director of new product development and operations for New Archery Products. “When I got involved in archery in the 1980s, I bought my first stabilizer for one reason – accuracy! I recall learning that a stabilizer could help me shoot tighter groups by reducing left-right torque and by balancing the bow for better vertical accuracy. As cam design changed, string material changed from Dacron to Fast-Flite and lighter arrows became more popular, and arrow velocity increased. A number of stabilizer designers including myself figured out that an ‘active’ design might not only help the archer shoot more accurately, but shoot more quietly and with less recoil.

“Saunders Archery was very successful at reducing recoil with their original adjustable rubber model, the Torque Tamer,” Mizek said. “Another popular stabilizer, the Neutralizer, used mercury inside a sealed chamber. Others chose hydraulic designs that used an internal spring-loaded piston. When I founded Hi-Tek Sports in 1991 (I left in 1993 to join N.A.P.), I chose to use highly refined silica or steel powder to convert vibration into heat to reduce noise and vibration. Hi-Tek continues to make powder-filled stabilizers, while we at New Archery Products manufacture ShockBlocker stabilizers that incorporate both a rubber coupling and powder fill to handle high-frequency vibration and lower-frequency noise.

“Today, advances in bow design have gone a long way to make bows that shoot quieter than older bows even when loaded with noise-reduction hardware,” Mizek said. “What this means to today’s bow hunter is that while a stabilizer can certainly help reduce vibration, its primary job should be to make the bow shoot more accurately.” 

Stabilizer Sizes Today

With today’s proliferation of shorter axle-to-axle bows, the requirements for stabilizer length and weight have changed as well. New Archery Products conducts ongoing surveys on its web site to help determine trends in equipment use. One of the current questions posted concerns stabilizers. By early summer 2003, 2,903 people had responded to a poll question that asked how long their bow hunting stabilizers are. The results were: less than 4 inches, 6 percent; 4 inches, 15 percent; 5 inches, 14 percent; 6 inches, 26 percent; 7 inches, 13 percent; 8 inches, 11 percent; 9 inches, 3 percent; 10 inches, 6 percent; 11 inches, 2 percent; greater than 11 inches, 3 percent.

“There are a couple of simple ideas bow hunters can use to select a great stabilizer to help them shoot more accurately,” Mizek said. “First, choose a stabilizer length that works best with the geometry of the bow’s riser and the axle-to-axle length of the bow itself. The idea here is to balance the bow in the archer’s hand so the bow doesn’t want to quickly tip forward or backward. Generally speaking, deflex geometry bows tend to torque less while highly reflexed risers tend to be a little more ‘torquey.’ For most bow-hunting applications, I suggest a 5- or 6-inch stabilizer for bows with deflexed or neutral geometry risers. We’ve found that 6- to 7-inch models seems to work better on bows having less than 7/8 inch of reflex, and that 7 to 8 inch long models do well with bows having more than 7/8 inch of reflex. Bows having more than 1 1/2 inches of reflex might benefit most from a stabilizer greater than 10 inches in length.” 

Trends in Design

Laboratory testing has shown that modern “active” stabilizers with shock-absorbing fillers and/or systems soak up vibration much better than old-style solid metal stabilizers, which really offer little vibration-reducing qualities. Also, and this is a matter of physics, the laws of inertia show that the heavier and longer a stabilizer is, the harder it is to accelerate, and thus the better it is in helping stabilize a bow at the shot. (If you have ever wondered why those stabilizers used by Olympic archers are so long, now you know.) Again, however, for bow hunters the key is matching the stabilizer to the specific characteristics of an individual bow design.

In addition to filling stabilizers with high-tech fillers that absorb vibration, one of the latest trends regarding stabilizers is mounting them onto some sort of rubber attachment point, so they can freely move about in any direction at the shot. This allows the stabilizer to counteract the recoil of the bow by moving in the opposite direction.

Which stabilizer to use? It’s a personal choice. I prefer stabilizers in the 4- to 6-inch range; some of my friends, like Chuck Jones, don’t use anything at all. I think he’s nuts, but then, I have seen him shoot and the animals he has killed. It’s hard to argue with success.

If you’re a serious bow hunter and/or 3-D shooter, you know what feels good and works well on your own bow under different conditions. Generally speaking, what you shoot more than likely reflects local equipment choice trends, which are geared toward the type of bow hunting you most often do. The same goes for length and weight. Most tree-standers who target whitetails seem to prefer midlength stabilizers, while spot-and-stalkers out West more often go with a bit shorter unit that is easier to maneuver through the brush without getting hung up.

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