A common theme echoing across
bow-hunter land is that today, with reasonably priced laser rangefinders found from coast
to coast, raw arrow speed is not an important factor in bow hunting. After all, with a
single click of a finger you know the distance to the target, to the yard, eliminating the
number one reason archers miss shots at game - misjudging the distance to the target.
Those who beat this drum like to remind
bow hunters that they shoot better when they do not pull too much draw weight. They say
that super-fast bows are the kind that shake, rattle and roll, vibrating screws and bolts
loose and creating undue stress on bow parts while making entirely too much game-spooking
noise. They also say that no matter how fast your bow, it can never overcome an
animal’s lightning reflexes as it “jumps the string,” citing the relatively
slow speed of a 300-fps arrow versus the speed of sound, which varies with conditions but
is about 1,127 fps at 68 degrees Fahrenheit, though such claims do not take into
consideration factors such as an animal’s reflex actions and ancillary noise, like
wind or water, which can cover the sound of the shot.
I, on the other hand,
like arrow speed - a lot - and believe it can make the difference under varied field
conditions. However, I do not like arrow speed so much that I am willing to destroy my
equipment, shooting form or performance characteristics of my bow-and-arrow setup just to
wring out a few feet per second in additional arrow speed.
As is the case in all
things in life, there is no free lunch when trying to wring maximum arrow speed from your
hunting bow. Turning the poundage all the way up can increase noise, vibration and recoil
- though elsewhere in this section is a discussion on how many modern-day products, both
built into the bow and added on, can significantly reduce all these problems at no cost to
performance. At maximum speed, bow tuning can be problematic. And there is no question
that folks shooting the fastest bows they can handle - or at least think they can handle -
will see imperfections in their shooting form become magnified that may not show up when
shooting slower, “softer” bows. These shooting form mistakes can, in turn, be
magnified under hunting conditions, when bow hunters find themselves twisted around
sideways while kneeling down and shooting uphill at a bugling bull elk, or leaning down
and shooting at a steep downhill angle from a tree stand.
Add to all this the fact
that most of us do not have the chance to practice as much as we’d like, sometimes
find ourselves hunting in less-than-ideal conditions (my musk ox hunt, where it was never
warmer than 35 degrees below zero, is a case in point) and the buck fever that always
precedes a shot at game, and one can quickly see why having a bow that is forgiving and
friendly to our quirks and idiosyncrasies is most welcome.
Then there is the fact
that it really is a tough thing to get a fixed- or replaceable-blade broadhead to fly
perfectly at speeds over about 270 fps. Speeds approaching or exceeding this threshold
demand a precise level of bow tuning most average archers never achieve - precisely
matched arrow shafts and broadheads and picture-book shooting form to make tight groups
possible at ranges beyond point blank. The use of low-profile mechanical broadheads can
help somewhat, but they are not legal in all states nor are they the choice of most bow
Be that as it may, you
still can shoot a faster arrow and retain acceptable bow-hunting accuracy. You just have
to know what to do. Also, please keep in mind, when I discuss how to increase speed by
doing this or that, when comparing bows that all the things we are not talking about -
arrow weight, etc. - remain the same.
in All Things
If you have not replaced
your hunting bow in the past five years, you’ll find that today’s models are
much more efficient tools than their big brothers. With the latest bows it might be
possible for you to actually draw less poundage than before and still shoot an arrow that
is just as fast, if not faster, than your old bow.
This is good. If you are already shooting in
the 260- to 280-fps class and like what you see in terms of arrow flight, the lower
poundage will reduce wear and tear on your shoulders, arms, back and hands. It will also
make it easier for you to hold the bow at full draw for longer periods of time and make it
easier to hold steady as you acquire the sight picture.
Also, some bow models are just designed to
shoot a quicker shaft than others. In engineering terms, there are certain design
characteristics that allow the bow to transfer more of its stored energy to the arrow at
the shot than bows with a different design.
The most important design features in
achieving more speed are cam design, riser design, brace height and the bow’s overall
length. Let’s look at them in reverse order.
Generally speaking, bows with a shorter
axle-to-axle length are faster than longer bows. The tradeoff here is the fact that short
bows tend to be much touchier to nuances in shooting form. I learned this last fall, when
I spent a lot of time shooting and hunting with some very short bows with a length between
30 and 31 inches. I found they were quite quick and shot like a house afire both on the
range and in the field. The downside? Boy, oh boy, were they touchy in regard to shooting
form. When my form was good, so was my shooting. When my form suffered even a little bit -
in a tree stand or shooting from the knees - arrows tended to fly off-target.
Brace height is the distance between the riser
and the bowstring. Generally speaking, the lower the brace height, the faster the bow -
and the less forgiving the bow is to problems with shooter form. Conversely, the higher
the brace height, the slower the bow but the more forgiving it is to shoot well. While all
bows vary, if a hunting bow has a brace height over 8 inches, it is both unusual and very
forgiving to shoot. Brace heights under 7 inches are touchy to shoot. Brace heights
between 7 and 7 3/4 inches offer a good compromise between inherent bow speed and
A bow can have one of three basic riser
designs - straight, deflex or reflex. With a reflex riser the grip is behind the point at
which the limbs contact the riser. With a deflex riser the limbs contact the riser in
front of the grips. A straight riser is just that - the limbs contact the riser in a
straight line with the grip. In most cases, “speed” bows have reflexed risers
and low brace heights, while more “forgiving” bows have a deflex riser and
higher brace height.