Thanks to such movies as The Hunger Games and television shows such as Arrow, as well as extended hunting seasons for bow hunters in most U.S. states, archery is one of America’s favorite pastimes!

However, this phenomenon is really not so surprising when you consider that archery can be practiced indoors in basements, garages, and indoor archery ranges as well as outdoors in backyards, fields, woods, and outdoor archery ranges by nearly anyone of nearly any age.

In fact, most compound bow manufacturers not only produce highly advanced models for formal archery competitions and dedicated bow hunters, they also produce less expensive, entry-level, models for those who are taking their first steps into the sport.

Therefore, regardless of your age or your physical stature, there is likely to be a compound bow on the market today that is perfect for you!

What to look for when purchasing a compound bow:

When contemplating the purchase of a compound bow, you should be aware that there are several important aspects to consider when choosing the particular model that you like best because each aspect will affect not only the bow’s performance, but also the way it feels in your hand, the way it feels when you draw it, and the way that feels when you release the string:

Draw Weight

A bow’s draw weight is the amount of force measured in pounds that is required to pull the string from the relaxed position to full draw.

The greater a compound bow’s draw weight, the faster it will launch a given weight arrow/broadhead combination.

The faster the arrow/point is launched, the flatter the arrow’s flight trajectory will be and, the flatter the arrow’s arc, the better it will compensate for slight misjudgments in the distance to the target by the archer.

Therefore, most archers prefer to purchase a bow with the maximum amount of draw weight that they can comfortably pull in order to have the fastest possible arrow speed.

However, it is also important to keep in mind that due to their eccentric cam systems, compound bows actually reach their peak draw weight half, to three-quarters, of the way through their draw cycle and then, the draw weight drops between 60 percent and 80 percent to make the bow much easier to hold at full draw.

Consequently, for hunting purposes, most male hunters tend to prefer compound bows with draw weights ranging from 60 lbs. to 70 lbs. whereas, most female hunters tend to prefer compound bows with draw weights ranging from 40 lbs. to 50 lbs.

Draw Length

A bow’s draw length is the distance measured in inches from the back of the bow’s riser (the side farthest away from the archer) at the arrow shelf to the valley of the bow string when the bow is held at full draw.

When purchasing a compound bow, it is very important that you purchase one with a draw length that matches that of your body.

If you purchase a bow with a draw length that is either too short or too long for you, then you will never be able to achieve proper form and it will adversely affect both your comfort and your accuracy.

Most modern compound bows have cam systems that enable the archer to adjust the draw length over a wide range so that a single bow can accommodate a wide range of archers. This is a feature that you definitely want to look for when choosing a compound bow.

Axle-to-axle Length

A compound bow’s axle-to-axle length is the distance measured in inches from one cam axle to the other. Also, the longer the bow’s riser (handle) is, the more smoothly it tends to shoot. By the same token, the shorter it is, the easier it is to maneuver.

Consequently, most dedicated target archers prefer compound bows with longer axle-to-axle lengths whereas, most dedicated bowhunters prefer a compound bow with a relatively short axle-to-axle length because shorter bows are easier to maneuver through dense foliage as well as inside of a ground blind and to shoot from a tree stand.

Overall Weight

The overall weight of a compound bow is its total assembled weight in pounds minus any bow accessories such as arrow rests or sights. The lighter a compound bow is, the more easily it is carried and maneuvered and less likely to fatigue the archer.

At the same time, the less weight a bow has, the less inertia it has and lighter bows tend to be somewhat less smooth to shoot than heavier bows because they have less weight to absorb and dissipate recoil energy.

Cam System

Modern compound bows feature cam systems that consist of either a single, hybrid, or double cam system which incorporates either one or two eccentrically mounted cams at the end of the bows limbs.

These are made from machined aluminum with elaborate shapes that determine both the feel of the bows draw cycle and its ATA/IBO speed rating.

As the name implies, single cam bows have only one cam which eliminates the timing problems often associated with attempting to perfectly synchronize to opposing cams.

Double cam bows employ one cam on each limb.

However, hybrid cam systems use a specially designed single cam combined with a round idler wheel to deliver the speed of a double cam system without the associated timing problems and they draw and shoot like a single cam bow, but have the speed of a double cam bow.

ATA vs. IBO Speeds

When looking at most compound bows on a manufacturer’s website, you will notice that the very large majority of them list either an ATA or IBO arrow speed for each of their bow models which is a measure in feet per second of how fast an arrow of a given weight is launched from a given bow with a given draw weight and a given draw length.

However, it is important to note that these two measurements are based on different criteria! For instance, IBO speeds are based on criteria set by the International Bow Hunter’s Association for archers participating in officially sanctioned IBO archery tournaments in order to prevent anyone archer from gaining a significant advantage over another due to advanced equipment.

Therefore, IBO speeds are measured using a minimum of five grains of arrow weight per pound of draw weight with a maximum arrow speed of 290 FPS but no restriction on draw length.

Consequently, most bow manufacturers use a 350-grain arrow (440 grains equals one ounce) with a draw weight of 70 lbs. and the maximum possible draw length for any given bow model as a standard for measuring IBO arrow speeds.

However, the Archery Trade Association is an organization who’s specific purpose is to establish standards for the archery industry and measuring ATA arrow speed also requires the use of a 350-grain arrow with a draw weight of 70 lbs. but, they specify a maximum draw length of 30 inches (even though the very large majority of male archers have a 28-inch draw length).

Regardless of which measurement system is used, the main thing to keep in mind is that the faster the arrow is launched from the bow, the more kinetic energy it will have and the more inertia it will have to completely penetrate the body cavity of the game animal you are hunting.

In addition, the faster an arrow is launched from a bow, the flatter its flight trajectory will be and the better it will compensate for minor misjudgments in the distance to the target by the archer. At the end of the day, most archers want the fastest bow that they can get.

Split limbs vs. Solid limbs

When looking at compound bow models, you may notice that some of them have solid, single piece, limbs whereas, others have two piece limbs (aka “quad limbs”) and the difference between the two is significant.

For instance, solid limbs are the older of the two technologies and they are cheaper to manufacture than quad limbs.

Solid limbs are favored by bow manufacturers over quad limbs. They are also somewhat heavier than quad limbs and they do nothing whatsoever to counter cam lean by themselves.

On the other hand, quad limbs (aka “split limbs”) are made using two separate pieces of limb material positioned side by side in the limb pocket with a space between them for the cam to operate in.

Because of the fact that the tracks on the cam/cams that the bow’s “cables” run in are necessarily positioned on the side of the cam, they often cause the cam/cams to lean to one side when the cables are pulled out of the way by the cable guard mounted near the riser’s arrow shelf.

Consequently, in order to eliminate cam lean, one side of a quad limb is intentionally made stiffer than its companion so that the extra pressure will offset the pull of the cables and thus cause the cam/cams to rotate parallel to the bow string.

Pre-Loaded Limbs vs. Parallel Limbs

parallel limbs vs solid limbs

Each year, bow manufacturers strive to wow their customers with new, technologically advanced, compound bow models and this progressive attitude has driven compound bow technology to advance at a rate somewhat akin to modern electronics!

Consequently, while there are still a few bow models out there from a few manufacturers that still feature the older style, more upright, parallel limbs, the new technology employs either radically pre-loaded or radically parallel limbs.

It is important to note that pre-loaded limbs differ from parallel limbs in that while both riser designs operate using the same principle that in order to create a recoil-free bow, the energy stored in both limbs when the bow is drawn must be released at a 90 degree angle to the bow string in order for the two forces to cancel each other because, if they are released at anything less than a 90 degree angle, then forward momentum will be generated which will translate to felt recoil in the riser.

It should be noted that although both pre-loaded and parallel limb design agree in principle, they differ widely in operation. For instance, when pre-loaded limbs are flexed by the bow string rotating the cams, they act more like coil springs than leaf springs because the cam’s axles move both down and in at the same time rather than vertically like the axle of a parallel limb design.

Consequently, pre-loaded limbs enable the use of more vertically oriented limb pockets which, in turn, enables the use of a less radically reflexed riser design.

Also, because the energy stored in both the upper and lower limbs is released in direct opposition to the other, the recoil each one generates is canceled by the opposing limb.

On the other hand, parallel compound bow limbs start out as straight, rectangular, pieces of fiberglass and/or carbon fiber and then (once affixed to the riser) they are flexed into an arc by the cams and the bow string just like a metal leaf spring.

However, because parallel limbs must be oriented horizontally rather than vertically, they also require a radical new riser design with horizontally oriented limb pockets.

But, because parallel limbs are oriented horizontally rather than vertically, the limbs flex in the shape of an arc in which the cam’s axles move virtually straight up and down and thus, the energy stored in both the upper and lower limbs is released in direct opposition to the other and therefore, the recoil each limb generates is cancelled by the opposing limb.

Even though they may look strange, the new crop of compound bows with both radically pre-loaded and radically parallel limbs are significantly smoother and quieter to shoot than bows made just a few years ago.

The range of Adjustability – Last but not least, it is important to note that most compound bows made today feature a wide range of adjustability.

For instance, most of them feature cam systems that enable an archer to adjust the draw length over a very wide range as well as systems that enable the archer to adjust the draw weight over a very wide range and thus, a single bow is able to accommodate a very wide range of archers or, a single archer from childhood through adulthood.

However, it is also important to note that not all modern compound bows feature an adjustable draw length or an adjustable draw weight and thus, a wide range of adjustability is another important feature to look for when choosing a compound bow.

Our Choice for the Top 5 compound bows for 2016:

PSE Bow Madness 32

Featuring everything you could ask for in a high-quality compound bow, the PSE Bow Madness 32 is an excellent choice for avid bow hunters.

With an axle-to-axle length of 32 3/8 inches, it is compact enough to make it easy to maneuver in both a tree stand and a ground blind and, with an overall weight of 4.1 lbs, it is very stable to shoot for such a short bow.

Also, it features a highly adjustable single cam system that enables you to select draw lengths ranging from 24 inches to 30 inches but performs like a hybrid cam system to deliver a blistering 340 FPS!

However, unlike many of the other compound bows on the market, the PSE Bow Madness 32 must be purchased with either a 50 lb, 60 lb, or 70 lb. draw weight but, it does feature an amazing 80% let-off.

Martin Lithium LTD

The Martin Lithium LTD (Living The Dream) is an excellent choice for both the dedicated bow hunter and the 3D competition shooter with a 6-inch brace height and an IBO rating of 330 FPS.

Featuring one of the new skeletonized, bridged-style, risers made from machined aluminum for superior stiffness and lack of recoil, this particular bow also features what can best be described as a hybrid limb design that appears to be a cross between a pre-loaded limb and a parallel limb.

Plus, it has an overall weight of 4.4 lbs. and thus, between the extra stiff riser and the somewhat heavyweight, this bow is extremely smooth and quiet to shoot. In addition, with an axle-to-axle length of just 33 inches, it is highly maneuverable in tight quarters.

Last, the draw length is easily adjustable from 26.5 inches to 30 inches with 80 percent let-off but, it must be purchased in your choice of either 60 or 70 lb. draw weights.

Darton DS-700

For those hunters who need an ultra-compact hunting bow, the Darton DS-700 is the perfect answer! With an axle-to-axle length of just 30 inches, this is one of the most compact compound bows on the market today.

In addition, it features a skeletonized, machined aluminum, riser and pre-loaded quad limbs combined with Darton’s Dual Sync dual cam system and cam stabilization feature to provide a smooth, quiet, release and pinpoint accuracy.

Plus, with an ATA speed rating of 330 FPS, it provides the archer with a very flat arrow trajectory that will easily compensate for minor misjudgments in the distance to the target.

Plus, it also features a very forgiving 7-inch brace height and the draw length is easily adjustable from 27 to 30 inches with 80 percent let-off. However, it must be purchased in your choice of 40, 50, 60, or 70 lb. draw weights.

Bear Cruzer RTH Package

The Bear Cruzer with available Ready to Hunt package is another excellent choice for both bowhunters and 3D competition shooters.

With an axle-to-axle length of 32 inches and an elegant riser made from machined aluminum combined with pre-loaded quad limbs and a brace height of 6.5 inches, this little bow has an IBO speed rating of 310 FPS and thus, it produces all of the kinetic energy a hunter needs to tackle the largest North American game species.

In addition, with an overall weight of just 3.6 lbs, this little bow is a joy to both hunt and target practice with! Plus, it comes ready to hunt right out of the box with a Trophy Ridge Whisker Biscuit arrow rest, a Trophy Ridge 4-pin fiber optic bow sight, a Trophy Ridge stabilizer, and wrist sling, a Trophy Ridge 5-arrow quiver, a peep sight, and a knock loop.

Diamond Infinite Edge Pro

For those archers who don’t much care for the appearance of the new crop of compound bows with extreme pre-loaded limbs or extreme parallel limbs, the Diamond Infinite Edge Pro is an excellent alternative.

Featuring a more traditional appearance, this bow has a machined aluminum riser and an axle-to-axle length of 31 inches with a very forgiving brace height of 7 inches and an IBO speed rating of 310 FPS.

Also, it has solid limbs combined with a completely redesigned dual cam system that provides a silky smooth draw cycle and 80 percent let-off.

Plus, the draw length is adjustable from 13 inches to 31 inches to accommodate archers with a wide range of draw lengths and, the draw weight is adjustable from 5 lbs. to 70 lbs. to accommodate archers with a wide range of statures.

Plus, it is available with the “Boondocks” accessory package which includes an arrow rest, a bow sight, a bow quiver, a stabilizer, a wrist sling, and a string loop so that the bow is ready to hunt with right out of the box.

Wrap Up

But, before you set forth on your quest to select and purchase your first compound bow, you should be aware that there is a mind-boggling number of compound bow manufacturers in the market today and they each produce a plethora of different models which, when taken all together, amount to a seemingly infinite number of bows to choose from!

However, regardless of which brand or model you do choose, it is of paramount importance that you purchase a bow with the correct draw length and draw weight for your stature or, one that is designed in such a way that it can be adjusted to fit your anatomy.

In addition, both the physical size of the bow as well as its overall weight should be taken into consideration since bows that are too long or too heavy are difficult to maneuver and uncomfortable to shoot.

But, most importantly, keep in mind that experienced archers inevitably choose compound bows with the highest ATA or IBO arrow speed ratings because faster bows have a flatter arrow trajectory.

Thus, because knowledge is power, it is important that you do your research and choose your compound bow according to your particular needs.