How do you pick a compound bow when every top manufacturer makes an excellent flagship? Simple. You round up the field of new bows, send them to Lancaster Archery Supply, the country’s premier archery shop, and then tune, chronograph, and shoot the hell out of them until only one bow is left standing. And that’s exactly what we did for the 2023 Outdoor Life Bow Test.
are no bad bows these days,” and it’s a mostly true statement. But each bow has design characteristics that will make it ideal for different bowhunting scenarios and shooting styles.
So don’t buy a bow based on what your favorite celebrity bowhunter shoots or what your buddy says is the best. Buying a bow in 2023 is all about finding the bow that’s best for you.
In this review you’ll find far more information than manufacturer’s specs and basic YouTube video reviews can provide. You’ll find accurate speeds shot with an actual hunting-weight arrow, tuning information, accuracy data, and details on the bow’s shooting characteristics. That information will help you narrow down the field to a handful you can test at an archery shop.
- Editor’s Choice: PSE Nock On Carbon Levitate
- The Best Shooting Experience: Mathews V3X
- The Sleeper: Darton Spectra E
- Best Long-Draw Bow: Hoyt Highline
2023 Compound Bows
The 2023 bow test will publish in early March 2023, but until then, we have reviews on some of the best new bows for 2023.
Mathews Phase 4
The Mathews Phase 4 looks a lot like the 2022 V3X, which we thought had the best shooting experience of any of the bows we tested. But, it utilizes a brand new limb design that cuts vibration and quiets the bow even more. Read our full Phase 4 review to learn more.
Prime’s 2023 flagship uses a brand new cam design that emphasizes shooting experience over adjustability. It has a fixed draw-length module instead of the common rotating module, which makes the bow optimized for the entire draw length range. It also comes in three axle-to-axle lengths to fit just about any archer’s preference. You can read our full Prime Revex review to learn more.
Elite is known for smooth drawing and soft shooting bows. But, their latest flagship hunting bow has Elite’s renowned “shootability,” but with more speed than before. The bow we tested shot a 475 grain arrow at 302 fps (70 pounds, 29-inch draw length). Read our full Elite Omnia review for more info.
For the first time ever Elite has a carbon riser, and their first attempt is fantastic. Check out our full review of the 2023 Elite Era for more info.
How We Tested the Bows
To get a baseline, we weighed the bows with just the QAD arrow rest mounted as well as measured their exact draw weight and draw length. The exact draw weight is to provide context for the bow’s speed. All bows were set two turns out from their 70 pound max for 65 pounds +/- 2 pounds. We also measured the holding weight, so you know how much weight you’re holding at full draw with each bow.
Measuring a bow’s exact draw length on a draw board provides context for speed and tests if the bow is hitting its specified draw length. We set bows at 29 inches of draw length and measured the draw length using the ATA standard of the string apex to the pivot point plus 1.75 inches.
Next we timed the cams, set the center shot to the standard 13/16 inch, and set the nocking point height level. Then we did a basic paper tune, during which we judged the bows on how easy it was to get a bullet hole. With tuning complete, we recorded the final center shot and nocking point height to give you a starting point for your own tuning.
The 5-Foot Test
When you try out a bow at an archery shop you’ll likely test it close to the target and judge the bow on its feel. While shooting a bow for accuracy is an important component of this test, we also tested a bow’s grip, back wall, perceived vibration, and draw cycle at close range so we could focus on those attributes without worrying about shooting tiny groups. Testers rated each feature and provided notes on them.
Accuracy testing started at 20 yards. Each tester shot five, three-shot groups at a 40 cm target face and measured their groups with calipers. The accuracy testing then moved to 50 yards with five, three-shot groups. At 50 yards, bows were also equipped with a Mantis device to capture data on holding patterns.
The Mantis X8 is a small sensor that attaches to a bow’s riser and sends data to the Mantis app. In addition to showing pin movement, it shows how much the bow moves from the time of release to the arrow leaving the bow. It’s a valuable tool for archers who want to improve their form or dial in their setup. It also helped us collect objective data on how steady each of the bows shot without stabilizers. While the testers could tell for themselves if a bow held steady or wobbled like a chicken on tightrope, the Mantis X8 allows us to actually show you what a bow’s float pattern looks like.
We included Mantis data in the reviews for bows that held exceptionally steady and for bows that were more difficult to shoot. The orange line shows a bow’s movement while at full draw, and the red line shows a bow’s movement after release. There are two Xs: one for the bow’s position when the arrow was released and one for the bow’s position when the arrow left the bow. The Mantis also provides a stability score on a 100 point scale. A poor shot will be in the 70s, an average shot will be in the mid-80s, and our best shots were in the mid-90s.
We shot Easton Axis 5mm shafts in a 300 spine cut to 28.75 inches with a 100-grain field point, which overall weighed 450 grains. Bows were shot at the exact specs listed for each bow—approximately 65 pounds and a 29-inch draw length. We used a Labradar doppler chronograph to measure five shots from each bow. We then averaged those five recorded speeds for the final spec. Because everything from a bow’s tune to the weight of the peep can affect a bow’s speed, the speeds listed below are meant to provide reference points, not the final word on a bow’s speed.
For objective testing, we partnered with Stress Engineering Services to test several of the best bows in their lab in Mason, Ohio. Testing at their lab includes precise noise, vibration, and efficiency measurements. The engineers in their Outdoor Division are able to test for acceleration impulse(vibration), efficiency, and sound using advanced sensors and meters. You’ll see this data in the bow reviews when relevant, but we did not use it to determine our award because not all bows were tested at Stress Engineering.
Good bows hit right behind the pin. Really good bows hit the middle even when you’re not shooting great; a bow that can do that is called forgiving. At the end of testing there were two bows at the top of the heap. To test them further, we conducted a forgiveness test that simulates three common mistakes archers make when under pressure: creeping, torquing the grip, and pulling hard into the stops. The tester intentionally made each of those mistakes to see if the point of impact changed.
Gear We Used
The Labradar uses doppler radar to track a projectile and measure its speed. We chose it over a traditional chronograph because it provides consistent reading no matter the lighting conditions.
Bow Sight: Garmin Xero A1i Pro
I reviewed the Garmin Xero A1i Pro this fall, and liked the precise aiming dot it provides as well as the fast sight-in process.
Arrows: Easton Axis 5mm
The Easton Axis 5mm is one of my favorite hunting shafts. I chose it for the test because it’s a consistent shaft that would give us an arrow weight in the mid 400s.
Arrow Rest: QAD Ultrarest
I wanted an arrow rest that would be easy to set up without hindering our accuracy. The QAD was a perfect fit.
Other Tools Used
- X-Spot Scale
- LCA Draw Board and Bow Press
- Mantis X8
The Test Team
P.J. Reilly: Longtime bow reviewer and video host for Lancaster Archery Supply. Reilly is also an accomplished archer who has bowhunted everything from whitetails to musk ox.
Alex Robinson: Outdoor Life’s Editor-in-Chief, bow test veteran, and workaday bowhunter.
Scott Einsmann: Outdoor Life Executive Gear Editor, former archery coach, and lifelong archery nerd.