by Scott Bestul F&S

We’ve been counting down the best bows of the 2011 season, and we’re down to the cream of the crop. In most years, whittling out the bottom half of 15 or 16 bows isn’t too difficult for my testing team. Deciding on the Top Ten involves a little quibbling, but is rarely a tough chore.

But the Five Best? We’ve never actually gotten testy with each other when picking the five elite bows of the year, but individual scores reflect how close the voting can get. No more than 20 points (out of a possible 160) separated the Number Five bow from our Champion (the Best of the Best winner), and this year even featured a tie for the runner-up bow. So without any more fuss, here are the five models that everyone in my test team shot over and over… Sometimes looking for that one little feature that made a big difference. And sometimes because a really, really good bow is just plain fun to shoot.

Bow Number Five
G5 “Prime Centroid” (g5prime.com)
(MSRP: $999)
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Hits: Most top-flight bows have a design feature that’s both innovative and problem-solving. In the case of the Prime, it’s called “Parallel Cam Technology ™” which is designed to virtually eliminate cam-lean, as well as reduce nock travel and limb fatigue. Basically two cams sit side by side, and the design change is both innovative and eye-catching; one of those features that jumps out at a shooter and says “this could be really cool…or really bad.” In the case of the Prime, it’s really good.

Misses: The only deductions my team gave to the Prime were in the shock/vibration category. This was nit-picking for two testers, but one team member gave it a big enough demerit to drop the Prime a place or two.

Takeaway: Major kudos go to the G5 team for incorporating an innovative design into a bow that’s just a pleasure to shoot. The Prime had a great back wall, a nice draw cycle and at 282 fps, sent an arrow zipping along. And once we got used to looking at parallel cams, we gave high marks to the Prime for fit-and-finish.

Bow Number Four
PSE “Dream Season EVO” (pse-archery.com)
(MSRP: $849.99)
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Hits: As they do every year, the engineers at PSE produced one of the speed leaders in our test. The EVO zipped an arrow at 292 fps, losing Top Gun honors by only a hair. Of course speed usually comes at a price…But not with this bow. The EVO lost only minor points for shock /vibration, and for a flamethrower it had a nice draw cycle and fine back wall.

Misses: Here’s the rub, and an explanation why a Top Five bow can be nosing toward champion and suddenly take a dive; one tester gave the EVO significant deducts for its slim grip. Were it not for that score, the EVO would have been whisker-close to winning.

Takeaway: It’s tough to summarize all the thoughtful features the PSE folks put into this bow. There are major wow-factors like speed , smoothness, and forgiveness. But also nice little touches that just make for a wonderful bow, like the timing marks on the cams that make the EVO simple to tune. PSE has always produced wonderful bows and the EVO will be a very tough act for them to best next year.

Bows Number Two (That’s right we had a tie)
This is the fourth bow test I’ve participated in, and we’ve never had a tie until now. So here are two heavy hitters that we couldn’t separate when it came to the final standings:

*Mathews “Z7 Xtreme” (mathewsinc.com)
(MSRP: $899)
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Hits: Mathews is known for producing buttery-smooth bows, and the Extreme continues that tradition. There are few bows out there that are as pleasant to draw and shoot. Felt vibration is almost zero on the Xtreme, and this is one of the few high-performance bows that no one on my team said “I bet this thing would be fun to shoot if we cranked it down 10 pounds.”

Misses: One tester gave the Xtreme demerits for shortness (the bow is 28” axle-to-axle) noting that “the extreme angle at full draw created a difficult sight window.” Two team members knocked the Mathews’ beefy wooden handle.

Takeaway: A Mathews bow has won the last two bow tests, and the Xtreme nearly made it a three-peat. The Xtreme incorporates the smooth draw, solid back wall, and minimal vibration that hunters have come to expect of a Mathews product. And few companies pay as much attention to detail; like former Mathews winners, the Xtreme scored nearly perfect in fit and finish.

*Bowtech “Invasion CPX” (bowtecharchery.com)
(MSRP: $899.99)
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Hits: The Invasion was scary-close to landing on the beaches of greatness; the 3rd fastest bow in the test, the Invasion didn’t shoot an arrow as much as launch it, and felt shock/vibration was simply great for a bow this quick. Some speed-bows feel like they want to jump out of the shooter’s hands at full draw, but everyone gave the Invasion high marks for a solid back wall. Even better, the bow is quiet and got high marks for in the grip/balance category.

Misses: It can take some effort to roll through the initial draw cycle of a fast bow; while the Invasion was smoother than the rest of the muscle cars in the test, it got a few deductions in this category. As one tester noted “this bow would be a joy to shoot at 60 pounds...But we test at 70.”

Takeaway: The Invasion was highly regarded by my entire test crew, and mere fractionals kept it from claiming the crown. This is a bow that combines some often-contradictory qualities; the Invasion was fast, but quiet and nearly vibration-free. It was light, but balanced nicely in the hand. Every year we have a bow or two that didn’t win and several testers are surprised. The Invasion fit this definition perfectly this year.

*Winner
Hoyt “Carbon Element” (hoyt.com)
(MSRP: $1,199)
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