Editor's Note: This Realtree Retro piece originally posted in July of 2010. The information is still rock-solid as you prep for bow season and we've updated the piece with some products and gear to help you build your speed machine.
Speed can be a wonderful thing in the bowhunting woods. There will usually be a shot opportunity each season where a buck or bull is well within your effective range, but you don’t have time to use your rangefinder to obtain the exact shooting distance.
If you happen to be equipped with a super-fast rig that's pushing hunting arrows well above 300 fps,, then you’ll have a greater margin for error, since your arrow has a flatter line of flight. This added speed will increase your hit window by a few more yards.
In the past, speed was often accompanied by a serious accuracy loss, mainly because faster bows and ultra-light arrows are less forgiving to shoot. They were also louder, making them less bowhunting friendly. This is why speed has received such a bad rap over the years.
But this really isn’t the case anymore. Archery engineers have made huge strides in improving the shootability and quietness of speed bows. This, coupled with improvements in arrow rests, broadheads and release aids, has blurred the line between blazing arrow speed and shootability. Today, archers can have the best of all worlds—a shootable, quiet, deadly accurate speed machine.
But this type of rig doesn’t come together without careful thought and setup. Here are some tips for building the ultimate speed bow.
New Bows Are Faster
Any speed bow that’s more than three years old will be technologically inferior compared to newer ones. Sure, old Betsy will still drill game, but we’re talking about making the ultimate speed bow, here—and for that, you need to go with the most advanced technology. For example, Hoyt's Nitrum Turbo has ATA specs of 350 fps, the Bear Arena 30 is listed at 340 fps IBO . And there are others that are pushing the speed limits and yet remain quiet and pleasant to shoot.
My advice is to shoot as many “speed” models as possible, and stick with those with middle-of-the-road velocity ratings—anywhere from 330 fps to 350 fps IBO. Be sure the bow offers a smooth draw, aims well and has a narrow grip to reduce handle torque. Also, be sure to choose a design that doesn’t exhibit cam lean (at full draw), as this will cause tuning problems when shooting broadheads and produce a less forgiving setup overall.
Creating More Forgiveness
As speed bows become smoother and more vibration free, engineers have found that lowering the brace height slightly has little effect on forgiveness, given the archer uses good form. A lower brace effectively increases the power stroke and the speed of the bow. Low-brace bows require the use of a string stop, otherwise nasty “string slap” can occur, causing discomfort and accuracy issues. Low-brace speed bows can sometimes be touchier to tune, since they have longer power strokes and the arrow stays fastened to the bowstring longer during the launch cycle. If the bow’s cams are not rolling over in complete unity, then this could cause poor nock travel and increased arrow movement as the arrow cycles through the bow. This quality is pronounced with a low-brace design.
Therefore, precise cam setting is critical. This will ensure a smoother arrow launch and a more forgiving setup. Reference your bow’s owner’s manual when adjusting cam synchronization, making sure the bow’s cams hit the valley or draw stops at exactly the same time (with hybrid cam systems). With single cams, make sure the cam is in the proper orientation, which will ensure level nock travel.
Once the cams are set correctly, inscribe a line where the cams bisect the limbs using a silver Sharpie pen. This way, if some string creep occurs, you can quickly twist up strings and realign the cams to the proper setting.
Improving the bow’s balance will create better aiming, handling and shooting qualities. To balance the bow, hold it in your extended hand (undrawn). If it wants to pull hard forward (most do), then you’ll need to add counter weight to the string side of the riser, just below the grip. This will lessen the effect.
When using a bow-attached quiver, consider an offset stabilizer or counterweight system. K-Tech offers some excellent stabilizers that can be customized to offset any way you'd like.
Use a Better Arrow Rest
You can increase the shootability factor of any rig by using a quality drop-away rest. Today’s models offer greater arrow support (the launcher arm is delayed more so before dropping) and feature ultra-fast fall-away arms to allow full fletching clearance—even when using high-profile vanes.
Also, a fall-away arm that supports the arrow throughout the full length of the shot will give the arrow shaft the stability it needs for greater tunability and accuracy.
There are many outstanding drop-away rests on the market. I tend to favor simple, bombproof designs that use a reverse-spring arm, with the operating cord that fastens to the limb. Some of the models I’ve tested and recommend include the Vapor Trail Limb-Driver Pro, Arizona Pro Drop and Trophy Taker Smack Down.
Make Your Old Bow Better
Only you can decide if you want to spend the extra cash for the added smoothness and performance a new bow can provide. My advice: get out and test-shoot some of the new speed bows and see what happens.
If you decide you want to stick with your current bow but wouldn’t mind making some upgrades to boost performance, here are some affordable options:
1. String Stop: This accessory can make any bow more forgiving and quiet, particularly those with brace heights below 6 1/2 inches. Make sure you adjust the bumper so that a finger-nail-thick space is between it and the bowstring in the undrawn position. This will prevent tuning problems.
2. Speed Studs: These metal studs from G5 slip between the bowstring fibers and can increase speed by up to 10 fps.
4. Upgrade the Grip: If you’re using a bulky bow grip, get rid of it. It will make your shots less accurate. Choose a thinner grip with less surface area, or even remove the grip and shoot straight off the handle.
Add Downward Arrow Pressure
Last winter I tested the effects of downward arrow pressure. I used a shooting machine and a precisely tuned bow and arrow-rest setup. The results were favorable, with a decrease in group size by up to 15 percent.
Creating downward arrow pressure is easy. Simply tie-in a small nockset (using thin serving thread) inside the string loop and below the arrow nock’s position. Doing so will create a slight “upward” pull on the arrow, forcing the shaft more firmly on to the arrow rest’s holding arm, thus giving you downward pressure.
Shoot Better Arrows
Straighter, more consistent arrows will boost any bow’s sweet-shooting factor. They’re especially important with a speed rig. This means purchasing top-tier shafts known for their relentless performance and exact spine, weight and straightness specs. Some new options include the Easton Bloodline Realtree and the Easton Bowfire.
Also, many speed freaks are notorious for choosing the lightest shafts in their class. But arrows that are too light can create less forgiving qualities (they don’t cycle as smooth out of an aggressive, low-brace bow), so it’s best to stick with mid-weight options. I prefer shafts weighing no less than 8.5 grains per inch in most cases. These arrows offer the best of all worlds—they are fast enough, but heavy enough for smooth, forgiving shooting and added kinetic energy downrange.
I also prefer short, stiff vanes since they improve arrow stabilization at high speed (stiffer vanes don’t fold as easily at high speed) and maximize clearance with a drop-away rest.
Find the Arrow’s Sweet Spot
Like a well-built sniper rifle, every bow is unique and will prefer a slightly different type of “ammo” for maximum accuracy. Instead of the powder, primer and bullet, we have the arrow shaft, fletching, broadhead and weight-forward specs of the arrow to fine tune.
The sweet spot for maximum accuracy is finding the right combination of all these. This can be time-consuming and difficult (it requires lots of testing and measuring group sizes downrange), but as with a rifle, the winning combination brings on major tack-driving lethalness.
Experiment with different vanes, broadheads and point weights until you figure out what shoots best. In many cases, finding this sweet spot can be as simple as increasing the arrow’s front of center (FOC). Easton recommends 10 to 15 percent weight-forward for hunting arrows. If you don’t know how to compute FOC weight, there are several calculators available online. If you're looking to then determine your arrow's momentum and kinetic energy, Realtree's calculator will help you tremendously.
If you are shooting less than 10 percent weight forward, you should consider a switch from 100- to 125-grain points, or from 4-inch vanes to 2-inch. This simple change will alter FOC by 2 to 3 percent.
Tune the Bow
The final stage is to tune your setup. For me, paper tuning is a must, since it’s the only way I can tell if the arrow is coming out of the bow straight or not, and whether I can tune out any arrow wobble. If not, from here I’ll attempt to address the imperfection by altering the cam synchronization, adjusting string yokes (to eliminate cam lean), increasing arrow-rest arm support, and so on. If none of these changes fix the problem, then the bow is going back to the manufacturer.
If you’re into maximizing your odds as a bowhunter, let speed work in your favor. But uncontrollable speed won’t help at all. You must choose a bowhunting rig that not only shoots fast, but is accurate and fairly forgiving.