Who makes the best bow for women? And what should a female hunter look for when buying a new bow? Well, if you look at the byline of this article, you’ll notice there’s a guy behind the keyboard—and I’m no more going to tell you lady archers which bow to buy than I’d allow my wife to pick out a bow for me.
At the end of the day, men and women have different tastes and requirements in a bow setup. For many years, female archers were stuck with hand-me-down men’s bows set at minimum draw weights, or the veritable “youth and ladies” bow packages that, while sometimes offering the right blend of draw length and weight, lagged far behind “men’s” models when it came to quality.
That’s not the case anymore. Virtually all major bow companies now sell top-of-the-line bows for women. All the new ladies-model bows on the market today, regardless of manufacturer, will get the job done, and work as a serviceable hunting rig for many seasons. Our tastes, of course, lean toward those available in some sort of Realtree camouflage pattern. So we arranged a test; companies sent us bows, several of which are brand-new for 2012, and we created a test team and set of criteria to evaluate them.
MEET THE TESTERS
For this test, we needed experienced female shooters with no “pro-staff” ties to a given archery company. We wanted each bow evaluated fairly and thoroughly. Most importantly, we wanted the shooters to be accomplished bowhunters.
Michelle Brantley, one of the testers, is my wife. Having hunted with guns since she was a little girl, Michelle began bowhunting with me four seasons ago, and quickly began racking up the body count, putting a 300-pound hog and a button buck in the freezer during her second season. Now Michelle says I drive her nuts in the woods, and so she does most of her bowhunting alone. In fact, I was in Colorado this past September when she arrowed her biggest buck ever—a 12-pointer in full velvet. I’m still jealous of that deer. Her current hunting rig is a Hoyt Trykon Sport, set at 45 pounds with a 24-inch draw length. Though Michelle is a fourth-grade teacher, she manages to spend 30 to 40 days in the stand every season.
Brita Lewis, the other tester, is an account executive for Gray Loon Marketing, the company responsible for the design and inner workings of Realtree.com as well as other well-known outdoor companies such as Hoyt, Benelli and ThermaCell.
But Brita’s killer instinct is even more impressive than her business resume. She currently shoots a Hoyt Kobalt and has 10 years of bowhunting experience under her belt. She tagged her first bow-kill, a small buck, after a few seasons in the stand, and has since added another 10 animals to that tally—including a 146-incher she killed two years ago. During the fall and winter, Brita spends 30 to 40 days in the deer stand. Come summer, she and her husband, Eric, compete in (and win) bowfishing tournaments in Kentucky, Indiana and Illinois.
And finally, we had the crew at Hinton Archery in Murray, Ky. Danny Hinton, John Sullivan and Eric McIntosh helped by fitting rests, cutting arrows, adjusting draw lengths, helping formulate the test criteria and handling the technical stuff, such as tuning the bows and clocking their speeds.
All bows were set at 50 pounds and chronographed with a 350-grain finished arrow, which is a realistic hunting arrow weight for a ladies’ setup. All but the Hoyt were set at a draw length of 24 inches (the Hoyt was shipped with a 27-inch draw length; more on that in a bit). Beyond the technical specs, Michelle and Brita evaluated the bows on a variety of criteria, including the draw cycle, valley, back wall, noise, vibration, forgiveness, “treestandability” and overall looks.
With all that out of the way, in alphabetical order, here are the bows—and how they fared.
BEAR HOME WRECKER
The Home Wrecker was introduced in 2010, and remains a good choice for female bowhunters—especially those on a budget. This bow was shipped fully equipped with Bear’s RTH (Ready to Hunt) package that includes a sight, rest, stabilizer, sling, nock loop and quiver.
Axle-to-Axle Length: 29.75 inches
Brace Height: 6 inches
Weight: 3.79 pounds (with accessories)
MSRP: $399.99 ($499.99 with RTH package)
Hits: For starters, the price tag—it’s difficult to find hunting gear this good at that price, period. And, despite being fully rigged with sights and a rest, this bow was the lightest tested. Both Michelle and Brita commented on how handy it’d be in a treestand or ground blind. It was also very quiet.
Misses: Everything in life is somehow a trade-off. A short, light bow with a short brace height, despite being a joy to handle, is inherently difficult to shoot—and that was the case with the Home Wrecker. Brita and Michelle both gave it low marks for vibration and kickback after the shot. Unfortunately, that kick was combined with slow arrow speeds.
Overall Comments: Both testers loved the portability and overall look of this bow. Michelle said if she were buying without shooting, straight off the shelf, this one would be her pick (it was also her choice for best buy). And, even though shooting performance wasn’t as good as some of the other bows in the test, the bow held its own, and costs hundreds of dollars less than any of the others.
Hot off the assembly line, the Siren is Bear’s new-for-2012 ladies model, and the new official bow of Realtree Girl. It was also shipped with the RTH package.
Axle-to-Axle Length: 31 inches
Brace Height: 6.75 inches
Weight: 4.47 pounds (with accessories)
MSRP: $599.99 ($699 with the Ready to Hunt accessory package)
Hits: The Siren is a speedy little single-cam that was among the quietest bows tested. Both testers gave it high marks for a smooth draw—both when pulling back and lowering the string.
Misses: The bottom limb of the Siren tends to kick forward dramatically after the shot. Michelle had some discomfort with this bow at full draw when the web of her palm pressed against the arrow shelf. Such things often come down to personal preference, but are a good reminder of why you should shoot any bow before you buy it.
Additional Comments: With performance surpassing the Home Wrecker while maintaining a price far less than the Hoyt, Elite or Strother (even fully rigged with accessories), Brita picked this bow as her choice for the best value.
Axle-to-Axle Length: 31 ¾ inches
Brace Height: 7 ½ inches
Weight: 4.14 pounds
Hits: When it came to shooting, this bow performed well in virtually every test. The draw cycle was smooth, with a rock-solid back wall that, combined with the high let-off, has real benefits for the deer woods. Despite that let-off, this bow was plenty fast.
Misses: There is a little kickback with this bow after the shot, and of course it’s expensive. Depending on your point of view, the lack of pink accents or other “ladies bow” styling could be a drawback. Michelle commented that due both to the price tag and the overall look of the other models, she’d be likely to overlook the Elite—at least until she shot it.
Overall Comments: For pure performance and ease of shooting, this bow was the overall favorite of both testers and all of the guys in the bow-shop. In fact, both of the testers said that if money were no object, they’d buy this bow as their next personal hunting rig now that they’ve spent time with it on the range.
HOYT VECTOR 32 VICXEN
This bow has about everything you’d expect from a high-end Hoyt—it’s smooth, fast, quiet and a pleasure to shoot. This bow features Hoyt’s new RKT Cam, which is designed for an especially smooth draw and maximum efficiency at any draw length.
Axle-to-Axle Length: 32 Inches
Brace Height: 6 ¾ inches
Weight: 4.18 pounds (bare bow)
Speed: 244 (As mentioned, this bow had a longer draw length than the others; assuming a 10-fps deduction per inch of draw length, it would’ve clocked in at 214 set at 24 inches)
Hits: This bow was among the best overall performers in the test. It remained virtually motionless in hand after the shot and had a smooth draw cycle. It’s obvious this bow was built from the ground-up as a setup for serious female bowhunters.
Misses: This bow has a rather spongy back wall. Both testers found lowering it from full draw to be a little difficult. The factory grip was a little large for Michelle’s hands (again, not a problem for everyone—Brita thought the grip was comfortable). Above all, it’s pricey.
Overall Comments: When you pull a new Hoyt out of the box, you expect good things. This bow didn’t disappoint. Both testers currently shoot Hoyts as their personal bows, and even though their respective models (Kobalt and Trykon Sport) are only a few years old, they saw this one as a significant improvement.
Strother claims the Hybrid Cam System on the Allure enables female archers to reach speeds and energies comparable to bows set at heavier poundages and longer draw lengths. Judging by the chronograph readings, that’s true.
Axle-to-Axle Length: 33 5/8 inches
Brace Height: 6 1/16 inches
Weight: 4.16 pounds
Hits: Both testers found this bow smooth to draw, with a short valley and rock-solid back wall. It was also the fastest bow tested by a fairly wide margin (again, considering the Hoyt had a 3-inch draw length advantage).
Misses: This was the longest bow, axle to axle, in the group, and both testers said it just seemed “big.” There was also a noticeable “thunk” after every shot. Decibels weren’t measured with this test, but both testers remarked that this bow seemed louder than the others.
Overall Comments: This was everyone’s first experience with a Strother bow, and we were impressed. Overall, this premium bow was an outstanding shooter, and it’s fast. Both testers commented on the especially solid back wall. Though it’s not cheap, it’s priced less than either the Hoyt or Elite.
And there you have it. Five great Realtree-clad bows, each with their own unique set of characteristics, to fit about every price range. Which of them is the best? That largely depends on what the prospective buyer is searching for. They’ll all work just fine in the woods.