How to Buy Your First Compound Bow

So you’ve decided to buy a compound bow. Congratulations, you’re one step closer to being totally bad ass. And another congratulations for coming to the right place to find out how.

This article is going to ask a few questions and come up with some answers. These are the same things I wondered when I set out to buy my first bow,  and I think they are the best way to pass on the gained experience.

If you plan to use it for hunting, this article will be focused primarily on you, as it’s what I plan to do with mine.. If you are planning to use it for target shooting or competition, this article still applies to you. But luckily, you have quite a few more options and considerations, which I will address later.

If you don’t know much about compound bows, like what binary cams or axle-to-axle length are, check out these articles for a crash course. This is just the tip of the iceberg, mind you, there’s plenty more to Google!

http://www.stickemarchery.com/stickemcart/compound-bow-technology.aspx

http://www.outdoorsexperience.com/compoundbowdiagram.html

What’s my price range?

Compound bows, like pretty much any piece of sports equipment, can vary widely in price. You will see bows for $50 to $1,500, it’s just a matter of what you’re willing to spend. And like many things, you get what you pay for. A new bare bow of upper entry to mid-level quality will run you about $350-$550, depending on your tastes. Higher end bows start around $600 and go upwards to well over $1,000. However, if this is your first bow, I would ballpark spending $500 at most for a total setup including a used bow, arrows, block target, release, and a tune-up. Notice, I said “used” bow. For starters, unless you’ve got the cash flow to warrant a new rig, I would recommend a used bow.

Why Buy A Used Bow?

Well, frankly, because you’re gonna beat on it! You’re going to drop this thing, probably dry fire it by accident (happens when you don’t keep your finger off the release trigger), ding it off rocks and trees, and will want to tinker with the settings. A used bow won’t make you feel guilty when you scratch up that purdy camo dip.  A used bow will also be easier on your wallet, in case you decide you hate archery (which happens quite a bit). This last reason, in fact, works toward your advantage because there are plenty of people offloading bows they never use anymore. There are also just as many people obsessed with archery that love to upgrade their rigs to the newest models every year, and sell their older models for modest prices.

Where Do I Buy a Bow?

There are quite a few sources that I used when hunting for my first bow. Here is a breakdown.

Local Pro Shop 

Archery shops, like fishing shops, are a great place to learn, hang out, and purchase equipment at. Yes, you can probably find it cheaper online. But if the shop owner, staff, and patrons are knowledgeable, helpful, and friendly, consider spending a few more bucks on an accessory item to keep them in business. Most pro shop staff members worth their salt will be able to fit you to a bow that will be both comfortable, ergonomic, and optimal for your body size and strength. Many shops also sell used bows or consign them for their customers. You can find a great deal this way, as most shops will throw in a free -, strings, arrows, etc with a deal. See what you find.

And I’ve found that a good shop owner would rather see you get a good deal wherever it may be and come back for services and accessories, than rip you off on a onetime sale. That was my experience with Neil at NH Archery before he closed. I first walked in the door interested in a bow he had on consignment, which ended up not fitting me for draw length. He didn’t have any other bows that fit me, but rather than sell me one anyways, he gave me my “measurements” and pointed me in the right direction to some other places. Because of that, I’ll definitely go back to him for tunings, cleanings, and custom arrows!

Forums

What can I say, I love forums. There are plenty of archery related on the web, a few of the most popular ones are:  Bowsite.com, Bowhunting.com, and Archerytalk.com (which I use). Troll the forums for awhile before you register, but make sure you introduce yourself at some point! Archery is one of those dying sports (although experiencing a resurgence recently) that people love to share, talk about, and teach. If you’ve got a question, don’t feel nervous to post it up, just make sure to do a quick forum search to make sure it hasn’t already been answered 100 times. I’ve found Archerytalk.com to be a HUGE resource for me, from learning how to tune my bow, hunting tips, and even DIY projects.  Along with being a great resource of knowledge, I actually purchased my bow there. AT has an excellent trading forum, with feedback available for users, moderators willing to mediate any sales disputes, and plenty of people looking to buy, sell, and trade. My advice is to start looking before you’re really itching to buy, if you wait long enough and pay due diligence to the classifieds section, that perfect deal will pop up.  Or, do what I did and post up a “WTB” thread (Want to Buy) and watch the offers role in!

Online Market Places

eBay, and your local Craigslist classifieds. eBay can be a great spot to find deals on and score big. As with the my suggestion for forums, watch for a week or two before you start bidding. Get a feel for what the current market is and what you can get. It won’t take long to pick up on trends and prices. Sometimes eBay can be a hassle if your bow isn’t in the same condition you expected.  I prefer Craigslist slightly over eBay since you can likely meet up with the seller and check out the bow in person before throwing your cash down.  As always, never feel obliged to buy if the bow isn’t everything you thought it was. Meeting up to check out or test fire a bow isn’t a condition of sale. (If this is your plan, and you are very serious about getting into archery, I recommend spending the $50-$80 up front on a target and a few arrows. Your local pro shop should have some Morrell’s bag or block target for sale if not, check this link. The seller may not always have a target available or you may be meeting up at a parking lot, etc. You don’t need much room to fire it, it can be 5 feet away, but it’s definitely a very good idea to give it a few shots before agreeing to buy)

Big Outdoor Store

This is the last place I would recommend buying from but I would still recommend it. For such a relatively small niche sport such as bowhunting or archery, I would first say support your local shop if it’s good. If you don’t have any around you or if they are all crap (which is possible) or if you plan to just buy a brand new bow,  hell, go to an outdoor sporting goods store. Storefronts like Cabela’s, Bass Pro, and Gander Mtn will have better and more knowledgeable staff than another big box store that doesn’t specialize in hunting or outdoor equipment. These top three big stores will also have their own “brand” bows, which are an exclusively made manufacturer label for their particular store. These store brands are often manufactured by big bow company’s such as Bowtech. Investigate those for stores that are closest to you and find out what people have to say (the forums are a good place for this).

What Else Do I Need to Look For?

Now that you’ve got some ideas on where to buy, you should also take into consideration what you want the bow to have. There are plenty of bells and whistles to screw onto your bow, but my general guideline is to focus on power, accuracy, and silence. Camouflage also should be considered, but will vary depending on your quarry. Which I will explain in a bit.

Power

If the bow is properly fit and adjusted to your strength, you will want to maximize the amount of kinetic energy possible to transfer to your arrow. When you draw a bow, energy is stored in the limbs (contrary to belief that it is stored in the string). The string is merely the means of transferring the energy from your limbs into your arrow. The greater the energy transferred to your arrow, the heavier it can be, and the more kinetic energy it will impart onto your target. That’s the simplest way of looking at it. Get a bow that fits you, and work to maximize the energy deliverable (or the opposite, work to minimize energy lost).  Heavier draw weights will store higher energy, resulting in higher arrow velocities and weights. Look for a draw weight that is as high as possible but still allows you to practice regularly. Plenty of guys can draw an 80lb bow, but not many can do it for several hours of target practice. I have mine set to about 65lbs, which I plan to increase to 68lbs in a few weeks as I’ve been gaining strength through Crossfit. Everyone will be different, so don’t be afraid of going low or going high. Just find what works for you.

Accuracy

All that power but no way to aim sounds like a big waste to me. Accuracy is achieved through proper form, good sights, quality arrow rest, and a properly set up bow. The last 3 are things you can pay for up front, but proper form must be learned over time. Invest in a good quality 3-pin sight (Apex, Cobra, Tru-Glo, Sword)  a good quality on market arrow rest (WhiskerBiscuit, Trophy Ridge), and proper setup done by your pro shop.

Silence

In case you didn’t notice, arrows don’t fly that fast. Even the fastest shooting bow shooting at around 350fps is still miles slower than the slowest gun shooting at 900fps. Therefore, your quarry has a very good chance of hearing you fire before the arrow reaches them. This is why sound suppression and vibration dampening is  a must if you intend to hunt. Even a reflex action of an animal looking up is enough to make your shot miss, or worse, cause a crippling or wounding hit. Stabilizer bar, string silencers, and limb dampeners are the way to go. There are plenty on the market, find whatever suits your price range and setup.

Camouflage

I won’t dwell too much on this subject, as there are so many patterns out there and you’ll most likely only have 1 -2 choices once you find a bow you like. You can always get the camo finish redone by sending it out to a “dipping” company (hydrographing). Camo patterns will depend on your intended game, and intended environment. Then again, some people hunt successfully without any camo on their bow or on their body, so to each his own. I, myself, prefer camo and have Max-1 by RealTree on mine. It matches the primarily coniferous and dead plant forests for fall whitetail woods, along with ground foliage elements for spring time turkey hunting.

As I mentioned before, if you intend to use this bow for target shooting, you can apply these same guidelines but maybe to a less stringent degree. Power will be less of an issue in terms of arrow impact, but more in terms of repeated shooting comfort. Accuracy will be just as important, but you may want to consider a 4-5 pin sight, especially for 3D shoots. Silence will be less of an actual sound issue but more dependent on vibration dampening and reducing hand shock for comfort. And camouflage, well, you can pretty much paint the bow lime green and it won’t matter. You can get some pretty sweet custom designs, in fact.

Well, I hope this little guide has helped some of you and given some advice on buying a bow. I spent close to 2 months looking at all the sources I mentioned, and finally picked up a 2008 Diamond Nitrous (by Bowtech) off a fellow in South Carolina, who I met through AT. I love it so far, and hopefully will upgrade in a couple years once I’ve mastered the finer elements of archery.

Let me know if you used this guide in buying a bow and how you made out! Thanks for reading!

Check out the follow up article to this, How To Upgrade Your First Compound Bow!

 

Comments

  1. Brandon says

    Hey man! I just wanted to drop you a line and let you know that your guide has helped me out a lot! I have been shooting my mother’s old Hoyt compound (about 22 year old bow). I have been thinking about purchasing a new or used bow, and I have been searching around to decide on what I want to get. I will be using mine for target shooting, and have been searching the web for advice on what I should be looking for. Your guide here has helped a ton, and I will be referring to it in the future! Thank you!

    • manualofman says

      Brandon – Thanks for the kind words. I’m glad this guide helped you out and hopefully led you to a great fitting and great shooting bow for yourself! Tight groups!

    • Sahil says

      Alex – At the $125 price point, you’re likely only going to find NEW a youth bow by Bear. However, you may be able to find a used bow on a forum like Archery Talk, but may have to watch the classifieds for a bit of time. There is also Craigslist, many people are often unloading bows during the off season. And as a tip, you may also want to find out what your preferred draw weight is exactly, as 40-70lbs runs the entire span of adult bow weights. That will help you narrow down your choices and lead you to a bow best suited to your needs. Good luck!

  2. Perry says

    I am looking to buy my 13 year old his first bow, primarily target practicing and some hunting but don’t have any idea what to buy and don’t want to spend a lot if he loses interest.

    • Sahil says

      Perry – if the bow isnt going to be a surprise I would bring him into a local archery shop or a sporting goods store that carries bows. At 13, you will wabt to have him determine his draw weight and length. If its too high a weight he may get frustrated or burned out from just trying to pull it back. Like I mentioned to another commenter, Bear archery makes a load of entry level bows. You can also check out the in house brands that Bass Pro and Cabela’s carries (like Red Head). They are less expensive than the bigger name brands but most of them are actually made by them anyways! Good luck!

  3. Ton says

    Hello. Great article. Photography is one of my main passions and there are a ton of similarities between the two. I love setting up that perfect shot, getting the light right, choosing apertures, shutter speeds, sensitivity settings, making sure the focus is spot-on all down to when I press that shutter. It’s another industry where practice makes perfect and having good gear can mean the difference between that perfect shot or something that is just okay.

    Anyway, I am starting to ramble but are there any brands that I should stay away from in the bow hunting world? I am looking at a Hoyt Charger that I shot at my pro shop but unlike photography, it’s kinda hard to do research on bows online. I am starting small with rabbits and possums as my main targets but I’d like the option of moving up to goats and pigs in the future.

    Cheers from New Zealand.

  4. hunter says

    Do you have to get a bow registered or anything after you buy it off of Craig’s list and do you have to be 18 to legally own one and do you need papers on it

    • Sahil says

      This would really depend on your specific’s state laws regarding hunting equipment. My state does not consider a compound bow as a dangerous weapon and requires no registration or license to own or carry one, but that’s New Hampshire. I would check with your state Fish & Game department’s website or just give them a call and they should be able to tell you the correct course of action.

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