|No. 2 Pick||Matthews V3X 29||SEE IT||
Matthew’s often wins this series, so it’s no surprise the V3X finds itself in second, only half-a-point behind Hoyt’s RX-7.
|Editor's Choice||Hoyt Carbon RX-7||SEE IT||
Hoyt’s great HBX Pro cam system, a flawless finish, and consistent accuracy took the RX-7 to our top honors.
|Best Value||Xpedition Smoke||SEE IT||
The fastest bow of the test, good in most categories, and $750 under our winner, a great bow that just missed out on second place.
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For the 2022 Field & Stream flagship bow test, instead of waiting until spring to put the newest bows through the wringer, we were able to get test models in late fall, before many were available to the public. That means we had extra time to shoot them, test them, and even hunt with them. Does killing a deer with a bow influence its score? Well, it all depends on the size of its antlers. Kidding, of course. But taking the bows into the field did help us gauge how the bows performed where it matters most.
That said, the heart of our test took place at the Stress Engineering Services lab in Mason, Ohio, and on my farm in southwestern Kentucky, where we wrung every bow out and pitted them head-to-head. Our test panel included the engineers in Stress’s Outdoor Division, as well as myself; former pro-shop owner and bow technician Danny Hinton; and Zach Bell, a serious bowhunter and target shooter. Here’s exactly what we did.
How We Test Flagship Compound Bows
Each bow was set to a 28-inch draw length and 60-pound draw weight. Once that was complete, we prepared IBO-spec (5 grains per pound of draw weight), 300-grain arrows for measuring speed, as well as noise and vibration. We used Whisker Biscuit rests and a D-loop for all objective testing, but the bows were naked otherwise. We also weighed each bow (with arrow-rest and D-loop only) on a Lyman digital trigger scale.
At Stress, engineers used a sound-proof chamber and bow-mounted accelerometer to measure noise and vibration. They also mapped draw-force curves, which influences our draw-cycle scores, and measured the efficiency of each bow. Back home in Kentucky, we measured speed by taking an average of three shots through a chronograph. (Keep in mind that at IBO specs of 30 inches, you could assume another 20 fps or so added to the velocity reading listed with the bows below.) To test accuracy and forgiveness, we took the average of five three-shot groups per shooter, per bow. This test was conducted indoors at 25 yards over the course of three days using hunting-spec Carbon Express Maxima Red arrows, HHA sights, and peep sights installed. As we shot, we poured over each bow and compared them for subjective considerations, such as fit and finish and handling.
Finally, we scored the bows on a 100-point scale in the following categories, with the following values:
- Accuracy and Forgiveness: 20 points
- Speed: 20 points
- Draw Cycle: 20 points
- Noise (lack of): 10 points
- Vibration (lack of): 10 points
- Fit and Finish: 10 points
- Balance, Handling, and Grip: 10 points
Our test is an invitational, and certain brands are missing because they did not respond to our invitation. Submitting a bow for our test takes guts, and I commend all the companies that did it.
2022 Flagship Compound Bow Trends
Some years, new trends are obvious. Increased adjustability and new tuning systems were big in 2020. Other years, like this one, only mark another steady step forward in overall performance. Which isn’t a bad thing. A couple of big improvements from individual companies spiced things up for 2022, and a curiosity or two caught our attention.
“Forgiving” Brace Heights
For example, we had some long, so-called “forgiving” brace-height bows in the mix that did shoot pretty well—but no better than the sub-6-inch speed bow that was also submitted. There was a time when 7 inches was considered some sort of magic number for brace height, but that was ages ago. Best I can tell, the only thing a 7-inch brace height is guaranteed to get you is a slower arrow.
Another bit of conventional wisdom that may be on its way out is the idea that a long axle-to-axle length guarantees better accuracy. Riser design, not overall bow length, seems to be more important now. As if to prove it, this year’s most accurate bow was the shortest, at 29 inches long, and the second shortest bow, at 30 inches, was tied for second most accurate. Point is, specs aren’t enough to tell this bow from that anymore. If you truly want to know what’s up, you’ve got to shoot all of them. And if you don’t have the opportunity to do that, well, that’s what this review is for.
Finally, a note on price tags, because readers will complain about them sure as the sun sets. Nearly $1,000 separates the winner from last place here. We’re not oblivious to that. But we did not take price into consideration when ranking the bows in this test, because it can skew the results to the point where the highest performing bow doesn’t get its due. A flagship bow, by definition, is the best a given maker can build, and they’re expensive. Are there $500 bows out there that will serve deer hunters just fine? Of course, and we test them too. Just not here. These aren’t the year’s best bargains. These are the best new bows of 2023, period.
Test Results: Field & Stream‘s Best Compound Bows of 2023
1) Editor’s Choice: Hoyt Carbon RX-7
- Specs: 321 fps | 30” axle to axle | 6” brace height | 4 lb., 11 oz. | $1,849
- Efficiency: 81.3%
- Final Score: 95.5
I spent much of the 2021 bow season hunting with the Hoyt Ventum 30, which debuted the brand’s binary HBX cam system. The Carbon RX-7 has a slightly modified version, the HBX Pro, that was even better, and the bow itself was good enough to take top honors in this year’s test.
As is often the case with our winning flagship, the RX-7 won because it essentially did nothing wrong in any of the objective categories, and was a crowd favorite in all the subjective ones. It missed being the fastest bow by only a few feet per second, and it was among the test’s most accurate shooters (and for me personally, it was the most accurate, with average groups of just under an inch). The RX-7 has several vibration dampening features incorporated—and they work. This bow is noticeably dead in the hand, and after measuring them at Stress Engineering, only the Elite had less vibration. The RX-7 was louder than some of the competition, but in an overall quiet field of bows, the difference in sound wasn’t something any of us could detect in the absence of Stress’s measurements.
The draw cycle is slightly demanding on the front end, but is smooth throughout, with a perfect valley for hunting and a solid back wall. In that category, this bow was tied with the Xpedition Smoke as the test-panel favorite. Add a flawless fit and finish, light weight, and handy dimensions, and the RX-7 eked out the win by less than a full point. But it won all the same.
- Specs: 315 fps | 29” axle to axle | 6” brace height | 4 lb., 14 oz. | $1,299
- Efficiency: 80.9%
- Final Score: 95
The Mathews CrossCentric series is the winningest bow design of the past decade. Starting with the 2016 Halon, these bows have won our test every year but 2017, when they finished runner-up. The Mathews V3X missed this year’s win by a half-point—but if you were to say this is the best hunting model of the series yet, I couldn’t argue. I used it myself to shoot a nice 8-pointer in Tennessee the day after we unboxed it.
Performance-wise, the V3X is about identical to last year’s V3. At 29 inches axle to axle, it was the shortest bow of the test, as well as the most accurate. Bell averaged ¾-inch groups with it—the overall best of the test—and as a panel, our average was 1.04 inches. The V3X was also the quietest bow, but finished a few bows down the list for lack of vibration. That, along with being slower than the winner, was really its only stumble.
The V3X is notable for its outstanding accessory design. Its Stay Afield System, for example, uses a series of fixtures on the cams and a short string so that you can press the bow in the field, no traditional bow press required (you do need to back the limb bolts out a few turns first). For all the at-home tuning systems that I’ve seen in the past few years, this one is the simplest and, for most bowhunters, the most practical. Most hunters aren’t adjusting their own cam lean. Just about all of us have, at some point, needed to move a string strand to straighten up a peep sight.
The V3X also has a Bridge Lock sight system, which mounts the sight directly into the riser instead on the side of it, and it comes dovetailed for an Integrate-style arrow rest. The LowPro quiver system is the most compact quiver I’ve tried, but if you’re like me and prefer to remove your quiver once you’re in the stand, get the removable 5-arrow version and not the fixed 6-arrow version my test bow had.
3) Best Value: Xpedition Smoke
- Specs: 324 fps | 32” axle to axle | 5.375” brace height | 5 lb., 4 oz. | $1,099
- Efficiency: 86.8%
- Final Score: 94
The Xpedition Smoke is a no-apologies, short-brace-height speed bow that damn near won the test. It has a hybrid cam system that’s draw-length specific. Ours was set to 27.5 inches from the factory. Normally, we’d adjust that to the 28-inch spec used in our test, but that wasn’t possible here. And yet even with that disadvantage, the Smoke was the fastest bow of 2023 by a good bit. It also had a remarkably smooth draw cycle that was consistent from start to finish. Hinton and I both, in fact, pegged it as our favorite draw cycle of the test. Zach Bell didn’t like it as much due to the shallow valley that made it a touch jumpy at full draw. That’s why we average such things out.
The Smoke finished middle of the pack for both (lack of) vibration and noise, but it was also far and away the test’s most efficient bow. It was a good shooter, averaging 1.23-inch groups. I hunted with the Smoke for a couple days, and in the stand I did find it to be a little big and top heavy. Ultimately, we all agreed that in the categories of handling, balance, and grip, as well as fit and finish, it wasn’t quite on par with some other bows in the test—particularly the two that edged it out for first and second place. Still, it finished within a point and a half of the winner and costs $750 less. The fastest bow of the year also gets our hands-down vote as the Best Value flagship bow of 2023.
- Specs: 311 fps | 31” axle to axle | 7” brace height | 4 lb., 13 oz. | $1,199
- Efficiency: 80.9%
- Final Score: 91.5
If we gave an award for “most improved,” the Prime Inline series would take it running away. Prime’s parallel cam system—like the one on the 2015 Ion, which tied for the win in that year’s test—has long been noted for a good draw cycle and especially solid back wall. But it was really designed to reduce cam lean and make the bows shoot better. We’ve never had complaints about Prime bows being difficult to shoot, but the dual cams did have their flaws. Bows with them tended to be noisy with a lot of vibration—and the cams themselves were big and cumbersome. But they are gone now.
The new Inline series replaces the parallel cams with more conventional single cams top and bottom in a binary system, but as the bow is drawn, the cam module actually shifts the cables underneath the string and to center of the axle, which Prime claims balances the cam in the same way that the parallel system did. It’s just much more streamlined.
Our takeaway on the range? The Inline 1 is a lights-out shooter (particularly so in Hinton’s hands). We averaged 1.22-inch groups with it overall. It was also lightweight and just about perfectly balanced (we all loved the grip), and it tied with the Elite for the second-quietest bow of the test. It finished middle of the pack in vibration, but if it’d had a touch more speed, the Inline 1 would’ve been in contention for the win. It had more let-off than I like on a hunting bow (it’s one of those bows that actually feels stuck at full draw), but that’s a subjective complaint, and a minor one at that.
- Specs: 315 fps | 33” axle to axle | 6” brace height | 5 lb., 1 oz. | $1,199
- Efficiency: 81.1%
- Final Score: 90.5
The SR350, like other recent Bowtechs, features a tuning system called the DeadLock, which allows the user to tune the bow by moving the cam along the axle and then locking it into place. We first tested it on the Revolt X in 2020, which finished third in that year’s test. It works as well as the Elite S.E.T. system but, in my opinion, is more complicated to use.
The SR350 has a half-inch shorter brace height and a higher IBO rating than the 2020 Revolt X, but is otherwise a similar bow. My gripe with DeadLock isn’t the system itself, but that Bowtech abandoned a good run of true two-cam bows (including the Realm SR6, which won the test in 2019) to accommodate it. The newer bows, which use a binary system, are indeed easier to tune at home, but they don’t perform as well.
Still, the SR350 is a hell of a good bow that finished near the top of the pack in both the noise and vibration categories. It was pretty fast, too. Although we averaged 1.35-inch groups with it, the SR350 lost some points in the accuracy-and-forgiveness test. Simply put, other bows were easier to shoot. It also lost points for having a comparatively tough draw cycle.
For years, new Bowtechs have come with a flip disc module that allows the user to change the draw cycle to either a Comfort (slower but easier) or Performance (faster but more demanding) setting. As this bow was shipped to us in Performance, that’s how we tested it. Though it’s smooth, with a nice back wall, the extra effort required at the end of the cycle was uncomfortable on the range—and not something I’d want in the woods. To be fair, Hinton switched it to the Comfort setting and took it hunting. It’s a joy to shoot like that, but then the performance lags. At the end of the day, some faster bows in this test were also easier to shoot.
- Specs: 299 fps | 31” axle to axle | 6.875” brace height | 4 lb., 15 oz. | $1,199.99
- Efficiency: 79.9%
- Final Score: 90
Elite’s Kure was the second-place finisher in our 2020 test, and the EnKore—its speedier follow-up—gets my vote as the best Elite bow of all time. I spent most of the fall in 2020 hunting with one. Like its predecessors, the Envision uses Elite’s intuitive S.E.T. tuning system, which lets you adjust the cam lean on the bow with the turn of a couple bolts, adding flex to one or the other of the bow’s split limbs. Using that system, the paper tuning process is indeed quick and precise.
The Envision has a much stockier riser and shorter, beefier limbs than its predecessors. Its profile is, in fact, not unlike a newer Mathews. That squat profile helps accomplish a short axle-to-axle length while still making the bow plenty shootable.
As for performance, first the bad news: This bow is slow, even surprisingly so. That alone caused it to tumble in the rankings. The good news is that if above all you’re after a quiet, soft-shooting compound, the Envision is your bow. It had the least amount of vibration of anything we tested, and it tied with the Prime Inline for second-quietest (the Mathews V3X was first). We shot it well, averaging 1.28-inch groups. The bottom limb has a habit of swinging out toward the target after the shot; some shooters might like that, but I personally did not. The bow also has a module system that allows for 1/4-inch draw length adjustments (most bows adjust a half inch at a time). Overall, the Envision’s draw cycle was pretty good, but previous models have been better.
- Specs: 304 fps | 33” axle to axle | 6.375” brace height | 5 lb. | $999
- Efficiency: 79.3%
- Final Score: 80
The Refine EKO is the newest in the flagship-level Legend Series from Bear, and in my mind, a big step up from the Divergent EKO, the last model in the series that we tested back in 2020. The Refine is more efficient and scored 5 points higher overall in our test. It has a wide range of adjustability, with a module that allows draw lengths from 26.5 to 30.5 inches, and let-off amounts of 75 to 90 percent. The bow comes with two grip inserts, so you can easily swap out for the one you prefer. We were able to spend a few days hunting with this bow, and found it to handle nicely in the woods.
Still, it fell short in a number of performance categories. It was the second-slowest bow of the test, and though it was fairly quiet, it had almost two and a half times more vibration of the Elite Envision—the test’s most dead-in-the-hand bow. That created a recoil difference we could feel on the test range and seemed to affect the bow’s accuracy and forgiveness, as well. We averaged 1.5-inch groups with the Refine EKO, which ain’t bad. We just shot all the other bows better.