Bow technology has come a long way over the last few decades, nowadays compound bows are the most fastest, powerful and accurate bows available to buy. So, what benefits do these new-fangled bows have over traditional recurve bows of old, and how do you use one? What is the best compound bow for sale in the UK?
Almost ten years ago, I took the time out of my busy schedule to learn the art of archery. To begin with, I hadn’t shot a bow since I was in school, which is more than a two decades ago, but now, a few years of practise later, I can hit a 5 cm circle multiple times at 80 metres or more. This article will be everything I’ve learnt over the years, as well as serving as an introduction to archery and the modern technology used, which I hope will help anyone not familiar with the topic. Additionally, I’ll cover some of my personal bow recommendations. Apologies to anyone that’s intimately familiar with compound bows, at times I may simplify some topics, this is only to improve readability and to keep this article from spiralling into an epic saga, rather than a short enjoyable read.
There’s no denying that traditional bows are often beautiful pieces of art and are undeniably a lot of fun to use and shoot. But they are, simply put, inferior to compound bows made with modern materials and modern engineering know how.
Low Budget OptionThe KaiMei C50 Compound Bow is a great choice for shooters who want to try a compound bow without spending a lot of money. This bow is high quality and durable, making it the perfect choice for developing your archery skills. Don’t be fooled by the price. From our experience using the bow, it gives you more than you might expect for this price range. The materials used are top notch, and the parts work together seamlessly, making it a joy to use. Our only criticism is that you’d really need to invest in a decent sight to make best use of the bow, so may wish to factor this into your buying decision. This bow is a bargain and while it may not be as feature rich as some more expensive models, it’s more than capable of providing an excellent compound bow experience. If your budget is limited, don’t hesitate in buying this bow.
What we liked:
- The quality of the materials.
- The price.
What we didn’t like:
- The sight.
Mid Price OptionThe TopArchery Aluminium Alloy Compound Bow is one of the most versatile and best-selling compound bows that exist today. The bow is full adjustable, meaning you can tailor it to suit your requirements with very little effort. This flexibility means the bow is a great choice for beginners as well as experienced shooters. Both draw weight and draw length can be adjusted, so it suits both small and large shooters alike. It’ll suit both male and female shooters as well as the young and old.
What we liked:
- It’s versatile.
- It suits a wide range of shooters.
What we didn’t like:
- Very advanced shooters may want a better sight.
High End OptionThe TopArchery D690 Compound Bow is a bow that will last a lifetime of use, it’s well made and is a great fit for teens to adults. It’s also quite affordable and provides a lot of kit for the money.
The bows settings are adjustable for draw length and weight, do you can tailor the bow to meet your shooting needs.
It’s probably the ‘last bow you will ever need’.
What we liked:
- It’s light, well made and adjustable.
What we didn’t like:
Just What is a Compound Bow Anyhow
Every bow, whether new or old, uses the mechanical advantage of leverage in order to store energy in the limbs of the bow. This is why an arrow released from a bow travels far faster than you could possibly throw the same arrow.
A traditional bow will store this energy directly. This means the further you draw the bow, the harder it is to pull and the more energy is available to be transferred into the arrow when released. This equates directly into the more effort you’re expanding into drawing the bow, the further and faster the arrow will be. The downside of this is that when you’ve fully drawn a bow, you have to be able to fully support and hold the entirety of the draw weight. Basically, if your bow requires 40kg to draw, you’re left holding 40kg in your hands, which can be rather difficult and gets tiring quickly. It’s perhaps not surprising that long bow men of olden times would train from childhood, they would need a lifetime of muscle development to be an effective archer.
The clever engineering of a compound bow means the big wheels on the limbs (cams) are designed to do something called ‘let off’ at full draw. With most modern bows, this let off is between 60 – 80 percent of the regular draw weight. As an example, my bow has a 70% let off, which means that when fully drawn to its 40 kg draw weight, I’m left having to hold and support 12kg. Due to the reduced draw weight, I can spend more time aiming at the target, I can practice for longer without become tired, and I’m less likely to develop a massively overdeveloped shoulder. Less weight means I’m also much steadier, which of course increases accuracy further.
Through intelligent changes to the profiles of the cams, bow engineers (I’m sure they exist) can dictate how much of bow’s power is applied to the arrow at specific points in the string’s travel. A compound bow is faster than a regular bow as it can apply full force and power to the arrow almost as soon as the string is released, then hold the power applied to arrow until it finally leaves the string.
A practical example of this would the fastest production bow ever made. It has a stunning IBO speed of 370 feet per second, which is almost twice as fast as what a traditional bow can manage.
Speed is important when it comes to accuracy. The faster an arrow travels, the flatter the trajectory of the arrow is. By shooting a flat arc, the arrow is able to stay pointed at the target through more of its range.
Does Speed Really Matter?
Given an arrow with equal weight, mass and flight characteristics, a fast arrow is more powerful compared to a slower moving arrow. Not only does this mean the arrow hits its target with more force, but it also means the arrow will fly with a flatter arc resulting in a more accurate flight journey over distances. This is especially important when you understand that one of the fundamental challenges with archery is estimating the range to a target in order to calculate the arc of the arrows flight. An arrow on a flatter arc allows for more leeway in case of a miscalculation.
If you consider my bow, for example, if I think my target is 20 metres away, and aim with that parameter, the trajectory is forgiving enough so that it’ll result in a fairly accurate hit at anywhere between 10 and 30 metres.
This is even more important when more complicated shooting conditions are introduced, such as shooting down or uphill. Trust me, once you start calculating shooting angles and trajectories in your hobbies, the world around you starts to look increasingly hilly. The ease in dealing with these complications is one of the big advantages imparted by a compound bow.
It might come as a surprise, but distance isn’t really a major advantage for modern bows. Wind, elevation and a whole host of other variables dictate that the overwhelming majority of archers will shoot at targets within 90 metres. Most decently made bows are capable of delivering the goods within that distance.
Compound Bows: The Bits and Pieces
Limbs: The flexible limbs that do all the heavy work storing and releasing energy.
Riser: The chassis of the bow. Holds most of the other parts together, this is where the limbs attach and any number of accessories might be attached to. The riser must strong and shouldn’t flex.
Cams: You can have one cam on your bow, two cams or hybrid cams. A single cam configuration is very simple, easy to use and pull, but is not as fast as other configurations. Two cams are the hardest to pull, more difficult to configure, but are also the fastest configurations available. Hybrid cams try to give you the best of both worlds.
Bowstrings: You draw the string, which rotates the cams, flexes the bow limbs, and when you’re ready to release it, it will launch the arrow. A modern bow string has very high tensile strength and won’t stretch and hopefully won’t break either.
Cables: These fix the limbs to the cams, allowing for them to pull on each other.
Cable Slide: This keeps the cables away from the path your arrow will take.
Brace Height: This is basically the distance between the grip and string at rest. If this is short, the longer the time arrow is contact with the string for, and the more power and speed that is imparted into the arrow. The downside is that the longer the time the arrow is in contact with the string for, the higher the likelihood that movement from the archer will be transferred to the arrow. The shorter brace means its faster, but it’s also less forgiving of the archers errors.
Compound Bow Accessories Must Haves
Most bows don’t come with many accessories, as they are very subjective, and what works for one archer might not be appropriate for another. We all like different things. Accessory choice will also be dictated by shooting style, conditions and what the archer is trying to accomplish.
Arrow Rest: The names pretty much says it all, this is what the arrow rests on when the bow is drawn. The difference between the types of arrow rest are often subtle, but they are all trying to do the same thing, which is not adversely affecting the arrow fletching.
D-Loop: This is a small piece of cord which is attached to the string. The arrow is knocked between where it attaches to the string.
Peep: A small piece of plastic or metal, which acts as the near sight, allowing you to aim correctly with the bows sights.
Release: Unlike many traditional bows, a compound bow is not released with your fingers. Instead, a mechanical release is used. This gadget is firmly attached to your wrist, which allows for the weight of the draw to be directly transferred to your arm. Additionally, releasing an arrow is much cleaner compared to using your fingers, increasing accuracy. Releases come in two main variances, two sided pincers or single hooks. I prefer the single hook, it’s less fiddly and much less hassle, at least for me.
Sight: The sight allows you to aim at targets. First you need to estimate the distance to a target, next you’ll align the target with the appropriate pin on your site, this should then allow you to fire at the target with the flight arc already calculated for you. Brilliant. Due to the relatively flat arc of a compound bow, the sites can be quite forgiving in case of a miscalculation of distance to a target.
Stabilisers: As the name suggests, the job of the stabiliser is to help stabilise the bow in your hand. Firstly by helping with the balance of the bow. Secondly by cutting down on the vibrations imparted by firing an arrow. The setup of stabilisers can get quite complex, with stabilisers pointing in all sorts of directions to help balance the bow, what you decide to go with comes down to personal preference.
Quiver: The quiver can be mounted on the side of your bow, and in case you didn’t know, the quiver holds your arrows. It’s still possible to use hip or back quiver if that’s your preference, in fact, if you’re only shooting targets then a hip quiver is probably your best bet. The bow mounted quiver is better suited for an archer who will be moving around allot, as it’s less likely to hinder movement and get in the way of things.
There are of course more parts and accessories for a compound, but the list cover the main ones you’d need to know about.
A field ready bow is a compound bow that comes with all the accessories you’re likely needing, meaning you can jump straight into shooting without any further consideration. Over time, you may wish to purchase additional accessories or upgrade what you already have.
Which Bow Should I Buy?
There are more than a few bows out there, and as you might expect, their marketing teams have worked hard on promoting the merits of their bows, often using jargon and marketing terms in an attempt to bamboozle the buyer. Thankfully, deciphering the hype an finding a decent serviceable bow is straight forward enough.
Your first priority should be giving yourself a total budget and sticking to it. Your budget should encompass your bow, your accessories and arrows. Expect to pay in the region of £80 for a few dozen arrows by themselves, but these should last a long time and give you plenty of use.
A respectable, well made and field ready bow with fitted accessories will start at around £300. You can of course spend a lot more than this, which is why it’s important to set a budget and stick with it. It’s very easy to be tempted by a top of the range bow costing in excess of £1000, however, as a beginner, it’s very unlikely you’ll need to spend as much as this. If later down the line you want to upgrade, you’ll have a better idea of what you want from your bow and can better pick the compound bow and accessories that meet your needs.
Next you’ll want to decide on what weight you want your bow to be, don’t go overboard here. There’s no need to be macho, a 50lb pound bow is often more than enough for most people.
Shooting Your New Bow
One of the first things you’ll want to do with your new compound bow is shoot it, this works to remove any stretch that might be present in the bow string. I would suggest getting to a range and shooting at least 150 arrows down range. Once this has been done you can proceed with having your peep installed and aligning your sight.
Each sight works in a slightly different way, but here’s some general tips and tricks for setting up your bows sights. Firstly, approximate the sights 20 yard pin, once set, shoot at a 20 yard range target with six arrows, adjusting the sight to compensate for the pattern the arrows fell in. For example, if your arrows are high and right, adjust the pin upwards and to the right. Once the 20 yard pin is set well and your arrows are grouping nicely on your target, start shooting down the range through your other pins, adjusting the settings as before. You should expect to devote several range visits to zeroing in your sights.
When you’re setting up your sights, you’ll want to ensure you’re shooting with good form and following best practises. A couple of lessons at this point will certainly help, however, the main points are to stand with your feet aligned and perpendicular to the target. Your feet should be shoulder width apart. Your bow arm should not be fully extended, instead keep some flex in it, additionally, don’t tightly grip the bow. When you draw the bow, keep your elbow high and your hand flat and relaxed. Try to find constant anchor points on your face for the string and trigger the string release smoothly and consistently. To maximise accuracy, hold the bow as still as you can as the arrow travels to the target and impacts. This follow through is the key to accuracy.
Once your bow is well sighted and you’re able to consistently hit targets, I highly suggest giving a 3D shooting range a shot. A 3D range has obstacles, elevation and different types of targets to the mix, it’s a fun way to add a whole new level of challenge to the sport. Estimating the distance and elevation of a target complicates shooting considerably, so be prepared to take some time to work things out and get used to a whole new style of shooting. You’ll more than likely lose a few arrows the first few times you shoot on a 3D range. To make things easier you can invest in a range finder which simplifies the experience, it’ll also help you to judge distances for yourself so that you can eventually work everything out in your head.
Tricks of the Trade
If you want to maximise your archery strength then I suggest devoting some time to a weightlifting programme to condition your muscles and make drawing the bow easier. One of the best exercise for increasing archery strength is by performing the aptly named ‘Archer Rows’. I would always suggest having a gym instructor help you to perform any new exercise with the correct form, but if you don’t have access to one, or you want to work it out for yourself, then try the following. Using a bench and a dumbbell, brace one hand against the bench while you lay against it, ensure your feet are shoulder width apart and keep your abdomen and core tight. Once you’re in position pull the dumbbell off the floor and up to your armpit, keeping your body steady as you do so. As you might have already guessed, this movement is similar to drawing the bow string. It’s crucial to repeat this exercise for both arms, which will help avoid any muscle imbalances. Keep the rep range low and the weight as heavy as you can manage, this will help build strength and endurance.
As I mentioned earlier, a range finder is a great tool for learning and estimating distances as you’re starting out. I would suggest looking for a range finder which also compensates for elevation, which simplifies everything. I personally use a Leupold RX1200i TBR, which serves all my needs.
Safe storage of a bow is as important as safe for storage for any other dangerous item.
Never dry fire your bow. Without an arrow to resist the bow string, the forces involved can cause the string to catastrophically fail and explode. This can serious injury to yourself or others. You should treat your bow as a dangerous item and don’t let someone inexperienced handle your bow without supervision.
You may find you need to align your sites every so often, or if you change the type of arrow you’re firing.