If you’re a normal, red-blooded bowhunter, you’ve probably been looking forward to getting your hands on the new bow lineups. It’s hard not to get excited when the advertising hype comes at us from so many angles these days. We see the full-page ads, commercials on hunting TV, and many of us get bombarded through our social media accounts. The annual Archery Trade Association (ATA) show generates more publicity and excitement than ever thanks to the wonders of the internet and social media.

Not to be outdone, our own Elk Hunter Magazine crew was well represented at this January’s ATA show and we can report that the new bows are once again quieter, faster, lighter, and of course way cooler than last year’s models, and they’re just begging YOU to take them elk hunting next September!

Zach Bowhay puts Mathews’ new Halon 6 through its paces at the 2016 ATA show in Louisville, KY.

Technology: Slowing but Still Relevant

It seems that every manufacturer offers up a better mousetrap every year, but how often do you really need to upgrade your equipment? That’s a rhetorical question that each of us wrestles with and have to answer for ourselves. Here are a few things to consider that might help you decide whether or not to pull the trigger this year.

Fact: Each year, bows get incrementally better…and they will continue to evolve and improve because there are so many bright, talented, and passionate people working tirelessly to make them better.

However, industry-shaking innovations are mostly a thing of the past. Bows are nearing the theoretical limits of their performance potential, much the way modern rifle performance has leveled off over the past 75 years. The evolution of archery equipment has slowed, but consistent, incremental improvements still compound annually to produce new bows that are measurably better than their three-year-old siblings.

Newer bows are designed to endure the elements and better withstand the punishment and abuse when elk hunts get real.

If you have your doubts, just go shoot a couple different brands and models with similar specs to your current bow. If it’s more than two years old, you’ll be hard pressed to find a bow that doesn’t feel better, sound better, and perform better from just about any of the top brands. While you’re at it, keep notes about which of those feels best, aims the best, and tunes the best in your hand. Ultimately, your opinion is all that matters.

Big numbers sell bows (speed rating numbers). Just remember that performance is not free, so if the speed numbers are crazy, it’s probably going to be crazy hard to pull. Also remember that “speeds up to…” claims don’t necessarily translate to your draw length, draw weight, and arrow weight. If you really want to know, bring a couple of your arrows and shoot them through the dealer’s chronograph to get the real story. Finally, for the best fit and service, purchase a respected brand from a reputable pro shop.

Three Types of Bow Buyers

Most bowhunters fit into one of three bow buying patterns:

1) You get a new bow pretty much every year, even if you love your current bow.

2) You get a new bow every 3 to 5 years when a) your current bow looks/feels dated; b) you have a big hunt planned; or c) your hunting partner upgrades.

3) You get a “new” bow every 7 to 10 years after your friends guilt you into buying or taking one of their hand-me-downs!

Whatever category you fit into, you probably know that “new stuff” feeling…and you have to admit that it’s just plain cool to be one of the first guys wielding a hot new bow at the archery range or at a tournament! It’s also motivating to have a new bow with which to practice and measure your skills at the range.

I always find that my shooting intensifies during the new bow honeymoon. As a result, I usually shoot a little better every time I get one. Yeah, sometimes the honeymoon is short, but more often than not I end up loving my new sweetheart and she stacks up the antlers at least as well and often even better than the last one.

My 2015 elk hunt boiled down to the last minutes of light on the last day. Confidence in my equipment allowed me to make an extremely difficult and pressure-packed shot on a wary herd bull.

Every year: If you’re the every-year guy, then get that new bow as soon as you can. Sometimes delivery can be a little slow as new models are introduced, so being near the top of the waiting list can save you a longer wait. Getting a new bow during the winter leaves you plenty of time to get familiar with the bow and gain the confidence you need before hunting season rolls around.

Every 3 to 5: By my own estimation, those who buy every 3 to 5 years probably represent the majority of avid bowhunters. This is the group that doesn’t need a new bow every year. Yeah, they sacrifice a little performance in years 3 to 5 to the brand new technology, but the gap is getting narrower all the time.

Your biggest advantage is knowing your equipment extremely well from getting to shoot it unedited for several years. You have the luxury of waiting for the right bow to come around before you decide to buy and you can also shop around or wait for this year’s bow to go on sale.

If you’re due for a new bow now, consider buying last year’s model on discount. As the new bows arrive, the dealers have to clear out the old ones, so this is the perfect time for you to shop. Your accessories are also likely dated, so plan to upgrade those with the money you save on the bow.

Supreme confidence in your equipment and your shooting is paramount to consistent success for western bowhunters

Not very often: If you haven’t had that new bow smell for 7 to 10 years, then I can answer the original question and leave the rhetoric behind. The time is NOW, my friend. You are sacrificing performance, accuracy, dependability, and you’re shooting a bow that is louder and has substantially more recoil than today’s bows.

If budget is the issue, there’s no shame in picking up one of the more value-oriented models. Don’t be afraid to buy a used bow from your “every-year” buddy. That’s a great way to get a nearly new bow for 25-40% below retail, and oftentimes the every-year crowd will include their accessories for little additional cost, because they go through sights, rests, and stabilizers like you change oil filters.

A three-year-old bow or a value-priced new model will still provide most of the technology and performance at 60% of the price of the new flagship models and will be a huge upgrade to your old trusty, dusty bow.

Or heck, if it really has been 10 years, splurge and treat yourself to something top-of-the-line that will perform faithfully and last another 10 years…you’ve earned it!

Truth

As a parting shot, I’d like to offer this bit of wisdom. Your bow is just a tool. It cannot transform you into a great bowhunter or cause you to shoot beyond your ability, but a capable bowhunter without a proper tool may never know his or her full potential.

If you think this might be the year to buy, you’re in luck! The 2016 crop of bows looks stronger across the board than any we’ve seen in a long time! Turn the page to see our staff’s picks for the most exciting elk hunting bows from this year’s ATA show!