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Tips for Choosing and Purchasing a New Bow with Will Brantley

Will Brantley, Hunting Editor of Field & Stream Magazine stops by to chat about trying out some new bows, to allow yourself the opportunity to test out and choose the right bow for you.

He walks through the steps he and his team performs to test out a new bow.



Note *the transcription ai may not (probably won’t) be perfect)



Welcome to another episode of bow cast. This is the archery podcast with the new school Archer in mind. Bow cast covers everything from tips, techniques, and archery technology that will help raise your success in the field. And now here’s your host covering the straight shot. Carrie Zylka

Carrie Zylka  00:35

Welcome to another episode of bowcast this week we are chatting with Will Brantley, Hunting Editor for Field and Stream. Every year he and his team put new roles through their paces and he is going to share some tips and tricks that we can do when testing out or comparing bows before you purchase one so we can be more confident we’re getting the right bow for the day. dollars that we’re spending because they’re not cheap. Well, welcome to the show.

Will Brantley  01:05

Thank you for having me Carrie.

Carrie Zylka  01:07

Why don’t you give the listeners just like a brief overview of who you are and what you do and why you are the guy I needed to talk to you for this episode?

Will Brantley  01:20

Well, I don’t know but I’m the guy that can tell you a little bit about me I guess. I am hunting editor for Field and Stream magazine and has been here in that capacity for for almost six years and was a full time freelance outdoor writer before that was editor of real trees website. When we met back in the day at bow cast at the bird the big 3d shoot Snowbird, Utah and some fun times back in those days and yeah, you know, I’m just an avid watcher Long outdoorsman when I was a little kid, I mean hunting and fishing. were literally the only things that I wanted to do. I didn’t play many sports at it and go to many parties and you know, I just hunted and fished every day after school when I started bow hunting when I was probably well I guess I was 14 when I killed last first deer with a bow and and just loved it. I’ve always really loved getting close to to wildlife. You know, I love to call in turkeys. I love the decoy ducks. I love to get within Bo Ranger stuff. And you know, I’ve since been fortunate in my career path that not been able to bow hunt for a lot of critters and a lot of different places. And, you know, one of the things that I do every year and have been doing for Well, I guess this year was our I think it was our eighth one, maybe our ninth one. I’ve been doing our annual review of new flagship both We do a review of new crossbows too but you know for the purposes of our discussion here you know we’ll focus on on the compound bows and what we do with with field and stream and these reviews appear in our life magazines well you know, we try to get our test is an Invitational we invite all the boat companies who want to participate to send the new bow they’re usually their flagship compound for the year and you know, we compare these bows head to head in a you know, in a pretty, a pretty rigorous test and we take a lot of pride in trying to make sure that our test is is absolutely fair and objective as it can be. And you know, that’s that’s a hard thing to do when you’re evaluating compound bows. You know, the, the things that I like in a in a bows draw cycle might not be the thing that you like and might not be the things that my wife likes. She’s a big 102 and we frequently we find even differences within our panel of testers you know, in personal preferences and things. And so we try to make as much of the test objective as we can, you know, we take our bows to stress engineering, the heaven out door, equipment division and basically what they do, they’re in Mason, Ohio and they are able to test all kinds of equipment for various levels, you know, various breaking point and they are able to measure things that we never could, you know, we have accelerometers that we attach to the bows, we measure vibration with we measure the noise in soundproof chambers. We map out the draw horse curves, we measure their efficiency, and of course, all the usual stuff to you know, run them through the chronograph and things like that. And then, you know, we also have a subjective part of our test and where each of our four test panel members we spend A week on the range which with every one of these bows, and we shoot a series of equity going inside of the and and kind of get comfortable with them, we will shoot a series of five, three shot groups per bow per shooter. And then at the end of the week, we average all of those groups across all the tests panel and the results of that average our accuracy results in the fascinating the fascinating thing that you’ll see is, yeah, you know, any one vote, you can pick it up and shoot a good group with it or pick it up and shoot a baggie with it. But what you’ll see with so many groups and so many people shooting these bows, particularly combined with all the other data that we get, during the course of this test, you’ll see trends start to emerge, and you will see clear differences and almost without exception, your top in you know most efficient bows are also going to be your fastest they’re also going to be your quietest and most of the time, they’re going to be your best shooters and you’ll see different trends emerge both on the hunt objective and in the subjective set, and that’s how we arrive at the answer of, well, this is the first place though this is the second place and so on. And then, you know, when we’re doing our write up, we, you know, add commentary, you know, things that we observe and things like that, but it’s a lot of fun. It is a lot of work. But, you know, we try to, we tried to hone in on categories that were all serious bow hunters, you know, we have one of the guys on our test team is Danny Hinton, he used to own an archery shop here. In my hometown, he’s got an engineering background. He’s also an avid bow hunter, he is just the perfect all around guy so he knows how to take bows apart, put them back together. He knows how different CAM systems work and why he knows how to set all these things up. And he can speak both to the technical end of things, but also to the practical hunting in that, you know, I can tell you when I’m up in a tree stand because I’ve spent so many days in the tree stand And shovel up deer with a bow, I can tell you what I like in the field of a bow, you know what’s easy to draw with hold and what’s easy to let down and all those things. And then he can tell you those things too, but he can kind of get into more of the wire. And so I think that’s kind of what makes our test panel unique, and that we have both those technical perspectives and then also a lot of practical experience, cuz everybody on our panel is a really serious bowhunter.

Carrie Zylka  07:26

That’s crazy. It sounds like a lot of work. Sounds like a lot of data to compile and sort through.

Will Brantley  07:32

it is and you know, and when we when we do this test, we’re not getting just one of each bow for every bow that a manufacturer sends, we actually get two of them, we get one set to IBO specifications. So it’s 70 pounds, said 30 inches, and we shoot it with an IBO spec arrow and that is the way you know because both companies when they’re publishing their specs, you know when they’re publishing their IBO speeds, and all of that It’s all based on all these avios specs and so when we get ready to coronagraph, that we try to get as close to that industry standard as we can, what you’ll find is that a lot of bows way overhype their speeds and things like that. And, you know, we publish what we find, you know, based on, you know, based on our best ability to match what that industry standards should be. And so we use those bolts to do all the objective testing, all the noise testing, all the vibration testing is done with that set and then the other set of bows. Um, it just so happens that everybody on our test is about a 28 to 29 inch draw length. So the other bows are all set to 28 inches and 60 pounds so they’re a little more comfortable to shoot on the range. We set all those bows up will drop away wrists and and slaughter sites. And that way everybody can pick them up and we put peeps on them. Everybody can pick them up Dolman, you know to their specifications, and really shoot As if it was their hunting bow. And, you know, and so we get on, we’re able to get the best of both worlds there, we’re able to get the best subjective experience, you know, shooting these bows on the range, but also able to get the truest objective measurements because we’ve got the avios spec both to and then at the end of it, you know, I’ve got a box all that stuff up. So yeah, there’s a lot of work. But it’s good. It’s it’s, it’s well worth it. So we look forward to it each year.

Carrie Zylka  09:28

How many days do you think you spend doing those tests?

Will Brantley  09:33

Ours? Oh, there’s no there’s no telling, you know, typically, you know, this year obviously the test is almost always in March at my place here in Kentucky. You know, typically, Danny and I will have probably, probably four or five days total time getting the bows and getting them set up. You know, We pay per tune all of them. We check specs on all of them. I mean if if a draw length is a little bit too long, if something is a little bit over 70 pounds, you know something is the slightest bit out of spec, we adjusted get it to where it needs to be. So we spend probably four days total both setting up and breaking down the bows on each end. It’s a couple of days for me to drive the IBO bows up to stress engineering in Ohio, and it’s a full day in their lab running through all of this recording all that data, we have a lot of spreadsheets that we keep up with and then you know typically the test team gathers up in kind of late March and we spend a week shooting these things now this year, because of COVID-19 and all that we had to cancel some travel plans and do some of the testing individually and so it was actually spread out a lot longer even then it then it used It’s not that we spent really any more hours. It’s just kind of the logistics of so yeah.

Carrie Zylka  11:07

Well, obviously, as normal folk don’t have access to all this fancy stuff that you guys do well, but so say, okay, so say I am in the market for a new bow, and I’m like, okay, where do I begin? Should I go? Do you think it’s beneficial to go to a big box retail store or to go to more of an archery shop where they might have a like, I don’t know, paper tuning system, or whatever the case may be?

Will Brantley  11:36

Cabela’s always does, for example, yeah, I would, I would ask, you know, some of the big box stores do have pretty good archery cameras when they do hire knowledgeable folks. And so I definitely won’t knock those. But I would always say if you’re buying a new bow, and I don’t care if you’re buying, you know, an 1100, dollar flagship bow or, you know, a $400 kit, you’re always best to, to work with a pro shop dealer, um, not only not only right out of the gate, but like they give you know, you get so much more out of the email. Let’s say you’ve got a cable that craze, let’s say you you’ve got a string that stretches and gosh you get up, you get ready to hunt open and then you look and your peep sight is not turned correctly and you don’t have a way to press it. Like when you establish a relationship with those pro shop owners. They’re more willing to meet you on a Sunday afternoon, depress your bow real quick and put an extra twist in if you need it. And you know, it’s just better to have somebody with that expertise. You know, bows are not, not by nature, real complicated, but they have a lot of little complicated systems with them and, you know, I can work on my own equipment to a degree, just enough to be dangerous most of the time, but like when it comes to something that you know, I need to have the bow crest um, I like to take it to approach And, and let somebody who does that for a living, work on it and you don’t always get that when you’re buying from a from a big box store and then not only that, you know, a lot of your pro shops are going to be able to look at you shoot individually. And you know, you might be able to communicate to them a shooting problem that you’re having, you know, a lot of these people are kind of, you know, they’re kind of all in one, you know, archery techs and coaches at the same time, because most of these people that, you know, if you own a bow shop, you’re probably an archery nut. And so, you know, they’re going to look at you look at your shooting style, hear your feedback, and, you know, chances are they’re going to be able to help you address whatever problems that you’re going to have. Maybe with a new bow, but often it might be just a might be a change in your release aid or your site or whatever it may be, you know, maybe your bows just slightly out of tune. But that expertise i think is always worth any extra money that it might cost you to go to a pro shop

Carrie Zylka  14:00

Agreed. Agreed. Plus, I mean they live and breathe this stuff and just I have bought bows at Big Bucks archery shops I will admit that and they’ve been fine. But I’ve had I’ve had better experiences at the pro shops, I feel like they are better qualified to answer a lot of the more technical questions that I have.

Will Brantley  14:21

What about well and the other thing, the other thing to consider too is like you know, a lot of your a lot of your higher end bow companies know a lot of their products are not even offered for sale in a big box store. You know, they are their dealer only products and so, you know, that’s that’s definitely not to say that you have to have the most expensive boat out there but you know, if you are looking to invest in you know, a boat that you hope last year for the next eight or 10 years and you want to get the very best that you can get. You really have to go to an archery pro shop to Get that, because that’s a lot of times the only places that these bows are available.

Carrie Zylka  15:04

You’re right. And that’s the perfect segue because I was literally literally just about to ask you what if you’re interested in one type of, you know, one particular brand, because there’s a lot of them out there nowadays, not like it used to be where there were only the top five or whatever. Yeah. What if you’re interested in a particular brand? You have, say five archery shops within 50 miles of you, or however long? You know, however far away? A lot of archery shops carry different brands. What are your recommendations for either pursuing the particular brand that you’re interested in? Or maybe going and trying different ones? What are the pros and cons to both?

Will Brantley  15:43

Well, I don’t think there is any con whatsoever to trying different ones. I think, like if I were a and I say this, you know, jokingly, of course, but like if I were to fall, the bow hunting community for anything, it’s that Many of us are insanely brand loyal. We all both almost to a degree. Have you liked that brand? a bow? I’ve never shot that before. But you know, if you like that when you’re a dumb ass, you know, I hope I say that. I mean that. Or that is Oh, wait, they were I used to be the perspective of a lot of the time and I especially see it in the, you know, in the comment sections of our of our reviews, you know, and I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had questions from bowhunting buddies and people that are you know, that I’ve met around the pro shops and things like, Man is that bow really all it’s cracked up to be? I’ve never shot anything but expression but you know, I’ve always heard these words. I’m like, have you ever shot one? And no, and and so, and I think that is that to me has been one of the most eye opening things in doing a bow test. You know, the reality is every single Go compound bow made especially the flagships that we’re testing, every one of them is really, really good. Um, they are all top end machines, they will do absolutely anything any bow hunter needs them to do. And like there is not a bow that we tested this year that I would not take honey. Um, and so my job as a tester and a reporter is to find the differences in all of these really good products and the only like, if you’re just picking one of them up at a time and you shoot it and you know, and like you already kind of have it in your mind that that’s the part that you want to buy anyway. Well, of course, you’re gonna like it. And if you especially if you buy it, you know, you’re gonna justify every way you can, you know, Hey, I just spent 1100 dollars on this thing and I’m where you will begin to see the differences in bows and where you’ll really start to where you really start to discover like your own preferences and a bow is whenever you set the brand name Have sad and you just pick up a bunch of different bows and shoot them within a short window of time. And that’s when you’ll start to feel a little subtle differences and draw a cycle. That’s where you’ll really start to learn like, do I really like a speed bow? Or do I like these slower bows a little bit better? Or, you know, is all this stuff that I’ve heard about a short brace height not being accurate? Like, I shoot this one really well is that bs like there’s, there are a lot of there’s a lot of noise out there in the compound bow war. And really like the more bows that you can pick up and shoot and test for yourself, the better decision you’re going to be able to make. So I would recommend like if you’ve got five dealers within 50 miles of you and one of them carries Hoyt and PSE and the other one carries Matthews and elite and so on. He goes shoot every one of them because they all make good bows. And, you know, chances are you’re going to find two or three that you liked the best and they may not be the same two or three that I would find but you You know, that cream always does kind of rise to the top. And once you settle on those two or three, then you’ll be able to pick out the little differences that you really like. And I think then that’s the time to spend your money.

Carrie Zylka  19:11

Sure. What do you think would be? Okay, so you’re going to a couple different shots, you’re shooting a couple different bows. Why don’t you give me like the top, I don’t know, three tips or three exercises that I should do in testing out the different ones and you know, to see which one is going to be right for me.

Will Brantley  19:34

You know, I mean, the, the first one you know, you kind of need to break it down by the by the specs category that you’re that you’re after, you know if they’re, if if speed is important to you, and I mean, let’s be real like a lot of bow hunters are like Oh, yeah, a lot rather have a quiet though than there are a lot of really quiet modes that are also the fastest ones made. So like Those differentiations and categories are not as clear sometimes as we would kind of like them to be. So like if there if you have it in your mind that you really need to have a boat that shoots you know, 325 IBO or whatever the speed in your mind is like, you need to first start shopping within that category. Like, if that’s truly not important to you, then then yeah, you can ignore that. But to most bowhunters like that, that is something important. And I mean, I’ve seen so many hunters get a bow and they get it all set up, and they’re shooting it great. And I’m like, Well, I wonder how fast this thing is. I take it to the pro shop in the chronograph. It’s not doing near what they thought it was, and then they start stressing about it. And it’s just, it’s just one of those natural human things, I think so I think that’s the first step. And then after that, you know, some of the some of the most difficult things for us to test for are the subjective things, but those are also Among the most important and like for me in particular what I like in a draw cycle I’m like, I can draw a cycle that is you know, there are some bows that have a that have a pretty noticeable hump as you get to the you know, the peak portion of the draw cycle before they fall off into the valley and they fall off into that valley with a sharp back wall and it almost feels like it kind of locks in the place and you know, there are a lot of bows that kind of have that feel to them and a lot of people really like that. Me personally, I like a little more continuous, smoother drawl cycle. I do like it to fall into a into a pretty solid back wall. The valley is not as important to me. You know, I tend to shoot a bow with a little bit more demanding Valley pretty well maybe because I’m just kind of holding against it and you know, and I’m I don’t know I think there might be that subconscious thing of feeling like it’s about to jump out of your hands. So like on targets, it’s not as important, you know, in a hunting situation, it can be a little bit different because you might need to let down on a beer. And if you’ve got a really sharp Valley, really short Valley, it might kind of feel like it wants to jump out of your hand, something you kind of have to, you kind of have to weigh like what you want in a bow, like what, what’s comfortable to you, and in a tree stand or if you’re an elk Hunter, you know, out in the mountains or hunting on the ground biome, like whatever your style of hunting is like, that needs to weigh into the draw cycle. And, you know, when you’re evaluating the draw cycle, it’s not just a matter of standing in the indoor range and pulling it back and shooting arrows 20 yards like you need to draw it and hold it and let it go. And, you know, and lower it down carefully and see if any of those things are uncomfortable to you. And I like a bow that, you know, that just feels natural, you know, across the board there and it Like, that’s a hard thing for us to test for. Obviously, there aren’t machines that that test for those things but they are important and that’s just one of those things about hunter has to decide for themselves. You know, after that, do you like the grip? Do you like the look of it? Are you the kind of person who is going to work on the bow yourself? You know, does it have the adjustability you want like a couple of the new bows this year had some tuning features that really allow shooters to really get your bada boom, so and I couldn’t move the string along the axle, or by changing the tension on the split limbs which affects the cam lean a little bit and you know, you can fine tune those things and really get that bow paper tuned for you. But those are pretty advanced things too. That’s not something your average bowhunter is going to do and so you have to weigh like our features like that important to us. I think a lot of that then becomes pretty subjective. And then after you start shooting it on the range, and you know, kind of you get a bow that sort of checks all the boxes that you’re liking, and you’re kind of starting to narrow things down.

Carrie Zylka  24:16

She’s a lot to unpack.

Will Brantley  24:21

I probably rambled on way too much.

Carrie Zylka  24:23

No, it’s okay. No, it’s perfect. It’s perfect. I am. All I know is right now I just want to go to shops and shoot a bunch of bows, because we’re all stuck inside the house. And now that you’re talking about them, like, Oh, yeah, that makes sense. Oh, yeah, that totally makes Oh, yeah, I should totally do that. I don’t know. I never actually paid attention to that when I shoot a bow, you know?

Will Brantley  24:47

Well, that you know, and I mean, like at the end of the day, again, like I said, the start with like, any of the new bows today are really good. Um, you know, Like around here, there aren’t a lot of Pro Shops I mean I’m in a unique spot because of, you know, because of my job that I do get to try all these bows but a lot of my bow hunting buddies Don’t you know, there might be a couple of pro shops around with with two three brands each. And I mean, it’s not like you have to try every single one of them to say you’ve made an informed decision, you know, that’s not what I’m getting at. But I’m just saying like if there are options Don’t get so hung up on brand loyalty, that you ignore the other options, you know, because they are all making really good folks. Um, and it just so happens that some years later my perspective, some of them do a little bit better in our tests and others and I do genuinely think that that the bows that when our tests are, they’re always at the very top of the pack. But I mean the difference is separating them are very small and like as a bow hunter when you’re trying different stuff on the shop like understand like all of these differences that I’m talking about are gonna feel pretty subtle to you. And that’s why you really kind of have to break it down to each individual little thing and be like, you know, hey, maybe I liked the overall draw cycle in this one better than that one. But you know, that one’s got a really solid back wall and you just kind of have to decide, like, is a solid back wall made me a better shooter or do I prefer to have that smooth draw side? So and that’s, you know, hell, that’s part of the fun shopping for a bow.

Carrie Zylka  26:29

Agreed. Definitely agreed. Very cool. I know you have an article coming up that all of your hard work and testing out a bunch of bows, you know, that you put into time all the time that you put into testing these bows will be coming out soon. Tell us just a little bit about that real quick.

Will Brantley  27:03

Well, the full results of, of the vertical bow test were actually just published last week on on film streams website. It’s just the best new compound heading bows of the year, we reviewed but we invited a number of companies, we had eight companies participate, reviewed all of their bows there and you can see the results and how they scored and how they stacked up and how this one didn’t this category and that one didn’t that category and etc. And then this fall, there’ll be a complimentary print version of this will be from the same test, but it’ll be an outdoor Life magazine, and it will highlight the winning bow from that test, but it’ll be more of a more of a report on the trends and boat is on in 2020 You know, different things that we’ve seen, you know, I’ve touched on some of the some of the tuning systems that we, you know, that I spoke about earlier. And just kind of like, where both designs are, you know what I mean? Like, we spoke to some of the engineers to stress engineering and the reality is, when I mentioned that all of these bows are really good. Compound bows are nearly at the peak of what manufacturers are going to be able to do with them performance wise, or, you know, so long as human beings are pulling them back. You know, they are nearly at the top end of what they’re able to do that little bit extra efficiency can end up costing a whole lot of money. So and that’s why you’re seeing such such big differences, like, you know, compared to the crossbow world where things are 450 feet a second and even faster and who knows what’s gonna come next year. You know, on the compound side, like things are pretty well topped out. And so when you’re kind of reviewing the top of the field, when the field is already in Good like it can start getting pretty tough to find, you know too many things to default many of these boats or but but but yeah our reviews there and we’ve got to get the right up on all those boats that we tested and you know with the With any luck we’ll be doing it again next year.

Carrie Zylka  29:17

Awesome. I will be sure to link that in the show notes of this episode so people can go check it out and maybe get excited about buying a new bow. Thank you so much for taking the time to come on the show this week. Very, very informative.

Will Brantley  29:27

Well, thank you so much.

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