We didn’t have to wait until spring to put the newest bows through their paces for the 2022 Field & Stream flagship test. Instead, we were able to get test models in late autumn, before many of them were available to the public.
We had more time, so we could practice shooting them, test them out, and even use them to go hunting. Does the way a deer dies, like whether or not a bow was used, change the number?
It depends, of course, on how big its antlers are. I’m kidding, of course! But testing the bows in real life gave us important information about how well they worked.
But we really put each bow to the test by comparing and contrasting it with others at the Stress Engineering Services facility in Mason, Ohio, and on my farm in southern Kentucky.
Our testing panel was made up of me, an engineer from Stress’s Outdoor Division, Danny Hinton, a former pro shop owner and bow mechanic, and Zach Bell, a dedicated bowhunter and target shooter. In the end, this is what we did.
How We Test Flagship Compound Bows
Each bow’s draw length was set to 28 inches and its draw weight was set to 60 pounds. After it was done, we were ready to use IBO-spec, 300-grain arrows to measure speed, noise, and vibration (5 grains per pound of draw weight).
We used Whisker Biscuit rests and a D-loop for all objective tests, but the bows were otherwise empty. The weights of each bow were also measured with a Lyman digital trigger scale (without the arrow, rest, or D-loop).
Engineers at Stress used a vibration measurement bow and a soundproof room to get information about how loud things were and how much they moved.
They not only looked at how well each bow worked, but they also drew draw-force curves, which help us figure out draw-cycle ratings. In Kentucky, we used a chronograph to add up the times of three different rounds and get a speed.
(At IBO standards of 30 inches, you can probably add another 20 fps or so to the speed data shown with the bows below.) We looked at how accurate and forgiving the bows were by taking the average of the results from each shooter’s five groups of three shots.
The test lasted three days and was done indoors at 25 yards with Carbon Express Maxima Red arrows, HHA sights, and peep sights made for hunting.
While we were shooting, we took a close look at each bow and judged it based on how it felt in our hands and how well it was made.
Last, we gave each bow a score on a scale from 0 to 100 based on the following criteria:
- 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
Due to the fact that our evaluation was by invitation only, we didn’t include all of the companies we first contacted. It takes guts to send us a bow for our test, so I’m proud of all the companies that did it.
2022 Flagship Compound Bow Trends
In some years, it’s easy to see how new trends start to form. People in the year 2020 were all about making things their own and making them better. Like most other years, this one is just another small step forward in productivity.
It’s not like this is something terrible. In 2022, we were interested in a few important changes made by individual companies and a few interesting new changes.
“Forgiving” Brace Heights
Some of the long, “forgiving” brace-height bows did pretty well in the shooting portion of the competition, but not as well as the shorter, faster bows that were also entered.
Once upon a time, people thought that 7 inches was the best height for a brace, but those days are long gone. As far as I can tell, a 7-inch brace height will only make the arrow move more slowly.
Another widely held belief that may soon be disproven is that putting more distance between wheels makes them more accurate. Today, bows are judged more by the style of the riser than by how long they are.
The most accurate bow this year was the smallest, which was only 29 inches long. To emphasize the point, the second shortest bow, which was 30 inches long, was tied for the second most accurate spot.
The point is that you can’t tell the difference between this bow and that one with just your eyes. If you really want to know what’s going on, you’re going to have to kill everyone. This review is meant to help you fill in the blanks if you can’t.
Last but not least, let’s talk about prices, because readers will always complain about them. In this case, the difference between first place and last place is about $1,000. We don’t completely ignore that fact.
We didn’t take price into account when ranking the bows because it might have skewed the results in a way that wouldn’t have given the best bow its due. A flagship bow is the best one that a certain company can make, so it also costs the most.
Can you get a good bow for hunting deer for less than $500? Yes, and we also put them to the test. No, this is not the place. The deals weren’t the best of the year. Simply put, these bows from 2022 are the best of the bunch.
Test Results: Field & Stream‘s Best Compound Bows of 2022
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
In 2021, I used the Hoyt Ventum 30, which had the first generation of the brand’s binary HBX cam technology, for a lot of my bowhunting. Even though the Carbon RX-7 (HBX Pro) was already the best bow in this year’s test, the slight changes made it even better.
As is usual for our winning flagship, the RX-7 won because it didn’t lack anything objectively and was liked by everyone in every category of quality. It was the second fastest bow in the test, just a few feet per second behind the fastest bow.
It was also very accurate, with average groups of just under an inch (and for me, it was the most accurate). Several ways that the RX-7 works to reduce vibrations work well.
When tested at Stress Engineering, only the Elite was less shaky than this bow. However, it is still very noticeable in the hand.
Even though the RX-7 was louder than some of its competitors, the field of bows as a whole was so quiet that we couldn’t hear the difference in volume without Stress’s measurements.
At the beginning of the draw cycle, there is a small rise, but other than that, it is very smooth, with a great hunting valley and a rock-solid back wall. Our experts gave this bow and the Xpedition Smoke the highest marks in this category.
When you think about how well the RX-7 is made, how light it is, and how small it is, you can see why it won by less than a full point. Even though it did that, it still managed to win.
2) Mathews V3X 29
- Specs: 315 fps | 29” axle to axle | 6” brace height | 4 lb., 14 oz. | $1,299
- Efficiency: 80.9%
- Final Score: 95
In the last ten years, most of the awards have gone to the Mathews CrossCentric line of bows. Since 2016, when the Halon came out, these bows have won our annual test every year except for 2017, when they came in second.
This year, the Mathews V3X came in second place, half a point behind the winner. However, I wouldn’t argue if you said it was the best hunting model in the series. I made a good 8-pointer in Tennessee with it the day after we got it out of the box.
The V3X is the same in every way as the V3 model from last year. It was the most accurate bow in the test, and from axle to axle, it was only 29 inches long. We had an average panel size of 1.04 inches, while Bell’s average group size was 0.75 inches.
This made it the best performer in the test. Even though it had less vibration than the other bows, the V3X was still the quietest. That was its only major flaw, along with the fact that the eventual winner beat it to the finish line.
The V3X comes with a lot of high-quality extras that make it stand out. For example, the Stay Afield System lets you press the bow on the field with a short string and a set of fasteners on the cams instead of using a standard bow press (you do need to back the limb bolts out a few turns first).
Compared to other DIY bow tuning methods I’ve seen over the last few years, this one stands out as the easiest and most useful for the vast majority of bowhunters. Most hunters don’t mess with cam lean. Everyone has had to move a thread to make a peep sight work again.
It has slots for an Integrate-style arrow rest and a Bridge Lock sight system that puts the sight into the riser instead of on the side.
The LowPro quiver system is the smallest I’ve used, but if you’re like me and take your quiver off once you’re in the stand, you should buy the detachable 5-arrow version instead of the fixed 6-arrow one like the one on my test bow.
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 speed bow with a short brace height that came very close to winning the test. Draw-length dependent hybrid cam system. Ours came from the factory set to 27.5 inches.
In a normal situation, we would have made a change to make it fit the test’s 28-inch requirements, but we couldn’t do that this time. Still, despite this drawback, the Smoke was the fastest bow of 2022.
The draw cycle was smooth and steady the whole time, and it drew really quickly. Hinton and I both thought it was the best draw for the test. Zach Bell didn’t like how the short valley made it a little jumpy at full draw. We often use an average because of this.
The Smoke was in the middle of the pack for (lack of) vibration and noise, but it was by far the best bow in the test. The average group size was 1.23 inches.
During the two days I went hunting with the Smoke, I noticed that it was a little too big and top-heavy in the stand. Overall, we all agreed that in terms of handling, balance, grip, and fit and finish, it wasn’t as good as the first and second place bows.
But it cost $750 less than the winner and was only 1.5 points behind the winner. The fastest bow of the year is also our top choice for the best flagship bow of 2022.
4) Prime Inline 1
- Specs: 311 fps | 31” axle to axle | 7” brace height | 4 lb., 13 oz. | $1,199
- Efficiency: 80.9%
- Final Score: 91.5
If there was a prize for “best improved,” it would go to the Prime Inline series. The parallel cam system on the 2015 Ion, which tied for first place in that year’s test, has been praised for a long time for its smooth draw cycle and rock-solid back wall.
But the real reason for it was to lessen cam lean and make the bows more accurate. No one has ever said that Prime bows are hard to shoot, but the twin cameras did have some problems.
The bows that used them were loud and shook a lot, and the cams themselves were big and hard to use. Still, they are no longer there.
In the new Inline series, the parallel cams have been replaced by a top cam and a bottom cam in a binary system.
Prime says that the cam is still balanced because when the bow is pulled, the cable moves under the string and to the center of the axle. To put it simply, it’s a lot easier to use.
What lessons did we learn from our time on the range? And when Hinton is using it, the Inline 1 is a machine for sniping. The average size of our group as a whole was 1.22 inches.
It was also very light and, along with the Elite, the second quietest bow in the test. It finished in the middle of the pack in vibration, but if the Inline 1 had been a bit faster, it would have been in the running for the win.
The hunting bow has more let-off than I want, but that’s not a big deal. It’s one of those bows that seems stuck at full draw.
5) Bowtech SR350
- Specs: 315 fps | 33” axle to axle | 6” brace height | 5 lb., 1 oz. | $1,199
- Efficiency: 81.1%
- Final Score: 90.5
Modern Bowtechs, like the SR350, have a tuning system called the DeadLock. This lets the user fine-tune the bow by sliding the cam along the axle and locking it into place.
We first used the third-placed Revolt X of 2020 to test it out. In terms of how well it works, it’s about the same as the Elite S.E.T. system, but I find it harder to use.
The SR350 is almost the same as the 2020 Revolt X, but it has a lower brace height and a better IBO rating.
My problem isn’t with DeadLock itself, but with the fact that, in order to use it, Bowtech got rid of their line of real two-cam bows, which included the 2019 test winner, the Realm SR6.
With their binary tuning system, modern bows are easier to tune at home, but they are not as good.
Still, the SR350 is a great bow that scored near the top in both the loudness and vibration categories. It was also done very quickly. Even though we were able to get average groups of 1.35 inches, the SR350 wasn’t very accurate or forgiving.
Simply put, it was easier to shoot other bows. Even though things were bad enough, the draw cycle was also hard.
Since a long time ago, all new Bowtechs have come with a flip-disc module that lets the user change the draw cycle from Comfort (slower but easier) to Performance (faster but harder).
Since that was how the bow was when we got it, that’s how we tested it during our evaluation. Even though it’s smooth and has a good back wall, the extra work I had to do at the end of the cycle was annoying on the range, and I wouldn’t want to do that in the woods.
To be fair, Hinton put it on “Comfort” and took it hunting. When shooting this way, however, the results aren’t as good. In the end, some of the faster bows we tested were also easier to shoot.
6) Elite Envision
- Specs: 299 fps | 31” axle to axle | 6.875” brace height | 4 lb., 15 oz. | $1,199.99
- Efficiency: 79.9%
- Final Score: 90
The Elite Kure finished second in our 2020 test, and its faster replacement, the EnKore, is the best bow Elite has ever made, in my opinion. In the fall of 2020, I spent a lot of time hunting with one.
The Envision, like its predecessors, has Elite’s easy-to-use S.E.T. tuning system. This lets the user easily change the cam lean of the bow by turning a few bolts, which changes how flexible the limbs are. It is true that paper tuning can be done quickly and correctly with that method.
The Envision is made the same way as its predecessors, but the riser is thicker and the arms are shorter and stronger.
It looks a lot like Mathews from the past few decades. This bow has a small length from axle to axle and is easy to shoot because it is small and hangs low.
First, the bad news: this bow doesn’t move very quickly. Only because of that, it lost a lot of popularity. The good news is that the Envision is the bow for you if you want a quiet compound that shoots softly.
It was the second quietest thing we looked at, after the Prime Inline, and it had the least amount of vibration overall (the Mathews V3X was first). Our shots were only 1.28 inches on average.
Some shooters may like how the bottom limb tends to swing out toward the target after the shot, but I didn’t.
The module system of the bow also lets the draw length be adjusted to the nearest 1/4 inch (most bows adjust a half inch at a time). The Envision didn’t have the best draw cycle, but it was better than some other models.
7) Bear Refine EKO
- Specs: 304 fps | 33” axle to axle | 6.375” brace height | 5 lb. | $999
- Efficiency: 79.3%
- Final Score: 80
The Legend Series Refine EKO, Bear’s new top-of-the-line model, is a big step up from the Divergent EKO, the previous model in the Legend Series that we reviewed in 2020. In our test of efficiency, the Refine did 5 points better than the other products.
The draw length can be changed from 26.5 inches to 30.5 inches, and the let-off level can be changed from 75% to 90%.
You can choose the grip insert that works best for you from the two that come with the bow. We went on a short hunting trip with this bow and were happy with how it worked in the woods.
But it was not as good as it could have been in a few ways. The Elite Envision was the most stable bow in the test, but it was also the second slowest and had more than twice as much vibration as the fastest bow.
That changed the bow’s recoil at the test range, which seemed to affect how accurate it was and how much error it could handle.
Our average group size with the Refine EKO was 1.5 inches, which isn’t bad. We were just better than everyone else at shooting every kind of bow.