Regardless of whether you shoot compound, recurve, or traditional, you may notice that there are cheap and very expensive bows available. You might wonder whether these more expensive options are really worth it. Or is a cheap bow also a viable option. In this article, we will discuss these questions in more detail.
Quick answer: Expensive bows are often made out of higher quality materials and have a nicer design. Both cheap and expensive bows can shoot very accurately when they are correctly tuned. Therefore, you shouldn’t buy a more expensive bow for enhanced performance.
As consumers, we often infer the quality of the product by looking at the price. Quality comes at a cost right? In this article, I want to discuss some myths about expensive bows. I will also discuss some reasons why you might want to spend a bit more. At the end of this article, I will also discuss something that is way more important to consider called: ‘’bow fit’’.
Myths about expensive bows
Archers often compare bows to cars. Expensive cars tend to be higher quality, have a higher top speed, or better handling. Therefore, you might think that the same would be true for bows. In this section, I want to bust these myths. Which allows us to focus on what is really important.
They shoot more accurate
The most important factor in archery is accuracy. It doesn’t matter what your goal is, hunting or target archery if you can’t hit what you are aiming at you won’t have a good time. Manufacturers often make claims such as: ‘’high precision’’ or ‘’very precise’’. But these claims are a lot of bogus.
By far, the most variation between shots is caused by the archer. It is indeed true, that some bows are inherently more accurate than others, the difference is minuscule. A competent archer can shoot both an expensive as a cheap bow very accurately. I discuss the differences in the inherent accuracy of bows in more detail in the article below.
They shoot faster
Another metric that a lot of archers find very important is arrow speed. Arrows that shoot faster are more wind resistance and experience less arrow drop. Additionally, arrow speed is very important for hunters, because it determines the amount of penetration. We discuss the advantages of arrow speed in more detail in this article.
You probably know that the speed of the arrow is primarily determined by the draw weight of the bow. But there is another important factor that is more difficult to evaluate – the efficiency of the bow. Some bows are simply more efficient in transferring the draw weight of the bow into the speed of the arrow. That is one of the major advantages of a recurve bow over longbows and other old school bows, as I explained in this article.
Therefore, different materials and different bow designs indeed have different efficiencies. But over the years, most manufacturers have copied each other's designs, making the products very similar. In my experience, you don’t notice a significant difference in the speed of the arrow, between cheaper and expensive bows. A few FPS more or less doesn’t matter too much, so I wouldn’t see this as a reason to buy an expensive bow.
They last much longer
Indeed, some more expensive materials such as carbon fiber last longer than other materials such as wood. Therefore, a bow with carbon limbs will probably outlast a bow with wooden limbs. You have to know, however, that decently designed limbs will last nearly a lifetime.
If you don’t dryfire your bow use it correctly, it should last a long time regardless of the materials of the limbs. I have had both very expensive and very cheap limbs and I don’t notice major differences in their durability.
Some benefits of expensive bows
Although I might make it seem like expensive and cheaper bows are very similar, there are also some major differences. In this article, we will discuss that in more detail.
Higher quality materials
Just like cars, more expensive bows are made out of much nicer materials. This often includes metal and carbon fiber, which are quite expensive materials. Expensive bows just tend to feel a lot more high quality and feel more sturdy.
Heavier build quality
If we would compare a cheap with an expensive riser we would notice that the expensive riser weighs a lot more than a cheap riser. The first reason for this is the materials as we mentioned earlier. Expensive risers are often made out of metal, while the cheap risers are made out of composite.
Therefore, the expensive riser could withstand more abuse than a cheaper composite riser. Although the extra weight of the riser strains your muscles more, it also has a major benefit. Heavier objects vibrate less, therefore, the heavier riser will absorb more vibration. This is primarily a benefit if you shoot with a heavy draw weight bow. Read the article below, if you want to know more about how certain features of your bow remove vibration:
Carbon fiber is a very expensive material as we discussed earlier. But it’s also a great material to make bow limbs out of. If you compare a set of wooden limbs with a set of carbon limbs, you can feel the difference in terms of the smoothness of the draw. As an added benefit, carbon limbs can suffer much more abuse. Therefore, even when used incorrectly, it has a very low chance of breaking.
Since carbon fiber is expensive a lot of manufacturers are combining wood with carbon fiber. In my experience, some of those limbs have a smooth draw while others feel just like wooden limbs. For most new archers, buying carbon limbs doesn’t make a lot of sense. In most cases, you won’t be able to feel the difference anyway. You only feel such minor differences in the draw when you have more experience with archery.
Let’s face it, although archery as a sport is only about accuracy, we all like to have a good looking bow. In general, new expensive bows look just a lot better than their cheaper counterparts. There is nothing wrong with spending more just because you like the look of the expensive bow better.
Expensive bows often also have the newest innovations. Some for example feature new clicker plate design, custom riser weights, or new tuning mechanisms. Although these innovations are cool and nice to have, they don’t significantly improve your accuracy.
It’s just like those novel innovations on phones, such as curved or foldable screens. It looks good, but is it worth the extreme price difference. For most people, it won’t, but for enthusiasts, it will.
Why the difference is so small
As consumers, we often believe that good products need to be expensive. But for some products that is not true. For example, researchers tested different brands of toothpaste and found no difference in their effectiveness in terms of cleaning the mouth and preventing caries. Why, because the best way to make toothpaste is known for decades. The major differences between the brands are the flavors.
The same is true for bows. Since the inception of the bow, we have worked years and years on perfecting the design till the present day. That’s why most bows (in their own category) look so similar.
In the early days of the sport, there were many innovations. Archers started to use stabilizers and sights amongst other things. Another major invention was the cam system which marked the birth of the compound bow. These days even the cheapest bows you can buy have these innovations. You can see the same in many other mature markets products, such as washing machines, calculators, staplers, etc.
Another reason why expensive and cheaper bows tend to be quite similar is because of the rules of competitive archery. Every division has a strict set of rules. Although these rules are needed to keep things fair, they also prevent major innovations. These major innovations could break the sport, therefore, manufacturers can only make minor tweaks to their design.
How well your bow retains value
Just like cars, your bow will depreciate enormously. Just like an expensive sports car, a brand new expensive bow will depreciate the most. Therefore, there are often great deals for really high quality used bows on marketplaces such as eBay or Facebook.
A cheaper bow on the other hand has less value to depreciate. Additionally, many people that want to start with archery are interested in these bows. Therefore, you often get more money back when you sell them to another archer.
Archers that buy expensive bows, buy it because they are enthusiasts and like the look and premium feel of the bow. Not because it makes financial sense or improves your performance.
Why shouldn’t go too cheap
In this article, you can feel that I don’t see any issues with buying a cheap bow. But I have to nuance my opinion a bit. Although there are even some great bows on Aliexpress and Wish, you should make sure that you buy a serious bow and not a beginner’s bow or toy.
Beginner's gear often lacks features such as bushings for a sight, a tuning mechanism, or exchangeable limbs. I discuss, how you can spot beginners bows in the recurve discipline in this article.
Within compound archery, it’s often quite easy to see what’s a beginner's bow and what isn’t. A compound bow without cams, only round rollers, isn’t a real compound bow.
The same is true for traditional archery. A serious traditional bow is a wooden replica that is made just like they did in ancient times. A cheap alternative is probably made out of fiberglass or plastics with a foo wood coating.
Of course, these types of bows are fun to plink around with. But they are not serious sporting or hunting gear.
What really matters: bow fit
Before I finish this article, I want to discuss the single most important aspect that you should consider when buying a bow. It’s also one of the most difficult things because it differs per archer.
Bow fit is quite a vague word but roughly describes the following:
‘’Bow fit: whether or not the bow is a good fit for the archer in terms of overall weight, draw weight, draw length, form-factor and grip’’
Since these aspects differ per model, there is no one size fits all solution. The bow that works best for me, might not work for you. If you have a bow that feels right, you will shoot with more confidence and thus way more accurate.
Over the years I have tried a lot of cheap alternatives. Therefore, I have already written quite some articles about archery on a budget. So, if you want to know more, the articles below are worth a read:
For me, this was a really important topic to cover. I often hear people say that they need to buy a better more expensive bow. This is a mind trick, which marketers use to entice you to buy more expensive gear while it’s not necessary.
I can know it since I have both a bachelor's and a master's degree in marketing. So I know all the tricks companies use to get people to spend more on your product. In my opinion, we shouldn’t pay for branding and other niceties, we should pay for things that matter.
If you have any comments, suggestions, feedback, or questions, please leave them down below. I will answer as soon as possible and send you an email with my reply.