reviews

Favorite Hunting Bows of 2019

AJ Iaquinta

“Best Bows” lists are usually sponsor driven click bait where publications regurgitate talking po

Favorite Hunting Bows of 2019

“Best Bows” lists are usually sponsor driven click bait where publications regurgitate talking points you could have just as easily read directly from the manufacturer’s site. Its 2019, every flagship bow from major manufacturers is a quality product. Debating which one is “best” is completely subjective and has more to do with the preferences and application of the end user and the accessories they use, than it does with the overall quality of the bows themselves. But! That doesn’t mean we can’t pick favorites… With the season fast approaching (or already here for some of you) the 2019 models have been out for a few months now so it’s a good time to share the KOTA Crew’s opinions on the bows we have enjoyed most from among the 2019 lineup.

#5 Bowtech Realm SR6
Axle-To-Axle: 32”
Brace Height: 6”
IBO Speed: 352 FPS
Mass Weight: 4.3 lbs
Draw Length: 25.5-30”
Draw Weight: 50, 60, 70 lbs

In our opinion the Realm SR6 is one of the best looking bows of 2019. A few trusted shooters have been absolutely raving about their SR6’s. Bowtech’s tagline for the bow is “redefining what fast should feel like” and by most accounts it does. Boasting a 352 FPS IBO Speed, the SR6 is easily the fastest flagship bow put forth by any of the major manufacturers in 2019 and it’s the fastest bow on this list. Besides its speed some of the smaller features such as its modular clutch performance grip and customizable vibration dampeners allow the shooter to customize their rig to fit their particular style and offset the weight of accessories like arrow rests, quivers, or anything else one might have on the bow. We are all about customization and getting these capabilities straight out of the box is pretty cool.

One of the features that still leaves us scratching our heads is the CP Dual Lock Pockets which allow the shooter to lock the limbs in place via pairs of set screws which apply pressure to the limb bolt and the limbs themselves. No one on the KOTA Crew can remember the last time they experienced limb shift on any of their Hoyt’s, Mathew’s, or Prime’s so the fact Bowtech felt so concerned about this that they needed to include two different locking positions gives us some skeptical hippo eyes. Do they know something we don’t? Regardless, it’s 2019 and with modern manufacturing limb pocket tolerances aren’t something we should have to worry about.

Other than that seemingly arbitrary feature we don’t have a lot of negatives to say about the Realm SR6 but we admittedly haven’t gotten a ton of time behind it either. We know a few shooters who have picked up Realm’s this year and absolutely love them. We just don’t have the extensive experience with them to place them higher on this list but our initial impressions were so favorable that we felt the Realm SR6 earned a spot in the top 5 as a notable mention if nothing else.

 

#4 Hoyt Helix Ultra
Axle-To-Axle: 34”
Brace Height: 6 3/4”
IBO Speed: 334 FPS
Mass Weight: 4.6 lbs
Draw Length: 27-30”, 29-32”
Draw Weight: 40, 50, 60, 65, 70, 80 lbs

If the Helix was even $100 cheaper it likely would have taken the number two or three spot on this list. Alas, Hoyt priced the Helix at an MSRP of $1199 making it the most expensive bow on this list despite the fact that it is louder, slower, and less dead in the hand than any bow listed below it. These shortcomings aside, the Helix is a slayer. A Helix Ultra with 80% let off mods is probably one of the most forgiving and fun to shoot bows you could buy. A lot of this has to do with the Helix’s central balance point and extremely ergonomic grip. What makes a “good” grip is subject to debate but almost all of the KOTA crew is in agreement that the Hoyt X-Act grip, which was introduced in 2018 and carried over on the Helix, is the most comfortable and repeatable grip on the market. This combined with smooth drawing cams and deep valley, makes this bow one of the smoothest and instinctive compounds to draw back and send straight. It’s only after the release where things start to come loose for the Helix.

It’s our opinion that today’s shooters tend to make too much out of hand shock. The Helix has a substantial amount of it but that didn’t stop us from stacking arrows the first time we ever fired one. Now what typically accompanies hand shock and vibration is noise and in the Helix’s case this is no exception. As we mentioned earlier the Helix is as loud if not louder than any other bow on this list. This could be easily forgiven if not for the fact that the other bows are also faster and cheaper. So the Helix is not without its flaws when compared its peers but overall it is still a smooth that any of us would gladly take into the woods with 100% confidence. The Helix also passed Hoyt’s cringe worthy 1,500 rep dry-fire test so you know you are getting yet another bullet proof rig. Hoyt’s Fuse strings are arguably the best strings to come standard on any bow out of the factory. Yes their servings will separate but so do everyone’s. When it comes to durability and consistency Hoyt has invested a lot into their Fuse strings the past few years and it shows. I’ve seen Hoyt’s dry-fired and their ability to hold together often without even coming out of tune, is absolutely incredible. That being said, don’t try it…

Before we move on, we are sure many of you are either scrolling down the list in panic wondering why the RX-3 didn’t make this list. Well, this is a favorite bow list and none of us could justify the extra five to seven hundred dollar premium the RX-3 demanded for its warm to the touch carbon fiber riser. Especially when we considered the Helix shares the same exact stats excluding its weight. Most of us actually find we shoot heavier bows better anyway. Ultimately the price coupled with Hoyt’s new adjustable (but in our opinion, oversized) grip kept the RX-3 off this list. The new grip is fat to the point where you actually love your place on it a bit. It just doesn’t index quite as naturally or consistently as the Helix.

If you are someone who bought an RX-3 we don’t fault you at all! Most of the KOTA crew own or have owned a carbon Hoyt, love them and are already looking forward whatever carbon fiber beast Hoyt is planning to unleash on the market in 2020. There is just something special about carbon fiber Hoyt’s. Like Italian sports car or beautiful women, each riser design to come out over the years has its unique curves and features which captivate the eyes of different shooters who all seem to fall in love with them at first sight. When you are out with one it gives you a special type of feeling and confidence. There will of course be haters who will see you and lob ignorant jealousy fueled criticisms at you like “must be nice!”, “doesn’t do anything for me…”, “too skinny, eat a sandwich!”. By the way, if you can’t tell if I am talking about bows, cars, or women anymore, then I did my job as a writer… 

One thing is common amongst all of these things; actual user experience may vary. The RX-3 is beautiful but it just didn’t perform well enough to justify the price tag. If a Victoria’s Secret model drained your bank account you would probably dump them… after a week or so at least. So while we look forward to possible carbon fiber relationships in the future we will admire the RX-3 from afar. 

 

#3 PSE Evoke 31
Axle-To-Axle: 31”
Brace Height: 6”
IBO Speed: 342 FPS
Mass Weight: 4.2 lbs
Draw Length: 24.5-30”
Draw Weight: 50, 60, 65, 70, 80 lbs

The Evoke is a slayer through and through but it is definitely one of the sleepers of 2019. You don’t see it advertised very much. Nor is it prevalent on most firing lines but make no mistake it is easily one of the top performers to come out this year. For 2019 PSE took the established and much celebrated Evolve cam system added a new stiffer open case design riser and beefed up the axle diameter for an even more rock solid platform.

The Evoke is a tuners bow and a great option for those newer tuners who don’t have the benefit of their own bow press. The Evolve Cam System at the bow’s heart has been carrying the PSE flagship line for several years now. Let off can be adjusted between 80% and 90% with a single screw. Likewise draw length can be modified from 24 1/2 all the way to 30” without a press or trip to the bow shop. PSE’s adjustable Flex Rod system allows the shooter to fine tune the movement of the cable guide to find the perfect balance of clearance and torque. The combination of rollers and flexibility of the guide rod work together with the Evolve cams to give the PSE a uniquely smooth draw cycle.

Like the Bowtech, we are not fans of Wedge Lock Pocket system. After talking with a few PSE shooters they all admitted they leave this feature untouched without issue. So again we ask “should we be concerned or is this just a redundant feature?”. The Evoke is also noticeably top heavy which seems almost exaggerated because it is a rather light bow. You feel this most after the shot or when the bow is sitting in your hand at your side. It just wants to tip forward. It’s nothing some accessories can’t compensate for but when bows are as closely matched as they are today it really comes down to splitting hairs when picking a favorite and the PSE just did not sit as natural in our hands as our number one or two bow.

Overall the PSE Evoke is a phenomenal bow. The fact that we don’t see more of them on shooting lines and in the wild is a shame and we theorize that this has to do with a lack of effective marketing and promotion on PSE’s part. Seriously, can you think of the last PSE commercial or marketing campaign you saw? Meanwhile, I bet everyone reading this remembers the commercial for the Hoyt Carbon Defiant where they dry fired that bow in a machine for 1,500 reps. And I bet most of us watched Mathews 2019 ‘Proving Ground’ video with Brett Seng and Brad Christian at least a dozen times. This writer owns both a Pro Defiant and Mathews Vertix soooo you could say I am a sucker for a good marketing campaign. Now, we would argue that both of these bows ultimately lived up to their respective hypes so even the best marketing requires a quality product to back it up. We consider the Evoke a serious competitor equal to or closely matched with any of Hoyt or Mathew’s flagship bows, yet it has not been met with the same fan-fair. Sad.

For example, our review of the Hoyt Helix is the most popular article ever published on KnightsoftheApex.com. It has exponentially more searches and views than the next most popular article and left all other bow reviews in the dust. This popularity came in spite of the fact the Helix played second fiddle to the REDWRX line in 2019 and was barely pushed at all during its November announcement. Here is the interesting thing. In Late January, early February the Helix’s began to emerge in the hands of more and more of Hoyt’s pro-staff shooters. It seemed as though every Hoyt shooter transitioned from the RX-3 to the Helix or Helix Ultra overnight. As soon as Instagram posts from Cam Hanes, John Dudley, Josh Bowmar, and other Pro-staff shooters began to come out our website’s hits skyrocketed. This shows you the power of influencers in the modern age. If you considered all of the social media influencers who shoot Hoyt we would venture a guess that the brand has more reach on than any other manufacturer. We wrote reviews for the RX-3, Vertix, Evoke and none of them have received the same attention as the Helix. Not even close. Now we don’t know if this translated into sales for Hoyt but you have to imagine it didn’t hurt their bottom line.

In contrast, we almost missed the memo entirely about the Evoke and we’re probably not alone. PSE was one of the first companies to announce their 2019 line but they did so with little more than an ambiguous post on their social media pages the day the bows launched. I actually completely overlooked the post a few times and only realized PSE launched their new line after seeing them available on Lancaster Archery’s website. Again, this is a shame because the evoke deserves every bit as much attention as any flagship bow of 2019 and I can’t help but wonder how many shooters purchased a different bow because they simply didn’t know about it. At an MSRP of $999 the Evoke is the closest thing to a bargain you’ll find for a flagship bow these days. So if you are in the market for a new bow, try the Evoke, buy the Evoke, and use the $100 you saved to purchase some high end components or more arrows to practice with.

 

#2 Mathews Vertix
Axle-To-Axle: 30”
Brace Height: 6”
IBO Speed: 343 FPS
Mass Weight: 4.67 lbs
Draw Length: 24.5-30”
Draw Weight: 60, 65, 70, 85 lbs

The Triax was our pick for favorite bow of 2018 because of its smooth draw cycle, solid wall, speed, and the Keanu Reeves style “woah” reaction expressed by everyone the first time they shot one and realize just how little noise and vibration this bow has. The Vertix picks up where the Triax left off. Mathews maintains the title of having the quietest most vibration free bow on the market. The Vertix has a faster IBO rating and 20% less vibration and noise than the Triax. The increased axle to axle also makes the string angle and hold more comfortable and forgiving than its predecessor. The iconic Crosscentric cams which were first introduced on the “old” Halons have aged extremely well and continues to prove themselves as one of the smoothest, most reliable, and fastest designs ever introduced. The 3D vibration dampening mods, short parallel limbs, machined aluminum riser, and Zebra Strings with Monkey Tails were also passed down to the Vertix from previous iterations of Mathews bows. The changes for 2019 might escape the casual observer at first glance. Admittedly they evaded me when I first saw some early black and white images of the Vertix and its bigger brother, the Traverse. But make no mistake this is one of the most innovative bows to come out in recent years when you consider the evolutionary implications of the newly introduces Switchweight mods and Integrate Rest Rail system.

The Integrate Rest system is not just a step forward for Mathews but the entire industry. This machined rail section on the back of the riser allows for a more precise, consistent, and weight saving alternative to the traditional Berger Button Hole rest mount. More than just a fancy mount, the Integrate Rail places the weight of the rest on the back of the riser and changes the entire balance point of the bow by bringing the weight of the rest to a more natural position over and behind your hand. This single improvement brings rest design into the twenty first century and is something we hope becomes standard across manufacturers. We also hope the price of these rests comes down. As of the time this article is published QAD is the only manufacturer offering an Integrate compatible rest and it retails above $200.00. 

As for the Switchweight cam mods (pictured left), as the name implies these mods allow you to change the draw length and maximum poundage of your bow via the simple swap of two cam mods. No costly exchanging of limbs just a pair of $40 mods, four Allen screws and you are good to go. Well sort of… When I heard of this new feature I had these grand visions of being able to quickly go between a 75lb hunting setup to a 60lbs practice and indoor setup. Alas, it is not that simple. The mods work by applying more or lesser tension on the control and buss cables. This means when you swap out mods you invariably effect the bows tune. This extends to your rest if you are running a cable driven rest like the QAD. So it is not as simple as just exchanging mods but if you choose to run a limb driven arrow rest you’ll likely only find that your cams are slightly out of tune to the point where you will barely notice it at short ranges. You will still have to re-calibrate your sight. If you run a dovetail style sight you could conceivably have one sight setup for your lower poundage mods and one for your heavier mods. It’s not a cheap option but it is an option. Regardless, the Switchweight system it is still a far superior to the alternative which is spending a few hundred dollars in replacement limbs and re-doing your entire setup. And if your intention is simply to drop your poundage in the offseason for some indoor league and extra reps you can definitely do this without obsessing over the need to fine tune your cams.

One of the smaller but significantly impacting changes to the 2019 Mathews is the new Engage grip. This is undoubtedly the best out of the box grip Mathews has ever produced. Another welcome release was the additional aftermarket side plate options which is something shooters have been asking for years. Besides the shape and design of the rubber over molded grip itself the machined out section of riser on the rest side of the bow provides increased thumb relief that allows the shooter to get a higher and more comfortable purchase on the grip. This creates a sensation that the arrow is resting almost on the web of your hand which makes the Vertix extremely intuitive to point and aim. It’s a small detail but something you will immediately notice missing from every other bow you pick up after the Vertix.

The Vertix dominates the competition when it comes to noise and vibration, achieves competitive speeds compared to the rest of the field and has an extremely smooth and repeatable draw cycle. The Vertix also has the longest list of innovative features of any bow introduced in 2019. It is simply such a great shooting bow that you are willing to overlook it’s slightly heavier weight and top heavy design. And for those of you wondering you could just as easily substitute the Traverse in this #2 spot. It's slower but smoother than the Vertix.

The only real mark against the Vertix is its factory strings. Mathews builds some phenomenal bows but their strings are less than awesome. If you notice peep turn during your first hundred shots don’t be surprised. I made the mistake of not checking my specs before I left for Total Archery Challenge in Salt Lake City and noticed I was consistently hitting a bit low throughout the weekend. I attributed this to some form breakdown due to too much travel and not enough practice. It wasn’t until I got home that I realized my axle-to-axle stretched half an inch which in turn translated to about 3 lbs of lost pulling weight. When I shared this experience online I was surprised just how many shooters reached out and echoed similar issues with their Mathew’s strings.

This isn’t a tremendous deal. I make it a habit of buying an extra set of strings with every new bow just so I have a readily accessible back up for occasions such as this. But still. Serving separation I can understand and is something every archer should be prepared to remedy. That is simple enough and does not require a bow press. But to be constantly adjusting for a rotating peep the first few weeks you have a bow can be an infuriating experience. I still love my Vertix and all of its features and imperfections but if I am being unbiased there is only one bow I could confidently recommend to any shooter to buy and use without including any sort of disclaimer and that is the #1 bow on this list.

 

#1 Prime CT5
Axle-To-Axle: 35”
Brace Height: 6”
IBO Speed: 340 FPS
Mass Weight: 4.6 lbs
Draw Length: 24.5-30”
Draw Weight: 40, 50, 60, 65, 70, 80 lbs

Prime didn’t come out with the fastest, quietest, or most innovative bow of 2019 but if you asked us what bow draws the most potential out of the shooter we would tell you without hesitation that the CT5 is that bow. For that reason it earned the number two spot on our list of favorites. The difference in features between the 2019 CT5 and the 2018 Logic may not seem like a lot but then again the Logic didn’t have a lot that needed to be improved. Last year we named the Logic the third favorite bow of 2018. As time has gone on we have become even fonder of Prime’s designs. The quad cams, central grip location, Italian imported 82X aluminum riser, and flex air cable guide have all been carried over for 2019. The grip was squared off a bit to provide a better reference point for the shooter and facilitate a consistent grip. Feature wise that is about it. Well that and the addition of a more robust quiver mounting system for Prime’s five arrow quiver.

When it comes to specs, this is where Prime focused their enhancements for the CT5. The CT5 is five inches longer and nearly 10 fps faster than the Logic. Longer axle-to-axle means a more obtuse string angle and usually a more stable platform at full draw. Prime’s are already known for being one of the most stable bows at full draw thanks to the combination of their famously stiff 82X risers and patented quad cams which place the force vectors of the string on four points on the outside of the bow’s center line vs. the standard 2 right down the middle. In a 35” axle-to-axle platform this system is even more comfortable, stable, and forgiving and Prime somehow managed to do this without making it significantly heavier.

As for why we chose the CT5 over the CT3, the CT3 is simply a scaled down CT5 in every regard. It is smaller, lighter, and slightly slower. So if you are ground blind hunter or someone who values every ounce you can shave off your setups check out the CT3. 

Prime bows are built to hunt, plain and simple. Every spec and feature is designed to provide confidence inspiring output for the shooter. The quad cams may look intimidating but in reality they are no more complicated to tune than any other bow and the design exhibits less torque on the system which actually makes them slightly easier to tune when you start dealing with higher poundage’s. This unique cam design coupled with available limb or cable stops, a generous valley, and central grip location, gives all of the bows in Prime’s current lineup a uniquely balanced and steady feel at full draw. This translates to confidence every time you pull back. Whenever we hear someone is looking for a new bow we always tell them to try a Prime if they haven’t already. If nothing else the unique shooting experience will broaden your perspective of what a hunting bow can feel like. Our only regrets are not having more photos of this bow and not picking one up when we were in the market for a new bow last year. 

So there you have it. How does our list compare to yours? We are sure we could debate for as long as until the 2020 line starts to drop...

Special thanks to Guy, the Todds, John, Devin, the Joe's and the rest of the KOTA crew for their feedback used to compile this list.  

- AJ

 

 


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