The Evolution of the Compound Bow

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If you compared the first compound bow from 1966 to any modern model, you’d quickly see differences in size, weight and technology that highlight a constantly advancing industry. Today’s compound bows have much larger cams, they’re significantly shorter axle to axle, their riser designs differ greatly from the originals, and they generate arrow speeds of 300 feet per second.

But, how did technological advancements lead to today’s models? Let’s discuss some factors.

Axle-to-Axle Length

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The axle, of course, is the small pin that attaches cams to the limb tips. The bow’s length is determined by measuring the distance between the top and bottom axles. Photo Credit: Shane Indrebo

Perhaps the most noticeable change in compound bows since 1966 is their axle-to-axle length. The axle, of course, is the small pin that attaches cams to the limb tips. The bow’s length is determined by measuring the distance between the top and bottom axles.

About 20 years ago, the compound’s average axle-to-axle length was over 40 inches. Today, that length averages 30 inches, with some models as short as 18 inches. Bowhunters find shorter bows more maneuverable in treestand and ground blinds.

Cams and Cam Systems

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By making cams larger and experimenting with oblong shapes, designers created acute string angles that helped launch arrows at speeds over 300 fps. Photo Credit: Shane Indrebo

Cams are the wheels and modules at both ends of the compound’s limbs. Rather than attaching to the limb as is done on longbows and recurves, bowstrings and cables on compounds attach to the bow’s cams or wheels. This technology differs drastically from other bow models to create let-off, which lets archers hold significantly less weight at full draw.

Cams have changed a lot the past 50 years. Early compound bows used small, circular wheels that produced slow arrow speeds. By making cams larger and experimenting with oblong shapes, designers created acute string angles that helped launch arrows at speeds over 300 fps. Some manufacturers use dual and hybrid cam designs that fire in unison for top-notch performance.

Riser Design

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Risers grew longer as parallel-limb designs reduced axle-to-axle lengths. The design of a riser can vary more now than it ever did in the past. The one above is about half the size of a modern average riser. Photo Credit: Shane Indrebo

The riser is the compound’s midsection. It includes the grip and anchors the bow’s the top and bottom limbs. Risers grew longer as parallel-limb designs reduced axle-to-axle lengths. Other riser advancements include offset connections for stabilizers to balance the bow with a full quiver. Some also feature isometric cutouts to reduce wind drift when shooting in crosswinds.

Compound-bow risers were made exclusively out of aluminum for years. Today’s manufacturers offer models made almost entirely out of carbon fibers. Carbon models are even lighter and surprisingly stronger than aluminum models. They also stay warm to the touch, even in frigid conditions. Combine those qualities with exceptional shooting characteristics, and carbon-built compounds offer unique options for those shopping for a new bow.

Why the Change?

Carbon models are even lighter and surprisingly stronger than aluminum models. They also stay warm to the touch, even in frigid conditions. Photo Credit: Shane Indrebo

When compounds were first developed, archery was mostly a “man’s sport.” Not so today. Technological advancements help manufacturers create models built specifically for men, women, youths, bowhunters, target archers and even those hunting the world’s largest and deadliest animals.

Archery, therefore, is more accessible than ever. No matter what your archery interests might be, you’ll find a compound bow that fits your needs.


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