When I first started shooting a compound bow almost 30 years ago, many archers shot without a stabilizer. Bows were generally longer and heavier, and they didn’t generate nearly the torque and power of today’s bows.
Nowadays, most folks wouldn’t think of shooting without one. In fact, many bow setups now utilize multiple stabilizers to optimize their weight and balance for maximum accuracy. Stabilizers come in a dizzying array of designs, lengths and weights, and they serve different purposes; an archer shooting a mule deer at 50 yards in open terrain has different needs than someone shooting at a whitetail inside of 20 yards in heavy cover. By understanding the function and features of stabilizers, you can make the best choice for your setup and shooting style.
A stabilizer’s purpose is to help an archer hold steadier on target before releasing the arrow, and to reduce rotation (torque) during the shot cycle. This can be achieved by two methods: mass (weight) and damping (simply, the taming of vibration).
Stabilizers that incorporate both mass and damping are most effective for hunting setups. They provide stability, as well as reducing post-shot noise and vibration, helping increase accuracy and making it less likely for an animal to flinch at or just after the shot.
Mass is a bit tricky when it comes to stabilization, because the further away from the handle that mass is added, the more it will stabilize the bow. This is why target shooters generally prefer longer stabilizers. By adding weight to the distal end of the stabilizer and moving it away from the handle, less mass is required to steady the bow. A shorter stabilizer needs to be heavier to achieve the same degree of stabilization as a longer, lighter one. For hunters, practicality dictates that whether hunting from a stand or stalking, a long, target stabilizer is cumbersome at best. That’s why stabilizers 5 to 8 inches long are most popular.
The first bow stabilizers were simple, steel weights that screwed onto the front of the bow handle; they stabilized by mass alone. In the early 1990s, manufacturers began to incorporate hydraulics to dampen torque and vibration. By adding oil or other fluids inside of a tube, these hydraulic stabilizers made the bow quieter and helped tame post-shot recoil.
When Matt McPherson of Mathews Archery brought harmonic damping to the industry, everything changed. By suspending a weight in a rubber bushing of the proper hardness or flexibility, the resulting vibration is out of phase with the vibration of the bow post-shot and cancels out much of the noise and vibration from the release of the arrow.
In 2010, David Potts incorporated a Mathews Harmonic Damper into a bow stabilizer, changing the stabilizer game forever. He later added these dampers to a piece of rubber wedged between the limbs of a split limb bow. By placing the weight at the ends of the bow and several inches behind the handle, these stabilizers not only helped to steady the bow, they substantially quieted the entire setup beyond anything else on the market. Bow hunters couldn’t get them quickly enough!
A more-recent trend is the adoption of side bars, back bars and rear-mount stabilizers from the target archery world. With the ability to take longer shots, plumbing the bow has become extremely important. When the bow is drawn, it should level or plumb naturally in the shooter’s hand. Bows that lean to one side — usually due to the weight of heavier sights — lead to the shooter having to “fight the bubble” and compensate by applying pressure more on one side of the grip. This can lead to inconsistency and poor accuracy, as well as early fatigue. The side bar and back bar allow the archer to put weight off to one side or behind the bow, eliminating this issue.
As the first person to design a stabilizer with harmonic dampers, Potts knows as much or more than almost anyone about stabilizers, and his company, Kinex Systems (www.kinexsystems.com), manufactures many models for a variety of needs. The one on my bow is his newest design, the DB-6 dual-bridge, offset stabilizer. It has a one-of-a-kind, dual-bridge offset design with two weight-harmonic dampers.
“The primary function of the DB-6 dual-bridge offset stabilizer is its unique, offset design that counterbalances the weight of the bow’s sight and assists the archer in plumbing the bow at full draw, resulting in more accurate arrow placement,” he said. “The DB-6 when combined with our limb stabilizers, eliminates the need for a back bar on your hunting setup.”
With the recent innovations in stabilizers, you should consider upgrading your stabilizer system. It’s an affordable way to upgrade your setup and enhance its accuracy. Use this down time to stop by your local pro shop and try different stabilizers on your bow. Most shops will allow you to try several to find the one that’s best for your bow. Getting your setup balanced will tighten your groups significantly without breaking the bank.