There’s no arguing that a stabilizer can enhance an archer’s accuracy. After all, the top shooters in the top tournaments don’t have stabilizers on their bows for no reason. But what about bowhunting? Is a stabilizer really worth it?
This question has become increasingly important for me to answer, as I prepare to embark upon a backcountry, backpack-style hunt. I’ve worked hard to simplify my gear list and bring only the lightest gear (within reason), to keep my overall pack weight to a minimum. It is natural to wonder, then, if I can lighten my load by lightening my bow – and removing my stabilizer could be an easy way to drop half-a-pound, or more, off the mass weight of my bow.
Hunters that have a 4-inch rubber “stabilizer” on their bow do not have a stabilizer at all. They may have a noise/vibration dampener, but they do not have a stabilizer. If you want a stabilizer that is going to do its job – stabilization - then you have to have length and mass weight. Specifically, you have to have a setup that is going to hold the weight out, away from your bow’s center. The reason that target archer’s stabilizers are so long is because the weight is most effective when it is held away from the bow.
I’ve tested quite a few stabilizers, and I don’t get much of a stabilization effect until I reach 8-10″, or more, in length. My Elite Answer, which is my “elk bow” for this year, is currently setup with an 11″ Elite stabilizer (which is actually designed with technology from two popular stabilizer manufacturers – Stokerized & Doinker). Weighing in at just 8 ounces, this is a fairly lightweight stabilizer.
How much does it matter? Let’s find out…
To assess the effectiveness of using a stabilizer, I decided to put together a very non-scientific, “real world” test – shooting with, and without, the stabilizer in everyday conditions.
How will the stabilizer help my shooting at 25, 45, and 65 yards? Or will it even matter?
At 25-yards there isn’t much of a difference. I easily shot 2-3″ groups, with and without the stabilizer, without any issues.
At 45-yards you can begin to see that, although the shots are still good, my “misses” without the stabilizer tend to drift a bit more than my shots with the stabilizer. I had a tendency to drift slightly high, and slightly right.
At 65-yards you begin to see a huge difference in the groups. The shots that were taken without stabilization are still in the core of the target, but they easily drift further from the bullseye. The shots taken with the stabilizer are much more centered, and grouped much tighter.
The results speak for themselves. If accuracy at longer distances – say, beyond 30 yards – is an important factor for you, then a stabilizer is worth the weight. (A recent test by Field & Stream came to the same conclusion.)
The hunters that are most critical of an item’s weight are those that hunt the mountains of the West - and ironically, these are also the hunters that typically take longer shots, where a hunting stabilizer has the most merit. Treestand hunters – who aren’t as particular about weight, and typically take short shots – can be less critical in their choice of stabilizers.
It’s also worth noting that there’s no one “magic number” when it comes to the length and weight of a stabilizer. All bow models balance differently, and all bowhunters have different preferences, so getting the “right” stabilizer takes some experimenting.
(An Aside on Weight, Balance, and Stability…)
The tests above dealt specifically with stabilizers, but it touches on a larger issue of mass weight and the current trend of lightweight bows. It has been my experience that removing mass weight from a bow will not only decrease accuracy (because it’s harder to hold steady), it will also increase hand shock, noise, and vibration. I’ve certainly shot bows that feel awkwardly heavy, but it had more to do with how the weight was distributed throughout the bow, and less to do with the bow’s actual weight.
I know a ton of guys take the quivers off their bow while hunting, but I actually like the balance and stability that my TightSpot quiver provides, because I can adjust the weight distribution to fit my needs. It feels pretty “cool” to pick up a very lightweight bow and hold it in your hand, but do some shooting, and I think you’ll find that a bow with a moderate and properly-balanced mass weight will help you shoot with increased stability and down-range accuracy.