In our tests of under-$200 archery tackle, the F2 Maxis did more for the money than the Whitetail Master
Man was bowhunting well before he started recording his actions in pictures or words. Archeologists say the bow and arrow have played a significant role in history since at least 7000 B.C., and arrowheads have been found that date back nearly 50,000 years. For the first 50 or so millenna, however, there were precious few innovations in bow or arrow technology.
Granted, stressed sticks gave way to the longbow, which in turn was replaced by the recurve. But that was several hundred years ago; at best, bow evolution could be described as gradual—like a glacier.
Things started heating up, however, in the 1960s when Holless W. Allen designed a means of putting power steering on a bow. The Allen patent, on which all compound bows and their subsequent offspring are based, revolutionized archery. In the mid-1970s compound bows were legalized—thanks largely to the persistence of California bow maker Tom Jennings—and suddenly the world of archery and bowhunting was opened to virtually everyone. The bows’ pulley system drastically reduced the amount of strength needed to draw a hunting bow, while increasing its ability to store energy.
In the last two decades the compound has evolved constantly as designers sought means of sidestepping the Allen patent. Today’s bows bare faint resemblance to their ancestors; their performance is impressive. Like any relatively new design, compounds started out extremely expensive. But as technology progressed and competition evolved the bows improved, manufacturing costs decreased, and prices dropped.
With this in mind we decided to test low-end bows and determine if suitable bowhunting tackle is available today for less than $200. We selected the following models from the Bass Pro Shops catalog: Bear Whitetail Master, $179.99; Precision Shooting Equipment’s F2 Maxis, $169.99; and Golden Eagle’s Falcon Flame, $199.99. We ordered them all in 30-inch draw and 70-pound draw weight; we added bow quivers, sights, and arrow rests where needed; then we set forth on a comprehensive three-way evaluation.
How We Tested
Despite their specs—30-inch draw/70-pound draw weight—none of the rigs arrived true to form. While each model was indeed in the neighborhood of 30-inch draw, the Bear came set at 65 pounds of draw, the Golden Eagle at 68 and the PSE at 72.
All came in camouflage livery: the PSE in Mossy Oak Fall Foliage, the Bear and Golden Eagle models wore Advantage. Each bow’s finish was flawless, which is a testimony to the space-age dipping process used to apply the camouflage.
Using the facilities at an archery shop, we ran the bows through a battery of tests. First we set-up and tuned each rig. Not seeking to perform a technical test (we had no bow-shooting machine, etc.), the bows were set-up for use with an Excaliber release, no overdraw, and a heavy 2317 hunting arrow (590 grains) to approximate hunting performance standards.
The bows were shot 10 times at each of a variety of draw weights through a chronograph. Since wheeled bows perform best (most efficient transfer of stored energy on string to kinetic energy in the arrow) at their peak draw weight, we maxed out the limbs on all three before venturing to the range. Typical of wheeled bows, all torqued down much heavier than their advertised 70-pound peak draw weight. The Bear Whitetail Master, with its limbs battened down tight, measured 75 pounds (holding 15 at 80 percent let-off), while the Golden Eagle Falcon Flame maxed at 80 pounds draw and the PSE F2 Maxis had a measured peak weight of 82 (holding weight 32, which is actually 54 percent let-off).
Next, we took the bows to the range and shot each model a minimum of 300 times at both paper targets and a McKenzie 3D bow target. We evaluated ease and smoothness of draw, ergonomics, and overall feel. Each bow’s brace height and tiller were checked periodically throughout the range test to determine if they stayed in tune. Impressively, all remained within specs during the drill—the mark of precision-engineered bows and an encouraging indication of what’s available in low- to mid-range bowhunting tackle today.
Bear Whitetail Master
Bear Archery has had a “Whitetail” model in its line since the advent of the compound, with the original six-wheeled 1970s version standing as the industry leader for years. The Whitetail Master, a private label for Bass Pro Shops, is a simpler clone of the current Whitetail in the Bear line.
The Whitetail Master has an axle length of 42 inches, uses machined lite wheels for its power unit (Bear’s house version offers high-performance EZ Cams), a magnesium riser, and conventional recurved compression-molded carbon-fiberglass limbs.
The Whitetail Master comes set at 80 percent let-off, which actually measured 77 percent (65 pounds peak draw down to 15 holding weight) out of the box. The instructions show how the let-off can be reduced to 65 to increase performance and to meet Pope & Young’s scoring standard maximum.
The bow came with two types of arrow rests, a Bear Hug quiver, and a set of T-pin sights at a package price of $179.99. Neither of the other two bows had these accessories. The Whitetail Master also came with a set of instructions specific to the model, while the other two were packed with generic manuals that fit most bows in their respective company lines.
The bow sports a staged, offset grip cast as part of the riser rather than a bolt-on grip handle featured on the other bows. We found the Bear grip to be far more comfortable than the other two, although it didn’t allow the adjustable function featured on the PSE model.
The Whitetail Master, right out of the box at the factory-set 65 pounds peak, averaged 195 feet per second with the 30-inch, 590-grain hunting arrow. Jacking it up to its peak of 75 pounds, the bow averaged 206 fps—not spectacular but certainly plenty fast for treestand hunting.
When the modules were changed to allow 65 percent let-off, the speed at 75 pounds jumped to 231 fps, and the already quiet bow produced even less noise upon release.
Golden Eagle Falcon Flame
A mid-1996 addition to the Golden Eagle line, the Falcon Flame arrived just after Golden Eagle/Satellite Archery L.L.C. moved from its birthplace in upstate New York to Odessa, Florida.
The model we selected from the Bass Pro Shops catalog at $199.99 offered an 80 percent let-off (actually tested 75 percent with a 68-pound draw weight holding at 17) wheel that could be interchanged with another set of cams (not provided) to provide 70 percent let-off and better performance.
The Falcon Flame is essentially the same size as the other two bows with a 41-inch axle length and weighing 4.5 pounds with Easy Draw wheels rather than high-performance cams. Out of the box, at a factory-set 68 pounds, the bow averaged a respectable 207 fps with the heavy arrow. That speed jumped to a 10-arrow average of 222 fps when the limbs were jacked to the peak draw weight of 80 pounds.
The speed was impressive for 80 percent (actually 75) let-off. However, we found the grip to be uncomfortable and the noise levels upon release to be barely acceptable for hunting.
Precision Shooting Equipment F2 MAXIS
Despite being the hands-down best performer in this comparison, the F2 Maxis may be discontinued from the PSE line. It’s available this year only through the Bass Pro Shops stock. However, PSE’s marketing department reports that versions of the bow will still be available through the company’s custom shop in 1998 and beyond.
Known for extremely well-designed and manufactured compound bows, Pete Shepley’s Arizona-based Precision Shooting Equipment offers units from $150 to nearly $900. The $169.99 F2 Maxis, with its cast magnesium riser, 41-inch axle length, and 65 percent (measured 54 percent) standard Maxis cam (75 percent Maxis High Let-off cams also available), lives up to PSE’s standards of excellence.
The F2 Maxis had the heaviest draw of the three bows tested and put up the best speed numbers of the group. However, the fact that a 54-percent let-off bow is going to outperform an 80-percent let-off model is a given.
But even taking this advantage into consideration, the F2 Maxis was impressive. Shot at the right-out-of-the-box factory-set draw weight of 72 pounds, the bow produced 244 feet per second with the huge hunting arrow. Tweaked down to 70 pounds for comparison, the speed dropped only to a 241 fps average. When the limbs were maxed out at 82 pounds the speed jumped to 269 fps—an incredible speed given the size of the arrow and the price of the bow.
At its peak weight the bow was not as quiet as the Bear but certainly fell within acceptable parameters for woodland hunting.
Guns, Gear & Game
All three of the bows performed extremely well for units in their price range, and we wouldn’t hesitate to use or recommend any of them to bowhunters.
• In terms of performance, Precision Shooting Equipment’s F2 Maxis clearly was the best bow of the group and would certainly be our recommendation for an intermediate or experienced bowhunter looking for a rig in this price range.
The laterally adjustable (to help achieve centershot) Synergos Adjustable Grip was a unique and welcome feature and the availability of higher let-off cams was also a plus that should appeal to the experienced bowhunter.
• We found that, in comparison, the Golden Eagle Falcon Flame was a tad over priced for what you get in terms of equipment and performance.
The Bear Whitetail Master package is a good buy, but no match for the PSE in terms of performance. Although the PSE F2 Maxis was the best performer of the group, its heavy draw and lower let-off are best left to an archer with a modicum of experience and wouldn’t be our first recommendation for novices.
• Instead, we felt that the Bear Whitetail Master package would be the best choice for a beginning or less experienced bowhunter. The bow was extremely good quality, had the smoothest draw, and was quietest of the three tested. While its performance was third among those tested, it is more than adequate for treestand hunting. It also was the only bow in the group that allowed the let-off to be adjusted without the need for additional cams or wheels.
The Whitetail Master came with specific and simple instructions, while the other two supplied barely acceptable generic instructions designed to fit all bows in the respective companies’ line. One would have to be experienced in archery to comprehend and translate the information in the Maxis and Falcon Flame instructions and apply them to the particular bow.
We also felt that the Whitetail Master offered better feel than the other two bows (probably because of the ergonomically designed grip handle) and was easily the best bargain of the trio, coming totally equipped for $179.99. In comparison, the $169.99 PSE F2 Maxis needed to be equipped with a $24.99 PSE 4-arrow quiver, a $17.40 shoot-through arrow rest and a $22 set of pin sights, meaning that its price jumped to $234.38 when equipped similarly to the Whitetail Master package. The $199.99 Golden Eagle Falcon Flame tagged out at $269.38 when fully equipped, including a $29.99 Golden Eagle 4-arrow quiver.
The Bear Whitetail Master is an excellent performer at the right price for the novice bowhunter, in our view.