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Published Oct 23, 2022 8:00 AM
Stabilizers are arguably the most misunderstood pieces of archery gear that bowhunters put on compound bows.
Target archers know how to use them to balance and stabilize their rigs. But bowhunters just seem to want something short and stubby, which results in almost none of the stabilizing benefits stabilizers are designed to produce.
Well, I’m here to tell you not only which stabilizers I’ve picked as my “best in class,” but I’m going to tell you what to look for in a stabilizer and how to use them properly.
At Lancaster Archery Supply, I get to see, feel and test most of the stabilizers on the market, so I have a pretty good idea of which ones lead the way. But just to confirm my picks for this piece, I tested nearly two dozen stabilizers by attaching them to my Mathews V3X 33 and shooting several arrows to feel for the stability, balance, and vibration reduction each bar produced. Here are my picks for the best bow stabilizers:
Why It Made the Cut
A lot is going on in this 10-inch bar. It’s thin, it comes with 4 ounces of weight, the included dampener is one of the best on the market, and the bar is made from a unique mix of materials that do a great job of killing vibration while promoting rigid stabilization.
- Made from high-modulus carbon and flax
- Kryptos Arc Dampener, which is designed to kill vibration on the X, Y, and Z axes
- Comes with two, 2-ounce weights
- Solid, aluminum end caps
- Is actually a tick under 12 inches when the dampener and both weights are included in the length
- Crushes vibration from every angle
- Promotes a steady hold at full draw
The Axcel Antler Ridge 10-inch hunting stabilizer is nearly 12 inches when both weights and the Kryptos Arc Dampener are added to the 10-inch bar. The bar is a combination of high-modulus carbon, which is super stiff, and flax, which is a natural fiber that acts like a vibration sponge. Its vibration-soaking properties are so well known that flax is used in all kinds of sporting gear, where reducing vibration is important, such as Formula 1. Axcel is the only company using flax in its stabilizers.
The Kryptos Arc Dampener would be an add-on for other stabilizers, but it comes with the Antler Ridge. Bow vibration at the shot is generated on the X, Y, and Z axes—horizontal, vertical, and depth. The Kryptos Arc is specially engineered to absorb vibration on each axis. Of all the stabilizers I tested, I felt the least amount of vibration in my hand with the Antler Ridge.
This is one of only a few bowhunting stabilizers that comes with 4 ounces of weights in the pack, which is a good amount for a 10-inch bar. Most hunting stabilizers come with 2 or 3 ounces of weights. You can usually add weights to any bar, but it’s nice when you don’t have to buy extra parts to make something work.
I picked a 10-inch bar as my best overall stabilizer because I believe it’s a length most bowhunters can work with. It’s definitely long enough to provide stabilization for any compound bow—especially since the total length of the Antler Ridge is basically 12 inches. (I discuss stabilizer length at the end of this article.) While I personally prefer a 15-inch front bar, I believe that’s a length a lot of bowhunters just won’t accept. And when I run a 15-inch front bar, I always have a side rod as part of my setup. The 10-inch Antler Ridge is perfect for having just the front rod and no side rod.
Why It Made the Cut
This setup has everything you need for a complete stabilizer/side rod setup in one pack. All the pieces are high quality and highly adjustable to your tastes.
- Includes a 12-inch bar, 9-inch siderod, connection mount, and 6 ounces of weights
- Verge dampener end caps
- Dampeners can be adjusted to sit perfectly vertical or horizontal, depending on preference for cutting wind
- The connection mount allows you to adjust the side rod up and down and left and right to position the weight where you want it
- Bars are super stiff
- Dampening qualities are good
- You get everything you need for a full setup in one pack
- The kit is less expensive than if you built a stabilizer/side rod setup by buying individual pieces
- A couple more weights for the side rod would have helped
- Even though it’s cost-effective, the sticker price will bulge some eyes
The Dead Center Dead Level Hunter Verge Lite Stabilizer Kit 12/9 is a one-stop package that has everything you need for a front-bar, side rod setup. It’s got a 12-inch bar for the front, a 9-inch bar for the side, and it’s got the mount you need to connect both bars to the bow, or just the side rod.
The bars are Dead Center’s best high-modulus carbon, so they are super stiff. The end caps are machined aluminum, which adds to the stability and rigidity of these bars. And each bar is topped with the Verge Dampener. It’s a ring of rubber surrounding a weighted centerpiece. At the shot, vibration hits the dampener, causing the weight to move around inside the rubber ring. That action soaks up the vibration, preventing most of it from getting to your hand. Set screws on the end of each rod allow you to position the dampeners perfectly vertical or horizontal once your bars are locked in place in the mount.
The mount can be used to attach both bars from the front, or you mount the front stabilizer by itself and then bolt the mount for the side rod to the back of the riser. If you mount both from the front, run the bolt on the long bar through the mounting bracket into the riser and then swivel the side rod connector to face backward.
The side rod connector pivots left and right and up and down so you can get the bar positioned precisely where you need it for the best balance. Once you lock it in place, it won’t budge. The two pieces you’re forcing together with the locking bolt are cone-shaped, so the more you drive in the bolt, the more you wedge those cones together. It’s super solid.
Six, 1-ounce weights are included in the kit for weighting and balancing the bars. I’d go 2 ounces out front and 4 ounces off the back, but you might find you need more to get the bow stable and balanced.
Why It Made the Cut
If you want the balance of a front rod and side rod, but in a more streamlined setup, the Bee Stinger Microhex Counter Slide is the best bow stabilizer for you.
- Single bar that can be adjusted forward and back to imitate having both a front stabilizer and a side rod
- Bar is 15 inches long, which allows for a decent amount of adjustment forward and back
- Proprietary Countervail material inside stabilizer helps kill vibration
- Dovetail mount makes bar removal and installation simple for travel
- Five 1-ounce weights included
- It’s one bar that does the job of two
- Can be adjusted multiple ways to get it to sit where you want it
- Countervail is one of the industry’s best materials for killing vibration
- It does a fair job of imitating having two bars, but it’s not the same
- Having five 1-ounce weights in the pack is nice, but you’ll most likely need to buy more to get the balance right between front and back
The Bee Stinger Microhex Counter Slide is a thin, 15-inch bar that sits off the riser’s side, opposite your sight and quiver. Sitting there, the bar can offset the weight of those accessories.
From there, the unique mount allows you to slide the bar forward or back to adjust the distribution of weight. But it sort of mimics having a front stabilizer and a side rod. Given the length, you could adjust it so 8 inches stick out front and 7 inches extend backward. Then you add weights to each end to achieve the leverage you want. If the bow wants to tip forward, add more weight to the back, or slide the bar back. If it wants to tip up, add more weight to the front, or slide the bar forward.
The bar comes with the mount that connects it to the bow. It features a dovetail bar with a line of divots, which allows you to adjust how close to or far from the side of the riser the stabilizer sits. You can also pivot the riser mount up or down to pull the mount even closer to the riser if you want.
Bee Stinger’s Microhex bars are its narrowest, which makes them ideal for cutting through wind. And the Countervail material used inside the bars is very efficient at killing vibration. These bars transmit very little vibration back to the archer’s hand at the shot.
To be honest, I view dual-purpose bars like the Bee Stinger Microhex Counter Slide as a gateway stabilizer to a true front-rod/side rod setup. The Counter Slide does a fair job imitating the balancing effect of having two bars, but I believe it will convince you of the benefits of having both, and you’ll eventually pull the trigger on a two-bar rig.
Why It Made the Cut
Quality carbon bar that’s 8 inches long and includes a rubber dampener and three, 1-ounce weights.
- 8 inches
- Three, 1 ounce weights
- Rubber dampener
- Woven carbon bar
- Stiff carbon bar
- Quality dampener attacks vibration
- Three ounces of weights included
- Weight feels like it’s correctly placed for balance and vibration back to the shooter is minimal
- Costs under $60
- Vibrates a bit more than higher-end stabilizers
The Redline RL-1 8-inch stabilizer features a stiff carbon bar, a rubber dampener at the end of that bar, and three, 1-ounce weights. With the weights attached, the stabilizer is properly end-heavy. That is, the vast majority of the stabilizer’s overall weight is concentrated at the end. That’s especially critical when using a bar as short as 8 inches.
I chose an 8-inch bar for the “best budget stabilizer” because that’s the minimum length I believe stabilizers should be for most of today’s compound bows. (More on that at the end.) And the Redline RL-1 8-inch is the least expensive, 8-inch bar Lancaster Archery Supply carries.
But it’s not just a cheap stabilizer. It does its job. It helps the archer hold the bow steadier at full draw than without it, and it kills some vibration at the shot.
Why It Made the Cut
Thin, light, lots of vibration dampening. For bowhunters concerned about having accessories stick out in front of their bows, the 9-inch Vantage is so slender and unassuming, it’s hard to argue that it’s “in the way.”
- 7, 9, or 12-inch lengths
- Includes two, 1 ounce weights
- Two dampeners
- Short, thin and light
- Special tapered interior promotes rigidity without adding weight
- Two Hi-Lo dampers helps squash vibration
- Long bolt allows many weights to be stacked to get the correct balance
- Only comes with two, 1-ounce weights
Without any weights on it, the Vantage is incredibly light. Shrewd says that’s because of a unique tapered interior, which allows for a rigid, high-modulus carbon bar without any extra weight.
There are two Hi-Lo dampers on the Vantage. (Damper is a term often used to describe a rubber device designed to suppress vibration. It’s often used interchangeably with “dampener.”) The Hi-Lo dampers are designed to attack high-frequency and low-frequency vibration. Think of the difference as big, heavy vibration—low frequency—and smaller, lighter vibration—high frequency. A bow produces both, so Shrewd designed dampers to attack both. There’s no doubt the Vantage does a good job killing vibration with just 9 inches to its length.
The Vantage 9-inch comes with two, 1-ounce weights that are added to the stabilizer between the bar and the end Hi-Lo damper. This allows the end damper to serve as a rubber protection for the end of the stabilizer. The long bolt that connects the damper to the bar allows for many weights to be stacked, if you need them to get the right feel for your stabilizer.
But even with just the two ounces of included weight, the 9-inch Vantage does a good job helping stabilize the bow at full draw. The bar is so thin and so light it’s hard to imagine bowhunters fearful of stabilizers “getting in the way” thinking the Vantage is a cumbersome accessory.
What to Consider When Buying a Stabilizer
Why You Need a Stabilizer
A stabilizer is intended for two purposes—to help you hold a bow steady and to help kill vibration at the shot. A stabilizer helps you hold a bow steady by adding weight to the bow below your hand, and by resisting hand torque. A great, albeit exaggerated, example of how it resists torque is to think about holding a dust brush and a full-length broom out in front of you with your arm extended. It’s easy to move the dust brush side to side because it’s short and it’s light. But the broom is going to resist that sideways motion because of its length and the heft at the very end.
Again, that’s an exaggerated example of what a stabilizer does, but it paints a general picture of the principle. And it demonstrates why target archers typically use 28 to 36-inch front stabilizers that can carry more than 25 ounces at the very end. Bowhunters don’t need to go that far. Such a stabilizer would be cumbersome in the woods.
But what bowhunters need to know is that a “stabilizer” offers no stabilization at all until it extends beyond the limb pockets. And with the way many of the best compound bow risers today are reflexed back toward the archer, the stabilizer bushing might sit 4 or 5 inches behind those pockets. That means you don’t get any stabilization at all from a stabilizer 6 inches or less.
On most bows, an 8-inch stabilizer would be the minimum length needed for a stabilizer to be fully functional. Ten- and 12-inch bars would be even better. Whenever I encounter a bowhunter who balks at the thought of a 12-inch stabilizer because it “sticks out too far,” I have them nock an arrow. No 12-inch stabilizer sticks out as far as a 27-30-inch arrow. The point being, if you think a 10-inch stabilizer is going to get in the way at some point during a hunt, your arrow will be an even bigger problem.
The good news is that the longer the bar, the less weight you need on that bar. On my setup, I only have 3 ounces on the end of my 15-inch stabilizer. If I went to an 8-inch bar, I’d have to bump that weight up to about 10-12 ounces in search of comparable stability.
However, as the front stabilizer gets longer, the need for a sideroad increases to balance the bow. A long front bar with even just a little weight at the end will cause a bow to want to tip forward. A side rod adds weight behind the bow to counteract that forward tipping. Twelve inches with just a couple ounces of weight at the end is about as long and heavy as I’d go with a front bar before adding a side rod.
Q: How long and heavy should I go?
A stabilizer is an individual tool. It’s meant to help each archer depending on their abilities and needs. Most bowhunters don’t know what a good stabilizer setup can do for them because they don’t experiment with different lengths and weights. I get it. Who has the time and/or money to get a bunch of stabilizers and shoot them in different configurations?
If you can, get to an archery pro shop that will allow you to experiment with equipment on their range. Shoot with friends who have different stabilizer setups and swap bars. Or shop online for used equipment to eventually amass a selection of stabilizers over time.
Q: Is a longer bow stabilizer better?
A longer stabilizer provides more leverage, and many target archers use stabilizers from 28 to 33 inches. The minimum stabilizer length should be 2 inches longer than the gap between the riser and the outside edge of the limb pockets. On my Mathews V3X 33, that’s an 8-inch minimum length. Any shorter than that, and you’re only killing vibration.
Q: Do I need a side rod?
This is a complex question, but the simple answer is, “no, you don’t need a side rod to shoot a bow accurately.” A side rod can help. It can help you hold a bow steadier than you ever have in your life. Every top end target archer I can think of who also bowhunts runs a front stabilizer and side rod on their hunting rigs. And these are archers who have the greatest ability to justify not using a side rod. But they do. Obviously, they see a benefit. I do too—especially when shooting long range. Can you consistently make the shots you need to make to be an effective bowhunter without one? That’s your call.
Q: How much do stabilizers cost?
There are short, rubber vibration dampeners that you can mount in the stabilizer bushings on bows that cost as little as $15. But as I mentioned, those aren’t stabilizers. For true stabilizers, you’re looking at anywhere from about $30 up to $180 for single bars. Combination front bars and side rods, of course, will push that top price higher.
When used correctly, the best bow stabilizers can make a decent archer a decent and consistent archer. They’ll help you hold steady and feel comfortable at the shot. When you’re comfortable, you’re relaxed. When you’re relaxed, you can drive tacks. Don’t just think of stabilizers as something to put in the bushing under the grip. They’re designed for a purpose. Take the time to figure out how they can make you a better archer.