All About Stabilizers

A stable bow is an accurate bow.

All About Stabilizers

The author uses a Stokerized RDS rear stabilizer and a Stokerized Edge Hunter 12 out front, a combination that yields outstanding lateral balance and excellent sight-picture stability.

Since its advent, the bow stabilizer’s advancement has been astounding. Early models were merely skinny metal rods with weighted front ends. Yes, they helped to stabilize bows, but nothing was terribly revolutionary about them, especially when you compare then to now.

Modern stabilizers, technologically speaking, are much more advanced. Manufacturers are continually tweaking designs — adding, taking away and experimenting with different constructions — to yield the best possible products so that archers can improve their shooting. Modern stabilizers still serve the same primary purpose as older models, but many accomplish even more.

The looming question is this: How do you settle on one specific stabilizer when dozens are available? First, you must understand their intended purposes. Having previously worked with customers for 10 years at an archery pro shop, I believe the bow stabilizer is one of archery’s least understood accessories. And if you don’t understand what a stabilizer should accomplish, or the differences between one and another, then you’ll undoubtedly feel perplexed the next time you shop for one.

If you’ve never used a modern stabilizer or have tried them and didn’t experience measurable results, my aim is to help you win the next time you buy one. Below I’ll explore the different stabilizer types available and how each factor into your bow setup. But first, let me discuss why using one makes tangible sense.

 

Benefits of Using a Stabilizer

A jittery bowsight picture usually inflicts great anxiety when aiming at targets, and that multiplies when hunting. It becomes easy to forcibly jerk your sight pin onto the target and punch the trigger simultaneously. When you’re at full draw, a legitimate stabilizer alleviates most of those jitters, which calms anxiety significantly. A steady sight picture helps you float your pin on the exact spot you want to hit rather than fight to get your pin there. There will still be some movement, especially in a hunting scenario. Still, it will be far more manageable than if you shoot without a stabilizer.

Adam Hayden, an accomplished bowhunter and land specialist with Whitetail Properties, believes a hefty stabilizer cuts pin movement in half. “Without a stabilizer, your pin may move in a 3-inch circle on your target as you begin applying back tension,” he said. “A quality stabilizer can decrease that perceived area to roughly 1.5 inches.” 

When fired correctly, a bow should naturally fall down and forward. A somewhat heavy stabilizer promotes good follow-through, which then improves your accuracy and consistency. Further, heavy stabilizers can anchor your bow in windy conditions. As a rule, in-the-field bowhunting shots — uncontrollable factors abounding — are almost always more challenging to make than backyard slam dunks. Stabilizers can aid in accuracy improvement. 

Hayden recalled a whitetail hunt where his stabilizer setup made the difference. “I’d just hung a treestand, and while walking out, I spotted a buck rubbing a cedar tree along a logging road,” he said. “I stalked closer and then set up, almost sure he’d walk by me. He finally walked up the road and gave me an opportunity. It was raining, and I was pretty nervous. My shot was steep and downhill at 50 yards. I clearly recall how steady my pin settled on the buck. I credit taking that buck, in large part, to a quality stabilizer setup.”

FYI: A side benefit of stabilizers that feature rubber or gel in their designs can stop hand shock and overall bow vibrations. This is helpful but hardly noticeable on most of today’s compounds.

 

The Different Designs

Now that you know how stabilizers can benefit you, let’s categorize them.

The average bowhunter uses a stabilizer designed more for vibration dampening than for stabilization. These types of stabilizers are recognizable by their short, lightweight profile and vibration-dampening features. If you don’t shoot beyond 20 yards, then these stabilizers generally will suffice. However, if you’re looking to increase your effective range, tighten your aim, or anchor your bow in windy conditions, consider a beefier alternative.

Several manufacturers offer stout stabilizers that also incorporate vibration-dampening attributes. Some others are designed solely to stabilize. If I had to choose between one quality or another, I’d always go for stability. To me, a steady sight picture and a properly balanced bow are far more critical than vibration dampening, especially since most modern bows, as I mentioned earlier, are already virtually vibration-free. Look for something 10-12 inches long and moderately to heavily weighted.

Another stabilizer design that dramatically improves balance and stability is the offset stabilizer. This style typically utilizes a separate, offset mounting bracket, which positions the stabilizer(s) to the opposite side of the bow as your bowsight and quiver for an ideal counterbalance. In other words, if your bow naturally cants to the side that the sight, rest and quiver are mounted to, an offset stabilizer can help even things out so that you don’t have to fight your sight bubble. Some models such as the Stokerized Stasis are adjustable back and forth, too, so you can adjust for fit, feel and balance.

With extended front stabilizers and heavy sights, some of the best shooters add a rear stabilizer of some fashion. Many archers use a bracket that adjusts the positioning of the rear bar. Personally, I use a Stokerized RDS, which mounts directly to the bow’s threaded rear-stabilizer hole. It helps counterbalance top-heavy bows, but it adjusts laterally so that you can achieve the perfect counterbalance with your accessories.

Hayden said, “I always shoot a rear offset stabilizer on my bowhunting setups. It helps counterbalance the weight of other bow-mounted accessories. Therefore, it helps the bow level out without additional effort and focus. It’s one less thing I have to worry about.”

Determine Your Individual Preferences

If recommending a stabilizer was as simple as telling you which make and model to buy, I’d do it. Unfortunately, much thought and attention to detail are needed to pick a stabilizer that delivers.

First, every bowhunter has his/her individual preferences and shooting form. Second, each bow model balances differently. Third, sights, quivers and other accessories affect how a bow balances. Fourth, specific bowhunting applications call for specific equipment. For example, a long bar could hit the wall of your ground blind when you hit full draw. These and many more reasons are why you must choose wisely to experience great results. Don’t buy a stabilizer merely because it looks nice or because a friend recommended it. Carefully choose one that works for your individual needs.

For example, Hayden tailors his setup to his hunting applications. “For whitetail hunting, I run a 10- to 12-inch front stabilizer with a couple ounces of weight near the end, and a 6- to 8-inch rear stabilizer mounted to an offset bracket,” he said. “For western hunting, I use a 14- to 15-inch front stabilizer, but with the same offset rear stabilizer.” 

 

Visit a Bow Shop, Try Several

If your local archery shop allows, ask to shoot in their range with several different stabilizers. Pay close attention to your sight picture and to your follow through with each stabilizer you try. This will help you decide what feels best and proves most beneficial. Try to identify each stabilizer’s pros and cons so that you can choose well.

Determine what you need a stabilizer to do in your individual hunting applications. Once you do that, you can take your shooting accuracy to new heights — even during intense hunting situations — by outfitting your bow with an excellent stabilizer setup.

Photos by Darron McDougal

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