Bear’s latest entry in the quest for that elusive sweet spot where high speeds intersect optimally with smooth shooting is its Arena series. The series is comprised of the Arena 30 and the Arena 34, which, as you might guess, differ primarily in their axle-to-axle lengths. Bear touts the Arena 34 as ideal for the 3-D and ground hunter.
As you might expect with flagship bows, the Arena rigs feature Bear’s newest technology, beginning with the new-for-2015 H15 Hybrid Cams. Similar to the H13 Hybrid Cams found on last year’s Agenda bows, the H15 Cams share the trademark Bear feature of a draw length adjustable in half-inch increments without the need to change modules or even press the bow. While there is arguably a slight sacrifice of efficiency to achieve this versatility, the option of quickly and easily tweaking draw lengths is no small feature. It’s a very user-friendly operation that any bowhunter with an owner’s manual and a hex wrench can perform on a kitchen table in a matter of minutes. Bear advertises the H15 Cams as being even smoother and easier to let down while achieving speeds comparable to Bear’s previous-generation cams.
The Arena bows also feature Bear’s now standard pre-loaded quad limbs as well as the unique Hinge Guard torque-reducing cable guard system introduced on last year’s Agenda bows. The Hinge Guard system is centered on the riser, actually extending through it. As the name suggests, the system is hinged to move inward as the bow is drawn to reduce torque, then swing out upon releasing the string to provide adequate clearance.
Also returning from last year are Bear’s bi-dimensionally adjustable top and bottom offset string suppressors and rubber riser inserts, though these inserts are noticeably smaller than those found on last year’s bows. Bear’s familiar black grip, comfortable and warm to the touch but removable for hunters who prefer the skinnier profile of side-plate-style grips, remains unchanged.
The overall design is one that says “Bear” at a glance, with the characteristically short limbs; relatively long, skinny riser (which appears less recessed than on previous Bear models); dual string suppressors and aforementioned black grip with the understated Bear logo in white. Fit and finish is generally excellent on Bear’s bows, and the tested Arena 34 was no exception.
Shooting The Bow
I’ve commented in the past on the ease with which Bear’s bows can be set up and tuned, and the Arena 34 was a slight exception in only one regard: the limb bolts were extremely tight, and I had to wrestle with them to loosen them and back down the draw weight for some of my subjective evaluations at lower draw weights. However, once loosened they were easily adjusted in any direction, so that appears to have been a one-off incident. For my initial testing, the riser accommodated the Ultra-Rest perfectly, with room for the set screw. I followed the usual procedure recommended by Bear of aligning the arrow vertically with the Berger holes and determining center shot by placing an arrow against the inside of the riser, then moving the rest in and out until an arrow on the rest was parallel to the arrow against the riser. With no further adjustments I was getting good arrow flight from both the Hooter Shooter and my own shooting on the range.
As a fan of Bear’s Agenda bows, particularly the still extant Agenda 6, I found it difficult to avoid comparing the Arena with its predecessor. In fact, I found the feel of the Arena 34 to be very similar in most respects. Both Agenda bows (the Agenda 6 and Agenda 7) and the new Arena bows are fast bows; the build-up to peak weight is quick but smoothly steady, with a noticeable but not uncomfortable drop into the valley and a firm back wall thanks to the limb stops. The valley of the Arena 34 is not a wide one, though this can be tweaked to some extent with the stops. At the shot, the bow pops forward slightly into the hand. Vibration is very slight without a stabilizer, and all but unnoticeable with a stabilizer.
At 340 fps, the Arena 34 is a fast bow by any measure, though not quite as fast as the Agenda 6, which has a top speed of 350 fps. (The Arena 30 tops out at 345 fps.) The Arena bows have a wider brace height at 6.5 inches, compared to the 6-inch brace height of the Agenda 6. In theory a higher brace height is more forgiving. There is room for debate on that issue, but it is certainly true that depending on shooting form or just anatomy, skinnier brace heights can cause accuracy-robbing (not to mention painful) string slap against the wrist of some shooters. (Slight string slap isn’t always obvious to shooters wearing long sleeves or armguards. If your string tends to fray at the bottom, string slap is probably the culprit.) And regardless of shooting form or anatomy, a skinny brace height is more likely to result in the string catching a puffed-out or loose sleeve or button.
Bottom line: Fans of Bear bows will find the Arena 34 offers the same kind of feel, appearance and performance they’ve come to expect from Bear Archery in recent years. Shooters who prefer a moderately longer axle-to-axle bow or the longer 31-inch draw length will be particularly pleased by this bow. And without a doubt the Arena series will win a few converts to Bear Archery.