Looking for a sturdy, stable, rock-solid hunting bow that carries easy, draws with buttery smoothness, and shoots like a target champ? This may be the one you’re after…
by Rob Reaser
Most of the bigger-ticket products we review at Shoot On lend themselves to some sort of nice and tidy one-liner description—something that instills in the mind the core nature or characteristic of the equipment.
Ever since I got my hands on the new Matthews VXR 28, I have been contemplating that brief descriptor. For weeks, I ogled the VXR as it hung bare naked in my shop awaiting the arrival of Apex Gear accessories I wanted to test it with.
A word did come to mind, but I rejected it.
Once the VXR was fully dressed and tuned and sending my Easton 6.5 Matrix shafts downrange, I continued to ponder the essence of Matthews’ latest hunting bow. The same word steadfastly burbled forth as I zeroed the sight and became accustomed to the bow’s handling and overall performance.
Still, I stubbornly refused to acknowledge that needling notion.
As I sit here now, committing this review to posterity, the word persists. In fact, it demands my attention. I can ignore it no longer, and in the absence of any superior alternative nouns or adjectives, I must yield to its calling.
The Matthews VXR is a tank.
Now, lest you think this descriptor is in anyway negative or disparaging, let me assure you to the contrary. It’s actually high praise—something I typically reserve for gear that meets or exceeds my expectations and that exudes an almost ethereal quality in terms of engineering, material construction, and performance. As it relates to the VXR, the tank analogy fits perfectly in my mind. This bow is robustly built, intelligently designed, and exhibits a stability that defies its short 28-inch axle-to-axle length.
What may have got my head going down the “tank” path likely had a lot to do with the new-for-Matthews Green Ambush riser and limb color scheme. This, combined with Matthews’ characteristic bridge-style cored riser, no doubt sent me into a military hardware mindset.
Matthews introduced the new VXR series last fall, offering its now-flagship hunting bow in two ATA lengths. There is a 28-inch model for those who prefer short and agile for hunting in a ground blind or for deep wilderness excursions, where compact mobility is demanded. For those who favor the more forgiving nature of a longer ATA bow, the VXR also comes in a slightly longer 31.5-inch model.
As you can see, the VXR sits squarely on the Matthews design reservation, with subtle riser variations being the most visible difference among the company’s upper-tier hunting bows. The key distinguisher between the VXR and the previous top performer in the Matthews stable—the Vertix—is the riser. Matthews calls the VXR’s an extended, six-bridge riser that shaves off a slight amount of weight while adding to the bow’s already high stability and strength factors.
While we have no way to measure such strength, we can speak to the stability. The six-bridge riser design combines elegantly with the VXR’s wide limb stance to deliver a solid hold and steady position from the release and continuing past the follow-through. This is the longest riser Matthews has built into a hunting bow.
Although the wide limb dimensions offer a stabilizing influence through enhanced torsional rigidity, they’re also a product of the Matthews AVS (Advanced Vectoring System) and Crosscentric Cam system. The addition of the outer vector wheels necessitates a wider span between the limbs that carries forward to the limb pockets. This makes the overall limb assembly wider and, to our minds, more stable than narrow limb configurations.
One thing that is without question is the smooth draw of this cam system. Too many of today’s bows exhibit a rapid let-off that smacks you hard against the wall when coming to full draw. Never been a fan of that, but you get used to it. The Crosscentric Cam system, though, is less abrupt at the let-off point, allowing you to make a smooth, fully controlled draw all the way back to the wall. I like this a lot for the close-quarter, on-the-ground whitetail hunting I do since that softer, more controlled movement is less visible, more silent, and is less likely to spook game.
Included in the cam design is Matthews’ Switchweight Technology. This is simply a module on the cam that allows you to alter draw length and draw weight (in 5-lb. increments) for a more customized fit. The Switchweight modules also offer one of two let-off settings—80% or 85%.
As for quiet operation, the Matthews VXR ranks high in this category. Several factors are working in concert here. The stabilized mass comprising the extended riser and wide limb assembly do much to minimize shock and vibration, but equally important is the Enhanced Harmonic Stabilizer system incorporated into the bottom of the riser. All of this delivers a bow that handily absorbs excess energy, providing that exquisite “dead-in-hand” feel that is the hallmark of a well-engineered bow.
Another high point is the VXR’s Engage grip. It has a dual-texture design crafted from a slightly pliable polymer that is downright sticky even in sweaty hands. The high stiction is welcome when hunting in warm weather or in cold climes when gloves are essential. The grip is made even more comfortable thanks to the ergonomic swell above the thumb and index finger placement and the prominent beaver tail that extends over the top of the hand. For a grip with a straight backstrap, the Engage holds true to its name, engaging the hand comfortably and with the authority needed for consistent hand placement and shot control.
After launching who knows how many hundreds of arrows through the VXR this past month, my initial impression of the bow stands…it’s a tank in terms of stability, heft-in-hand, and overall precision feel. Matthews says it is a hunting bow that shoots like a target bow, and I agree. OK. So maybe “tank” isn’t the best comparison because it can imply, to some, the idea of heavy or cumbersome. The VXR is certainly neither of those. Perhaps a better comparison would be a government-style 1911 handgun when contrasted to a plastic-frame striker-fired pistol. There’s that hard-to-define “something” about a rock-solid, precision-machined, no-nonsense 1911 that instills a high degree of confidence backed by reliable operation and accuracy. In that light, the VXR stands tall. The bow is exquisite on the range and appeals to my sense of robust precision in hunting and shooting equipment.
Curious as to the VXR’s practical speed (versus the factory IBO rating of up to 344 fps), I grabbed the radar to check launch velocity and energy. From my dozen full-length Easton 6.5 Matrix arrows, I pulled an average-weight shaft of 409.5 grains (with a 100-grain field point) and recorded a 10-shot string. With a draw weight of 62 lbs. and an 85-percent let-off/28-inch draw length module, the VXR established the following:
- Average Velocity: 277.2 fps
- Extreme Spread: 5.74 fps
- Standard Deviation: 1.87 fps
- Average KE: 69.3 ft-lbs.
That’s the kind of hard-hitting consistency I want to see from an accurate-shooting hunting bow.
Matthews VXR 28 Specifications
- IBO Rating: up to 344 fps
- Axle-to-Axle: 28 in.
- Cams: Crosscentric w/Switchweight Technology
- Draw Length: 25.5 – 30 in.
- Let-off: 80 or 85 percent
- Draw Weight: 60, 65, 70, 75
- Brace Height: 6 in.
- Overall Weight: 4.44 lbs.
- Color Options: Green Ambush, Optifade Elevated II, Optifade Subalpine, Ridge Reaper Forest, Ridge Reaper Barren, Realtree Edge, Stone, Black
- MSRP: $1,099
Outfitting the VXR
Apex Gear Covert Pro Dual-Dot
We wanted to try a single-pin on this bow, just for kicks, and the Covert Pro Dual-Dot from Apex Gear seemed like an ideal choice. This model comes with dual lighted dots in a crosshair reticle. The center dot is for the standard ranges of the yardage tape. If you need to stretch your shot, the lower red dot provides a long-range holdover beyond the calibrated tape. It also serves as a 50-yard reference when the center dot is aligned for 20 yards.
Set up follows the standard drill for slider sights. Windage adjustment on the Covert Pro is exceptionally fine. The elevation knob is dampened for precise adjustment and the locking lever is easy to manipulate.
The LED brightness adjustment control sits atop the sight hood and is adjusted via + or – buttons. If you forget to turn it off, the unit automatically shuts down after four hours. Available accessories include a sunshade and 2X magnification lens kit.
Apex Gear Surge Arrow Rest
We like the clean launch of drop-away arrow rests but don’t necessarily dig those that fail to keep the arrow secure prior to drawing the bow. When Apex Gear launched the new Surge earlier this year, we knew we had to give it a go.
The Surge elevates on the draw just like most drop-away rests, but it can also be manually lifted into place, allowing the arrow to sit securely in the launcher fork until it’s time to shoot. The launcher will also stay in place if you draw and don’t shoot, letting the bow down gently. With its containment bar, the Surge keeps your arrow up and in place, so it is always ready.
Another key feature of the Surge is its delayed trigger, which maintains support of the arrow for a micro-second after releasing the string yet drops the launcher out of the way in time to clear the fletching. We’ve found the Surge to be quiet, fast, and accurate, as any quality rest should be, but really appreciate being able to keep the arrow up in the shooting position and fully contained.
Apex Gear End-Game Stabilizers & Outpost Dual Stabilizer Mount
Although I’m not a big fan of running long stabilizers on hunting bows, I did want to see how Apex Gear’s new End-Game stabilizers worked with the Matthews VXR. No surprise, they helped stabilize an already impressively stable bow.
The End-Game comes in two lengths: 6- and 8-inch, with weight ranges of 5-7 ounces and 6-8 ounces, respectively. The tube is made of carbon fiber, allowing the bulk of the stabilizer weight to be at the end, where it is most effective. The stabilizers come with colored dampening rings so you can fine-tune the weight as needed. While you can buy the stabilizers separately, Apex Gear is offering both stabilizers and the Outpost Dual Stabilizer Mount as a kit.
NAP Thunderhead Hellrazor
While I’ve primarily been using mechanical broadheads for several years now, the rugged spirit of the VXR seems to beg for an equally straightforward broadhead. There are few broadheads on the market today that exude the simplicity and durability equal to the Thunderhead Hellrazor from NAP.
As you can see, the Hellrazor is a single-piece, three-blade fixed broadhead with a proven track record for getting the job done on medium- and large-size game animals across North America. These stainless steel broadheads have cut-on-contact leading points that translate seamlessly to a 1 1/8-inch cutting diameter blade configuration. They are available in 100- and 125-grain weights to accommodate your arrow and F.O.C. preferences.
Easton 6.5 Matrix Shafts
The new Easton 6.5 Matrix is designed for bowhunters looking to maximize their bow’s speed by minimizing arrow weight. These ultra-lightweight all-carbon shafts are made in the USA using Easton’s proprietary Acu-carbon seamless process. This process braids the carbon in a way that eliminates seams to deliver more consistent weight and spine across the individual production runs. The Acu-carbon process not only delivers the consistency needed for accuracy, it also looks cool because the carbon fiber braids are visible on the shaft’s exterior.
Available in 500, 400, 340, and 300 spines, the 6.5 Matrix arrows come factory-fitted with MicroLite Super Nocks and include 6.5mm CB Orange Inserts weighing 23 grains each.