Mandarin Duck Black Hunter 60" 40@28"
It's always tough to find an angle when it comes to a bow review, bows after all are rather simple things. Price is always a big one and I've tried long and hard to find away to write this review without reference to it. After some consideration I took the decision that there was no escaping it on this occassion. Why? you might ask, well simply because this bow is exceptionally good value, but talk of price seems to lessen it in so many ways. I could have written the review without mentioning it and I don't think my opion of the bow would have changed, I'd have still complimented it's excellent design features, it's smooth and accurate shooting but ultimately it would all come back to the fact that the Black Hunter is exceptional value for money. But not because it's in the lower end in terms of price point, because it offers the ultimate bang for your buck.
The bow is 60" in length which, while not short is certainly on the shorter side, especially when compared with it's peers. Where it differs from those however is the uprated limb fitting system, gone are your typical limb pockets and blot, the Black Hunter features a very nice single bolt and pin system, as seen on much more expensive bows. This has two benefits, firstly it means the limb fits securely and positively in position, no misalignment and no wobble characteristic of single bolt systems. Secondly it gives this take down a very nice sleek look more reminiscent of a one-piece bow. That's not the only nice feature when it comes to the limb fittings, the riser also has felt padding when the limbs connect and this means that there is a nice tight fit without the noise that can sometime come from two hard surfaces in direct contact, I've had very expensive bows making off noises during the draw when this happens. It's a really nice touch, which along with other features we will come on to, you would think would be easily added to a bow despite the fact so few manufacturers do. But it doesn't end there, the top and bottom limb have a slightly different profile at the riser end, this gives a really nice look to the completed bow but also maximises the window which can be at a premium on such a short riser and bow. This means it's impossible to fit the limbs in the incorrect position, a bonus for the less observant of us (I'll admit to shooting limbs the wrong way round at least once in the past, all be it for only a few shots). This all adds up to a really cracking looking bow when put together.
The riser itself at 15" is again on the shorter side, made of a dyed engineered veener it's a sleek and smooth finish with a high grip profile. It's finished in a nice matt grey finish which matches the black of the limbs really well. The bow and so by extension the riser is very much in the hunting/field archery style, there are no fittings to fit a sight, button or any sort of stabiliser. The manufacturer Mandarin Duck do also have a bow that does come with all of those, the Phantom, so if that's what you are after I've no doubt that would be of equally excellent quality. The riser however is cut past centre, and so this should allow you to shoot a variety of different arrow spines and build out the rest if you so wish, equally you could fit one of those stick on rests, but for me that would be missing the point of this bow. The interesting feature of the riser is the rasidual shelf, rather than a flat shelf it's curved so that contact is minial with the arrow. It's a feature you rarely see on a bow, even some of the most expensive, but one for me that should be standard. Mandarin duck also do a great job in including a hair rest to protect the riser, it's a big bug bear of mine that many manufacturers don't include similar even when the bow is literally ten times the price.
The limbs themselves have a bamboo core, with laminations of fibreglass and a black covering, they are wide which aids the torsional strength and makes for a very forgiving bow. The limb tips are built up and look exceptionally solid, but again very well finished and don't suffer from that string eating roughness that is often a feature of bows in the lower price point, many of which require a bit of attention unless you want to be spending a small fortune on replacement strings. That then leads us on to the string itself, it is servicable, but not much else in all honesty, it's made from Dyneema but personally I'd be looking to replace it as soon as possible. That genuinely is the only aspect of the whole thing to mention in a slightly negative light which is an incredible compliment. It should certainly be noted that an average string isn't unusable at all and in fact even with many starter bows you won't be getting a string anyway. Back to the limbs, they are available in 5# increments from 30# all the way up to 60#, also a point to note is the limbs are available separately which is excellent for a bow of this type, in the sense that you can start low and build yourself up if you are new to archery.
It's time to get out and shoot the bow. The aesthetics and style of bow really didn't seem to suit a standard test session of multiple ends of shots at a target so it was straight out in to the woods to shoot a 3D course. I decided to shoot some X7's and some lighter woods, that seemed to be a good decision as the bow responded really well to the lighter arrows. I'd picked a 40# bow as that's a poundage I shoot regularly and seems to offer a sweet spot when it comes to gauging a bow, enough power but that level of resistance required to hold a stable shot at draw. The recommended brace height is 7 1/2" but I tend to find bows work well, a tad higher for me so I opted for 7 3/4". That seemed to work really well out of the box, vibration was minimal, no noticeable hand shock but with the required feedback in my opinion. People talk about bows being dead in the hand but I have often found you want at least some feedback, you want the bow to speak to you, even if it's a soft whisper in the ear as opposed to a poorly tuned crescendo from hand shock and limb vibration.
In terms of speed the limb construction means that its never going to compete with some of the more advanced limbs on the market, that is absolutely not to it's detriment however, it is more than fast enough with the right arrow and of course that is always the key, get the right arrows to match the bow and it will perform excellently. Given I had just pulled a selection of arrows from my arrow box the bow coped brilliantly, as true of any bow some time and consideration give to arrow set up will pay dividends and I've no doubt given the time that you could tune this bow as well as any. Accuracy is as much down to the archer than it is to the bow, if of course the bow is consistent and the Black Hunter certainly is, after a few shots to work out some aim points, I was nestling arrows in to nice tight groups at various distances. Archery is at it's core an exercise in repetition, do the same thing the same way every time and you will be rewarded with the same results, a nice shooting bow aids massively in that regard and the Black Hunter delivers in spades.
There is simply no getting away from it, the price pits this bow with a raft of starter bows, but it is so much more than that. The finish, the features and the shooting experience set the Black Hunter apart from it's price peers, but in all honesty that does it a great disservice because finish and performance wise it's competing with bows at three or four times the price, genuinely!. This makes it an excellent starter bow, but also for archers looking to upgrade from other bows in the price point, it's in a rather odd position of being it's own replacement and natural next step. The fact that limbs are replaceable pushes this bow even further, replaceable limbs are a feature of many starter bows, the problem is that your archery will generally have progressed beyond the limits of the bow in question, by the time you are ready to up your poundage the investment is wasted, not so with the Black Hunter, you will be able to progress up the poundage range and still get a great shooting bow.
You can purchase the Black Hunter on line at various retailers or from Mandarin Duck themselves at...