Bow Review: The Darton Spectra E

A pre-stressed and stretched aluminum riser makes the Spectra E an exceptionally stiff and accurate bow.

If you’ve never heard of Darton Archery, don’t feel bad. Prior to last year, I hadn’t heard of them either, but I had used them throughout my archery career and you probably have, too– I’ll explain. Darton has been in business for over 70 years and has largely lived off their patents from the prolific inventor, Rex Darlington, former owner of Darton. Rex invented the cams used by just about every major bow manufacturer in the country, which is kind of a big deal. Darton was recently sold to Randy Kitts, owner of Black Eagle arrows. I’ve been shooting the 2022 Spectra E for three months now and I’m about to be real honest with you about it.

This bow comes with several color options including Black, OD Green, Desert Tan, Kryptek Highlander and various combinations of those. Since aluminum gets cold I chose a black riser to gain any solar advantage I can. I chose the highlander limbs so their lighter color doesn’t absorb as much heat into the limbs.
The first thing I noticed about the bow was this cable and pulley system. The Spectra E is a binary cam bow and uses these pulleys to allow yoke tuning without using shims, maximizing efficiency from the cams and creating a system with perfect timing. This is probably going to matter to your bow technician more than you because it makes tuning a dream. It matters to you because an improperly tuned bow cannot be shot well.

My first impressions shooting the bow were jaded by skepticism. I had only shot one brand for several years and didn’t have an issue with it, so I wasn’t really sure why John Appleton from Alpine Archery and Fly had asked me to come in and try something new. If it ain’t broke.

The pulleys are robust, simple, and quiet. I had a buddy jam straw and dirt into mine while
I shot to see if it could derail and I wasn’t able to cause it to malfunction.
Simply put, this is the quietest bow I’ve ever shot. This limb dampener helps, but so does the robustness and mass of the riser. When I shoot the bow around other folks, the lack of noise has been enough to turn heads every time. There’s no advantage to shooting a loud bow.

I was wrong. You don’t know how much better something can be unless you try something new.

The grip felt great, and as I loaded pressure into the string, my hand only felt better. I expected to come to full draw and need to shift something as I learned the new bow, but no adjustment was necessary. The draw cycle is incredibly smooth. I had been used to a draw that had chapters: initial pressure, limb load, peak, valley, and wall. This draw cycle has an almost musical fluidity that feels natural and comfortable.

This cam is draw length adjustable and has both limb and cable stops. It creates a good shooting experience for the owner and the bow technician.

My first time firing a new bow always has a degree of anxiety with it. I just don’t know what to expect. When this bow fired I had the thought, “that’s it?” I looked at John somewhat confused and loaded another arrow. Something was really different about this bow, and I wasn’t able to put my finger on it. I continued shooting as John watched to see where he’d place the peep. We actually sighted in the 20 pin before adding the peep then made some micro-adjustments to the sight afterward. What was different about this shooting experience was becoming clear. This bow was extremely quiet, easy to aim, easy to create a comfortable and repeatable grip with, and seemed to be putting all of my arrows hazardously close together without much effort on my end.

I headed to the counter and paid John, I had my bows there from 2021 and 2020 and he asked what I wanted to do with them. I’d fired a total of ten shots from the Spectra E. I replied, “sell them.”

The Spectra E comes with draw weights of 30-40, 40-50, 50-60, 60-70, and coming soon… heavier, which trips my trigger.

First impressions are important but they aren’t everything. I headed for my private indoor archery range, which looks an awful lot like my mom’s horse arena, and started putting this bow through the paces. I want months shooting a bow before archery season, and if this is going to be my pony, I need to know if it has a flaw right now. From a shooter’s perspective, I’ve only found a couple, and they are thin.

Let me list off the specs:

SPEED: 330-335 FPS
DRAW LENGTHS: 25.5″-31″
DRAW WEIGHTS: 40, 50, 60, 70
LET-OFF: 85%

If we are going to get ugly about this bow, there are only two categories to really talk about. The first is weight, compared to the $1,900 dollar Hoyt Carbon RX-7 Ultra which is 4.3lbs, the Darton comes in approximately one burger patty heavier. The next is speed, the PSE Levitate is launching bow bullets at 333-341FPS. Does the speed or weight difference matter? You are the one who has to answer that for yourself.

One of the biggest differences between the most expensive hunting bows on the market and the Spectra E is the price. Retail for the Darton is $1,049. Still, a very real chunk of change but that $850 difference between it and the PSE and Hoyt is a non-resident elk tag, hunting license, and a bottle of scotch for after you kill a bull.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been busted by elk because my strings weren’t camouflage, thank goodness I won’t have to worry about that anymore. These strings haven’t shown a sign of stretching yet, and the serving is immaculate.
Ask me what I don’t like about this bow and I’ll tell you flat out it’s the logo. It reminds me of 90’s tattoos and energy drinks. The grip angle and contour aid in making this an extremely shootable bow. The width is appropriate, not too thick, and not too thin. The subtle bevels near the top of the grip help keep my hand in a good high position.

Who is this bow suited for? That’s a question I’ve been struggling with. If you are an experienced shooter you’ll be able to shoot this as good as if not better than what you already have. If you are new to the game, the generous brace height, adjustability, string angle, and grip characteristics are going to get you to a high level quickly. The harder question is “who is this bow not suited for?” That answer has got to be the ounce counters.

Once past the graphic, one of the best features is this groove on the front of the grip which aids tremendously in developing and maintaining a consistent grip.
I’ve opted to use the Spott Hogg Fast Eddie Triple Stack on this bow. This sight is going to run you about $370. It is robust, bright, simple, and has the advantages of a single pin as well as those of a slider plus some. The single post makes for a much better sight picture on animals, allows for three ranges in the same image, and can be dialed for long-range shots on your favorite 3d course.
This Spott Hogg has a lot going on, but despite a complex appearance, it’s been a tough sight that’s also easy to adjust and use.

Is this bow for everyone? No. Do you even need a new bow? Probably not. But I was talking to a guide buddy while writing this article– he was telling me about the $2k he was spending on a new bow when I knew perfectly well he was shooting a top-of-the-line setup last year. I asked him why and he said it was because if he doesn’t buy a new bow every year he doesn’t practice as much. That’s a man who knows himself. To be honest, I’m much the same myself.

I’ve used this rest since it came out and have nothing bad to say about it. Consider the rest on a bow the same way you would the barrel on a rifle, quality is critical for accuracy. $230
The Hamskea peep has stepped ridges in the inside which makes the peep diameter appear the same size in all light conditions. This little piece of gear is probably the most important cheap upgrade you can make to your bow. $20

The Spectra E will be on my pack this year. When I have friends over in the summer to barbecue and shoot targets, its the bow I’ll have in my hand when I make dumb bets about who will hit closer to the X, its the bow I’ll shoot when I demonstrate for clients, or when I shoot 3d matches. If I draw an archery hunt this will be the bow I bring to camp. This year, this is my bow.

Click HERE to Visit Alpine Archery and Fly

About the author: James Nash is an outfitter, professional hunter and cattle rancher from NE Oregon where he resides as the fifth generation of his family to raise cattle, hunt, and fish on the 6 Ranch. He studied history at Adolf Øien Videregående in Trondheim, Norway where he also competed on the Norwegian National Greco-Roman wrestling team, then studied Literature and Writing at the University of Montana Western in Dillon, Montana. Afterwards, Nash served as an Armor Officer and platoon commander in the M1A1 Abrams main battle tank in the US Marine Corps for five years. Nash was wounded in Afghanistan and received two Purple Heart Medals and after a period of convalescence was subsequently retired. He returned to the 6 Ranch and resumed guiding and outfitting, with a focus on other combat wounded veterans. Nash has guided salt and freshwater fly and gear fishing, all kinds of hunting, and back country wilderness trips since age 14. He hosts the 6 Ranch Podcast, and you can learn more about him on instagram @6ranchoutfitters.

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