The crossbow is a type of ranged weapon based on the traditional bow and arrow. Designed like a horizontal bow, it is mounted on a frame—much like the stock of a gun is handheld—to shoot arrow-like projectiles called arrows, bolts, or quarrels.
Crossbows were first invented in China during the 5th century BC, and it innovated warfare not only for the Chinese but also for the Greeks and Medieval Europe.
Before the invention of crossbows, archery was a highly specialized skill that required considerable training, strength, and expertise. Bowmen were trained from childhood and were highly regarded as a superior class.
Crossbows paved the way for a simpler, wieldier weapon that soldiers could use even without years of archery training. This revolutionized projectile weaponry gave common soldiers the means to use a bow and arrow successfully.
While crossbows were previously used in warfare, they have been used for hunting and shooting sports in recent times. Because of their convenience, they are still widely preferred today.
Types of Crossbows
There are two main types of crossbows: recurve and compound. There are significant differences between the two, but both have their fair share of bowhunting enthusiasts.
What You Should Look For When Buying A Crossbow
Ideally, your crossbow should be strong, reliable, and quiet if you will use it for hunting. As there are hundreds of crossbows to choose from, it’s important that you get the right combination of features that will work best for you.
Additionally, there are certain regulations for crossbow use depending on which state you are in, so it is essential that you study these laws before purchasing a crossbow.
Here are some key features you should consider in a crossbow:
1. Bolt Speed and Velocity
These two are crucial in determining crossbow performance, as they largely determine your success, especially when catching a prey.
Some of the fastest crossbows can shoot up to 400 feet per second (FPS). Keep in mind, though, that there’s such a thing as too much speed.
The faster an arrow is, the harder and flatter it hits the target. However, increasing speed equally decreases your crossbow’s tolerance for even the slightest mistake in aim and draw. This means that a faster arrow is going to be less forgiving than a slower one.
Going too fast also puts unnecessary strain on various parts of the bow (e.g., limbs, cams, string), causing the bow to deteriorate easily.
Hence, choose a crossbow that is fast enough to get the job done, but not so much so that the added speed makes your shots more difficult.
With compound crossbows, you have a built-in scope that can serve as an additional feature to help you compensate for arrow trajectory.
Crossbows can be used for up to 60 or even 80 yards, depending on the equipment scope, quality, and brand. There is a single scope for 20 yards, but the most useful is a 4X scope that can be used from 20 to 60 yards.
There are two types of scopes: multi-dot and multi-crosshair, offering different levels of illumination. Experienced archers usually prefer multi-crosshair scopes to pinpoint shots, as this can be used to prevent wrong angling if mounted properly.
Of course, if you don’t need too much accuracy for your crossbow, modern designs can shoot as far as 500 yards. For hunting, you generally want around a crossbow with a 30- to 35-yard reach as a beginner, while crossbows with a 60- to 80-yard range are suitable for more skilled archers.
To support your shooting accuracy, invest in quality bolts and broadheads.
3. Noise Level
A crossbow’s relative quietness is crucial for hunting purposes. Recurves are quieter than compound crossbows in this respect. When the bolt or arrow is released, the pulley mechanism of the compound model creates a bit of noise.
Still, even if recurve bows are quieter, more physical work is involved in drawing a shot. If you want less work for more accurate shots, choose a compound crossbow.
4. Flight Groove
Also called a barrel or track, this refers to the grooved portion of the crossbow where the bolt rides. The more precise this part is, the more accurate your shooting will be.
Tracks can be made of aluminum, composite, or carbon. Composites are the least expensive, but they are also the least accurate and durable. Meanwhile, aluminum tracks are generally more expensive, but still cheaper than carbon fiber. This material is stronger than composite and allows for better accuracy in each shot.
Carbon fiber gives you a lightweight yet durable track. However, there are plenty of lower-quality types out there, so always check the price. You can tell a lot about the quality of the carbon fiber used if the price is slightly higher.
There are two weight considerations with crossbows: the weight of the crossbow and the draw weight.
For the crossbow weight, going heavier usually means increased stability and speed. When choosing the right weight, consider your physique, as well as the type of activity you will engage in.
Weight also affects your maneuvering, which means a heavier crossbow will be harder to aim. However, this gives you a steadier shot.
Lighter crossbows would be easier to carry around, say, when you’re hunting. But you would have to be more skilled with a lighter crossbow, as you are less stable when shooting.
About draw weight, state regulations vary in the allowable draw weight for hunting, but the overall range is between 75 and 125 pounds.
That said, 150 to 175 pounds of draw weight is recommended, just enough to give you a stable shot with enough force to kill your prey within a reasonable range.
6. Archer Size
Most crossbows on the market are designed for the average person with a height of 5.6 to 5.8 feet.
But why is height important?
Your height is important because putting the string into cocked position can be hard for those with shorter statures.
Getting the right crossbow size to match your strength level and size can determine if your shots will be accurate on the field.
Fortunately, there are cocking aids that provide the best solution to this issue. Make sure to try as many of them as you can before you pick one, because some products may be easier to use than others.
Best Crossbows Right Now
As with any type of product, there is really no substitute for trying out a crossbow with your very own hands and firing a couple of shots. This gives you a general idea if you can cock the bow comfortably and see if the weight is manageable, among other things.
This list is just to help you prioritize which ones you should look for when you visit a retailer. We are not saying that these are the only good crossbows out there, but hopefully this list will give you an idea of which ones to try out first:
1. Excalibur Matrix 380
This is a popular choice for hunters, as it delivers great speed and power but in a compact and lightweight design. This recurve crossbow features up to 380 FPS with its 12-pound weight.
It features a balanced stock weight, avoiding any stooping and mistakes in accuracy. String dampeners on this device limit the noise level, making each hunting shot as quiet as possible.
One of the main drawbacks with this model is the poor illumination of the scope, which could affect your aim during twilight or dawn hours. The draw weight is also better suited for experienced shooters at 260 pounds. Aside from that, it’s also one of the pricier models out there, so it’s more of an option for those who are already skilled with using crossbows.
2. TenPoint Venom Crossbow
The Venom is a lightweight and compact compound crossbow that can be enjoyed by professionals and beginners alike.
Its draw weight is 185 pounds, and it can shoot up to 372 FPS. The quality carbon fiber material used on the track adds virtually no weight to the bow, making it quite handy.
This model has one of the best scope qualities with multi-layered optics that can zoom in from 1.5X to 5X.
It also has a built-in rope-cocking mechanism for added convenience. This is a great investment for those who are willing to spend a bit more for a quality crossbow.
3. Barnett Jackal
Want something ideal for beginners? The Barnett Jackal compound crossbow is a great starter for you. Featuring a sturdy build, the quad limb structure enhances accuracy and safety for a novice user.
The maximum speed of this crossbow is 315 FPS, with a manageable draw weight of 150 pounds.
The best feature of this product is its price—under $300, you’ll have a pretty reliable piece of equipment for hunting and sports.
Its affordability comes with a few tradeoffs. One is the low-quality retainer that might need to be replaced after a while. The shoulder rest is also quite narrow, a disadvantage for longer hunting periods.
4. Barnett Wildcat C5
This is another great compound crossbow for beginners and intermediate-level users. With a 150-pound draw weight, you can engage in a stable and powerful draw of up to 320 FPS for each shot.
The Wildcat C5 also has an adjustable scope of up to 20 feet.
With its comfortable grip design and stability, this is a great starter crossbow that won’t entail too much cost.
5. Ravin R20
The Ravin R20 Sniper package is currently one of the favorites in the crossbow world. With its rifle-like range and dynamic power of up to 430 FPS, this compound crossbow can easily target even the most formidable prey.
The accuracy comes in a compact design that allows you to maneuver the crossbow easily while hunting. It also comes with a custom Vortex Strike Eagle scope that can be adjustable according to user’s preference.
Other unique features include HeliCoil technology, where arrows can be comparable to bullets in terms of downrange accuracy and the Frictionless Flight system in its track.
The drawback is its hefty price; most bow enthusiasts would be deterred by a $1,829.99 price tag. But for those who can afford such a considerable amount, you will get the quality you pay for.
When selecting crossbows, speed, accuracy, and ideal weight balance are all valuable aspects to consider. However, each user will have a different opinion on a model, so it pays to research and try different crossbows before making a purchase.
Again, it’s best to try out several different crossbow models in person. Aim and try a few shots. Get the feel of the equipment and check its size relative to your stature. Only then can you ultimately determine which one is the best for you.