Introduction to Crossbows
Crossbows are a kind of bow designed to be shot with a trigger mechanism rather than with a string like a traditional recurve/longbow or a modern compound bow. While crossbows nowadays look pretty sophisticated (because they are), the weapon itself dates back a long time. Historians believe the crossbow was originally invented in China or one of its bordering regions, and evidence of crossbow use has been dated to as early as 6th century bc. Use of the weapon then spread to many regions, probably owing to the fact that the crossbow was considered much easier to shoot accurately when compared to a traditional bow.
Shooting a traditional bow to a degree useful for warfare took years of training, and generally societies that produced large numbers of effective archers had cultures that specifically encouraged the development of the archery skillset. On the other hand, learning to operate and shoot a crossbow reasonably effectively takes far less skill and physical strength – which made it a particularly effective weapon for armies made of untrained, conscripted soldiers.
While crossbows are obviously no longer commonly used as weapons of war, they are still relevant in the hunting and archery communities. Modern crossbows are gaining popularity in the hunting and archery communities, and are particularly good choices for hunters and archers that lack the raw physical strength to operate modern compound or recurve bows.
Here’s a video on how to shoot a crossbow:
What criteria do we use in our Crossbow Reviews?
Crossbows can be quite complicated weapons for those unfamiliar with them. Before we start to discuss how we judge an individual crossbow model, we’ll first talk about some of the key terms and details you should know before you read our crossbow reviews or consider buying a crossbow.
- Compound or recurve: Just as with the traditional style of bow, there also both compound crossbows and recurve crossbows. The distinction between the two is similar to that of the traditional bow – compound crossbows have mechanisms that make it easier to draw the string and are generally shoot significantly faster than recurve crossbows, which are just improved versions of the crossbows that were used historically. You should note that in this buying guide, we primarily focus on compound crossbows as they are somewhat more popular. We have one section on recurve crossbows exclusively, you can check that section out here.
- Draw Weight: As with all bows, higher draw weights will allow for higher shot speeds. Buyers should note however that unlike with compound bows, there is not standardized criteria for testing the speed of a crossbow, so the speeds you see from manufacturers may somewhat exaggerated. Draw weights for crossbows tend to be higher than for compounds – this is normal because the draw length for a crossbow is quite a bit shorter than for a compound bow. Also, once you pull the bowstring back, it stays there, as opposed to a traditional bow where you have to hold the draw. This allows for higher weights, which help make up for shorter draw lengths. Finally, there are multiple methods to cock a crossbow, which we go over in the next bullet point.
- Cocking Method: While this isn’t neccesarily dependent on what crossbow model you buy, it will have a dramatic impact on your shooting experience, so you should probably consider it before buying a crossbow. Obviously there is the manual method, where you pull the string back yourself – but this method very often leads to an imbalance on one side or the other, which means your shot won’t be straight. The second method is to use a special rope cocker, which is an inexpensive accessory. It allows you to halve the draw weight that you pull on, but in exchange you pull it twice as far. The more important thing to note is that it always allows you to balance your string perfectly, which is very important for accurate shooting. The third method is the crank – some crossbows come with this feature built in, whereas others will require a reasonably pricey attachment. They also help pull the string without imbalances, but the downside is that they are slow. Also, an external crank is another thing you’ll need to carry around when you go hunting or target shooting.
- Scope/Sight: Most half decent crossbows come with a basic optical sight or red dot scope. These can vary a great deal, but generally fall into 4 categories – single red dot, single reticle optical, triple red dot, and multi-reticle optical. The red dot style scopes are battery powered and can be turned on and off. Regardless of what type of sight or scope you have, you will definitely need to adjust it before properly using your crossbow for hunting or target shooting. This process can be somewhat laborious – we wont go into all the details on how to adjust your scope in this buying guide, but we will post a separate guide on how to adjust a crossbow scope pretty soon.
- Power Stroke: The term ‘Power Stroke’ for a crossbow refers to the same concept as ‘draw length’ for a traditional bow.As we mentioned earlier, the draw lengths on crossbows are quite a bit shorter than the same length on a typical compound or recurve bow. Still, as with all bows, a longer power stroke will lead to higher speed shooting – a buyer should take note of this when selecting a crossbow model.
- Trigger: Each crossbow trigger has a unique feel. While it is difficult to describe fully the sensation and feel of pulling the trigger of a specific crossbow, we’ll do our best to give you enough information for you to decide whether or not it suits you. There are are triggers that are firmer and triggers that have more give, and each crossbow will shoot at a different point in the pull. Generally what we would say is that one trigger is not typically better or worse than another – it’s mostly down to personal preference and familiarity with a specific crossbow.
Other factors to consider:
- Hunting Laws: This is extremely important if you are buying a crossbow for hunting. The laws in various states vary greatly – some states allow crossbows in bow hunting season, and in some states crossbow use is restricted to hunters who have a physical disability or handicap. Some places require a permit, some don’t. Before you purchase a crossbow, especially if you plan to hunt with it, you should check your state regulations carefully.
- Noise level: While noise typically isn’t an issue for target shooters, it can have a large impact on hunting success. If you’re planning on hunting with your crossbow, try to look for a model that is relatively quiet. Recurve crossbows also tend to be quieter than their compound counterparts.
- Size and weight: This is typically one of the major drawbacks of using a crossbow. Crossbows tend to be significantly heavier than traditional bows due to additional mechanisms and parts they have. Hunters may want to try and find a bow that is lighter and more portable. On the other hand, having a heavier crossbow can help stabilize the arm and make for a more consistent and accurate shot.
All of the details above should be taken into consideration when purchasing a crossbow. As with all bows, there is a trade-off between draw weight/length and arrow speed. The faster you want your shots, the harder your crossbow will be to load. With that said, using an aid to load a crossbow is very typical – and both the crank and the rope methods can be very helpful for those who lack the physical strength to work a model with a high draw weight. We recommend that buyers think about exactly what they’ll be using their weapon for – speed isn’t everything, and having a better fps at the expense of accuracy or comfort when shooting isn’t necessarily worth it. For the purposes of this guide, we tried to choose a crossbow model that would be suitable for everyone, but still offer really good performance for experiences users. We also wanted to find a crossbow that had a good feel overall, both in terms of construction quality and handling, and we were looking for good value in terms of price as well.
What we were looking for here was all-around excellence – top notch construction, excellent handle, speed, convenience and reliability. There are many a great crossbow available for purchase, and it definitely wasn’t easy to narrow down our selection to just one model. In the end, we decided that the model that we liked best of all the crossbows on the market was the Tenpoint Venom.
The Venom is a high end compound crossbow that has advertised speed of 372 fps. It weighs a lightweight 6.5lbs(excluding accessories), and has a cocked axle to axle length of 13.5 inches. Front to back it measures 34.6″, which is very compact for such a powerful crossbow. The Venom comes with a RangeMaster Pro Scope and a six-pack of carbon fiber arrows. The bow comes packaged with either the ACUdraw (crank system) or ACUdraw 50 (rope cocker), and both can be fully integrated into the bow itself. the bow has a draw weigh of 185lbs and power stroke of 13.5″.
As far as we can see, the Venom is essentially a perfect crossbow. It’s lightweight and compact, yet it shoots with excellent speed. The construction quality is incredible, and the Venom feels absolutely brilliant both in terms of the actual grip as well as in terms of how it handles. It’s also quite quiet for a crossbow. Both the ACUdraw and ACUdraw50 cocking systems that can come with the Venom are easy and intuitive to work with. There’s only one downside to the Venom – its price. The model comes at a hefty $1600 with the ACUdraw50 (the version that comes with the crank ACUdraw system is $100 extra). We understand completely if this is outside of your budget – but the way we approached finding our top choice of crossbow was to ask ourselves which model we’d recommend if they were all the same price. In the end, the Tenpoint Venom was the one we chose, which is why it’s our selection for best overall crossbow.
Best Crossbow for the money
It’s clear what we were looking for in this category. Great performance for a great price. Ideally we were trying to find a weapon that would give us high-end or close to high-end performance, but at an affordable price point that a typical reader wouldn’t balk at. Trust us, this wasn’t easy, even with the number of crossbow reviews we’ve read and models we’ve tested. While there are many decent, moderately priced crossbows out there, few of those priced in the mid-range are what we would really consider top of the line crossbows. Often, crossbows in the mid-range in terms of price will have one or two minor drawbacks that aren’t dealbreakers, but that are definitely noticeable, particularly to the seasoned crossbowman.
The bow we ended up choosing was the Barnett Jackal. The Jackal is a compound crossbow with a 12″ power stroke, 150lbs draw weight, and it fires at a reasonably fast 315 fps. The Jackal weighs 7.7lbs, which is probably around average for crossbow weight. It measures 35.5″ front to back and 26.25″ axle to axle. The Jackal comes with a 3 red dot sight and three 20″ arrows. It has an anti dry fire mechanism, which is a nice touch that could potentially prevent damage to both the bow and the user. The Jackal doesn’t come packaged with either a rope or a crank cocking mechanism.
Overall, we liked the Jackal because there was nothing to dislike about it. It was a solid all around performer – pretty good speeds, not the smallest or lightest crossbow we’ve ever seen, but acceptable on both fronts. The bow is powerful enough to be used to hunt anything but the largest game (moos & bears). We also particularly liked the dry firing prevention mechanism – we felt that this was a great addition, particularly for beginners. In fact, overall we felt that the Jackal would probably be an excellent beginners bow, but make no mistake – while suitable for newbie archers, it definitely would also satisfy more seasoned crossbow users. If you’re planning to buy the Jackal and can’t handle the 150lb draw weight comfortably, you should plan on purchasing either a rope or crank cocking system as the bow doesn’t come packaged with either. The thing we liked the best about the Jackal was the price – at only ~$280, we felt there was almost nothing on the market that could match it in terms of being great value for money. For this reason, we chose the Barnett Jackal as our best value for money crossbow.
Best Hunting Crossbow
To decide on which model deserved to be chosen as our top crossbow for hunting, we considered many factors. There are a couple of criteria that are of particular importance when choosing a weapon to hunt with – you want a weapon that is compact, lightweight, quiet, and that shoots with sufficient speed to humanely take down large game. Those things are tough to all find in the same weapon.
One of the weapons that meets all of the above criteria is of course the Tenpoint Venom, which was our favorite model overall and our choice for best overall crossbow. For this category, we decided we wanted to present a possible alternative to the Venom – our chief goal is to inform readers, and we wanted to present you with another great choice for a hunting crossbow. We ended up picking the Stryker Solution.
The Stryker Solution has 125lbs draw weight and 15.5″ power stroke, Front to back it measures 35″, and axle-to-axle length is about 16″ (cocked). The Stryker model weighs about 6.9lbs without accessories, and advertised speed is 350fps. It comes with a multi-reticle scope, 3 arrows, and a cocking aid.
The Stryker Solution handles excellently, and has nice ergonomics overall. While all crossbows produce noise to some extent, the Solution was among the quietest of the models we examined. The trigger feels solid – easy to pull but still firm. We particularly liked the low draw weight, especially since the Solution doesn’t seem to sacrifice much speed for it. Overall, the Solution proved to be more or less exactly what we were looking for in a hunting crossbow – lightweight, reasonably compact and quiet – and it shoots sufficiently fast confidently be used to take down large game. If you’re looking for a hunting crossbow, andthe Tenpoint Venom is outside of your price range – go ahead and pick up the Stryker Solution – we liked it almost as much as the Venom and it’s about $700 cheaper. Thanks to its excellent performance and reasonable price, we decided that the Stryker Solution deserved to be selected as our best hunting crossbow.
Best Recurve Crossbow
For the traditionalists out there, we put together a category especially for you. Just like with traditional style bows, the archery world is seeing more and more people take up recurve (and other non-compound) crossbows. Even among crossbow hunters, there exists a subset of people who prefer to have no mechanical help – the folks who want to hunt like its 1499.
Luckily for those people, we also looked at a range of recurve crossbows to try and find the best model. There are a number of pretty good recurve crossbow models available on the market – we tried our best to cut the wheat from the chaff so that we could recommend what we think is the best model out there. For the top recurve crossbow, we were looking for a model with good enough speed for hunting .We wanted it to be accurate, durable, and reasonably sized. More than anything else, we were looking for something that’s low maintenance, straightforward and intuitive to use – after all, simplicity is kind of the point of shooting a recurve anything.
In the end, we decided on the outstanding Excalibur Axiom SMF. Excalibur is well known for producing high quality recurve crossbows, and the Axiom SMF is no exception. It has a draw weight of 175lbs and a power stroke of 14.5″. The length of the bow front to back is about 37.5″, and it’s a pretty easy to carry 5.8lbs(no accessories). For a recurve crossbow, it shoots a very respectable 305 fps. It also comes with a multi-reticle scope, four 20″ arrows, and a rope cocker.
We more or less fell in love with the Axiom. It’s just a really versatile piece of equipment – good for beginners and experienced archers, good for both target shooting and hunting. The Axiom basically does it all. For a crossbow, it’s extremely lightweight, making it very portable and easy to carry around in the outdoors. It feels great in the hand, and the overall ergonomics are spot on. It’s simple and straightforward, and yet it shoots fast and accurate. The only negatives come from the fact that it’s a recurve rather than from the specific Axiom model. Like all recurve bows of any kind, you’re doing all the work – there’s no mechanical help – so even with the rope cocker, you need to be someone who’s comfortable drawing 87.5lbs (half of the 175 draw weight) on a regular basis. Other than the issue of draw weight common to all recurve bows and crossbows, we found absolutely no faults with the Excalibur Axiom SMF, and generally were very impressed with it all around. If we didn’t know the price of the Axiom before we shot it, we would’ve ventured that it’s at least $1000 – and get this – this beauty only costs $500. It’s up there in terms of value with our pick of best value for money crossbow, the Barnett Jackal. That’s why we like it as our runaway top pick for the best recurve crossbow.
Best Cheap Crossbow under $500
Different folks have different ideas about what exactly constitutes ‘cheap’. If you’re someone who’s looking for a sub $100 crossbow, you should know that such crossbows are pretty easy to find, generally awful, and potentially dangerous. Unless for some reason you have access to a secret discount at one of the reputable crossbow brands, we generally don’t recommend anyone buy anything for less than $100 – especially if you plan to hunt with your weapon. The crossbows that are priced that cheaply are generally more for those looking for novelty items – people who want to be serious hunters/shooters and who are genuinely interested in archery will almost never buy any crossbow in that price range.
In our opinion, any crossbow under $500 would be considered by us to be a budget model, and so that’s what we went with for this category. We were essentially looking for the best bang for your buck among all the crossbow models priced below $500 – we wanted a good balance of performance and pricing. We excluded the Barnett Jackal from this category – we’ve already discussed it at length, and it would have won this category if it was included. You can think of the winner of this category as coming in close second to the Jackal.
We ended up going with the Arrow Precision Inferno Fury II. The Fury II is a recurve crossbow measures 34.5″ end to end and 26.5″ axle to axle. It has a draw weight of 175lbs and a 10.5″ power stroke. It’s lightweight, weighing only 5.85lbs and shoots a decent 235fps. The Fury II also comes packaged with a triple red dot sight and rope cocker, and also includes four 16″ bolts. It also has a dry fire prevention mechanism.
Well, the first thing we have to let you know is that the Fury II is not really suitable for hunting large game – if you’re a hunter and you’re considering this bow, you should know fact upfront. Also, similarly with the Excalibur Axiom SMF, the Fury II is a recurve bow with a 175lbs draw weight – with the rope cocker, the user should be prepared to lift 87.5lbs every time they want to load the crossbow.
Despite the two factors listed above, the Fury II comes at such an awesome price that we find it hard to fault it for anything. Granted, it doesn’t shoot that fast, but in every other respect we find it to be a very solid performer – it’s super light, compact, and ridiculously easy to use. We would highly recommend the Fury II to a beginner – we think it’s probably the best and most accessible beginners crossbow on the market. The trigger isn’t as firm as we typically like it, but that’s more or less down to personal preference. Best of all, the Arrow Precision Inferno Fury II only costs $150. This is ridiculously good value for money given how well the bow performs. If it weren’t for the fact that the Fury II can’t be used for large game, it would definitely be our pick for the best value crossbow. As it is, we’ve decided that even with the hunting limitation, it deserves the title of the best cheap crossbow under $500.