How to select your new crossbow.
By Mirko Valagussi April 2009
So you have taken the decision... you need a
new crossbow, if it is your first crossbow you
are in the right place. This article was written
in order to help you navigate through the
various manufacturers’ offerings and give you
some bits of info to help you rationalizing your
decision. There are no secrets here, no rocket
science, just some common sense to help you make
the best out of your money.
First of all we need to determine the budget
as it will have a substantial impact on our
choice, then we will see what are the
differences between the two philosophies:
Compound or Recurve.
Let’s first try to determine the budget. This
is a little tricky because we usually think that
f we set aside $500 for a crossbow we can go out
and buy a $ 500 crossbow, right? … Well ,
almost… let’s do this exercise together:
Set your budget! All of us
would enjoy making a decision on infinite
resources but reality is quite different: most
of us have to deal with a finite budget set your
budget according to the money you have, write
this sum down.
If this is your first crossbow
you are not just looking for a crossbow! You
will need some accessories in order to be able
to use your crossbow: an absolute minimum is a
set of arrows, points a cocking device and a
good target. While the first two are quite
obvious a cocking device (as simple and
inexpensive as a cocking device) will help you
relieve your back reducing cocking
effort up to 50% and will balance load on
both limbs for maximum precision. Let me just
stress the target option (it is not an optional
it is a
must have!) You need a good target
because using an improvised target may damage
your arrows (a simple pass trough will ruin your
fletching) and replacing arrow will soon become
a necessity, not to mention that damaged
carbon arrow if not inspected prior to shooting
may result in personal injury or worse, believe
me you do not want that. A
good set of arrows runs from $30 to $60 per box
of 6 , Field points are quite cheap ($5 per 12)
but broadheads are definitely more expensive
($20-30 per 3), a good target is something like
$60-$100. Now let’s subtract these amounts from
you really want to exploit the crossbow full
potential you need to put an optic on the top
rail, this is helpful at closer rages and it
becomes a must at longer distances (30-40yards)
in order to produce pinpoint accuracy. There are
several offerings on the market: scopes with
multi reticles simple or lighted, red dots with
multiple dots, single dots and open frame dots.
Basically it is matter of personal preferences.
For closer ranges I prefer open red dots such as
the Truglo ABCDXXXX that allows shooting with
both eyes open for maximum field of view. At
longer distances I found to be liking some
magnification (4X is just fine for me) so if
that was my intended range I would opt for a
good lighted reticle scope.
Lighted reticles scopes allow the reticle to be
seen easily against a dark target, a must in low
light condition. A good scope such as the
Excalibur’s LumiZone will cost you and
additional $150. So let’s subtract this to our
How much is left? Whatever the
amount this is the Crossbow Only budget and upon
this we should start our selection. One
consideration at this point is that most
manufacturers offer their crossbows in a package
configuration that contains most of the stuff
you need to start using your crossbow (excluding
the target). Whether or not this is a good
choice depends in large measure to your needs/preferences.
For example Barnett offers the package
configuration with the option of a red dot or
4x32 scope but there is no lighted reticle scope
in their lineup. Same for Excalibur their Good
Stuff package option that contains just about
everything including broadheads (but not the
target) comes in two flavors: with and without
scope but if you want the lighted reticle scope
it is a separate option (so you need the without
scope configuration and the optional LumiZone.
Generally packages offer the convenience of a
slightly lower price than the separate
components while you have to settle for the
choices the manufacturers have made for you. On
the other side separate pieces are slightly more
expensive but are infinitely flexible suiting
Now that we have a clear amount of money set
let’s start to evaluate other factors that will
be important deciding the best crossbow for you.
There are basically two main categories:
compound crossbows and recurve crossbows.
Both have points of strength, and possibly some
drawbacks, you really want to make sure you
understand them well.
Recurve crossbows are direct descendant of
the middle age ones, their design is really
streamlined and let me say “basic”. Advantages
recurve designs are.
Lightweight: since there are no pulleys or
cams, cables, sliders there is only a simple bow
they are often lighter. An important
consideration if you have to walk a few miles
carrying the crossbow to your hunting spot.
More balanced: same as above since there is
less mass spread out on the limb tip and in the
front they are more balanced to handle therefore
they are also quicker to take into aim.
Reduced maintenance & field serviceable: as
there are no cams going out of synch recurves
are easier to maintain, also the string is field
replaceable with a simple and inexpensive tool
There are however a few cons also:
Power & speed : because of design limitation
recurve designs cannot store as much energy as
their compound counterpart therefore resulting
arrow speeds are lower.
Cocking effort: recurves , because of design,
need more effort as you are drawing the string
back, some crossbow are as powerful as 220
pounds meaning that at their peak they require
220 pounds of pull to be cocked. Unfortunately
this happens to be at the end of the power
stroke where you are in a disadvantaged position
(from an ergonomic viewpoint) to exert pull. Of
course cocking mechanisms can be used in order
to greatly lower this effort
Mechanical stress: yet
because recurves have their peak of pull at the
end of the power stroke a cocked crossbow will
exert maximum stress onto the trigger and safety
mechanism. Most crossbow are built with steel
components designed accounting a safety factor
therefore can tolerate much more than the actual
stress, anyway it is an important difference.
Compound crossbows are a relatively recent
development in archery history. Basically two
wheels or cams are applied to the basic design
in order to: reduce the peak holding weight (let
off) and maximize the energy stored energy.
Speed: thanks to compound design there will
be a substantially more energy for any given
draw weight than a similar weight recurve to
propel the arrow. This translates in a faster
arrow speeds. Please take a look at our
Excalibur (XXX pounds recurve) review and the
TenPoint Stealth X2 (XXX pounds compound)
reviews. The recorded speeds are (same 420grains
Market today seems to go crazy with speed and
it is a hyped subject so let me try to clear
some water on this: you must
carefully evaluate speed as a critical factor
depending on the dimensions of the game you
intend to engage.( If you are using the crossbow
for target please just skip this section).
If you are hunting deer possibly 90% of
modern crossbows are fast enough. However larger
game such as moose, elk , dangerous game or
African game do require some substantial punch
to be humanely dispatched. Distance also is a
critical factor. As you approach le longest
distance of the ethical range (30-40 yards)
faster arrows will deliver more kinetic energy
downrange. A faster arrow at longer ranges will
also prevent the possibility for game to react
between arrow release and hit, minimizing
Compactness: thanks to design optimization
compound crossbows are way narrower than
recurves. For example the Barnett Predator
measures just over 20” when cocked. This is a
priceless bonus if you need to move in confined
Stress: Compounds are trigger components are
less stressed as the holding weight is
considerably lower than the peak weight.
Cocking: as the peak weight happens to be in
the lower half of the power stroke where your
muscles work at a better angle and the effort
will appear to be lower (remains true even if
you use a rope cocker).
Compounds are not perfect however; there are
some factors to evaluate.
String and cables are impossible to field
replace. A factor if you hunt in remote
locations with the closest pro-shop out of range.
Cams may go out of synch causing accuracy
problems. Can be easily fixed but not in the
field (same as above).
Compound design demands more components to be
placed in the front (cams, cables) as well as
heavier limbs. This will make a compound design
heavier and shift weight balance toward the
front making it possibly slower (inertia) to
take into aim.
Now that you understand pros/cons of both
solutions you can take your informed decision.
Just one last tip: try your crossbow!
Crossbows have very different stocks sizes,
just a few are adjustable. Try among your
selection the one you fit in best. A comfortable
shooting position is mandatory to achieve
maximum accuracy. This is something that cannot
be evaluated trough catalogs and brochures you
really have to try it!