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The Best Crossbows

The crossbow market grows larger every year, with new models, new brands, and new technological features. How can you find the best crossbow for you? With the following guide, of course. Not only does it include our list of seven great crossbow options for all experience levels, but it has full reviews that discuss their features and how they can serve your needs. Plus, there’s a buyer’s guide that goes into all the different factors to keep in mind. With all this information, you can more easily pick out the crossbow for you.

Overview: Our Picks for Top Crossbow

We’ll get into our in-depth crossbow reviews below, but first, take a look at our quick overview. Our list of favorites includes two beginner models, two intermediate, two expert, and a youth crossbow. By reviewing the list, you may find one that stands out, after which you can explore its features and details in the reviews.

PSE ARCHERY Coalition Crossbow Package- Adjustable Stock- Dual String Stop- Up to 380 fps- 5 Bolt Quiver- Let Off 70% & More
  • PSE CROSSBOW SPECIFICATIONS - Speed: 380 fps. Power Stroke: 14.5. Axle-to-Axle 21.5" Draw Weight: 185 lbs. Overall Length: 35-36.5" Mass Weight: 7.5 lbs. Kinetic Energy: 127 FT. lbs. Cable: 23.4” String: 37.2”
  • SCOPE & STOPS INSTALLED - 4X32 Illuminated crossbow scope and string stops to dampen sound & vibration.
  • ANTI-DRY FIRE & AUTO SAFETY TRIGGER - Provides ultimate safety. A hunting crossbow with complete power & control!

The PSE Archery Coalition: our choice for beginners thanks to features you’d normally expect on higher-end models.


Centerpoint AXCS185BK Sniper 370 Crossbow Package, Black
  • HIGH PERFORMANCE 370 FPS - 18-inch axle-to-axle at full draw and 185-pound draw weight
  • FULLY ADJUSTABLE STOCK AND FOREGRIP - For a customized fit to shoulder with confidence
  • QUAD LIMBS WITH PRECISION-MACHINED CAMS SYSTEM - Delivers power and accuracy

The CenterPoint Sniper 370: another great beginner option thanks to its range of helpful accessories.


Sale
BARNETT Whitetail Hunter STR Crossbow, Mossy Oak Bottomland
  • High-performance whitetail hunter STR compound crossbow in mossy oak bottomland with complete hunting accessory package. Specs: 375 feet per second, weight of 6.6 pounds, axle to axle width of 18.125 inches, dimensions: 34.875 X 20.125 inches
  • Lightweight: Fiberglass composite step thru riser with single bolt assembly and anti-dry fire trigger-tech trigger
  • No artificial flavors

The Barnett Whitetail Hunter STR: the intermediate archer can take advantage of its durable construction to expand their bowhunting options.


Wicked Ridge M-370 Crossbow with Acudraw, Multi Line Scope Package
  • ACUDRAW COCKING DEVICE - Built-in cocking device draws your crossbow accurately with only 5-pounds of effort
  • GORDON GLASS LIMBS - Double laminated Gordon Glass limbs provide unmatched durability compared to competitor's imported models
  • T4 TRIGGER - Auto-engaged safety trigger features a Dry-Fire-Inhibitor (DFI) and an ultra-crisp 3 5 pound pull

The Wicked Ridge M-370: we loved the new technology on this intermediate crossbow.


Sale
RAVIN R10 Crossbow Package R014 With HeliCoil Technology And 100-Yard Illuminated Scope, Predator Dusk Camo
  • 400 FPS, COMPACT 6-INCH COCKED AXLE-TO-AXLE WITH HELICOIL TECHNOLOGY
  • LIGHT WEIGHT 6.8-POUNDS - For maneuverability in the field
  • BUILT-IN COCKING MECHANISM AND ANTI-DRY FIRE/AUTO SAFETY

The Ravin R10: the combination of power and compactness won this deluxe crossbow a place on our list.


Excalibur Assassin 400 TD Crossbow - Realtree Edge
  • Excalibur crossbow features tactical 100 illuminated scope with 30mm rings
  • Pro-shot trigger gives repeatable accuracy with a consistent 3lb trigger pull
  • Ambidextrous cheek piece supports both left-handed or right-handed hunters

The Excalibur Assassin 400 TD: this model is our deluxe runner-up model because of its convenient takedown and focus on accuracy.


Barnett Recruit Terrain Crossbow, 330 FPS
  • 330 feet per second. Draw weight: 140 lbs Kinetic energy: 91.9 ft lbs
  • Overall weight 6.4 lbs | axle to axle 16.125" | dimensions 34.25"L x 18.25"W
  • Ships mostly assembled. Anti-Vibration Foot Stirrup

The Barnett Recruit Terrain: this crossbow is our suggestion for youth archers due to manageable speed and power combined with basic accessories. 

Product Reviews: The Best Crossbow

You probably want to know why these models made our list of best crossbows. Well don’t worry. In these reviews, we include the pros and cons of each model and dive into the nitty gritty details like features, specs, and accessories, and why they make these particular crossbows stand out. With these details in mind, you can more easily match a specific crossbow to your needs and situation.

PSE Archery Coalition

PSE ARCHERY Coalition Crossbow Package- Adjustable Stock- Dual String Stop- Up to 380 fps- 5 Bolt Quiver- Let Off 70% & More
  • PSE CROSSBOW SPECIFICATIONS - Speed: 380 fps. Power Stroke: 14.5. Axle-to-Axle 21.5" Draw Weight: 185 lbs. Overall Length: 35-36.5" Mass Weight: 7.5 lbs. Kinetic Energy: 127 FT. lbs. Cable: 23.4” String: 37.2”
  • SCOPE & STOPS INSTALLED - 4X32 Illuminated crossbow scope and string stops to dampen sound & vibration.
  • ANTI-DRY FIRE & AUTO SAFETY TRIGGER - Provides ultimate safety. A hunting crossbow with complete power & control!

Summary: The PSE Archery Coalition is a beginner crossbow that can help new archers learn fast and build up their skills thanks to a wide range of features like limb dampeners and an illuminated scope as well as specs that can still take on big game. 

Pros:

Limb dampeners included

Illuminated scope

Adjustable stock

Cons:

Wide ATA length

A beginner crossbow with manageable specs and features, the PSE Archery Coalition still packs a punch and can give you hands-on experience hunting medium- and large-sized game. That’s mostly because it’s a ready-to-hunt package that includes many of the features needed to learn and improve in the field.

The most impressive accessory that PSE included is the limb dampeners. These rubber pieces fit into the limbs and absorb vibration caused by shooting a bolt. This serves a couple of essential purposes. First, it decreases noise. Game animals like deer have very good hearing, and if you miss your first shot, the noise could scare off game from the area for the rest of the day, ruining your hunt. 

Plus, too much vibration can cause the bolt to waiver too much when it leaves the rail, throwing it off course. As a beginner, you’re still building up your accuracy and learning how to use the scope, so you don’t want to throw in another factor like vibration. The dampeners help you learn faster.

Other features include the perpendicular four-bolt quiver, which helps store your bolts in an easy-to-access place without putting your crossbow off balance, as well as a cocking rope and rail lube. The Coalition also comes with an illuminated scope that not only helps you aim at multiple distances, but the illumination lets you take advantage of dim light when animals are active but you’re less visible.

Another cool feature is the adjustable stock, which is usually only found on higher-end models. With this, people of various sizes can use the Coalition while still being comfortable. This lets you work on your shooting stance and thereby improve your accuracy.

The specs make the Coalition a great option for beginners as well. The bolt speed of 380 FPS produces 27 FPKE of kinetic energy, which can take down medium-sized game like whitetail deer and even big game like elk with an accurate shot. Still, it’s not too much to handle, and the 185 pounds of draw weight can be a lot more manageable thanks to the attached stirrup on the front so you can use your foot for leverage when cocking.

Last but not least, we have to mention the Coalition’s safety features. Beginners are still learning, so you definitely need safeguards in case of an accident. PSE has included both an anti-dry-fire system and an auto-safety trigger to make an inappropriate shot less likely. Dry firing without a bolt could damage the crossbow or hurt you, and actually shooting a bolt when you don’t mean to can be incredibly dangerous. New hunters can start out more confidently with the PSE Coalition.

CenterPoint Sniper 370

Centerpoint AXCS185BK Sniper 370 Crossbow Package, Black
  • HIGH PERFORMANCE 370 FPS - 18-inch axle-to-axle at full draw and 185-pound draw weight
  • FULLY ADJUSTABLE STOCK AND FOREGRIP - For a customized fit to shoulder with confidence
  • QUAD LIMBS WITH PRECISION-MACHINED CAMS SYSTEM - Delivers power and accuracy

Summary: With extensive features and accessories, the CenterPoint Sniper 370 is a great beginner model that can see you through the learning process and help you advance in your bowhunting career.

Pros:

High-end features

370 FPS

Durable construction

Cons:

Wide ATA

High draw weight

We found the CenterPoint Sniper 370 to be one of the best starter crossbow models on the market because it can really help you learn and build up your skills through real-world bowhunting experience. This is due to a wide range of accessories and features that are normally found on higher-end models.

The feature that impressed us the most was the fully adjustable stock and foregrip. Beginners often have to learn on a crossbow that isn’t quite the right size for them, and then when they get a deluxe model, they have to learn all over again. The Sniper 370 prevents this by letting you adjust the stock based on your arm length and what feels most comfortable. This also lets you learn accuracy more easily.

Other high-quality features include the machined rail with shoot through riser. This increases the model’s consistency, which is important for learning because you get a better feel for the crossbow’s aim. Along with the included 4x32mm scope, this means improved accuracy.We also like the included mounted quiver. On the one hand, it’s a perpendicular quiver, which increases the width of the crossbow, which is already kind of wide due to the 18-inch ATA 

width. This extra width makes the crossbow less maneuverable in tight spaces. However, it increases balances, which is probably more important for a beginner because they’ll most likely be more concerned with improving accuracy than taking advantage of more extreme and remote terrain.

Of course, CenterPoint made sure to design the Sniper 370 with a machined cam system that produces a bolt speed that’s capable of serious bowhunting without being too much to handle. Its 370 FPS of bolt speed is enough to take down mid-sized game like whitetail deer and even big game like elk at moderate range. This high bolt speed comes at the cost of a similarly high draw weight of 185 pounds, but there is an attached stirrup at the front of the crossbow so you can use your foot for cocking leverage. The integrated string suppressors are another deluxe feature CenterPoint included that decrease noise and vibration which help with hunting, especially for beginners. Since a beginner is more likely to miss a shot, they don’t want the noise from the shot to scare off game for the rest of the day. The lessened vibration also makes accuracy a bit easier and helps with learning.

Finally, we really like the construction of this crossbow. The combination of aluminum and composite materials make it lightweight but still durable. We love the durability because, along with the high-end features, it means a beginner can learn and advance while continuing to use the same crossbow model. In fact, CenterPoint includes a five-year limited warranty that shows they stand behind the Sniper 370’s long-term possibilities. 

Barnett Whitetail Hunter STR

Sale
BARNETT Whitetail Hunter STR Crossbow, Mossy Oak Bottomland
  • High-performance whitetail hunter STR compound crossbow in mossy oak bottomland with complete hunting accessory package. Specs: 375 feet per second, weight of 6.6 pounds, axle to axle width of 18.125 inches, dimensions: 34.875 X 20.125 inches
  • Lightweight: Fiberglass composite step thru riser with single bolt assembly and anti-dry fire trigger-tech trigger
  • No artificial flavors

Summary: The Barnett Whitetail Hunter STR is a ready-to-hunt package that has the craftsmanship and power to see you through the tougher hunting trips you’re ready for as an intermediate archer. 

Pros:

Lightweight

Step-through riser

Camo finish

Cons:

Only 2 bolts included

Barnett designed the Whitetail Hunter STR with passionate hunters in mind. This is clear in its tough but lightweight construction. Due to fiberglass composite construction, Barnett was able to use very little material while still making the crossbow durable and resilient. This is visible in the skeleton stock that provides comfort but stability against your shoulder without adding weight. With this design, this crossbow can potentially serve you for seasons of use while resisting tough conditions and weather.

Another benefit of the strong composite design is the step-through riser. Instead of an attached stirrup, the actual riser of the crossbow is angled forward creating a hole where you can put your foot for leverage when cocking. This is more stable and can let you cock faster and repeatedly without worrying about bending or breaking a stirrup.

Of course, what we really like about the construction is the light weight. The Whitetail Hunter STR only weighs 6.6 pounds. Again, this can facilitate serious hunting trips because it’s not too much to lug through the woods with your kit. Plus, it can help your accuracy because you can hold the crossbow more steadily. This means you can hunt bigger game and at longer distances, and you can more easily go still hunting where you may have to hold the bow level for a long time while waiting for your quarry to move into position.

Oh, and one other thing about the construction: it’s single-bolt assembly. It’s easy to put together, so you can start hunting in no time. In fact, Barnett makes the Whitetail Hunter STR as a “ready-to-hunt” package that includes important accessories like a multi-reticle scope that allows you to hunt at multiple distances, a rope cocking device, attached quiver, and lube wax. It also comes with two 22-inch bolts, but you may want to get some more if you’re planning long hunting trips in deep woods. 

The specs are great for hunting as well. The expert cams produce 375 FPS of bolt speed, which is certainly enough for medium-sized game like whitetail deer and even enough for large game like elk and moose. It also produces 118 FPKE of kinetic energy, which is a lot of penetrative power.

Last of all, we couldn’t fail to mention the camo finish. This detail makes the crossbow all the more effective in bowhunting situations because it helps you blend in with your surroundings. As a serious hunter, you’re probably making sure to camouflage the rest of your body and gear, so it’s nice that Barnett helped you do that with your crossbow as well. 

Wicked Ridge M-370

Wicked Ridge M-370 Crossbow with Acudraw, Multi Line Scope Package
  • ACUDRAW COCKING DEVICE - Built-in cocking device draws your crossbow accurately with only 5-pounds of effort
  • GORDON GLASS LIMBS - Double laminated Gordon Glass limbs provide unmatched durability compared to competitor's imported models
  • T4 TRIGGER - Auto-engaged safety trigger features a Dry-Fire-Inhibitor (DFI) and an ultra-crisp 3 5 pound pull

Summary: The Wicked Ridge M-370 takes advantage of the newest crossbow technology like the AcuDraw cocking device and VX-5 cam system to give intermediate archers an edge as they move on to more difficult hunting.

Pros:

Lightweight

Narrow ATA

AcuDraw cocking aid

Cons:

Upkeep of cams and AcuDraw system required

If you want to hunt with the most modern crossbow technology available, the Wicked Ridge M-370 is a great choice. In fact, the first thing you notice when looking at this crossbow is the AcuDraw cocking device located in the stock. This modern solution to crossbows’ high draw weights allows you to draw the M-370 with just five pounds of force. Nevertheless, the crossbow produces 370 FPS of bolt speed, enough for most game.

Other cool advanced features include the T4 trigger, which has an auto-engaged safety trigger and dry-fire inhibitor. This keeps you safe, of course, by helping prevent you from accidentally shooting the crossbow, especially when there isn’t a bolt in it, which could damage the crossbow or seriously hurt you. Also, the trigger system has a 3.5-pound pull, firm but sensitive to give you the stability you need without requiring force that could push your shot off target.

It isn’t just features, though. The overall construction of the M-370 takes advantage of the most recent science in crossbow design. For example, the double-laminated Gordon Glass limbs are incredibly flexible yet durable, meaning they can give you a lot of power while still standing up to repeated use. Combined with the advanced cam system, this also makes the M-370 super narrow, just 9.5 inches of ATA width. That makes it more maneuverable and easy to transport on those deep wilderness hunting trips, or even just up your tree stand ladder.

The maneuverability isn’t just a result of the width, though. The M-370 is also lightweight thanks to a modern USA-based assembly process that uses a minimalist construction and lightweight but tough materials to produce a model only weighing 5.8 pounds. That’s not just easier to carry, but easier to hold steady when aiming.

Additionally, the modern design has another big benefit: quiet shooting. The cams are a reverse VX-5 system that increases rotation thereby dampening the noise of the shot. Silence in the woods is important for any bowhunter, but if you’re going for harder, more advanced, more experienced game, it’s essential. As a result, the M-370 opens up your hunting opportunities and can help with those big trophies. 

Finally, the M-370 includes important features the experienced hunter needs to get the job done. That includes a multi-reticle scope with crosshairs for 20, 30, and 40 yards and another line reticle for 50 yards as well as a lightweight quiver and three bolts.

Ravin R10

Sale
RAVIN R10 Crossbow Package R014 With HeliCoil Technology And 100-Yard Illuminated Scope, Predator Dusk Camo
  • 400 FPS, COMPACT 6-INCH COCKED AXLE-TO-AXLE WITH HELICOIL TECHNOLOGY
  • LIGHT WEIGHT 6.8-POUNDS - For maneuverability in the field
  • BUILT-IN COCKING MECHANISM AND ANTI-DRY FIRE/AUTO SAFETY

Summary: The Ravin R10 is an impressive, technologically advanced crossbow that combines power, grace, and efficiency to aid expert archers take on the most challenging terrain, situations, and game.

Pros:

Helicoil cam system

Zero friction rail

Compact and lightweight

Fully assembled

Cons:

The best word to describe the Ravin R10 is “quality.” Ravin manufactures these models with expert precision and craftsmanship, not to mention the latest in archery technology. The most notable innovation is Ravin’s Helicoil cam system. This tech involves coiling the cables around the axles of the cam, which actually accomplishes a number of things. First, it lets the cams rotate 340 degrees, making for serious power in a compact crossbow. Plus, it keeps the cams level, making the R10 one of the most accurate crossbows out there.

To elaborate on the compactness of the R10, notice that its ATA width is just six inches. That’s seriously narrow and makes it easier to carry and maneuver in thick brush. This is further improved with the model’s light weight. It’s just 6.8 pounds. As a result, the R10 is a good option for multi-day, deep wilderness, and mounted hunting trips.

Another great technological improvement of the R10 is its frictionless rail. The bolt actually floats above the rail, so it doesn’t slide against the rail on the way out of the crossbow. This provides several advantages. First of all, it helps get more speed out of the bolt, part of the reason the R10 can exceed 400 FPS of bolt speed. It also helps the bolt fly straighter and decreases noise from vibrations within the crossbow. This way you don’t scare away future game, especially important for multi-day trips.

Other deluxe features include a quiver, the built-in cocking mechanism for faster drawing and the anti-dry-fire system and auto-safety. Even expert archers can make mistakes, so you need these safeguards to protect you and your high-quality crossbow.

Additionally, we like the illuminated scope that comes with the R10. More basic crossbow models often include simple scopes that you have to upgrade in the end, but the R10’s scope is as high-quality as the crossbow itself. This is because it’s illuminated, allowing you to take advantage of the dim light at dusk and dawn when animals like deer are most active. 

Finally, the R10 has a few bonus features that increase its utility. The predator dusk camo is a versatile finish that can help you blend in in most environments, including mountain and winter landscapes. We also have to mention that Ravin ships the R10 fully assembled. All you have to do is sight in the scope, and you’re ready to take advantage of this advanced crossbow model.

Excalibur Assassin 400 TD

Excalibur Assassin 400 TD Crossbow - Realtree Edge
  • Excalibur crossbow features tactical 100 illuminated scope with 30mm rings
  • Pro-shot trigger gives repeatable accuracy with a consistent 3lb trigger pull
  • Ambidextrous cheek piece supports both left-handed or right-handed hunters

Summary: The Excalibur Assassin 400 TD is a crossbow clearly made with expert archers in mind, combining blistering bolt speeds and accuracy-improving features with convenience and construction designed to see you through many future hunting seasons.

Pros:

Quick-Loc takedown

Pro-Shot trigger

Integrated cocking crank

Extensive sound suppression

Cons:

High draw weight

The Excalibur Assassin 400 TD is another great expert crossbow option that can give experienced bowhunters a cutting edge on the most challenging hunting trips. Of course, the biggest part of this is the blistering 400 FPS bolt speed. That doesn’t just mean you can hunt big game, it also improves accuracy because a faster bolt can fly farther before beginning to drop.

Of course, this high bolt speed is the result of a huge draw weight of 325 pounds. Luckly, the Assassin 400 TD has an integrated charger crank that not only makes cocking the crossbow much easier, it makes it much quieter, too. This increases your ability to take multiple shots on the same hunting trip.

This isn’t the only area where Excalibur addressed the problem of crossbow noise, though. They also added R.E.D.S. suppressors and a sound deadening system that helps minimize vibration in both the bowstring and limbs. This is the main source of noise from your crossbow and can warn nearby animals of your location. If you’re going on multi-day hunting trips, that could mean seeing a lot fewer quarries than you were hoping for.

Less vibration also means more accuracy because the bolt leaves the crossbow straighter. Accuracy is further improved by Pro-Shot trigger. This three-pound, two-stage trigger helps you shoot right when you want to, has a consistent feel, and helps prevent jerking that could send your bolt off course. Combined with the illuminated scope that lets you hunt in dim light and an ambidextrous cheek rest that helps you hold the crossbow and scope snugly to your eye, and you’ve got a powerful but accurate crossbow.

Lastly, a unique and impressive feature of the Assassin 400 TD is the Quick-Loc technology, which allows you to take down the crossbow with just the push of a button and store it in the included case. This is essential for a deluxe model because you know by now that you’re a serious hunter who plans to use your crossbow a lot. You want to store it safely in the off season so that it’s still ready and reliable next year. With its takedown technology, Excalibur really had expert archers in mind.

Excalibur manufactures the Assassin 400 TD with an effective digital camo finish and includes four Pro-Flight bolts.

Barnett Recruit Terrain

Barnett Recruit Terrain Crossbow, 330 FPS
  • 330 feet per second. Draw weight: 140 lbs Kinetic energy: 91.9 ft lbs
  • Overall weight 6.4 lbs | axle to axle 16.125" | dimensions 34.25"L x 18.25"W
  • Ships mostly assembled. Anti-Vibration Foot Stirrup

Summary: The Barnett Recruit Terrain can help archers learn bowhunting and build enthusiasm because it’s fast and powerful without being too much to handle and includes basic features that are conducive to a fun but successful hunt.  

Pros:

Trigger Tech Technology

Nock sensor

Included accessories

Cons:

Bowstring susceptible to fray

If you want a crossbow for the young archer in your life, the Barnett Recruit Terrain is a solid choice. Manageable but effective specs and features make it both fun and practical for a new learner and can encourage growth in archery and bowhunting. Plus, it’s perfectly adequate for adults as well, meaning it could also serve for a beginner, or it could see your young archer through to adulthood.

First, consider the specs. The Recruit Terrain shoots bolts at 330 FPS producing 140 FPKE of kinetic energy. This is fast enough that you can do some serious shooting with it and is adequate for mid-sized game like whitetail deer and turkey. At the same time, they aren’t so much that they overwhelm a young archer.

Many of the included accessories are helpful for newbies and adolescents as well. For instance, the 4x32 scope helps them learn to shoot accurately from multiple distances and get a feel for the crossbow bolt drop. The Trigger Tech Technology and three-pound zero-creep release provides for a smooth shot, so that a learner can focus more on aiming without having to compensate for little jerks. 

Young archers can also increase their accuracy with the Recruit Terrain thanks to its light weight. Weighing just 6.4 pounds, it’s easier to hold steady than some other models, a big deal for young archers who might not have the upper body strengths of a full-grown adult. This is mostly due to the sturdy skeleton stock.

Of course, safety is very important for young archers, and you wouldn’t want a crossbow model that didn’t take it seriously. With the Recruit Terrain, Barnett was sure to add a couple of important features, namely an anti-dry-fire system and nock sensor. These help keep your youth archer from accidentally firing the crossbow when there’s no bolt in it, which could damage the crossbow or even cause splintering that could hurt them.

Finally, Barnett decided to include a few more features and accessories to round out the Recruit Terrain. These are a rope device and attached stirrup to aid with cocking, perpendicular quiver, and lube wax. It’s important to take advantage of the lube wax and lube the bowstring every so often as it may otherwise have a tendency to fray. This way your young archer can learn crossbow maintenance on top of accuracy and bowhunting.

Crossbow Features: What They Are, and What They Mean

man with cross-bow silhouette

When looking for the best crossbow, you’re bound to see a ton of terminology thrown around that’s unique to archery. While it may seem like a word salad at first, it’s actually important to understand what these terms are referring to, how they reflect the features of the crossbow, and what this means for your bowhunting needs.

Compound vs Recurve Crossbows

For serious hunting applications, especially mid-sized to big game like deer, turkey, and elk, almost all the crossbow models you find will be compound or recurve. Recurve models are simpler and have two limbs that look like inverted S’s. The bowstring attaches at the end of each limb. This simplicity is their biggest draw, but they rarely produce the same power as a compound model and have the downside of very long limbs, making the crossbow less maneuverable.

Compound crossbows, on the other hand, take advantage of technologically advanced cam systems. These are basically pulleys that can get more power from much shorter limbs. The rotation of the cams creates tension.

Compound crossbows usually shoot faster with more energy, but their major downside is maintenance. The cams are one more part that can break down, and they may require tuning to keep the cams and cables in sync. Plus, stringing the crossbow is more difficult and usually requires expert assistance.

Bolt Speed and Kinetic Energy

Bolt speed and kinetic energy are usually the specs that concern archers the most. They affect many aspects of your hunt, including accuracy and possible game.

Bolt speed is measured in feet per second, or FPS. The faster a crossbow fires its bolt, the farther the bolt can travel before gravity pulls it down to the ground. This doesn’t just mean you can shoot at targets farther away, it means you can shoot more accurately over a given distance. This is because if, say, you’re shooting a deer at 50 yards, a bolt traveling at 400 FPS will drop less over that distance than a bolt traveling at 300 FPS. Basically, it flies straighter.

Accuracy isn’t all, though. Bolt speed also translates to the energy stored in the bolt itself, which we call kinetic energy. This is measured in foot-pounds of kinetic energy, or FPKE. For reference, a foot-pound is the amount of energy required to lift one pound one foot off the ground. Velocity is the most significant variable in the kinetic energy formula, so this is why, generally speaking, the higher the crossbow’s speed rating, the higher its kinetic energy. 

You want a lot of kinetic energy when hunting because more energy means the bolt will penetrate farther into your quarry. It will also penetrate more straightly and cleanly because the energy will help it pass through bone and tissue.

In fact, the penetrative power of bolt speed and the corresponding kinetic energy is what determines the game you can use a given crossbow for. Bigger animals are, well, bigger, so you need the bolt to penetrate more deeply into them. 

As a general rule, you want bolt speeds over 350 FPS and probably closer to 400 FPS for big game like elk, moose, and bear. Around 300 FPS is probably enough for medium game like deer and turkey, while even lower speeds can be enough for small game like rabbit and bobcat.

Draw Weight

Draw weight refers to the amount of force you have to use to cock the crossbow’s bowstring. For example, if a crossbow has a draw weight of 185 pounds, it takes the same amount of force to pull back the bowstring as it does to lift a 185-pound rock off the ground. 

That may seem like a lot, but it’s where a crossbow gets its power. All that force gets stored in the crossbow’s limbs, which you pulled back along with the bowstring. When you pull the trigger, the crossbow releases the bowstring, and the limbs spring forward, launching the bolt.

Of course, these high draw weights can be difficult even for the most muscular man to handle. As a result, you usually need some kind of aid. This could be as simple as a stirrup where you put your foot to hold down the crossbow and give you leverage while you pull the bowstring back. Or it could be a more advanced cocking device like a rope aid or crank.

One important thing to know regarding draw weight is your local and state laws. Many jurisdictions require a minimum draw weight for certain game. Since draw weight translates to power and speed, you need a certain draw weight to ensure you can make a lethal shot and not just painfully wound the animal.

ATA Width

ATA width basically means the distance between the ends of the limbs of your crossbow. Specifically, ATA stands for axle-to-axle and refers to the axles of the cams and the distance between them. Sometimes, though, you might see ATA also applied to recurve crossbows and just refers to the limb tips.

All else being equal, the wider the limbs of a crossbow, the more power it can generate. However, modern cam systems can decrease the ATA while still getting the same power and speed. 

As a result, for the same bolt speed and kinetic energy, it’s usually best to get a crossbow with as narrow an ATA width as possible. This is because wider crossbows are less maneuverable and harder to carry around. The limbs could get caught on something and make noise scaring off game or impairing your shot.

Crossbow Weight

The best crossbows tend to be lightweight. This isn’t just because a lightweight crossbow is easier to carry around, though that’s true too. It’s because it’s easier to hold steady, which improves your accuracy. 

Oftentimes when bowhunting, your quarry may come into view, causing you to raise your crossbow to prepare the shot. However, you still have to wait until the animal is oriented nearly perpendicular to your shot, giving you the best view of the kill zone. This could take a while, and you don’t want to move around and make noise in the meantime. You have to hold the crossbow to your eye the entire time you wait, and if you begin to waiver, your shot could go off course when you finally take it.

Power Stroke

The power stroke of a crossbow simply refers to the distance between the nock, where you put the rear end of the bolt, and the front tip of the crossbow rail. It’s another factor that affects speed and power. All other things being equal, a longer power stroke allows the bowstring to accelerate the bolt over a longer distance, thereby making it go faster and have more kinetic energy.

Trigger Systems

There are a wide range of trigger systems on the crossbow market. Most manufacturers have at least one if not several proprietary trigger systems they include with their crossbows. It’s hard to know exactly what kind of trigger you like before you try them hands-on, but generally, something with minimal creep is best so that you can pull it right when you want to.

As for trigger weight, it’s up to your personal tastes, but you want something that’s not too heavy but not too light. A trigger that’s too heavy will cause you to use too much force when pulling it, which could result in your jerking the crossbow and sending the bolt off course. On the other hand, a trigger that’s too light is too easy to pull. You might do it before you have your shot lined up.

Crossbow Manufacturers and Their Strengths/Weaknesses

crossbow on tree trunk

You’ll find there are many brands and manufacturers to choose from when searching for the best crossbow. There are a number of great brands that produce quality crossbow models. Here are some common manufacturers and their strengths and weaknesses.

PSE Archery

PSE Archery was founded in 1971 by Pete Shipley as Precision Shooting Equipment and produces a wide range of archery equipment from vertical bows to crossbows. They’re well-known for incredibly fast and technologically advanced vertical compound bows, but their crossbow line is less extensive. As a result, you can find less information on them and fewer interchangeable parts on the market. However, their unique designs and innovative features can give you an edge.

CenterPoint

CenterPoint has a huge range of crossbows in their line, giving you a lot to choose from. Overall, CenterPoint uses a very standard design that can be good for beginners to learn on, if not especially unique or innovative. Their main weakness is probably durability, which again means they’re great for beginners or intermediate archers who will probably move up to more deluxe models in the future, as well as casual bowhunters.

Barnett

Barnett Outdoors was started in the UK in 1962 by Bernard Barnett who enjoyed tinkering with crossbows in his garage. Operations moved from the UK to the US in 2003 due to the larger market and more efficient manufacturing processes.

Barnett exclusively makes crossbows and has repeatedly been the leader in new crossbow technology and innovation. For example, they manufactured the first crossbow to shoot over 300 FPS. They have many models, and support and replacement parts for them are widely available. 

In fact, the only major problem with Barnett bows is their overwhelming availability. It can sometimes be hard to know exactly which combination of features and specs to choose. That’s where our guide comes in handy.

Wicked Ridge

Wicked Ridge is a quality crossbow brand manufactured by TenPoint Crossbows. They are generally high-quality models featuring innovative tech like integrated cocking cranks and reverse draw cam systems. They are excellent choices for experienced archers who can handle power and learn new systems quickly, but they may be too much for beginners. 

Ravin

Ravin is owned by the same parent company as CenterPoint as is essentially their deluxe line of crossbows, all manufactured in the USA. There are only a few models, but all of them have the newest technology and feature blistering bolt speeds. To put it simply, they’re crossbows designed for expert bowhunters who plan to use their crossbows a lot and know exactly what they want. They’re probably too inaccessible for a novice archer.

Excalibur

Excalibur was founded in 1983 by Bill and Kath Troubridge, avid bowhunters themselves. In fact, the biggest draw of the Excalibur brand is its focus on hunting, which means features like quality camo finishes and silencing technology. Excalibur has also been an innovator in the market with things like their new twin shot crossbow that can fire two bolts without needing to reload. 

Most Excalibur models are high-end and designed for frequent bowhunters. There are a few intermediate models, but all of them are designed for someone who’s going to be in the woods a lot. A more casual hunter probably doesn’t need their extensive features and may get overwhelmed.

How to Choose the Right Crossbow for Your Needs

Choosing the best crossbow for hunting doesn’t just mean getting the flashiest or fastest model on the market. It means getting something that suits your particular needs. You have to consider exactly what you need the crossbow for.

Game

Of course, the size of the game you’re hunting is one of the biggest factors to consider. As we discussed, this will determine how fast and powerful your crossbow needs to be.

The kind of animal makes a difference too, though. For example, turkey and deer are both mid-sized game, but they’re active at different times. Deer are active at dawn and dusk, so an illuminated scope, for instance, is a great feature to have. For turkey, it’s not as important.

Location

You also need to consider where you’ll be hunting. For one thing, this will determine which camo finishes are best. A heavy green camo won’t be great in a snowy mountain environment, for example.

More importantly, you need to think about how thick the brush is and how extreme the environment is. Rougher terrain means you need a more maneuverable crossbow to keep from making noise. Plus, you may want a more durable model to withstand bad weather.

Experience Level

Maybe the most significant factor to keep in mind is your experience level. A beginner needs a different crossbow than an expert archer. That’s why our guide includes two beginner options, two intermediate, and two experts, with a youth crossbow as well. 

Beginners want something standard that they can learn on. They also don’t need more power than they can handle. Experts, on the other hand, need innovative features to give them an edge.

Crossbow Accessories: Items You May Need

Cocking Aids

Cocking aids are the accessories that help you draw back your crossbow’s bowstring. Considering the high draw weights of crossbows, sometimes over 300 pounds, cocking your crossbow can often be impossible without an aid.

At the very least, you probably need a cocking stirrup. This is a foothold attached to the front of the crossbow. You stick your foot in it and use your bodyweight to hold down the crossbow and give you leverage while you pull the bowstring back. More deluxe crossbow models integrate this into the crossbow itself with something called a step-through riser. Basically, there’s just a hole in the crossbow’s design where you can put your foot.

A more advanced option is a rope cocking aid. This is a rope with handles that you wrap around the bowstring and use in conjunction with the stirrup to draw the bowstring. These are very useful and usually decrease the draw weight you actually have to draw by about 50%.

A final option is the crank. Using a rotating lever, you can draw the bowstring slowly but with little effort. Some high-end models even have a crank integrated into the crossbow itself, making cocking that much simpler.

Scope

A scope can greatly improve your accuracy with a crossbow. Most modern scopes have multiple reticles, which mean they have crosshairs or lines for various distances. Since a bolt drops closer to the Earth the farther it travels, you have to angle the crossbow up slightly to hit a target farther away. Consequently, good scope have reticles each lower than the last for farther distances.

Deluxe crossbows may even come with an illuminated scope. Illuminated scopes light up the reticles so you can still see them even in dim light. Since many game animals like deer are most active at dawn or dusk, this allows you to still shoot accurately at these critical hunting hours.

If you’re getting your own scope instead of using the one included by the manufacturer (if they included one), make sure its reticles are designed for your bolt speed. A faster bolt will drop less and vice versa, so the reticles will be off if they don’t match. Some scopes are even adjustable for different bolt speeds, but regardless of the scope model, you will still have to zero it in on a shooting range to make sure it’s accurate.

Noise Suppression

Most game animals have great hearing, and crossbows can, unfortunately, be loud, especially when they make a shot. It’s unlikely that a quarry will be able to get out of the way when they hear your shot, but that’s not the biggest concern. The problem is that a loud shot may scare game away from the area for the rest of the day, or even longer. This could ruin a good hunting spot. Plus, if you miss your first shot, you’re unlikely to see game for the rest of the day.

The best crossbows solve this problem with noise suppressing accessories. For example, a string silencer catches and cushions the bowstring after you fire the crossbow, preventing it from vibrating back and forth and causing too much noise. Similarly, limb dampeners absorb vibrations in the crossbow itself, keeping noise to a minimum. 

Stocks and Cheek Pieces

The stock is the rear part of the crossbow. Its purpose is to rest against your shoulder and provide stability when shooting. While the most basic stocks are just extra pieces of material, more advanced crossbow models may have unique stock features. Skeleton stocks, for instance, are merely loops, empty in the middle. Thanks to tough composite construction, these provide the same stability without using unnecessary material that could increase weight.

Some crossbows even have adjustable stocks. These let you increase or decrease the length of the stock for maximum comfort and stability. If you have longer or shorter arms, you can hold the crossbow with more stability once it’s adjusted for your frame. 

A cheek piece is an accessory that attaches to the stock. It’s a place you can rest your cheek when looking through the scope or iron sights, keeping your head and therefore eye steady. This helps your aim. Cheek pieces are especially useful for skeleton stocks, which otherwise might not be comfortable against your face. 

Bowstring and Rail Lube

Maintenance is important for any machine, and crossbows are no exception. One of the most basic things you need to do is lube the rail and bowstring. The primary reason for this is that the bowstring rubs against the rail when you cock and fire the crossbow. This can quickly wear down the string and cause it to fray, and then you have to replace it. Lubing the rail and bowstring reduces friction and increases the bowstring’s life. 

As an added bonus, lubrication can also increase speed and accuracy. With less friction, the bowstring loses less energy rubbing against the rail and can therefore accelerate the bolt more. Plus, it glides more smoothly, so the bolt waivers less, causing it to fly straighter.

Quiver

A quiver holds your bolts. Most modern crossbow quivers attach to the crossbow itself and have clips for a specific number of bolts, usually three to five. When attached to the crossbow, quivers may either be parallel to the rail or perpendicular. 

Perpendicular quivers are more balanced and so affect your aim a lot less. However, they jut out from each side of the crossbow and therefore decrease maneuverability. As a result, they’re better for beginners whose primary concern is learning accuracy.

Parallel quivers, on the other hand, may be better for experienced bowhunters. These archers are more likely to use extremely narrow crossbows, and they don’t want to defeat the purpose of that small ATA width with a long quiver. They’re more likely to be hunting in thick brush, and a parallel quiver will be less likely to rustle around.

Of course, one thing to be wary of is added weight. Like we talked about before, a heavy crossbow is harder to hold steady, so you don’t want your quiver to weigh it down. Try to get the lightest you can. 

Bolts

Many manufacturers include bolts with their crossbows, but there are few things to keep in mind. 

First, pay attention to the length. You’ll likely need to get more bolts in the future, but they need to be the right length for your crossbow model. Most crossbows are rated for 18-, 20-, or 22-inch bolts. 

Additionally, most included bolts come with field tips, which are just for target practice. You’ll have to get your own hunting broadheads. Rarely, the manufacturer may include broadheads with their bolts.

Crossbow FAQs:

Do women need to use different crossbow models?

Crossbows have incredibly high draw weights compared to vertical bows, sometimes over 300 pounds. For women who may have less upper body strength, this can be intimidating.

In reality, though, a woman can use all the same crossbows as a man. Both men and women usually have to use devices like rope cocking aids and cranks to handle the high draw weights, so even the most powerful crossbow is still accessible.

That said, a woman who’s worried about it can look for a crossbow model with a lower draw weight. Many of these still produce high bolt speeds fast enough for serious bowhunting. If you need help, we have a specific guide covering these crossbows.

When and where can I legally hunt with a crossbow?

Crossbow regulations vary widely by state and are even totally illegal in some states like Oregon. In most states, you can use them during archery season, though there are usually minimum draw weight requirements you should. Less commonly, they are only legal during firearm season or have their own specific season. 

What game can I hunt with a crossbow?

Crossbows are capable of taking down any game, from the smallest squirrel to the biggest moose. Of course, for big game, you need to make sure your crossbow is powerful enough.

For really big game like grizzly bear and buffalo, you need kinetic energy around 80 foot pounds. Kinetic energy depends on both your bolt speed and weight as well as the distance of the quarry, but usually it means bolt speeds of 350 FPS or more.

Medium game like whitetail deer needs kinetic energy of about 40 foot pounds, or bolt speed of at least 250 FPS, ideally closer to 300 FPS. 

Meanwhile, you can hunt small game with kinetic energy as low as 25 foot pounds, meaning bolt speeds around 200 FPS, which includes many pistol crossbows. Just make sure the crossbow meets legal draw weight requirements.

How long can I keep my crossbow cocked?

As a general rule, you can keep your crossbow cocked for the length of your hunt. (Although, if you’re on a multi-day hunt, you should uncock it at night when you’re resting and not actively hunting.) You should not, however, walk or maneuver with your crossbow cocked. Only cock it when you’re in position to shoot. 

You can also check your specific crossbow model’s manufacturer’s guide to see if there is a specific maximum time you can leave your crossbow cocked.

How do I sight in my crossbow?

“Sighting in” or “zeroing in” your crossbow means aligning the main reticle of your scope so that your bolt lands where the reticle indicates. You should do this on a crossbow range where you can shoot with stability and consistency.

Shoot a grouping of bolts, usually two or three. Then go to the target and measure how far off the bolts are from where you were aiming. You will then need to adjust the scope in the opposite direction. For example, if the shots are low, you’ll have to adjust the scope up, causing you to raise the crossbow higher when you aim.

Many modern scopes have adjustment knobs which “click.” This makes adjusting much easier because a click corresponds to a specific measurement, 1/20 of an inch for instance. This way, if your bolts are landing an inch low, you can adjust the scope 20 clicks up.