As many states loosen their regulations on crossbows it’s helping many hunters extend their hunting season. As with any change there is a great deal of misinformation being shot about. Recurve bows verses compound, bolt speed verses energy, plastic components verses metal, the list goes on and on.
What is the truth about crossbows? The hunting crossbows sold today are more than powerful enough to take deer, black bear, moose, or elk. There are crossbows that develop higher velocity and more kinetic energy than others but all of them can take any North American game with no problem. So how do you decide what crossbow is right for you?
I personally have owned three crossbows. One of the crossbows, made by a well-known company, cost me the buck of a lifetime in the 180-class. While the unit was only a year old the limbs had developed unseen cracks which caused the bolt to cant when fired, dumping energy. While losing the trophy buck was bad enough, I also realized I had been putting my cheek against a ticking fiberglass time bomb every time I shouldered the crossbow. Even worse, the company that made it went out of business just months before. Lesson learned.
While all crossbows do the same job and look almost identical, they can have radical differences that can make them easier, safer, and more accurate to use due to materials and manufacturing standards. Let’s face it. Crossbows are an old technology and anyone, including overseas sweatshops can make a presentable model. But, the key to accuracy is consistency, meaning if each step is done the same way each and every time, the bolt should go to the same location each and every time.
Here’s the problem: substandard materials, poor designs, or cheap manufacturing methods will result in low consistency, period. Poor quality crossbow components will torque, flex, and bend in ways they’re not supposed to.
The prices of crossbows vary from a few hundred dollars to almost two-thousand dollars. What makes the difference in price? Some companies use components made overseas and others in the USA. Even with those crossbows made in the USA, the price can vary due to differences in materials. Some models use molded and cheaper composite components while others make extensive use of machined alloys which adds greatly to the cost. High-end crossbows use aircraft-grade alloy components machined to exact tolerances because they react as expected, each and every shot. It is true; you get what you pay for.
Crossbows come in two types, recurve and compound.
Recurve crossbows are very simple, reliable, and easy to maintain. In most cases they can even withstand the occasional dry-fire without destroying itself like a compound will. The two drawbacks of a recurve crossbow are limb length and cocking. Recurve limbs are generally longer than compound limbs making them even more cumbersome in a blind, tree stand, or traveling through heavy brush.
Recurve crossbows don’t have a let-off point like compounds do. In fact recurve crossbows get harder to pull the farther you pull the string back. Even using the common pulley-type cocking aid, a 180-pound recurve will still be like drawing a 90-pound recurve bow! Compound crossbows, like compound vertical bows use pulleys, cams, and shorter limbs to develop energy. They also have a let-off point that as the string is drawn back, it becomes easier to pull. This is a great benefit to small-framed hunters or those of us that have shoulders, elbows, or wrists that don’t work as well as they used to, whether we want to admit it or not.
Depending on design and materials used, crossbows can have varied draw weights, different limb lengths, and various power strokes, all of which affect the velocity of the arrow. As with vertical bows, the longer the power stroke and the higher the poundage, the more kinetic energy it develops. However, it is a myth that crossbows are more powerful than vertical bows.
While crossbow draw-weights are 150-pounds and higher, the power stroke, or distance that the bow string travels is almost half that of a vertical bow. In a side-by-side comparison an average 150-pound crossbow produces about the same kinetic energy and arrow velocity as an average 70-pound vertical compound bow. When comparing crossbows with identical draw weights, a longer power stroke means more arrow velocity and kinetic energy. However, don’t choose a crossbow on speed and energy alone.
Proper fit is one of the keys to accuracy. Check the pull, the distance from the trigger to the butt of the stock. Does it feel right? Make sure the grip is comfortable to hold and the weight of the bow is manageable. Many consider a heavier crossbow more stable but they can be cumbersome to hold on target because most of the weight is away from the shooter. The most important step is to physically handle and shoot as many different models as you can.
Of most importance are the safety features. Since dry firing can destroy a bow, an anti-dry fire safety is a must. Good crossbows won’t allow the unit to be fired unless a bolt is fully seated on the barrel. Another concern is accidently gripping the stock in a manner that places the shooter’s thumb or fingers into the string path. A crossbow string can literally rip the skin right off a misplaced shooter’s hand. New crossbows have grips designed to keep digits well away from the path of the bow string.
The bottom line is to choose a bow that is safe to use, comfortable to carry in the woods, and shoots accurately.
I ponied up the cash and bought a quality crossbow. Why? Three words: Quality, fit, function. It is also smaller and lighter than my old crossbow which means a lot to my shoulder as I carry it around the woods. As for function, I don’t dare shoot more than one bolt at the target for fear of destroying the previous bolt. ‘Nuff said.
It basically comes down to this: Confidence and comfort are everything when hunting; confidence in your gear and shooting skills, and comfort so that you’re consistent shot after shot. Speed, energy, bells, and whistles beyond that are strictly to add to your confidence level. The keys to success in the field is finding a crossbow you enjoy shooting and practice, practice, practice.