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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:

1)      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.

2)      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 our budget.

3)      Optics:  if 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 budget.

4)      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 your needs/preferences.

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 (stringer).

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 arrow)                              .

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 possible miss.

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 spaces.

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!

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