A crossbow is a bow mounted onto a stock (known as the tiller). The bow-part on the crossbow is referred to as a lath or prod. It’s origins date back to ancient China, where it was invented and later used in many wars across the world including Asia and Europe. Nowadays, the best crossbow is an extremely powerful device, far exceeding even the finest traditional bows in accuracy and power, as shown in our crossbow reviews.
Below is an interactive comparison chart to help you find the best crossbow on the market in 2014, which is even easier if you use our crossbow reviews. For each model we provide information about velocity (feet per second), draw weight (in pounds), power stroke (the distance the prod string needs to be drawn before it is cocked), the arrow length, and overall length and weight of the weapon. All of these crossbows have been proven to deliver exceptional value compared to other models, and they are the best for the money you will be spending. If you prefer, below this chart is a list of the best cross bows arranged by price range. For more reviews on crossbows, check out ArcheryChoice as well.
The list above contains our top 10 finest crossbows. If you would like to browse through other models though, here is a list of all crossbows made by the best manufacturers only.
We realize that sometimes you simply cannot afford the more expensive models, and that you might be looking for the top crossbow for the money that you currently have to spend. To help you make a decision, blow we provide a carefully-prepared list of the best models according to 5 different price ranges. Most of these are for adults, however there is no reason youngsters can’t enjoy the sport, under adult supervision of course. Make sure to read our crossbow reviews as well before making a purchase (a link to the reviews can be found in the chart above).
Best Below $200:
Arrow Precision Inferno Fury Crossbow Kit
This crossbow provides an enormous bang-for-your-buck factor. At a very modest price of $158, it has characteristics comparable to those of crossbows over $100 more expensive. The draw weight is a solid 175 lbs., which is enough to shatter the ribs of a deer from a distance of 20-30 yards; it’s also low enough of a draw weight that most adult beginners will be able to manually cock it by simply putting their foot through the stirrup, though you can get a rope or a crank to make the cocking procedure easier. While the velocity of 235 feet per second might not seem impressive compared to more expensive crossbows, it’s quite powerful and very accurate, providing for a great beginner hunting and target shooting experience. The Arrow Precision crossbow is perfect for anyone on a budget, comes with 4x 16″ aluminum arrows and a 3 red dot sight. It’s also light-weight and very comfortable to hold. Read our full Inferno Fury review.
Best in $200 – $300 Range:
Barnett Jackal Crossbow Package
A velocity of 315 feet per second, 150 lbs. draw weight, 12″ power stroke, and a package that contains a detachable quiver, red dot sight and bolts — all from Barnett, one of the most renowned crossbow manufacturer on the market, and all for $281. If you’re looking for a powerful crossbow at an affordable price, you just found it. Hunting down a deer or even an elk from a 40 yard distance is no problem whatsoever, and target shooting from well over 100 yards is possible, assuming your aim can handle it. The included sight is excellent and even rank beginners find that they’re capable of hitting targets with precision from the get-go. Be prepared to use solid and thick targets when practicing, as the Barnett Jackal is very powerful and it will likely shred any low quality targets to pieces very quickly. That’s a pro by the way, not a con. Read our full Barnett Jackal crossbow review.
Best in $300 – $400 Range:
Arrow Precision Inferno Wildfire II
A versatile crossbow that consistently tops the hot-sellers charts in all major online outdoors stores. Excellent for both beginners and advanced shooters, fast enough for pretty much all hunting purposes. This is likely the fastest shooting crossbow you can find in this price range on the market. The included scope (4×32, illuminated) is also top of the line – the type you’d expect to get with a much more expensive crossbow. Additionally, the package offered by Arrow Precision contains a huge number of accessories, including protective goggles, front / rear sight, and a sling. Finally, it comes with an exceptionally detailed assembly manual that many other crossbows would envy. One of the best values on the market overall. Make sure to read our full Arrow Precision Inferno Wildfire II review.
Best in $400 – $600 Range:
Excalibur Axiom SMF Crossbow Kit
It’s funny how the crossbows near the bottom of a price range are often better than the ones near the top of that price range. The Excalibur Axiom costs only $455, and it comes with a 305 feet per second bolt velocity and a respectable 175 draw weight on recurve limbs. These parameters, combined with a 14.5 inch power stroke and an ergonomic low-recoil design, make the Axiom a very powerful crossbow, created with the hunter in mind – it can take down literally any game found in the USA and Canada, including bear, moose and elk. If it’s close enough for you to hit it properly, the Axiom will kill it. Obviously it can be used for practice shooting as well, just like any of the best crossbows mentioned here. At a measly 6 pounds, this Excalibur is easy to carry around on long hunting trips. It also comes with a multiplex crossbow scope which provides excellent view of your target even in low-lighting conditions (before sunrise/ after sunset), and also comes with a rope cocking aid and 4 arrows + quiver. Read our full Excalibur Axiom SMF review.
Best in $600 – $700 Range:
Barnett Buck Commander Package
Definitely the best crossbow in this price range. The tiller was designed to accept 22″ arrows, which combined with 175 lbs. of force in the limbs and a 14″ power stroke result in a scary 365 feet per second velocity and make this weapon an absolute killer. You could shoot a buffalo from 40 yards away and the arrow would exit through the other side of its body. It comes with a very accurate, illuminated crossbow optical scope (red/green dot) that is comparable in quality to rifle scopes, and even includes a 5 year limited warranty from Barnett. The Buck Commander also has many safety features in place, including an Anti Dry Fire triggering system, which makes it impossible to release a cocked (latched) string if there is no arrow seated in the track (the groove within the stock which holds the arrow). Hunters will love this, and target shooters will enjoy its power so much that they’ll want to go hunting as well. Read our full Buck Commander crossbow review.
Best in $700 – $800 Range:
Excalibur Matrix 355 Package
For $899, the Excalibur Matrix 355 is an absolute monster. As the name suggests, it shoots arrows with a velocity of 355 FPS, and the draw weight is a huge 240 pounds. Obviously with this sort of draw weight you’d need to be very strong to cock it manually; luckily the package comes with a rope for cocking so any capable adult male will be able to draw it. Comes with the very durable Dyna-Flight 97 string, used in many of today’s highest quality compound bows. The grip, which features Excalibur’s “Ergo-grip” technology, feels and holds just like a regular rifle – it makes for a very stable crossbow and channels the recoil in a straight line so the tip of the weapon will not move up upon firing – something that is often a problem with other crossbows that feature a draw weight of more than 220 lbs. The Matrix 355 is a super-power, and it would be an over-kill to get it if you only want to do some practice shooting (although of course it will be perfectly suitable for that). This crossbow was designed to be as powerful, accurate and stable as possible, making it the choice for professional and amateur hunters. Read our full Matrix 355 review.
Best in $800 – $1 000 Range:
Barnett Ghost 410 Package
As of right now, this is in my opinion the best crossbow money can buy. It can shoot with up to 410 FPS speed (our chrono tests indicate 404-406 FPS to be the average when using the arrows supplied with the package). The Ghost 410 will produce well over 145 ft-lbs of kinetic energy, which means there’s virtually no animal you can’t take down and is twice the energy required to harvest a cape buffalo or grizzly bear. The design and the Carbonlite riser make it so exceptionally well-balanced and comfortable, that even a beginner can place accurate shots from as far as 70+ yards (2″ – 3″ arrow groups are normal at this range with the Ghost 410). It comes in a RTH (Ready To Hunt) package that includes everything you need to get into the field and start hunting immediately. Not to mention it’s so easy to assemble and that the foot stirrup is integrated with the riser. This is the finest x-bow money can buy, regardless of your level of experience and/or requirements. Read our full Barnett Ghost 410 review.
Best For Over $1000
TenPoint Vapor Crossbow
The finest crossbow on the market that I know of. Makes use of TenPoint’s parallel limb solution, reducing theaxle-to-axle dimensions of the Vapor and making it very easy to carry in the field and hence an excellent hunting crossbow. At 360 FPS (121 ft. lbs. of kinetic energy) there is no game in North America that you won’t be able to take down, assuming you’re a good shot of course. It’s also extremely lightweight (less than 7 lbs.). Includes the RangeMaster Pro scope – the best one I’ve used on a crossbow so far. Cables are of a very high quality and will last for a VERY long time before you’ll need to consider a replacement. The only real downside that I’ve found was that the package came with no carrying sling, which I think should be included with any hunting x-bow – but I’ll forgive TenPoint this oversight. Highly recommended for anyone who can afford it. Read our full review of the TenPoint Vapor for more.
Making Sense Of Our Crossbow Reviews
Clicking the “Our Review” link next to a crossbow in the comparison chart will take you to our expert review of that specific model. We make sure that each of our crossbow reviews is written by an experienced person, who personally owns and has used, on multiple occasions, the model in question. We feel that this is the only way we can deliver useful information, rather than simply repeating the same things that you’ve already read somewhere else over and over.
Each of our crossbow reviews is divided into the following sections:
This is a quick rundown of what we believe are the strongest attributes of the weapon in question. Keep in mind, however, that this list is not all-inclusive, and we recommend going through the entire review if you want to get the full picture.
These are the things our reviewer did not particularly like about the crossbow. Contrary to the “Pro’s” section, the Cons are actually all-inclusive, as we feel it’s important to quickly let everyone know what’s wrong with a certain crossbow without them having to read the entire review to find out.
Assembly & Package Contents Of The Crossbow
As the name suggests, this section includes a list of all the items that you’ll be getting from the manufacturer with your crossbow, and the list is based on what the reviewer actually found in the package when he bought it. This section also quickly goes over the steps required to assemble the crossbow and points out any possible difficulties that you might run into in the process.
Preparing To Shoot Your X-Bow
In this section we go over the steps that you need to take before actually firing your crossbow. Usually this will include waxing the string and of course cocking / latching the weapon, however in many cases there are certain caveats that you need to keep in mind, mostly related to safety and maintenance issues – we strongly suggest you read this section in each of our crossbow reviews.
Performance, Accuracy And Power
This section is usually broken down into two sub-sections: “Target shooting” and “Hunting.” Each sub-section goes over the performance of the crossbow in each respective category, with examples from the reviewers actual use of the model in question. This is where things like accuracy, power, comfort, and similar matters are discussed, with reference to real-life examples.
Arrows/Bolt For The Weapon
Here we give a quick review of the arrows that come with the crossbow by default. We provide their specifications so that you know to look for when purchasing extra arrows on your own. We also mention the type of heads that come with the arrows (typically field points), and also recommend some broad-heads that go well with these particular arrows.
The Best Scope / Sight To Use
We mention the specifications of the scope, how close to “zero” it comes right out of the box and how much work is required to sight it. Anything else we think is worthy of reviewing about the scope is also mentioned here.
How To Choose a Great Crossbow
Below are a few qualities that all of the best crossbows have in common. Use this guide when making a selection and please read it before you make your purchase.
The crossbow draw weight:
This refers to the how much force is required to cock your crossbow, and it’s determined by how rigid the limbs of the prod are. The higher the draw weight, the more difficult it is to draw the string, and the more deadly the arrow will be. A minimum to go for when buying a crossbow is 150 pounds; while “lighter” draw weights are just fine for target practice purposes, you will need the 150 lbs. or more if you plan to go hunting and if you want to make sure that your arrow actually kills your prey, and not just wounds it.
Keep in mind that if you are cocking the crossbow by hand (by putting your foot inside the stirrup at the top of the weapon, fixing it with your leg to the ground and pulling the string upwards until it is latched in position), you are basically dead-lifting a weight equal to the draw weight of the crossbow. To make this process much easier and to significantly reduce the amount of force required to draw your cross-bow, consider getting a rope or crank cocking device (more on these below).
Velocity of your weapon:
This is measured in feet-per-second, and determines the speed with which your arrow is going to travel over the first 20-30 yards (beyond this distance the velocity will start to diminish). You should go for a minimum of 200 FPS. Keep in mind that the actual velocity will be determined by the draw weight of the cross bow as well as the weight of the arrows you are using – so a heavier arrow will travel slower than a lighter arrow shot from the same crossbow. When velocity is listed for a certain model, the number will typically have been calculated using arrows of similar weight to the ones that are sold with the crossbow itself.
This is the distance a string will have to travel from its loose position until it reaches the latch and is cocked. Most crossbows will have a stroke between 10″ and 14″. While it is true that the higher the power stroke, the more powerful the arrow shot will be, there is no reason to obsess about this value and try to get the crossbow with the longest power stroke; what matters more is whether the stroke was adjusted properly based on the crossbow’s draw weight (which it always is in the best models).
This determines how much energy is transferred from the crossbow string to the arrow upon release, and it is directly related to two of the previously mentioned characteristics: the higher the draw weight and the longer the power stroke, the more energy will be transferred to the arrow and the more deadly it will become (and the faster it will fly, with less drop-down in trajectory). You could conduct mathematical calculations to determine what the energy of your crossbow is, however that would be a waste of time as there are other important factors to consider, such as how ergonomic the design of the weapon is, how well the arrow track is designed, how reliable the release mechanism is, etc. – all of these things will impact accuracy, which is very important – a powerful crossbow is useless if you cannot shoot it accurately and comfortably.
With that in mind, if you stick to the best crossbows only as listed on our website, and if you make sure that the draw weight is a minimum of 150 lbs., the velocity is a minimum of 200 FPS, and the power stroke is a minimum of 10″, you will get a powerful and accurate crossbow, suitable for both hunting and target practice.
What Type of Limbs Are Best on a Crossbow?
The limbs are the two parts attached to the riser, and it is at the tips of the limbs that the string is attached. Almost all quality crossbows have limbs made of either carbon, fiberglass, or a combination of these materials; they are light-weight and very durable, which is very important considering the physical stresses generated by today’s crossbows. If you see a crossbow with limbs made of aluminum or wood, better stay clear of it as they will likely break on you soon enough.
How Much Money Should You Pay For a Crossbow?
Price isn’t always an indicator of quality, however in the archery industry it is, unfortunately. You will be very hard-pressed to get a quality crossbow for less than $120; if it costs less, stay clear of it as the materials used will likely be low quality and using such a crossbow could be outright dangerous and hazardous. The Arrow Precision Inferno Fury mentioned previously is one of just a handful of crossbows that cost less than $200 and which are worth buying. All in all though, and if you aren’t really strapped for cash, we would recommend spending closer to $300 on your first crossbow; this will ensure you’ll get a weapon that will last you for many years, regardless of how your preferences might change and how your skills may evolve.
Cocking Your Crossbow
There are three primary ways to cock the modern crossbow.
The manual cocking way:
Most crossbows come with what is called a stirrup, and it is that semi-triangular hole located at the front of the crossbow. You place your foot inside the stirrup, press down with your leg and entire body weight to fix the weapon firmly to the ground, and then use your body weight to lift the string upwards into a cocked position. When cocking a crossbow using this method, make sure that you hold the string at equal distances on both the left and right side of the stock (basically your thumbs should be as close to the stock as possible). Otherwise, you might end up pulling the string unevenly (the left or right side might end up being drawn further than the other), resulting in both reduced shooting accuracy and over-time damage to your string, arrows, latch and/or arrow track.
As mentioned above, the manual way of cocking requires you to dead-lift a weight equal to the draw weight of your crossbow. This might be a problem for some: since you want to get a model with a minimum of 150 lbs. draw weight, ask yourself this: can you imagine yourself dead-lifting 150+ pounds each time you want to seat a new arrow for shooting? If not, then one of the following two cocking solutions will be more appropriate for you.
The rope cocking approach:
A cocking rope is the ideal solution for most as there is no need to install additional accessories on your crossbow, and the rope itself is very simple in construction and can be purchased for $15-$30. (Some crossbows, especially those with a draw weight of 175+ lbs., come with a cocking rope in the package.) When using a rope, you effectively cut the force required to draw the bowstring in half. In other words, to cock a 150 lbs. draw weight crossbow using a rope, you will only need to apply a force (dead-lift) equal to 75 lbs. As an added bonus, rope-cocking makes it much easier to draw the string evenly on both sides of the stock, which – as mentioned previously – improves shooting accuracy and extends the lifetime of your crossbow.
The crank cocking approach:
This is what you’d get if you had $100-150 to spare, and if you want to make the cocking procedure effortless. The crank mechanism is attached to the back of your crossbow and you simply turn the crank in order to draw the string. Using this approach will allow even a small kid to accurately draw a crossbow with even a 250 lbs. draw weight (though obviously kids should not be playing with this weapon in the first place). There are two distinct disadvantages to this method, however:
- The crank mechanism can be heavy, adding to the bulk of the crossbow.
- It is quite slow and it can take up to a minute to fully draw and latch a string.
With that said, if you want to pull a 200+ lbs. string with what feels like less than 10 lbs. of force, the crank method is an excellent choice.
Crossbow Sights / Scopes
There are two primary types of scopes you’ll be working with, and the best crossbow sets will always include one of the two. You should always sight your crossbow after you buy it.
Red-Dot Crossbow Scope:
The most basic and cheapest crossbow scopes, which can often be bought for less than $50. These come in two different varieties: the single dot red-dot scope, and the triple-dot red dot scope. As the names suggest, these differ in the number of dots you will see when looking through the scope. In a single-dot scope, you will be attempting to align that dot with your target, and you’ll need to adjust for distance based on your own experience and “feel.” In a triple dot scope, however, there will be three dots positioned vertically. You will align the top dot with targets at a 20 yard range, the middle dot for targets at a ~30 yard range, and the bottom dot for targets at a ~40 yard range. You will obviously need to get good at judging your distance from the target.
Optical Crossbow Scopes:
This type of crossbow scope is typically more expensive than the red dot scope, and can be bought for an average of $90 for a quality one, and go as high as $250 for the more advanced models. They are usually a little heavier, but come with a wide range of accessories. The optics included are very high quality, comparable to what is used in rifle scopes. The stronger models have a single-tube design, meaning there is a smaller chance of anything breaking. They allow for magnification, typically in the 1x to 5x range, and the vast majority are both water- and fog-proof as well. The best crossbow scopes often also include additional illuminated dots, making it far easier to hit a target in poorly-lit conditions, or even when it’s downright the middle of the night.
As is the case with red dot scopes, optical scopes come in two main varieties: single and multi-reticle; these reticles serve the exact same purpose as the dots in red dot scopes, as described above.
Compound vs. Recurve Crossbows
The main difference between recurve and compound crossbows lies in the limbs and the mechanism used to draw the string. Compounds use a system of so-called “cams,” which make drawing the crossbow easier than a recurve and they also store more energy, delivering somewhat more powerful shots (though not always).
While the average compound crossbow is likely to be a little more deadly than the average recurve, this advantage is somewhat off-set by a few factors:
- Compound crossbows are far more expensive than recurve models;
- Compound crossbows are heavier overall, and the front of a compound tends to be heavier than the back (due to the bulky cam system installed on the limbs), creating a tendency for the tip to droop a little while aiming – a fact for which you need to compensate.
- Compound crossbows are more complicated in design; there are many parts that can potentially malfunction, and the string-changing process is more complex than on a recurve crossbow.
Due to the above, we recommend that beginner crossbow-shooters should stick exclusively to recurve crossbows, at least until they acquire a thorough understanding of how the weapon works, and develop confidence in their skills to both use and service the crossbow.
Each crossbow comes with the manufacturer’s recommendation for the length of the arrows that should be used with it, and in most cases this will be 20 inches. Crossbow arrows are usually made of either aluminum or carbon. An arrow is comprised of a few basic parts:
- The shaft: this is the main, long part of the arrow.
- The nock: a small piece of either plastic or aluminum that is attached to the rear of the arrow shaft, and which comes in direct contact with the string when your crossbow is cocked. The nock can be either flat, meaning there is no groove for the string to go into, or it can be a half-moon nock, containing a groove which needs to be aligned horizontally with the string before each shot.
- The insert: this is a little round insert made from aluminum and/or brass, which is attached to the front of the arrow shaft.
- The head: this can be either a “broad head,” which has sharp edges and is designed for hunting. Or it can be a “field point,” which has no sharp edges and is designed mostly for target practice (though they can be used for hunting very small game as well). The broad head / field point is screwed into the insert at the front of the arrow shaft.
You will notice that crossbow arrows have different characteristics, for example the grain (weight) of the broad head. As a general rule, a beginner should not worry about these values at all – the most important thing for you is to learn how to properly handle and aim your weapon. Only once you have somewhat mastered that should you begin to concern yourself with in-depth specifications of the arrows you use. With that in mind, we recommend that you simply start by using the arrows included with the crossbow package that you will buy (and if you need more, just buy an extra set of exactly the same or very similar arrows). Once you’re more experienced, you can read our detailed guide on choosing crossbow arrows and broad-heads for advanced users.
From left to right: broad-head, field point, nocks (top: half-moon, bottom: flat)