Crossbow Arrow Ballistics

Below is a chart that was prepared as part of a test conducted by Excalibur Crossbow. They basically took four crossbows (200, 250, 300 and 350 FPS), and used them to shoot 20 inch 400 grain arrows from 5 distances: between 10 and 50 yards, in 10 yard increments. They then compiled a comparison chart to illustrate the results. You can find it below:

Crossbow Arrow Drop

Click to enlarge

As you can see, arrow drop becomes quite considerable when shooting from 40+ yards away, and it increases exponentially to a certain point. However, the drop in kinetic energy (measured in foot-pounds) is much less pronounced. As you can see, a 350 FPS crossbow will hit much harder at 50 yards, than a 300 FPS crossbow at 10 yards. The obvious implication here is, while the arrow trajectory does drop considerably past a certain point, the arrow still maintains enough kinetic energy to do serious damage at very long distances. (You may want to read our article on effective crossbow shooting range for more info.) Another thing that is obvious, but which is worth noting, is that the more powerful the crossbow (the higher the velocity), the smaller the arrow drop will be. Below is a screenshot demonstrating the difference across all four crossbows tested:

arrow drop compared

Click to enlarge

What Can You Learn From The Numbers Above?

Consider this: let’s assume the height of the average male crossbow shooter is 5 foot 10 inches, which translates to 70 inches. When shooting a crossbow, it will generally be located close to your neck. The average height of the human head is 10 inches, which means that for a 70 inch tall shooter, the crossbow will be located 60 inches above the ground when he’s lined up for the shot. Now, take another look at the arrow drop comparison chart above.

A 200 FPS crossbow will produce a 70+ inch arrow drop at a 50 yard distance. And since the crossbow is located 60 yards above the ground (in our example), this means that the arrow will dig in right into the ground well before it reaches the target, unless you plan to compensate for the drop by aiming your scope dot or reticle higher above the bulls-eye.  This makes a 200 FPS crossbow pretty much useless for any practical target practice beyond the 40 yard mark. And if you plan on shooting while sitting down, even 40 yard targets will be a burden; not to mention the poor kinetic energy of 29 foot-pounds at this distance, making it useless for any hunting.

What about a 250 FPS crossbow? Arrow drop is less considerable at the 50 yard distance, the kinetic energy is quite low in general, making it a good choice for target practice, but not so great for hunting unless you never take a shot from more than 20, maybe 25 yards away, and only if you hunt for small- and medium-sized game (turkey, whitetail, etc.).

A 300 FPS crossbow  is where the real fun stars. Arrow drop is small enough and kinetic energy is high enough to make it very accurate for target practice, and very powerful for taking down game from even 50 yards away. So if you want a crossbow that will serve you for many years, and which you won’t feel the need to replace after a few months once you become a better shot, make sure to get a crossbow with a velocity of 300 FPS or more.

Important Reminders & Takeaway

Please bare in mind that the numbers in the charts above apply only to the crossbows that were used by Excalibur during testing. Different crossbows with the exact same FPS might perform slightly different, depending on different factors such as string quality, limb materials, craftsmanship, environmental factors (wind, rain etc.); you can however expect this numbers to be extremely close regardless of the crossbow you get.

Also, remember that these tests were done with arrows weighing 400 grain (300 grain shaft and 100 grain points). When a heavier or lighter arrow is used, arrow velocity will change, and hence the numbers might also deviate.

The takeaway is that you should not waste your time buying a crossbow with less than 250 pounds, and if you want the flexibility to hunt for whatever game you want – a 300 or higher crossbow is much preferred. Take a moment to check our top 10 crossbows comparison chart, where we list the FPS for each model.

1 Comment

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  1. This info is very helpful. I have compared it to actual shooting situations and it is good enough for govt. work. As stated -each bolt,weight,& length do make a difference.

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