Most crossbow packages come with a sight. No matter what the quality is, the first thing most people upgrade is the optic. Optics are great for crossbows because you can tailor the weapon to the job at hand even better than with iron sights.
If you’re in the market for a new crossbow optics, keep these few things in mind.
When you are shopping for an optic to top your new crossbow, start with your local regulations manual. Read carefully the rules for archery hunters, and then the rules for crossbow hunters. There’s a lot of overlapping rules in states that allow crossbows during archery season.
If electronic sights on vertical bows are banned during archery season, then an illuminated reticle or red dot sight on your crossbow will get you a nice fat ticket. The rules are usually clear, and if they aren’t shoot out an email to someone who can clarify. It’ll save you money and headache in the long run.
Point of Aim vs. Point of Impact
It’s important to remember right off the bat that crossbows aren’t rifles. The arrows they launch have the trajectory of a thrown rock and most scopes can only predict where the arrow will go at one specific distance and closer.
Think of an optic on a crossbow like a single pin archery sight. Out to a certain distance they work great, after that you have a world of problems.
Two Types of Crossbow Optics
Red Dot Sights
There’s a certain kind of beauty in simplicity. That’s the ruling thought for red dot sights. No magnification, no expensive ballistically calibrated reticles. Nothing but a clean, clear red dot ready to point the way to where your arrow will hit.
The final nice point of red dot sights, and why they’re so popular in the military is because no matter how you look through them, wherever the dot is the round will go. This is called parallax error.
It comes out when you see the crosshair of a traditional scope bend, or a black circle around the rim when you look through an optic. Red dots don’t get that and for shooting out of a treestand or while stalking it can be a life saver on an awkward shot.
Red dot sights, where legal, are often the ideal sight for crossbows because they offer a darn tough and simple aiming system that makes it hard to miss. Of course just like glass, you get what you pay for so if you’re looking to upgrade the sight that your package came with, this might be an area to spend a little cash.
Having a magnified optic on a crossbow seems like a great idea at first glance. Who couldn’t use a bigger looking target? It’s important to remember the rule of optics, magnification helps you see better, not shoot better.
You have to determine what you’re going to use the magnification for and how much you really need it. Crossbows just don’t shoot very far but having a little magnification can help with things like trophy identification, threading the needle through a brush or picking out the edges of game in thick brush.
Importance of Magnification?
If you’re older and still want to hunt, a magnified optic maybe a requirement. The appropriateness of a scope with magnification is very much a case by case bases but keep in mind that more is often not better here.
The absolute maximum range of a crossbow is about 75 yards. If you can’t hit an 8-inch circle, about the size of a deer’s vitals, at 75 yards I kindly recommend you spend more time at the range.
Ballistically calibrated scopes are the ones with reticle designs that predict the flight path of an arrow. Believe it or not, multi-pin sights on a vertical bow are ballistically calibrated. You have a pin for certain distances and each pin is for a different distance.
BDC reticles are exactly same, except you can’t adjust them so you can’t go outside the parameters that the scope was designed for or it’ll be off. If you get a BDC scope then make sure you memorize which crosshair goes with which range and practice, practice, practice.
The market for crossbow sights is much larger than it was even five years ago. The major optics houses are making scopes for crossbows that are purpose driven and have special feature sets that make them go well with crossbows.
If you can’t find a scope you like and you can’t have a red dot, consider a rimfire or muzzle loading scope. Get one without a BDC and mount it up on your bow and run it. Try to stay away from the cheap .22lr scopes because they brake easy and collect water inside. But a premium muzzle loading or rimfire scope can be a last resort.
Weight, Bulk & Balance
The bigger the scope, the heavier it’ll be. A big scope gathers light better, it is clearer to look through but has to be mounted higher and it can be difficult to get a cheek weld on the stock for proper shooting with a high mounted optic. Stick to a 1-inch tube no bigger than a 30 mm objective bell for optimal sizing.
The extra weight can be an asset though; crossbows are naturally front heavy because of the limbs. If you mount a scope low and to the rear, you can balance out the bow nicely and make it more comfortable to shoot off hand.
Finding the Right Scope for You
Sizing up a scope is much like sizing up a crossbow. The factors that have to be taken in consideration are the intended game, the shooter, and what ranges will the shooter encounter.
Of course, the bigger the game the more powerful the bow should be. This also means more weight and usually a greater challenge for the hunt. A scope that is lightweight and can be easily carried is suited here.
A younger, or new shooter will also benefit from having a lighter scope but a bare bones approach at first is ideal. Select a scope that will allow the shooter ample magnification without hard-to-read reticles or difficult electronics sights that they’ll get hung up in the moment.
Think about who is hunting and what is being hunted before committing to a scope. Try to get hands-on with as many scopes as possible before you buy. That brand you’ve never heard of might be your favorite after actually seeing it.
- If you have rifles, mimic the scopes you have on your guns to make it simpler.
- Have the features in mind — those you want and certainly don’t want. It’ll save you time in the long run.
- Look for scopes that offer warranties, support and rebates to help you in the future.
- Don’t be afraid to take advantage of the return policy if the scope isn’t the right fit.
- Shop around to get as many demonstrations and hands-on trials possible with different scopes.
- Learn to recognize the finer point and signs of quality on a scope. Things like finishes, detents and glass quality.
Try Before You Buy
Many outfitters and gear companies have display models that you can look at and test out before you buy. Some even have mock crossbows that you can shoulder and point at targets around the store. This is immensely helpful for several reasons.
Ordering online can give you a good idea of how big the scope is or how the adjustments work, but you can’t feel or test it first hand. The scope is the only interface you have with the crossbow and having a hands-on demonstration in a physical store is useful.
Seek out brands that you might not have considered during your online search. More than once I’ve seen people buy exactly what they never would’ve considered after seeing an actual model.
Best in the Market
Vortex Viper XBR 2.5-10×44 Crossbow Scope
If you want the best crossbow scope that your money can buy, then you need to take a look at the Vortex Viper XBR series of riflescopes. One of the best all-around is their 2.5-10×44 scope that is perfect for just about anything you can do with a crossbow.
The huge amount of magnification that you get paired with the gigantic objective lens means you can accurately shoot out to the very edge of shooting light, and the very edge of your effective range. That is perfect for western hunters who may be shooting out to as far as 50 yards.
The other great thing about it is the quality and warranty. Vortex is known for making innovation high quality equipment and supporting it through the end. Don’t be afraid to invest in this crossbow scope, you’ll be glad you did.
Best for the Money
Nikon Bolt XR 3x32mm Crossbow Riflescope
Nikon is known for some of the highest quality optical equipment in the world. They offer dozens of specialized models for a wide range of budget. This is one of their specialized crossbow scopes in the medium price range models.
Designed for shooting out to 60 yards, this scope has a fixed 3x power and 32mm objective bell. It is compact at only 8 inches long but is a little heavy weighing 11 ounces. This is a great scope that can be mounted on just about any crossbow for hunting. Another great thing is the level of quality that you get with the usable reticle and design.
I would recommend this scope to anyone who is getting started in crossbow hunting or anyone who needs a crossbow scope for general hunting. It is legal everywhere crossbows are, and does a great job of providing a usable tool at an affordable price. You could easily spend double on other brands but not see any real up-tick in usability.
Trijicon ACOG Crossbow Scope
Though not a rangefinder in the common laser sense, this crossbow sight has lots of features that make it one of the best on the market, and by far the best range finding scope.
For starters, it is one of the lightest scopes weighing 5.89 ounces. For a young shooter saving on weight, that is incredible. The unit doesn’t need a battery and runs off a fiber optic cable design that has served the military for over a decade.
How it Works
The rangefinder works by using a simple cross hatch pattern that allow you to line up the animal and then measure the distance much like using a ruler. Then you use the ballistically calibrated reticle to make sure the shot will be true and clean, and let your arrow fly.
It works for both elk and deer out to 80 yards, pretty much further than anyone should be shooting a crossbow anyway. The illuminated reticle can accommodate arrow speeds from 300 FPS to 340 FPS, encompassing most high end crossbows with a decent arrow weight.
If there is a downside, it is the permanently affixed M16 carry handle mount. I’m not sure why they chose to design it like this, but there are adapter mounts to put it on a picatinny rail or standard scope bases.
To Wrap Things Up
The good thing about having a crossbow is being able to archery hunt with an optic. If you’re looking to upgrade the one that came with your package, or you’re assembling your own set up take some time and really sort through which optic is best for what you’re doing.
The optic is the only part of the weapon you get to interact with and it gives you all the information you get about where your arrow is going. This is one of the factors that will win you a trophy at the end of the day.