Last update: 28.04.2017. Added images and recommended resources.
Check out our full guide to hunting gear.
- 1 Outdoor Empire Recommendations
- 2 What Are Reverse Crossbows?
- 3 What to Look for When Buying a Crossbow
- 4 Things to Consider before Shopping
- 5 Extra Buying Tips!
- 6 Leading Brands
- 7 Final Thoughts
When you buy a crossbow, you have a certain expectation of what it’ll do. The ideal ones will carry well, shoot like lightning and be easy on the pocketbook. The hardest part of buying a good crossbow nowadays is choosing which model to get.
Outdoor Empire Recommendations
|Product|| || || || || || || ||
|Velocity||305 FPS||330 FPS||385 FPS||360 FPS||360 FPS||343 FPS||320 FPS||170 FPS|
|Draw Weight||200 lbs||150 lbs||165 lbs||165 lbs||175 lbs||280 lbs||155 lbs||80 lbs|
|Width (uncocked/cocked)||30.62” / 26.88”||20.1"||15.5" / 10"||17.5" / 12.6"||17.5" / 13.5"||25" / 21"||22.6" / 19"||17.33"|
|Weight||5.5 lbs||6.4 lbs||7.8 lbs||6.8 lbs||6.5 lbs||5.4 lbs||6.6 lbs||-|
Best for the Money
Excalibur Matrix Grizzly
Excalibur might as well say they make tanks that shoot arrows. If you buy one of their crossbows, it’s worth it because you’ll have it until you can’t hunt any longer. They are a premium brand and they command a premium price.
The Matrix Grizzly is a beloved model from Excalibur. It has all the features and quality of the Grizzly lineup but sheds unnecessary costs to bring out the value in the crossbow market.
It follows the designs of Excalibur of being light, fast and powerful but it makes some concessions to bring the price down. But they didn’t sacrifice on speed, it shoots at 305 FPS and 11.5″ power stroke.
It weighs an awesome 5.5 lbs, it’s slim and trim where it counts. There’s plenty of power for hunting just about anything that walks. And with its size and weight, there’s nowhere you can’t take it.
This is an ideal option for anyone who wants a good crossbow. Considering the price, it is a phenomenal deal.
- Draw Weight: 200 lbs
- Velocity: 305 FPS
- Weight: 5.5 lbs
- Length: 33.2″
Barnett Vicious Reverse Draw Crossbow
Barnett is one of the largest producers of crossbows in existence. They make different models and enjoy being one of the most common and oldest brands on the market.
The Vicious Reverse Draw Crossbow gives you the new reverse draw designs that save weight and balance better than older models.
One of its worth mentioning feature is the pass-through foregrip. This keeps you from putting your fingers where they might be severed and gives a comfortable grip.
The combination of a carbon riser and aluminum stock that goes into this bow makes it lighter and feel very balanced in the hand.
The only issue is its limbs and pocket where it does not draw evenly. Overall, it is a solid crossbow especially that its reverse draw design adds power in every shot while minimizing vibration and sound.
- Draw Weight: 150 lbs
- Velocity: 330 FPS
- Weight: 6.4 lbs
- Length: 31.7”
Best for Deer Hunting
TenPoint Carbon Nitro RDX Crossbow Package
The TenPoint Carbon Nitro RDX is made for the whitetail woods.
It throws an arrow at 385 FPS, making a super flat trajectory with a high energy. This makes it great for the whitetail woods because you can count on it to do just about anything you might need to when deer hunting.
This is also a great option for ground blinds but you have to be careful when the limbs spring open.
It’s unlike most other bows primarily because it has an outstanding 10-inch width profile and the feeling it has on the hand. Because the limbs and cams retract backwards, it makes the crossbow feel less front heavy than competing models.
This is nice to have when carrying it at a long distance.
The package comes with:
- an awesome crossbow-specific scope mounted to the bow
- six pack of bolts and 100 grain practice tips
- cocking mechanism
- 3 bolt quiver
Everything you need to shoot with is included in the package.
- Draw Weight: 165 lbs
- KE: 385 FPS/ 122 FP
- Velocity: 385 FPS
- Weight: 7.8 lbs
- Length: 34.25”
Best on the Market
TenPoint Vapor Crossbow Package – Full Review
This is one of the recommended crossbows of all time and one of the icons of the TenPoint lineup.
The Vapor is a bit on the long side but it is a joy to shoot and hunt with because of the lightweight 165 lbs draw that makes cocking easy. But you still enjoy having the long range ballistics of a bow that shoots at 360 FPS.
The pull weight is only 165 lbs but it generates a stout 360 FPS arrow speed. It gets this by having an unusually long 15.5-inch power stroke. The downside to this is that it makes a long bow that wants to drag downward while you shoot off-hand due to a very far forward balance.
One of the nicest things is the extensive list of accessories that come with the packaged deal. It comes with:
- cocking mechanism
- starter set of arrows
- target point tips
- sound deadening kit
- carrying case that’s useful on the field
- Draw Weight: 165 lbs
- KE: 360 FPS/ 121 FPS
- Velocity: 360 FPS
- Weight: 6.8 lbs
- Length: 37.4”
TenPoint Turbo GT Crossbow Package
Want a top of the line crossbow? This may be one of your options. It is an award winning crossbow named Beat of the Test by Outdoor Life magazine. This is certainly a huge title knowing the work that goes into Outdoor Life’s testing every year.
TenPoint got it right when they put this bow together. Not only is it my personal favorite and the bow I use when I go hunting, but it is also a runaway success because of two main reasons: comfort and performance.
The stock design of the Turbo GT feels more like a rifle than a crossbow, even the overwhelming feel you get from using it. The whole bow feels great when carrying it, shooting it and hunting with it. Nothing feels uncomfortable or cheap, plus the fit and finish are fantastic.
The performance is great because it’s nice and short, but it has plenty of power for hunting medium game. The 175 lbs draw weight is much easier to cock than beefier bows but offer no substantial difference in killing power.
The package includes:
- quality scope
- cocking mechanism to crank this thing into action
- quiver for holding your bolts
- 3 new bolts with practice tips for sighting in and practice
This is for the guy who wants to buy it once and pass it down a generation or two.
- Draw Weight: 175 lbs
- KE: 360 FPS / 107 FP
- Velocity: 360 FPS
- Weight: 6.5 lbs
- Length: 35”
Excalibur Micro Suppressor
In a throwback to the old ways, one of the awesome crossbows in the world is a recurve. The Excalibur Micro Suppressor is high-end powerful and ultra-quiet that comes with literally every bell and whistle you can get on a crossbow.
For starters, it has a whopping 280 lbs of draw weight and a scant 5.4 lbs on the hand. It is seriously tiny. The power stroke is 10.2 inches and the whole bow is only 31 inches long. If you need something that puts out serious power in a very small package, this is for you.
It is designed around a system called R.A.V.S. (Recoil Anti-Vibration System). It’s a system of strategically placed deadening material and intelligent design that works extremely well. This is the quietest crossbow out of the box.
For the western hunter chasing elk through the high country, this is the one for you. It performs well in the swamps of Florida on hogs and just about anywhere you need a lightweight powerful and silent crossbow.
- Draw Weight: 280 lbs
- Velocity: 343 FPS
- Weight: 5.4 lbs
- Length: 31”
Best Under $500
TenPoint Wicked Ridge Warrior G3 Package – Full Review
This is an awesome deal for little money. It is for a beginning crossbow hunter who plans on using their bow to extend their season but not necessarily use only a crossbow.
The Wicked Ridge Warrior G3 is also for a youth hunter because of its lightweight and how slim it is. There’s plenty of crossbows on the market just too big for a youth hunter’s hands and this is a great example of something that is sized just right.
Though it is a budget model, they didn’t skimp on including usable accessories. It comes with everything you need to unpack the box and go shooting. The stock feels like a traditional rifle stock but has been relived wherever possible to get rid of weight.
The package includes:
- 3 bolts
It features a Mossy Oak Country pattern that blends well. It is on the lighter side at just 37.75” in length and weighs 6.6 lbs.
- Draw Weight: 155 lbs
- KE: 320 FPS/ 96 FP
- Velocity: 320 FPS
- Weight: 6.6 lbs
- Length: 37.75″
PSE Zombie Defense Pistol Crossbow Package
More of a novelty and a possible small game weapon, it is just a plain fun item. There’s a lot of junk on the market but PSE manufactures interesting hunting bows.
It’s humorously called the PSE Zombie Defense Pistol Crossbow and it is really fun to shoot. It’s pretty large as far as handguns go but not unwieldy. It includes a mount for a red dot sight and a flashlight for fighting off the zombie hordes in low light.
The fiberglass recurve limbs have a draw weight of 80 lbs and despite the utra-short 2.5-inch power stroke, it throws a dart at an impressive 170 FPS. Shooting the crossbow pistol is easy with the red dot sight.
It comes with:
- LED flashlight
- red dot sight
- extra darts
It is mostly a gag but a ton of fun and is well built. The recurve limbs are made of a thick pressed fiberglass which work well with the pistol grip and stabilizer.
- Draw Weight: 80 lbs
- Velocity: 170 FPS
- Length: 19.5”
What to Look for When Buying a Crossbow
Recurve Vs Compound
The differences between a recurve and compound crossbow is a design issue, and no longer a performance problem. Both are available in all power levels and budgets. As you narrow down your options, you’ll start to see the lines between styles blur.
Recurve crossbows can be built smaller, lighter and cheaper but need more draw weight to push an arrow as fast as a compound bow. Don’t discount recurve bows. They’re making leaps and bounds, closing the gap that compound crossbows once held.
- Simpler design means less parts to break and less maintenance
- You can change the bow string without a bow press
- Less cost
- Lighter weight
- Cocking mechanisms can be hard to mount
- The draw weight has to be heavier for an equal performance with a compound crossbow
As a general rule, compound crossbows are slightly quieter, heavier and more expensive. They also have a better performance at any given draw weight.
- Faster arrow speed at any given draw weight
- Quieter operation
- Reverse draw crossbows aren’t as front heavy
- You need a bow press to do maintenance on the limbs or string
- More expensive
- Compound bows are heavier
- More complex operation
Power vs. Draw Weight
The relationship between the power of a bow and the draw weight doesn’t correlate exactly.
Crossbows have much heavier draw weights to balance out the fact that they have a much shorter draw length. That short draw length means the bow needs very hard cams or dramatically curved limbs to store the energy that these bows can generate in such a small package.
The power of the bow is determined by the energy created and depends on the speed that the arrow flies. The draw weight of a bow doesn’t determine how powerful it is.
This means that it is more capable of launching an arrow faster. But a heavy arrow that is flying slower is just as powerful as a lighter arrow flying faster.
When buying your crossbow, make sure you can comfortably cock the bow and shoot the heaviest arrow you can before the trajectory starts to get too curved.
The speed that a bow shoots at is important for two reasons.
- The faster a bow can shoot an arrow of any given weight, the more penetration it impacts on the game animal.
- The faster an arrow flies, the flatter the trajectory will be — the easier it will be able to hit at the edges of the effective range.
It’s important not to get bent around the axle about speed because of how viable it is.
Whenever you use an arrow that is heavier than what they used for testing, you’ll most likely get a slower speed. Heavier arrows penetrate more. With a crossbow, you can use a scope and predicting your shots is much easier than with a vertical bow.
Pick a sufficiently fast one that has the features you want. Don’t sacrifice comfort, budget or any other factors that are important to you because you want a slightly faster bow. Also remember to get the suitable broadhead to maximize your gear’s performance.
The sound that a bow makes when it goes off is extremely important.
The reason being is that the fastest bows are still only 1/3 the speed of sound. By the time the bolt reaches your quarry, the animal already had time to hear your shot and flinch. That flinch can mean the difference between a good shot and a crippling wound.
Some crossbows are quieter than others by design. As a rule, compound bows are quieter than recurve because they have a smoother operation and less vibration after the shot. The two main sources of sound are going to be from the limbs and the string.
Adding aftermarket accessories to absorb the vibrations of both are going to make every bow quieter and should defiantly be used whenever possible.
Overall Weight & Size
The greatest bow in the world is useless if it’s too heavy to carry around. It’s always better to have one you can shoot the wings off a fly with, than a stronger crossbow you can’t even cock.
For some guys just heading a few hundred yards into the tree stand, it’s not a problem. But for those who plan on spot and stalking big game out west then it may be more important to have a small and lightweight bow.
Its overall weight and size will change if you add in your quiver, a cocking device, optics and a sling. It can make it heavier than just the bare bones weapon that the manufacturer advertises.
If you’re hunting out of a ground blind, try and get the smallest crossbow possible because if the limb contacts a cross member of the blind, it’ll ruin the shot. The limbs will also expand outward when you shoot so leave plenty of room when you shoot and maneuver it.
Things to Consider before Shopping
If we could, everyone would drive a Ferrari but there’s a few reasons why not everyone does.
Crossbows are the same way, there’s a variety of choices, compromises and reasons that go into finding one you shoot well and will enjoy hunting with. These external factors mean just as much as the actual bow.
Determine a Budget
Crossbows, just like everything else, have different pricing brackets that they typically fall into. Besides the oddball sale, returned item or any other stroke of good luck, there’s a few main price points you can look for.
These are where the diamonds in the rough hang around.
Almost all crossbow companies have models in this price range. These are the beginner crossbows, youth crossbows or just a value bow meant for the lower pricing tier. These are generally the cheapest that you can find without severely compromising on quality.
- Look for sales, coupons and packaged deals
- Make sure any packaged deals have quality components that you can depend on
- Make decisions on what you realistically need from your bow and be willing to make a few compromises
This is the vast majority crossbows on the market and if you have this amount to spend, you can pick up a really good package that will serve you really well. This is where you start to get into very high-end crossbows that do most things well.
It’s still generally a good idea to pick a good package to save money unless you have a specific optic or bolt in mind.
- Try and get the bow on hand before you buy. There’s huge amounts of variance in quality and feel in this price range
- Know what features are most important before you buy
- Shop around a lot of major retailers, compete for prices in this price range
For the people who want it all, this is where the upper echelon of crossbows hangout. If you hunt exclusively with a crossbow, this is your domain. You can literally have anything you want in a bow if you have this budget.
- At this point, upgrading optics and bolts can offer more performance than a new one
- Be wary of marketing and worthless “hot & new” features
- Get a warranty
Not every penny you pay for your crossbow goes to making a better one. Brands charge more because they’re doing business and great values can also be from off brands that don’t cost as much money.
Younger hunters, smaller statured men and women may need a bow with a shorter length of pull and lighter pull weight. Stock designs for shorter necks, shorter arms and smaller hands are important for accuracy and the only option is to use a youth model.
Draw Weights for Youngsters & Seniors
The hardest part of crossbow hunting is cocking the bow. This can be easily overcome by cocking mechanisms, rope cockers or a willing friend. You should always use a rope cocking device and use good technique when cocking to make it easier.
A powerful bow doesn’t always mean a more effective bow. If you need to drop the poundage, then do so. Finally, remember that you’ll fire only a few shots while hunting. But during practice, you’ll fire many shots and it may be a problem after a while.
|Hunter||Recommended Draw Weight|
|Female & New Hunters||160-200|
Crossbows have rifle stocks but they’re still closer to bows than they are with rifles and their ranges don’t extend very far beyond regular archery ranges.
With a modern crossbow and high quality optic, it’s possible for a hunter to be able to hit with a crossbow far beyond its maximum effective range.
There’s obviously a whole range of factors that go into making a clean hunting shot but assuming a stable rest and good slightly quartering away shot, most bows will be able to launch an arrow about 50 yards at the absolute maximum.
The reason why the effective hunting ranges are only 50 yards is because the further you shoot, the harder it becomes to call the wind, compensate for drop and for the game animal jumping the string.
Most bows will have a relatively flat trajectory out to 50 yards and have plenty of energy to get a double pass through shot. Most bow that shoots at least 300 FPS will be good to shoot 50 yards but I urge all hunters to never make an archery shot on game past 40 yards.
Faster bows that shoot around 330 FPS and up can regularly do 50 yards even out to 60, but only if the hunter is experienced and skilled for the task.
The hardest part of knowing the effective range of the bow is knowing the effective range of the hunter. Make your own call as to how far you’re willing to shoot, how far you need to shoot and your experience with nailing game at a distance.
Extra Buying Tips!
Crossbows are becoming legal for hunting in many states but with a few caveats.
Some states allow them only for disabled hunters, others only during gun season. Most states allow them for archery season on private land but ban them during archery on public ground. Be sure you know when you can use your bow before you buy it.
Also keep an eye on what is allowed on your bow. If your state bans electronic sights on archery tackle, then a red dot sight may get you a game violation. Keep that in mind when buying a package deal, not everything in the box may be legal.
When you buy a crossbow, many are available with a packaged deal that includes a sight, cocker, quiver and other accessories like a sling or a case.
When you buy the packages, you can save some money on gear. And when you get started it can set you up with everything you need.
When you evaluate a package, decide if you need everything that is inside it.
If you already have and plan on reusing gear that comes with the deal then it may be a waste. But if you plan on upgrading the contents, it’s probably cheaper to just steer clear and buy everything individually.
Expect to save around 10-20% of the price of individually bought components if you buy by the package. However, you can pick and choose which bolts, optic, and other accessories you get if you buy things separately.
If you decide to buy separately then make sure to check out our guides for:
Just like most industries, specific brands get their name from the niche of the market they serve. Different brands offer crossbows with specific features, each has models that are geared towards beginners and seasoned shooters but they have radically different styles.
This is the Cadillac brand of crossbows. They are the original premium line up of crossbows. They have historically been one of the most expensive brands available as a major brand and they make a very good product.
They have compound and reverse compound crossbows with dramatically long draw lengths.
If you plan on hunting an elephant or elk with a crossbow from extended ranges, this is your brand. Their bows are very comfortable to shoot because of their weight and size but they can be a pain to drag through heavy brush.
Their newer models, including the Wicked Ridge, have come down in price but their low-end models still cost more than other crossbows with the same features.
Quality is the reason to buy a TenPoint. No one beats their quality design or materials. They’re so well put together and durable, the price is justified because you’ll likely never need another one.
TenPoint makes a bunch of models for everyone who wants a crossbow. They even have a pink camouflage model made for women and girls who are embracing crossbow hunting.
The biggest concern with TenPoint crossbows is their size, they have large cams, long draw lengths and bulky rails. If you hunt from a tree stand or in an open area, this isn’t a problem. But if you hunt from a ground blind, this may be a big problem with maneuvering and shooting.
If you want a premium crossbow and a brand name that brings a level of quality to a field without many authorities on what a premium product should be, TenPoint is the option that will always be there.
Excalibur makes the leading recurve crossbows on the market. Bar-none if you want a dead simple, durable and reliable crossbow, this is your weapon of choice. All of their models are recurve designs and they concentrate on two areas: speed and size.
If you buy a bow from Excalibur, it’s either optimized for being the absolute smallest or the absolute fastest. Their bows are named with the number they shoot at, i.e. the Matrix Bulldog 400 shoots a 350 grain arrow at an astounding 400 FPS.
Their Micro line of crossbows make the lightest and smallest bows available. This line still shoots over 315 FPS and offers bows less than 40 inches long and 6 lbs in weight. The heralded Marlin 336 rifle renowned for its small size and weight is bigger and heavier than these bows.
These guys also take durability seriously. As of this writing, they have a picture of one of their bows being run over by a truck on their website. They guarantee these bows forever, which you’ll never use, because they make a bullet proof crossbow.
If there’s a downside, it’s because the stocks are so light weight, they can feel front heavy. Across all their lines, they just feel like they want to tip forward if you shoulder the bow. It’s not so radical that it throws off accuracy but it is noticeable.
They make almost a dozen different models all medium to high-end in features and quality. If you hunt from a ground blind or need a bow for dangerous game, this is your brand. You can get a bulldozer of a crossbow that’ll kill anything that walks while taking a beating for not a lot of money from these guys.
If you want the one stop shop for crossbows, Barnett is your brand. They make the widest variety of models and features of crossbows and is a leader in both price and availability.
The cool thing about Barnett is how ubiquitous they are. You can normally find parts and service very affordable because they’re such a large brand.
If you travel hunt often and may find yourself in a small town where an archery shop isn’t an option, the local sporting goods shop will probably have Barnett branded parts and accessories if they have any at all.
The extensive line of models offered by Barnett means you can literally see anything the market offers. They make some of the ideal budget and beginner bows because they tend to focus on the medium to low-end products.
If you want a bow, starting out with this brand is a solid option and a nice balance of quality and value.
Barnett makes the most extensive line of youth-specific crossbow models. They have four different bows all sized for younger hunters and colored for kids. They feature a reduced but still lethal draw weight so kids don’t have trouble cocking their bow or taking game.
If there’s a problem with these bows, it’s the plastic over molding they use in the construction of their risers.
There’s not a durability problem with any of the models they offer. Many of their bows are built at a price point and the materials they use hold up extremely well but they feel bulky and kind of cheap on the hand.
These are the hard-use bows for the hunter who plans on using their bow often. They make so many different models it’s hard to not like anything they make. Barnett makes a model available for everyone at every price range with any of the features available.
If I were shopping for a first crossbow, this would be a solid start.
Parker crossbows is a sleeper brand, known only to people in the industry. They make a few very interesting products that you’d be hard pressed to beat. They have bows in the medium to high-end range and their prices are fair based on the quality.
The nice thing about having small and mild cams is they don’t get caught on brush or in anything like some of the bigger bows. As far as crossbows go, they’re all pretty front heavy. Parker crossbows feel front heavy but feel better on the hand than a lot of other competitors.
They make a fishing-specific crossbow that is ready to go out of the box. This is a very cool addition to the market and great for anyone looking for a bow fishing machine without having to shop around and setup all the components.
The biggest complaint of Parker bows is finding them. They make some cool features like an AR15 style stocked bow, a bow fishing specific model, and all their bows have very sleek and slim safety rails — all of which are compound crossbows with a mild cam.
You may have to order one online but they are worth the money. The fact that they can advertise so little but support a product line with a dozen different crossbows and several compound bows show that they’re loved by the people who are in the know.
Parker crossbows serve the medium to high-end place on the market and is one of the prime places for a beginner to start shopping for a quality bow.
Buying a crossbow isn’t hard once you’ve nailed down what you’d like to do and how much you’d like to spend on your purchase. If you need some help, compare it against the crossbows in this guide and see how they do.
The market is flooded with high-quality products and if you stick to one of the models mentioned here or buy from the trusted brands we recommend then you’re unlikely to go wrong.
No matter what, remember the ultimate goal is to pick a weapon, master it and enjoy your hunt!
Other resources that might interest you:
Deer Hunter TV – Crossbow hunting tips
Nova Scotia Canada – Safety tips