The crossbow is arguably the most powerful bow you can own. Combine the technology of compound limbs with a rifle stock and you get the most advanced type of bow available. Want to shoot a bolt through a iron skillet? You can with a powerful crossbow (see the video below).
If sheer power isn’t your thing I’m guessing you’re here looking for the best crossbow to suit you. That’s a tough question. Prices range from hundreds to thousands of dollars and every bow has a different user focus. Are you a target shooter or a hunter? What are you hunting? Beginner, mid level or advanced shooter?
Take a look through our top picks below. There’s something for everyone, from the beginner to advanced hunter or target shooter. and all are usually available from a reputable outdoors retailer.
The Best Crossbows – Our Picks
- Wicked Ridge Invader 400 – Best Overall Crossbow – Versatility and power make this mid-range bow our top all-around ‘best crossbow‘ pick.
- CenterPoint Sniper Elite Whisper – Best Budget Crossbow – You won’t find such a range of features at such a low price with any other crossbow.
- Ten Point Nitro – Best Crossbow for Serious Hunters – If you’re ready to take it to the next level, this bow puts quality into every last detail.
- Ten Point Shadow – Best Mid Range Crossbow – This is a streamlined model that keeps the quality but cuts the price.
- Barnett Whitetail Hunter II – Best Beginner / Entry Level Crossbow – This entry-level bow has everything you need to get started right away.
Note: Our individual reviews are below, but you can also click any of the links above to check current prices on Amazon and other retailers
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Are you looking for a youth crossbow, or the best crossbow for a woman? A package with sights and all the gear you need to get you started? Or maybe you just want something to shoot small vermin in your backyard? You might be after a pistol crossbow, these are much less diverse in their usage and styles, and we took a look at the best our pistol crossbow on the market here.
Crossbow Comparison Table
If you want a good overview of all the crossbows we’ve reviewed take a look at our crossbow comparison table.
Every bow we’ve covered is listed with FPS, weight, power stroke, length, width, warranty, price range and more.
With so many bows on the market It’s a great way of quickly narrowing down a bow based on specifications alone.
Best Overall – Wicked Ridge Invader 400
A mid-range bow with versatile features, the Invader 400 from Wicked Ridge is our top all-around choice for the best crossbow for the money. If you’re a hunter, you’ll love the 400 feet per second firing speed and 140 ft-lbs of kinetic energy. That’s more than enough to hunt even the biggest game. Still, the ACUdraw 50 rope cocking device reduces the 185-lb draw weight by 50%. This isn’t just convenient. It means smoother motion and less noise when you’re on the hunt.
Of course, there’s more about this bow that makes it great for hunting. This package comes with a lighted Pro-View scope, a 3 arrow instant detach quiver, three aluminum arrows. Plus, the camo finish matches most environments, especially dense big-game areas. You won’t have a problem hiking out into them either, because the Invader 400 is lightweight. In fact, its semi-skeletal frame is only six pounds. Combine this with its 15-in ATA, and it’s an easy carry.
Like we mentioned, this crossbow’s main claim to fame is its versatility. It has the perfect intersection of price and quality for ambitious hunters and target shooters who are still figuring out their preferences and needs. It has additional accessories like the pass-thru foregrip and picatinny rail that mean you can add to it as you learn and grow as a sportsman.
Finally, despite its affordable price, it’s a tough bow made by a brand known for durability. It’s manufactured in the USA.
What we liked:
- Fast 400 fps
- Powerful 140 fpke
- ACUdraw 50 rope cocking system
- Pro-View scope
- Added accessories
- Light weight
- Versatile hunting bow
- Durable semi-skeletal frame
What we didn’t:
Best Budget Crossbow – CenterPoint Sniper Elite Whisper
It’s hard to find a good crossbow for a better price than the Sniper Elite Whisper. Despite being a budget bow, it still packs a punch. 370 feet per second firing speed combined with 112 ft-lbs of kinetic energy means it isn’t a toy. It’s perfectly capable of taking down the biggest game.
Its incredibly affordable price makes the Sniper Elite our recommendation for best crossbow for those with a smaller budget. It still comes with a wide variety of accessories and features that make it effective and capable of serious excursions. For example, the butt of the crossbow is designed to absorb recoil to provide for a more accurate shot. The integrated limb dampeners and string suppressors also make aiming easier.
Other great additions include the adjustable foregrip, the anti dry fire and auto safety trigger, and a picatinny rail to add your own accessories. This crossbow package also comes with a 4x32mm scope to further its sniper’s dedication to accuracy. These are features difficult to find on even the most expensive alternatives.
While its 8-lb weight is heavier than some of the top-shelf models, the Whisper is still light enough for the casual hunter who’s not going to be hiking all over the wilderness. It has an ATA of 18 in, which is right in goldilocks zone for one of the best crossbows for your money.
What we liked:
- Low price range
- Fast 370 fps
- Powerful 112 fpke
- AR-like recoil-absorbing butt
- Integrated limb dampeners and string suppressors
- Included 4x32mm scope
What we didn’t:
Best for Hunters – Ten Point Nitro
Don’t get this bow if you can’t handle speed and power. Firing at 470 feet per second, it’s by far the fastest model in our picks. It also lets fly with 182 ft lbs of kinetic energy. It’ll take down big game and then some.
This power comes from an incredible 225-lb draw weight, yet the Vector Quad 4 cable system with ACUdraw Pro and RX7 cams with 404° of rotation mean you only have to cock 9 lbs. That doesn’t just mean it’s a lot less work, it means you’re always ready to go. This increases your chances of getting your quarry.
Of course, the Nitro is one of the high end crossbows for serious hunters and marksmen. It has the price tag to match, so it’s an investment, not just something to stick in the garage and use casually. With its place on the top shelf also comes the little things that can mean all the difference on the hunt. That includes an incredibly small ATA of only seven inches. It might not seem like such a big deal, but when you’re tracking an elk through thick bush, a small ATA like that can keep you from rustling around.
Other high-quality features this package includes are a three-arrow detach quiver, an EVO-X Marksman Scope—one of the best on the market—and strings that run through the riser. This means a quieter, more controlled shot, not to mention more durability and protection for your strings.
We also really like the advanced T5 trigger that lets you shoot exactly when you want to. That’s essential for accuracy. You can get a much better feel for your bow.
The Nitro weighs 7.4 lbs and is convenient to carry. Made in America, it’s a durable model that’s likely to last long enough to be well worth the price. If you love crossbow’s you can’t get better than this one.
What we liked:
- Super fast 470 fps
- Brutally powerful 182 ftke
- ACUdraw Pro with only 9 lbs of draw weight
- 7-in ATA
- Advanced accessories
- Strings run through the riser
- T5 trigger
What we didn’t:
- It’s expensive
Best Mid Range Crossbow – Ten Point Shadow
Like with its high-end model, Ten Point packs quality into a powerful weapon. The Shadow is the best mid-range option for those who want the great construction of the Nitro but can sacrifice some of the finer details for a lower cost.
Don’t misunderstand us, though. This bow is more than effective. 380 fps firing speed and 119 ft lbs of kinetic energy make this a good choice for even serious hunters. It’s accurate enough for both large and small game, as well. This is due to NXT Type II cams and the 3x Pro-View 2 scope.
One unique feature of the Shadow, and one of our favorite things about it, is the 3.5-lb trigger. This trigger tension is great for a mid-range bow, light enough for quick, accurate shots but resistant enough to prevent accidents. Speaking of accidents, the auto-engaging safety and Dry Fire Inhibitor go even farther to keep you and your new crossbow safe.
The Shadow is actually even more maneuverable than the Nitro. It’s only 6.5-in from axle to axle, so you can slip into the toughest spots if you’re still hunting. It weighs a little less, too, at just 7 lbs. It even has integrated sound dampening to keep the silence all the way through to the end.
What we liked:
- 3.5-lb trigger
- Auto-engaging safety
- Dry Fire Inhibitor
- 6.5-in ATA
- Integrated sound dampening
What we didn’t:
- Draw weight
Best Entry Level Crossbow – Barnett Whitetail Hunter II
We chose the Whitetail Hunter II as our best entry-level bow because it gives you all the features you need to get started with a crossbow at just about the lowest price you can find.
For starters, the firing speed is 350 fps and the KE is 103 ft lbs. While this is still enough power to get started hunting, it isn’t too much for a beginner to handle. You’re even more likely to get your first kill this way.
Plus, it only weighs 6.4 lbs. If you need something to teach your teenager the ropes, this won’t be too much for them. Plus, the anti-dry-fire protection keeps them from destroying their bow on your first outing.
Unique for an entry-level bow, this model has the ability to upgrade accessories thanks to its ⅞-in picatinny rail. This is another reason it’s our entry-level pick. Some factors it already has like 4×32 multi-reticle scope, quiver and two arrows. As you can see, it’s perfectly ready for a real, serious hunting.
What we liked:
- Low price range
- Powerful but easy to handle
- Light weight
- Anti-dry-fire protection
- Picatinny rail
- Beginner accessories
What we didn’t:
- Draw weight
What are the Best Crossbow Brands?
There are more companies than you can count out there mass producing crossbows. Of course, more than half of these will probably snap in half the first time you shoot them. Frankly, you need to know the quality name brands so you don’t get ripped off. Here are some of the best ones:
Excalibur was started back in 1983 by a group of Canadian bow hunters who wanted to make a more accurate crossbow. And that they did. Excalibur’s bows are some of the best products on the market, so much so that large archery company Bowtech recently acquired them. Their headquarters and manufacturing facilities are in Kitchener, Ontario, Canada.
Ten Point and Wicked Ridge
Ten Point and their subsidiary Wicked Ridge make all their bows and crossbows with care in Mogadore, Ohio. With a small team, they’ve been in the archery business for over 27 years. The company is well-known for making some of the most durable and long-lasting crossbows on the market.
Barnett Outdoors is one of the oldest archery companies in the US, their history dating back to 1962. Since then they’ve led the industry, being the first to utilize many innovations like carbon riser technology and a rope cocking device. Watch for them to keep coming out with new features and inventions.
CenterPoint is new on the scene but already making a name for itself. Their crossbows are frequently listed as some of the best for the money. They are widely available and come with warranties to back their quality.
Crossbow Buyers Guide
Let’s take a spin through the types, features and specifications you’ll see listed for crossbows and why they matter to you. We’re going to focus here on what’s good for what purpose. If you want a more in-depth guide to these bows in general take a look at our basics guide here.
Recurve vs Compound vs Pistol Crossbows
Recurve crossbows are quiet and generally lighter than compounds. This makes them great for hunting. Less moving parts makes for less noise and less weight.
Compound crossbows are more powerful than recurves. For any given draw weight, a compound will shoot a higher arrow speed than a recurve. If you need a recurve that shoots at an arrow speed comparable to a high end compound, you’ll need to make sure you have the strength to cock it because the draw weight will be higher.
A compound will be narrower than a recurve crossbow, so getting through thigh bush or aiming around a tree for example will be easier.
If the string breaks on a compound, you’re normally in need of a pro-shop. Replacing them isn’t something you can do out in the field. However a recurve string is relatively easy and quick to replace almost anywhere.
Because a compound crossbow holds less weight at full draw (due to the principle of let-off), over time you’ll probably find that the trigger mechanism on a recurve crossbow will fail sooner than a compound. However the rest of the design will be more reliable!
Pistol crossbows don’t have the range and power of recurve or compound crossbows. They can be accurate at short ranges up-to about 30 yards. Pistol crossbows are also smaller, lighter and more easily portable than both the other styles. You’ll also find them more fun and less intimidating to shoot if you’ve never used a crossbow before.
Don’t expect to hunt large game with a pistol crossbow. You’ll be fine with squirrels and bullfrogs at short ranges but anything larger than that may not take a shot. We’ve seen a bolt from a pistol bow bounce of the hide of a rabbit at distance before.
Axle to Axle / Width
Axle to Axle, ATA or A2A defines the distance from one cam (axel) to the other. This gives you the overall width of the crossbow normally in inches. On a recurve manufacturers will just list the width of the limbs, also in inches.
Other than this allowing you to understand the actual physical size of the limbs that you need to carry around with you, or fit in a case, you’d do well to give little other consideration to this measurement. At normal hunting and target distances you’ll find this variable barely matters when you’re comparing shot accuracy.
The power stroke on a crossbow is the equivalent of draw length on a recurve or compound bow. It is simply the distance between the resting point of the bowstring and the fully drawn position of the bowstring. This measurement is normally given in inches.
This is one of several factors that make up how fast a bow will shoot. A shorter inch power stroke on a heavy draw weight bow will match a longer one on a lighter draw weight bow. Shooters tend to like shorter bows but they also want high arrow speeds. In order to make that happen the manufacturers will reduce the length of the power stroke to make the bow shorter and increase the draw weight or alter the cam design to increase the efficiency and power output.
It is the cam and limb design coupled with draw weight and power stroke that will determine the bow speed. By itself this metric means relatively little, unless you are comparing two crossbows very similar in all other aspects.
On a compound you’ll find that limb designs vary. You can get split or solid styles. Split limbs are simply comprised of 2 limb sections each side. Some manufacturers will tout the virtues of the split design over the solid limb design. There really isn’t much in it. Modern materials make one or the other just as good a choice.
The maximum amount of weight required to draw a crossbow string back to the cocked position without an assistance device is called the draw weight. A pistol crossbow will have a draw weight around 50 lbs. Draw weights will vary, but anything over 150 lbs you may find difficult to draw. There are assistance products available to make drawing all weights of crossbow easier. Some come with a stirrup that allows you to hold the bow to the ground with your foot and pull back on the drawstring with both hands. Others can use use a lever or a rope. The measure of draw weight should be noted for this reason and for use as part of the overall equation when determining arrow power.
There are legal requirements for draw weights when hunting with a crossbow and these vary by state so if you want to hunt don’t forget to look yours up before you make a purchase.
FPS and FPKE
Crossbows are given a speed rating by manufacturers. This will give you a rough guide to how fast in feet per second (fps) a particular bolt shot from a particular bow will travel. Manufacturers aren’t forced to adhere to a standard when measuring bow speeds, so the actual weight of the bolt used may be different from crossbow to crossbow. When you don’t know the exact nature of the speed test used, it makes fps figures a poor benchmark to use when trying to compare similar bows. Most manufacturers will use a 400 grain arrow and may well supply or recommend specific arrows for their crossbow to allow you to achieve the advertised speeds.
Speed is just one part of the equation when it comes to hunting, you can shoot a grain of dust at 500 fps and it won’t make much of a dent in elephant hide. The power of an arrow is measured in Foot Pounds of Kinetic Energy (fpke). Some manufacturers will specify the fpke that a bolt shot from their device can impart. The measurement of fpke is useful in determining at what distance your shot can be lethal when hunting. You can assume that the figure will drop by three to four percent for every 10 yards of additional distance to your target. Therefore, if you start with 100 fpke and then decide to shoot at a target that is 30 yards further you can expect closer to 90 fpke.
What amount of fpke is required to takedown what game?
- Smaller game such as turkey or groundhogs you should have between 20 and 25 fpke
- Medium sized game such as deer and antelope you will need between 30 and 40 fpke
- Large game such as elk or black bears you will need between 45 and 60 fpke
- Larger, more dangerous game such as grizzly bears or moose you will need between 65 and 75 fpke
To calculate the value of fpke for an arrow from scratch you need to use the following formula:
KE = mass (in grains of the arrow) x velocity in fps on the arrow squared / 450,240
i.e. For a 420 gr arrow shot at 300 fps, (420*(300*300)) / 450240 = 84.9 fpke.
Weight / Mass
One important decision to make when choosing a bow is knowing what you’re going to have to carry about with you. Crossbows can be upto up-to 3 or 4 times heavier than a normal compound or recurve bow. If you have to keep something that heavy raised for a long period of time it will wear out your arm. If you intend to shoot ‘freehand’ or instinctively at moving targets with a crossbow you’d do well to look for one that’s light.
Heavier bows aren’t to be discounted, they will give you more durability and speed / fpke, but you may want to use a stand or a bi-pod to help if you’re thinking of aiming for any length of time.
Stocks and Cheek Pieces
The stock of a crossbow is the piece you rest into your shoulder just like the stock of a rifle. They can be made from wood or plastic and be reinforced with steel. A heavier stock can make a bow feel more stable when shooting but make it more cumbersome to transport around. Some stock designs are skeletonized and have pieces missing to help reduce weight.
Having a good stock length and cheek rest is vital when shooting. This allows you to get a consistent hold on the bow every time. Because of this you can purchase custom cheek pieces and stock extensions to make things fit perfectly to your frame.
Typically crossbows produce more noise than conventional recurve or compound bows. In exactly the same way you can with recurves and compounds you can add string silencers and limb dampeners to crossbows to help reduce noise. You’d also do well to note that one of the loudest noises you can make when out hunting is flipping off the safety!
You can cock a crossbow in one of three ways. Muscling the entire string weight back into a cocked position with your foot in a stirrup. Using a rope cocking device that resembles a pulley system, these can reduce the force needed to cock the bow by upto 50%. You can get a rope cocking device for next to nothing and carry one in your pocket if you don’t get one supplied with your bow.
The most recent development for cocking mechanisms is a crank or lever system. This gives you the greatest mechanical advantage as you only have to pull a lever to draw the string. The addition of these systems does however add yet more weight and cost to your bow but they’re ideal for people with strength issues or those who aren’t as able-bodied as others.
The trigger on a crossbow is one of the best inventions and greatest part of the device. It’s far easier to release a bolt using a trigger than it is letting go of a traditional bow string. Traditional and compound archers have release devices that try to mimic the smooth release you can only achieve with a crossbow.
Like triggers on firearms, crossbow triggers can have specific weights. The trigger weight (or trigger pull) determines how much pressure you need to release the arrow. Too little weight and you’ve got a ‘hair trigger’ that can fire to soon and too heavy you’ve got a trigger that needs so much force to pull you it can throw off your aim.
Sights and Scopes
There are three options for sights on a crossbow. You have pin sights (like compound bows), optical scopes or reflex sights. Most are supplied with an optical scope of some kind, but be aware if you’re not going to take shots at 100 yards there’s no need for a 9x scope. a 4x works just fine for most uses. A quality optic is always a bonus and can really make a difference. It will give you confidence to take some shots you’d normally pass up on.
Reflex sights (like a red dot sight) are normally something that you’d have to install aftermarket and are reserved for people wanting to acquire fast moving targets. We’ve taken a look at some good aftermarket crossbow scope options (including a good aftermarket red dot sight) in this piece.
A full size crossbow for under $200 will work fine for deer hunting and target practice. You could spend $1000 on the highest quality pieces of kit, but unless you’re an experienced shooter and really know what you want from that outlay you’ll be better off sticking with a much cheaper bow and upgrading parts as necessary.
A good crossbow case is recommended. A knock on a compound crossbow can send the cams or limbs out of line. You’ll also do well to look for a bow that is either supplied with or has a compatible sling as this makes carrying them much easier, especially for any distance.
A quiver is also pretty much essential to hold your bolts. You can get quivers that attach to the bow or rest on your hip. Bow quivers will add more weight to the bow, so take that into account.
One essential task you need to perform when you own a crossbow is string waxing. You should wax the whole string every five times the bow is fired. Crossbow strings make contact with the bow every time they are fired and this puts them under more strain than your regular recurve or compound bow.
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