So you want the best crossbow? It's tough to call an overall winner because every bow has a different purpose. Are you a target shooter or a hunter? Do you want a bow that's compact and powerful (compound) or less powerful, wider, lighter, cheaper and easier to maintain and repair when the string breaks (recurve)? Are you looking for a youth crossbow, or the best crossbow for a woman?
One notable exception here is the pistol crossbow, these are much less diverse in their usage and styles, we took a look at the best on the market here.
Take a look through our comparison table and reviews (they're all linked from the table) they'll help you decide. We've also tagged a buyers guide onto this article below the table for you to read through if there are some aspects of the different types of crossbow you aren't sure about.
Clicking the little arrows in the column headers below will allow you to sort this table by any specification you want. Fastest on top? Highest draw? Longest warranty? Just click the little arrow in the relevant column and you can sort by whichever you choose. If you're on a mobile device or tablet this table is scrollable, just swipe across to see the columns hidden to the right.
*The links to check prices in the table below will take you to Amazon and the links on the crossbow name will take you to our review page (if applicable)
Price Range *
High - Check Price
Low/Med - Check Price
PSE Fang 350 XT
Low/Med - Check Price
Low/Med - Check Price
Med - Check Price
Med - Check Price
SAS Jaguar 175
Low - Check Price
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 the crossbow in general take a look at our basics guide here.
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 crossbow 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 crossbow will be narrower than a recurve, so getting through thigh bush or aiming around a tree for example will be easier.
If the string breaks on a compound crossbow, 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 crossbow bounce of the hide of a rabbit at distance before.
Axle to Axle, ATA or A2A defines the distance from one cam (axel) on a compound crossbow 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 crossbow 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.
The power stroke of a crossbow is one of several factors that make up how fast a bow will shoot. A shorter power stroke on a heavy draw weight bow will match a longer power stroke 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 crossbow speed. By itself the power stroke metric means relatively little, unless you are comparing two crossbows very similar in all other aspects.
On a compound crossbow 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. Crossbow 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 crossbow 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.
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 crossbow 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 crossbow 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?
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.
One important decision to make when choosing a crossbow 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 crossbows 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.
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 a crossbow. 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 with a crossbow 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 a crossbow 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 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.
There are three options for sights on a crossbow. You have pin sights (like compound bows), optical scopes or reflex sights. Most crossbows 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 on a crossbow are normally something that you'd have to install aftermarket and are reserved for people wanting to acquire fast moving targets.
A full size crossbow for under $200 will work fine for hunting deer 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 crossbow 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.