Pistol crossbows, crossbow handguns, hand crossbows or mini crossbows. You could call them whichever. A pistol is a crossbow that's designed to be held in either hand with a shorter draw and less power than a regular crossbow. They fire short bolts and nowadays do so with incredible power, these aren't toys as video in our article will prove!
A mini crossbow costs very little to purchase, maintain and stock up with ammunition. It's an ideal choice for hunting small game, vermin and rodents on your land (regulations approving) and also for fun target practice. We've taken a sample of the best pistol crossbows on the market today and lined them up along with their good and bad points. Take a look...
The Best Pistol Crossbow Picks for 2017
Prophecy 80 lbs - Quality build, break action self-cocking, upgraded red-dot pack available
Cobra 80 lbs - Break action self cocking
Rogue 80 lbs - Stirrup cocking
Note: Our individual reviews are below, but you can also click any of the links above to check current prices on Amazon.
All About Pistol Crossbows
Why buy a pistol crossbow?
Pistol crossbows are inexpensive. A quality one (such as our top pick) can normally be had for the cost of a decent meal. That's considerably less than full-size crossbows, compound bows and traditional recurve bows. Ammunition is also cheap, if you're shooting simple plastic or aluminium bolts you'll get pack of 50 for much less than you'd pay for 12 full size arrows.
They're far less intimidating than full-size crossbows. If you've never shot anything before a pistol crossbow is something you can hold and understand with much less fear than a gun. If you're introducing a friend to hunting or shooting and fancy a bit of target practice, pull out your PSE Brute Force and they're probably going to be in awe and not keen to take a turn. With a pistol bow... "oh cool let me try"...
They're ultimately smaller, lighter and more portable than all other styles of bow. As to speed of shooting, well you can't leave them cocked but you can certainly load one quickly and leave one resting somewhere without it taking up too much space.
How powerful are pistol crossbows?
Can you shoot through 4 full soda cans at about 6 feet? A pineapple from 6 paces? This video from PreparedMind101 demonstrates this and more and settles the argument about pistol crossbows being nothing but toys. Spoiler alert.... they aren't!
Are pistol crossbows good for hunting?
Can you takedown small game with a pistol crossbow? 80 lbs draw is more than you'll pull with many full size recurve bows, however taking down game is down to more than just draw weight. Pistol crossbow bolts are smaller than full size arrows, they weigh less and pack less of a punch. Taking down game is also not just about bolt power, if you're humane you need to make a shot that wounds and kills, to do that with some game you need a broad-head tip.
The power of an 80 lbs pistol crossbow is enough to take down small game from distances of up-to 20- 40 yards. Rodents, squirrels, bullfrogs, rats, rabbits, ducks... small game. Couple that pistol with broadhead arrows and shorter ranges and you could take down larger game or smaller game more effectively.
Scopes and Sights, Red Dot to Optical
Just like the regular crossbow pistols come with mounting rails on the top and are designed with both a fore (pin) and back (groove) sight much like the iron sights on a gun. These can normally be detached from the rail and replaced with any other sort of optic you prefer. As a pistol crossbow is a relatively short range weapon used for hunting fast moving rodents and small game red-dot sights are common and useful. A red-dot sight allows you faster target acquisition vs an iron sight. For longer more measured shots, you'd want to try an optical sight such as a 4x20 to allow you to zoom in closer on your prey or target.
Due to the size of the bow and the manufacturing costs many pistol crossbow mounting rails are not standard Picatinny rail. You'll find Dovetail in use. If you want to customize a pistol bow, best to purchase one that comes with an accessory pack or just get the bow first size up your options before you also purchase accessories to customize it.
Pistol Crossbow Bolts
Pistol crossbow bolts are shorter than standard crossbow bolts. This is due to the power stroke or draw length of the bow itself being much shorter. You can purchase aluminium or plastic bolts to fit most pistol bows inexpensively. As they're small they are easily lost but packs of 50 or 100 bolts with point tips (not broadheads) go for a little as the price of lunch.
About Self Cocking
If you're new to the whole pistol crossbow scene you're probably wondering what is meant by the term 'self-cocking' that manufacturers advertise their pistols with. Well, don't be mislead, a self cocking pistol won't actually cock itself for you when you just click your fingers! The term refers to the ability of the bow to be cocked without using any external devices such as a rope cocker. A self-cocking bow will normally have an in-built mechanism such as a lever at the back that allows you to cock it using nothing but your hands and 'itself'.
These bows don't come assembled. Normally the box will contain the pistol body, limb and accessories separately. Attached accessories is simple however the one job that can be awkward with one of these bows is stringing. Being so small and powerful the limbs can be awkward to bend into position without the help of another or a shot stringing device. Look for a model that comes with a stringer such as this one from SAS, or has a stringer available if stringing a bow isn't something you've done before.
Replacement Strings and String Maintenance
Crossbows wear string faster than other types of bow. This is because the string makes contact with the rail of the bow as it pushes the bolt. It's a good idea that you maintain a crossbow by using string wax on the string every 5-10 shots and lube on the rail whenever possible. You can do without this, but just be warned you'll be replacing the string on your bow sooner than someone who takes care of it properly.
Are pistol crossbows legal in my state?
Rules and regulations differ by state and by country. Any sort of crossbow hunting is illegal in the UK whereas in the USA you'll find that some states have a minimum stock size and draw weight requirement for hunting with a crossbow. We can't list the laws for all states but there's a useful resource over at wheretuhunt.org that should send you in the right direction.
Crossbow Pistol Reviews
Cobra System K-8025
This is a good looking pistol crossbow is made from plastic and aluminium.The gold accentuation on the cocking mechanism look pretty nice in our opinion. It isn't going to be ideal for people wanting to keep a stealth profile however as that gold is reflective. Assembly can be a little tricky and if you aren't experienced with stringing recurve bows you might need a friend to help.
This pistol has recurve limbs and draws 80 lbs. That's pretty powerful for a bow of this size. You hold the bow front and back and break the lever at the back down from the body to cock the bow. Whilst you do need some strength you'd probably find your average 12-15 year old could cock this bow unassisted. It's easier to cock this 80 lbs draw with that mechanism than it is to cock a 50 lbs draw pistol crossbow without one! The lever is also slightly less unwieldy than the stirrup and handle you'll see on other designs. Once cocked the safety auto-engages so there's no chance of you shooting accidentally whilst preparing to aim.
You get an adjustable pin and groove 'iron' sight (although it's made from plastic) which is good enough for the maximum range you'll be shooting this thing if you have 20/20 vision. The sights are okay but with modification you could make this better. The top mounting rail isn't Picatinny so if you want to purchase accessories you'll need to find ones that work on a 3/8" dovetail, there is also no fore-rail for mounting a quiver or any other accessories underneath the limbs.
3 aluminium bolts with metal field tips are supplied with the bow. These are are a good weight, great for practice and playing around getting a feel for the bow.
- Auto engaging safety when cocked
- 80 lbs draw / 165 fps
- Easy to use self-cocking mechanism
- 3x bolts supplied
- Reflective gold sections aren't stealthy
- Plastic tactical sights only
- 3/8 Dovetail top mounting rail
Rogue 80lb Aluminium
This bow has an 80 lbs draw and claims to shoot bolts at upto 160 fps. This has a short draw, or a 5" power stroke for those of us who know what that means. If you don't checkout our crossbow pages, we explain there. But in brief this has a shorter draw than other pistols with the same 80 lbs weight meaning the power is going to be slightly lower.
The great things about this bow are the price. It's one of the cheapest out there (or was last time we checked). The in-built bolt holder that allows you to carry up-to 5 bolts under the limbs. Auto-safety engages every time you cock this. Cocking is done with the inbuilt foot stirrup and rear handle. A strong adult male could cock this one handed, youths and women will probably find the need to use both hands from a crouched position to pull it back enough. That front stirrup does flail around when you aren't actually using it. A magnetic latch or something to tuck it away would have been nice.
We've noticed some complaints about alignment of the string to the bolt when cocked being in-exact and contributing to string wear. This isn't something we experienced, but we always maintain our gear well and regularly wax crossbows strings (every 5 or 10 shots) to prolong the string life and recommend that you do the same.
Pictures say more words than we can, pretty pictures, well.... Here's a great video of this pistol bow in action from American Gun Chick! Maybe not the greatest review but... nice to watch!
- Aluminium construction
- 80 lbs / 160 fps
- Auto engaging safety
- 3x bolts included
- In-built arrow quiver / bolt-holder
- Short draw
- String alignment issues
- 3/8 Dovetail top mounting rail
Prophecy 80 lbs
SAS (Southland Archery Supply) make this pistol bow. They're a known manufacturer with a reputation that is growing for producing quality archery kit at affordable prices. Compounds, recurves etc, they've experience of it all. Their 80 lbs draw pistol claims to shoot supplied bolts at upto 165 fps and has a 5" power stroke.
Supplied instructions are adequate and assembly of this bow isn't too hard for someone with basic abilities however stringing these things is always a bit of a pain, however SAS have produced a pistol crossbow stringer (not included), to make the job simple.
This has a break action cocking mechanism. You grab the front and the rear lever and break that rear level down away from the body to cock the bow. This action requires some strength but your average 12-15 year old shouldn't struggle too much. This however is in no way a toy, the power you can deliver with the supplied is enough to kill.
One of the great things about this bow is that there is an upgraded version available (shown above) that includes a red-dot sight and a fore grip and also wood-effect grip. It costs a little more but (other than a quiver and some different bolts) it's nice that you can get everything you need in one package and know it will work together without any modification.
Shoot the supplied aluminium bolts into anything that's hard and you'll likely break them. We'd recommend upgrading to some plastic bolts as they can take a lot more abuse. Here's a great video review of this bow from PerparedMind101.
- Quality build
- 80 lbs / 165 fps
- Break action cocking mechanism
- Aluminium frame
- 3x bolts included
- Wood effect version with scope and fore grip available
- No under mount rail
Anything to share?
I hope this roundup was useful and led you in the direction of a quality target for your setup. Please let us know if we're missing your favorite and need to add it to this review, or if there are any aspects of any of the above we've not covered correctly! Either leave a comment or send us some feedback!