Crossbows vs Compound Bows – Which is Best and Why?

Garret Jacob | |

More and more states have relaxed their laws on the use of crossbows for hunting. Because of this, people for the first time find themselves deciding whether they should use a crossbow for their upcoming hunting season or stick with their trusty compound bow. Both pieces of equipment are just as likely to give you a successful hunt, so which one is better? 

The compound bow and the crossbow each have their own set of pros and cons, however, we can still stack them up side by side and compare them in several categories. Let us compare the crossbow with the compound bow in the following 10 categories speed, range, shooting speed, accuracy, safety, portability, maintenance, noise, cost, and best for hunting. By the time we are finished, you should be able to determine which piece of equipment is best suited for your needs.

Crossbows – What are they?

In the simplest form, a crossbow is essentially a bow that is placed upon an elongated frame similar to a gunstock. A crossbow contains a built-in mechanism that holds the drawn bowstring and a trigger mechanism that releases the string to send a small arrow flying at an intended target. The small arrows are called crossbow bolts

A recurve crossbow
A recurve crossbow

The crossbow has been around for a long time and was popular in many places in the world in ancient times. Through the ages, the crossbow has been perfected and new materials have been sourced to increase the effectiveness of the crossbow

The modern crossbow has three forms. The recurve, the compound, and the pistol crossbow. The recurve crossbow is quiet and lightweight, ideal for hunting. 

A compound crossbow
A compound crossbow

Compound crossbows are the most powerful form of the crossbow and will shoot a crossbow bolt at much higher speeds than the recurve. 

The pistol crossbow is much smaller and less powerful than both the compound and recurve crossbows. They are said to have a useful range of only 30-yards. They are more portable, light, and can be fun for someone going after squirrels and other small game. 

There are many features that you need to consider before purchasing a new crossbow. Some of those features include axle to axle width, power stroke, limp type, draw weight, FPS and FPKE, weight, stocks and cheek pieces, noise, cocking mechanisms, triggers, sights and scopes, and price. For a detailed explanation of these different features as well as our recommendations for the top crossbows and crossbow brands, check out our article here

Compound Bows – What are they?

A compound bow (the Diamond Deploy)
A compound bow

A compound bow is a bow that uses cables and pulleys to bend limbs when the bowstring is drawn. The pulley and cam system gives the archer a mechanical advantage and allows the limbs of the bow to be much stiffer than a longbow or recurve bow. The stiffness allows the compound bow to be more energy efficient as less energy is lost by limb movement during a shot. The mechanical advantage also allows an archer to have a much higher draw weight than they would with a traditional bow. 

Though more people are going back to the use of traditional bows, the compound bow is by far the most used in hunting and target shooting. Some of the reasons that archers choose the compound bow over other bows can be highlighted in the compound bow’s advantages.

Advantages of the compound bow include the concept of “let-off”. Without going into great detail about the mechanics of let-off, it allows the user to draw their bow easier and to hold their draw longer as they aim a shot. The average archer can use a compound bow that has a draw weight 15-20 pounds heavier than what they could manage on a traditional bow. 

One technical disadvantage of the compound bow compared to traditional bows is the larger number of moving and mechanical parts require additional maintenance and create more places where the bow can fail. Also, if you need to replace a bowstring, it is far more complicated than replacing a string on a traditional bow and often you will need professional assistance to do so. 

There are many features you need to consider before purchasing a new compound bow. Some of those features include handedness, type of Eccentric System, let off percent, IBO and FPS speed, axle to axle length, brace height, draw length range, draw weight, riser styles, limb styles, and price. For some detailed information on these features as well as a guide to our favorite compound bows on the market, check out our article here

Speed and Kinetic Energy

Speed and kinetic energy are important to determine the range and effectiveness of your shot. When you are hunting, the goal is to not just shoot fast, you need to be able to hit a target with enough force to kill it humanely. You do not want to wound an animal and have it run off only to suffer and die days later.

Crossbows and compound bows both use feet per second (fps) to give a general number of how fast the bow will shoot. Foot pounds of kinetic energy (FPKE) is a more accurate measurement that tells you how powerful your shot will be with an arrow of a certain number of grains. The FPKE combines the FPS with the arrow weight to let you know which type of game can be hunted with that particular bow. 

The compound bow uses an IBO standard to allow the user to compare all compound bows with a single standard. The IBO standard is the speed of a 350-grain arrow released from a 70-pound bow with a 30-inch draw length. Based on these conditions, the FPS is then measured with a certified chronograph and the results are listed in the bow’s product specifications. 

Crossbows do not have a similar standard used to compare FPS results across different crossbows. Therefore, when a crossbow states its FPS, it is accurate, but we do not know what weight the bolt was that was fired, and other variables that went into the shot that was measured.

So, while considering what we just discussed, which has more overall speed, a crossbow, or a compound bow?

For compound bows, the fastest speeds consistently measured seem to hover around a maximum of 350 FPS. For compound crossbows, we see some crossbows that measure well above 400 FPS. Even some of the more inexpensive models still shoot around 350 to 370 FPS. That being said, for overall speed, we have to go with the crossbow as the clear winner here.

Fastest Shot – Crossbow

Range

For range, there is the overall range and then there is an effective range

The average compound bow has an overall range of up to 100 yards and an effective range of between 30-60 yards depending on the archer. 

For crossbows, some crossbows can shoot up to several hundred yards, but with less accuracy of course. If you are hunting or target shooting, a skilled archer could consistently hit targets up to 80 yards away. For the average archer, again an effect range would be around 30-60 yards

Greatest Overall Range – Crossbow

Shooting Speed

Shooting speed refers to how fast you can shoot multiple shots with your bow. Chances are you will not find yourself in this situation very often, and if you are a skilled archer, you should never be in this position. You should always strive for one shot one kill. But, in case your first shot is a miss, is a crossbow or a compound bow better for getting that second shot off to still get the kill?

After some personal experience and talking with other hunters, we have to go with the compound bow for shooting speed due to the ease of reloading and shooting multiple shots. 

Shooting Speed – Compound Bow

Aiming, Shooting and Accuracy

This category is a tough one and is still debated by many skilled archers. Circumstances dictate whether the crossbow or the compound bow is more accurate. 

For the crossbow, you can cock the bolt and it takes no effort on your part to hold the draw when you are aiming which is an advantage. Also, the addition of a high powered scope is another advantage. Disadvantages are the overall weight and bulkiness of a crossbow make it difficult to aim unless you are in a prone position or have the crossbow resting on a flat surface. 

For the compound bow, you have to hold the draw while aiming which can cause fatigue and affect the accuracy of your shot, but the compound bow is generally lighter and easier to hold. The compound bow also has a consistent anchor point on every shot which makes it more accurate. 

Aiming a compound bow at full draw
Holding and aiming at full draw with a compound bow

So, which bow is better for aiming and accuracy? We will have to call this a draw since numerous sources are going either way. The writers over in some places pick the crossbow, whilst others claim the compound bow produces more accurate results at shooting competitions. 

This category is subjective and ultimately depends on the user.

Most Accurate – Draw

Safety

Safety should always be any hunter’s number one concern no matter what weapon they bring along with them on the hunt. Serious injury or even death can occur during a hunting accident so let us review a few safety tips for the crossbow and compound bow. 

The biggest safety concerns about a crossbow occur during the shot. 

First, check your foregrip hand to make sure you have no fingers or part of the hand in the path of the bowstring. Many hunters have lost fingers because of this. 

Second, when your crossbow is cocked, it is much narrower than during and after the shot. Make sure there are no branches or other obstructions in the way of your crossbow limbs and cams. 

Third, never walk into the woods, or climb into a deer stand with a loaded and cocked crossbow.

Last, uncocking a crossbow can raise some safety concerns. For a detailed explanation on crossbow safety and how to safely uncock your crossbow, check out this video by TenPoint Crossbows.

The compound bow can be seen as safer since they are not loaded and instead you only have an arrow on the bowstring when you are in control and wanting to fire. However, many safety concerns still need to be addressed when using a compound bow. 

It is highly recommended that you get your compound bow inspected by a certified professional before every season. They will check for unseen wear and tear and ensure your bow is properly set up to reduce the chance of harm due to a mechanical malfunction or something breaking. 

Also, it is not just the bow that needs to be inspected. Make sure your arrows are all in pristine shape and nothing is broken or bent out of shape. For a full list of compound bow safety warnings, click here

Most Safe – Compound Bow

Portability – Size and Weight

When it comes to portability, it is important to consider whether you will be stalking and walking most of the hunt or sitting in a blind or deer stand. If you will be on your feet most of the day, a crossbow is much heavier and bulkier and will weigh you down. If you are sitting most of the day, then it will not matter as much.

There have been some advancements in crossbows recently that have made them more lightweight and easy-to-handle, however, the compound bow still takes the cake on overall portability.

Best Portability – Compound Bow

Maintenance

For maintenance, both the crossbow and the compound bow have many moving parts that need to be well maintained and lubricated. Whether you have a crossbow or a compound bow, you will want to inspect your equipment closely before use and to regularly wax your bowstring and to use lubricant where needed. Every year take your bow into a pro-shop for a professional inspection and be sure to safely store your equipment in the off-season.

The crossbow may have a little more maintenance to be done on it since it has a few additional parts. Clean and lubricate your trigger box periodically, clean and inspect your scope and sightlines, and check your safety to ensure it is working properly. 

Most Maintenance Required – Crossbow

Noise

When it comes to noise, a compound bow is much quieter, which is better if you are in the woods. You can make a crossbow quitter with the purchase of a few additional accessories like a crossbow silencer for example.

Here is a video explaining some of the ways you can make your crossbow quieter.

Most Quiet – Compound Bow

Cost

If you look at the most powerful crossbow and compare it to the most powerful compound bow, you will see a difference of almost $1,000 with the crossbow being more expensive. However, once you get into the lower-end and mid-range models, it pretty much equals out. We will have to call this one a draw.

Overall Cost – Draw 

Crossbows vs Compound Bows for Hunting

When it comes to hunting, whether you use a compound bow, or a crossbow depends on the regulations in your area and your personal preference. First, check your local hunting laws to see if it is legal to use a crossbow. If it is, then it is up to you whether you go with the crossbow or the compound bow.

Both pieces of equipment have their pros and cons, and each might be better suited for different people. When it comes to overall power, the crossbow wins. When it comes to portability, the compound bow wins. So, think about where you will be hunting, what kind of game you are targeting, and what kind of physical shape you are in, and whatever you decide, we are sure your hunt will be a success

Best for Hunting – It’s a Draw

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