Pistol crossbows, crossbow handguns, hand crossbows or mini crossbows. You could call them whichever. A pistol crossbow 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 pistol 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…
Our Picks for the Best Pistol Crossbow
- Cobra 80 lbs – Break action self cocking, our pick for the best pistol – 9.8/10
- PSE Viper SS – The adjustable rear sight makes this pistol crossbow the practical choice
- Bear X Desire XL – Quality build, break action self-cocking pistol crossbow, upgraded red-dot pack available – 9.5/10
- Kings Archery Pistol Crossbow – With a full complement of bolts, this pistol crossbow comes ready for your survival kit
- Pistol Crossbow for Kids – This miniature model is the perfect gift for the kids or executive bowhunter in your life.
- Spartan 80lb Tactical Mini Crossbow – 230 ft/s break action cocking mini crossbow
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
Table of Contents
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 pistol crossbow 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 4×20 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.
Crossbow Pistol 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 when you’re out and about and away from your regular target practice range. 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
Pistol crossbows (and in fact all types of crossbow) 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.
The Best Pistol Crossbows – Our Top Picks Reviewed
Cobra System Self Cocking
This is a good looking pistol crossbow is made from plastic and aluminium.The cocking mechanism looks pretty nice in our opinion. 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 a draw weight 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 weight 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 target practice and playing around getting a feel for the bow.
What we liked:
- Auto engaging safety when cocked
- 80 lbs draw / 165 fps
- Easy to use self-cocking mechanism
- 3x bolts supplied
What we didn’t:
- Reflective gold sections aren’t stealthy
- Plastic tactical sights only
- 3/8 Dovetail top mounting rail
PSE Viper SS
This model is just plain fun. But don’t think that doesn’t mean you can’t make good use of it, too. With 216 FPS firing speed, this is one of the fastest pistol crossbows we’ve found. Add that to the 50-lb draw weight and the both rear and front sights, and you have a serious weapon for small-game hunting. The rear sight even has windage and elevation adjustment.
This model has a few other good features as well. There’s an auto safety and anti-dry-fire trigger which are especially nice if you’re just having fun on the range. Similarly, a finger guard protects your hands from the string.
Like most pistol crossbows, the Viper has a self-cocking mechanism, so it’s easy to use. At 1.5 lbs, it’s no problem to hold and aim, either.
What we liked:
- 216 FPS firing speed
- Adjustable rear sight
- Auto safety
- Anti-dry-fire trigger
- Self-cocking mechanism
- Light weight
What we didn’t:
- Low 50-lb draw weight
Bear Archery Desire XL
Bear Archery make this pistol bow. They’re a known manufacturer in the archery world for making quality archery kit. Compounds, recurves etc, they’ve experience of it all. Their 60 lbs draw weight pistol claims to shoot supplied bolts at upto 175 fps.
Some of these pistol crossbows can be difficult to put together, but this one didn’t provide much of a challenge.
This has a user friendly self-cocking arm mechanism. You grab the front and the rear stock and break the pistol down 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 XL bow is that little extra size. That means it’s easier to get it into your shoulder (if you’re a fully grown adult) and you can even adjust the length from 22″ to 24″, and that makes it suitable for all sizes of shooter.
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.
What we liked:
- Quality build
- Weighs 2.2 lbs
- 60 lbs draw weight
- 175 fps
- Break action cocking mechanism
- Aluminium frame
- 3x premium aluminium bolts included
- Safety trigger mechanism
What we didn’t:
- No under mount rail
Kings Archery Crossbow Pistol
This model is similar to many of the others on the market. However, what makes it stand out is its durable fiber-glass construction. That keeps weight down and makes this a reliable bow, even if you’ve had it stored in your go bag for years.
Whether you want this as part of your survival kit or for the occasional squirrel hunt, this model comes with everything you need. Along with the self-cocking system, it comes with an adjustable sight that you can tune for small game.
Best of all, you can purchase this crossbow with bolts included. A lot of arrows. In fact, the biggest package comes with 123 aluminum and PVC bolts. That’s nice because crossbow pistol ammo is often difficult to find. Plus, if you want this for your survival kit, you’ll want to pack plenty of bolts along with it. Of course, you can buy it alone without the bolts if you prefer.
The 80-lb draw weight is as powerful as a full-sized bow, and the bolts are strong enough for small game. It’s a fine choice for fun, rabbit hunting or survivalism.
What we liked:
- Durable fiber glass
- Self-cocking pistol
- Adjustable sight
- Comes with up to 123 bolts
- 80-lb draw weight
What we didn’t:
Pistol Crossbow for the Office/Kids
Sometimes, you just want to have a little fun. This mini crossbow looks both sleek and menacing, but it’s basically just a toy.
The arrows it shoots are equally small. In fact, they’re about the size of nerf gun bullets but with suckers on the end.
All in all, we think this is a great gift. Specifically, get it for the bowhunter in your life who likes to daydream about the woods while they’re stuck at the office. Or for the kids, who’ll love pretending to hunt around your house. It’ll sit nicely on anyone’s desk. It comes at a price that’s under almost any gift limit.
What we liked:
- Small and lightweight
- Fun gift
- Low price
What we didn’t:
- Front sight isn’t sturdy enough
Spartan Tactical Pistol Crossbow
This bow has an 80 lbs draw weight and claims to shoot bolts at upto 235 fps. It’s constructed well and the handle, trigger and parts of the foregrip are all coated with soft grip.
Assembly is made easier by the fact that it’s supplied with a bow-stringer, the limbs come detached from the main body. That body also sports a picatinny mounting rail for any accessory you’d care to add such as a quiver.
Dry firing a crossbow is always going to be bad news, it’ll damage the limbs and lower it’s life expectancy so you’ll be happy to know this one comes with a safety system that heps avoid that ever happening.
Pictures say more words than we can, pretty pictures, well….
What we liked:
- 80 lbs draw weight
- 230 fps
- Bow stringer included
- 3x bolts included
- In-built arrow quiver / bolt-holder
- Picatinny rail
What we didn’t:
2 thoughts on “What’s the Best Pistol Crossbow in 2023?”
Hello. Which crossbow from this two should I buy? Alligator has 185 fps, Cobra has 165 fps. But Alligator has plastic body and Cobra has alluminium body. Cobra is little cheaper in my country. Does difference in 20 fps mater a lot in term of strength and penetration? Thank you
Here are links for Cobra and Alligator pistol crossbows:
I have 4 80 lb pistols, these things are definitely not toys i do believe i could take a deer with one at 25 feet but that would not be legal so what is the point, the thin metal limbs on the 50 lb pistols stack like plates which makes it easy to modify a 50 lb pistol i have 3 of these as well and one has 3 limbs making it a 150 lb pistol that i know is of lethal impact, i also have 2, 120 lbs a 150 lb and a 175lb all full sized xbows, not to mention a couple of compound crossbows, love them all but prefer recurve for convenience, compound for brute take down ability.