Modern crossbows deliver ultimate performance–but which reigns supreme?
There is no longer an argument on whether a crossbow fits into a sustainable niche in the hunter’s toolbox. With velocities well over 400 feet per second and accuracy that would make some rifles envious, the verdict is in and crossbows are here to stay. We have seen the crossbow industry evolve and explode over the past decade, thanks to an expanding market and an aging cohort of bowhunters. Due to that demand, crossbows have become more powerful and increasingly accurate in addition to being more compact and durable.
The good news is that crossbows are better than ever. The bad news is that the choices can be a bit overwhelming, especially to buyers not familiar with the market. To help hunters decide which bow might be best for their needs, we evaluated five market leaders and measured their respective strengths and weaknesses. As we have done in previous years, we tested for portability, accuracy, trigger pull, velocity, and ergonomics.
Ravin R20: 24.5 Score
The Ravin R20 suffers from an identity crisis: It thinks it’s a rifle. The worst thing about shooting the Ravin is recovering the bolts from the target because they penetrate so deeply. This bow is fast and accurate, has a great trigger, and is well constructed. The R20 is pretty long, but thanks to its light weight and narrow width, it still earns top marks in terms of portability. Other than the steep price tag, it’s hard to find anything on this bow not to like. MSRP: $2,150
- Weight – 8 lbs. 2.4 oz.
- Length – 34.5 in.
- Width Cocked – 9.12 in.
- Accuracy – 1.0 in. (25 yds.)
- Trigger Pull – 2 lbs. 9.2 oz.
- Velocity – 428 fps
TenPoint Nitro X: 23.5 Score
TenPoint upped its game this year with a bow that matches the Ravin in terms of velocity when using the 370-grain Pro Lite arrow. I hog hunted with this bow earlier in the year and saw its effectiveness firsthand. This bow was the fastest that we tested, and it also received high marks for its trigger pull and accuracy. The ACUdraw cocking system is slightly more cumbersome to operate than some that we tested, but it gets the job done. TenPoint bows are well built, and this American company stands behind its products. MSRP: $2,050
- Weight – 9 lbs. 11 oz.
- Length – 29 in.
- Width Cocked – 10.5 in.
- Accuracy – 1.7 in. (25 yds.)
- Trigger Pull – 3 lbs. 14 oz.
- Velocity – 431 fps
Mission SUB-1: 22 Score
The score doesn’t necessarily reflect how much we liked this bow. It was well built, relatively quiet, and very accurate. The only downside to this bow is that it must be cocked manually, otherwise we would have given it 5 points for ergonomics (an RSD crank is available for $189). To our eyes, the Hawke optic included with the Mission had the best glass in our test. If your hunting situation doesn’t require extremely high velocity, this is a bow to consider. MSRP: $1,500
- Weight – 8 lbs. 15 oz.
- Length – 30.5 in.
- Width Cocked – 14.75 in.
- Accuracy – 1.1 in. (25 yds.)
- Trigger Pull – 2 lbs. 14.3 oz.
- Velocity – 346 fps
Excalibur Assassin: 21 Score
In years past, our chief complaint of the recurve Excalibur bows has been the effort required to cock them. We can cross that off the list thanks to the company’s new Charger Crank System, which requires only 12 pounds of force to cock the bow. The Assassin also features a user-adjustable stock that can be quickly adapted for different lengths of pull and comb heights to accommodate varying body and clothing types. Say what you will about recurve bows, they are durable and simple. You have to hand it to the folks at Excalibur: They are keeping the recurve bow relevant with their innovations. MSRP: $1,600
- Weight – 9 lbs. 5 oz.
- Length – 30 in.
- Width Cocked – 21 in.
- Accuracy – 1.3 in. (25 yds.)
- Trigger Pull – 3 lbs. 8.6 oz.
- Velocity – 354 fps
Barnett Whitetail Pro RDX: 19 Score
This was the least-expensive crossbow we tested—by a healthy margin. This Barnett’s performance wasn’t on par with the other models tested, but neither is the price tag. The TriggerTech trigger broke cleanly at just over four pounds, and the bow was very portable, thanks in part to its light weight. The bow had to be cocked manually, but a crank cocking device is available as an option. For a casual crossbow hunter looking to fill a deer tag during archery season without spending a bundle, this bow would be tough to beat. MSRP: $600
- Weight – 8 lbs.
- Length – 36 in.
- Width Cocked – 16.5 in.
- Accuracy – 2.7 in. (25 yds.)
- Trigger Pull – 4 lbs. 4.2 oz.
- Velocity – 371 fps
We evaluated five attributes of each model (portability, trigger pull, accuracy, ergonomics, and velocity) and recorded the results. In each category, a score of 0-5 was given with 5 points being the highest. There is definitely a human factor in this test, particularly in the ergonomics category. Petersen’s Hunting first asked me to conduct this test a few years ago because I have very little exposure to the archery market and am about as unbiased as it gets in terms of brand preference. Though I have learned a great deal about these products after testing so many, I have kept my relationships with the crossbow industry at arms-length.
This may matter a great deal to you or not at all, depending on your preferred hunting style. I suspect that most crossbow hunters are using treestands and off-road vehicles, but that’s not always the case. Some crossbow designs can be pretty unwieldy to carry afield, which can make for a long day on a spot-and-stalk hunt. To accurately evaluate the portability of these crossbows, we used our previously established formula based on size and weight. Each bow was weighed with only the factory-mounted optics included. We measured each bow’s width at the greatest outside point as well as its length. Our formula combined the weight in total ounces, the cocked outside width in inches, and the length in inches. The lower the number, the higher the score.
A trigger on a crossbow is a tricky device. Not only does it have to safely hold back hundreds of pounds of force, but also it must be able to release that force with just a few pounds of pressure. We tested the weight of each bow’s trigger using a Lyman digital trigger pull scale. As in 2017, the Ravin earned a full five points with a pull weight of under three pounds. The Mission also received five points, with a pull just a fraction higher than that of the Ravin. None of the trigger pulls on any of the bows were a detriment to accuracy during our testing.
This is the least objective portion of the test, and some human bias is probably present. Essentially, this category is “how much I liked the bow” and considers factors such as ease of cocking and loading, handling characteristics, safety features, noise level, ease of assembly, and overall design. The Ravin and Mission bows received full points here thanks
to being solidly built and user-friendly. Unlike years past, each bow performed satisfactorily, and there isn’t a bow in this test that I would hesitate to hunt with.
Three three-shot groups were fired from each bow at 25 yards, and the outside spread was measured with a 0.001-inch caliper and averaged. Candidly, all these bows shot very well. The Ravin shot the tightest groups, beating the Mission
by a mere 0.1 inch. The Excalibur and TenPoint were right on the tails of those bows, with only the Barnett falling above the two-inch mark. In terms of translation to the field, I wouldn’t hesitate to hunt with any of these bows
at 50 yards.
To measure the muzzle velocity, each bow was fired over a ProChrono Pal chronograph at a distance of three feet. We fired three shots and averaged the results. Last year, the Ravin R15 stood high above the rest of the pack, but it didn’t hold the title long. The TenPoint Nitro X edged-out the Ravin in terms of speed, besting it by a mere three feet per second on average. The other three bows all hovered in the 340- to 370-fps range, which, practically speaking, is pretty darn fast.