Field Tested: Crossbows That Kill
September 05, 2019
As crossbows gain acceptance in more states, the industry continues to grow. An influx of new buyers has led to a more competitive marketplace in which new innovations are introduced every year at the annual Archery Trade Association (ATA) Show. The 400 fps barrier seemed insurmountable not long ago, but now ultra-narrow crossbows shooting lightning-fast speeds are becoming the norm.
Most of the crossbows in our test are flagship models with price points starting at $1,299 and ranging as high as $2,549. But the technology that advances these flagship crossbows makes today’s budget bows better than ever. The crossbow that shooters can purchase for around $700 today is light years ahead of a crossbow at a similar price four or five years ago.
To help hunters select the best crossbow for their needs, we evaluated five market-leading models to compare their strengths and weaknesses. As we have done in the past, we scored crossbows based on portability, trigger pull, accuracy, ergonomics, and velocity.
When the R9 and R15 were released in 2017, their narrow frames and incredible speeds revolutionized the industry. Two years later, Ravin is still pushing the envelope. The R26 is Ravin’s most compact crossbow ever at just over 26 inches long. Despite the fact that it can fit in a large backpack, the R26 still shoots over 400 fps. The bullpup design brings your hand forward, making this crossbow feel even more balanced. However, with a price tag over $2,000, it’s not for everyone. MSRP: $2,050
- Hit: Compact, easy to use.
- Miss: Pricey
Mission Sub-1 XR
Mission Crossbows turned a lot of heads with the Sub-1 in late 2017 and into 2018. It was incredibly accurate, and the Benchmark Fire Control trigger system made it the easiest crossbow to decock. The only knock against it was a perceived lack of speed. The engineers at Mission solved that problem with the Sub-1 XR. The XR has blown past the 400 fps barrier yet still features the Benchmark Fire Control system and a lifetime warranty. MSRP: $1,699
- Hit: Simple decock feature; great scope.
- Miss: A little front heavy.
Tenpoint Nitro XRT
If the speed wars truly exist in the crossbow industry, TenPoint is a superpower. At 435 fps, the Nitro XRT is the fastest of the crossbows we tested, and it’s even faster with TenPoint’s Pro Lite arrows. Boasting a built-in crank cocking device and a super-narrow reverse-limb design, the Nitro XRT is TenPoint’s best crossbow ever. With a suggested retail price of $2,549, it’s not cheap. But as Ferris Bueller famously said, “If you have the means, I highly recommend picking one up.” MSRP: $2,549
- Hit: Very fast, well balanced.
- Miss: Pricey.
Excalibur Micro 360 TD
Featuring a recurve design, there are no cams and cables on Excalibur Crossbows. Simplicity can be a huge advantage but may present some disadvantages. They have a heavy draw weight and a wide stature. Excalibur’s silent Charger EXT crank makes cocking easy, and this year it has introduced a takedown design. This innovation allows the shooter to take the front of the bow off with the push of a button and put it back on without losing zero, a game-changer for those who fly to hunting destinations—no more bulky crossbow cases! MSRP: $1,499
Hit: Accurate, breaks down into small case.
- Miss: Heavy draw weight.
Barnett Hyperghost 425
The Barnett HyperGhost 425 doesn’t have the features found on some of the other crossbows in the test, but at $1,299, the price tag is more palatable. It’s hardly a “budget bow,” but you definitely get what you pay for. The HyperGhost 425 breaks the 400 fps barrier and includes a CNC-machined rail, TriggerTech trigger assembly, and a variable-power scope. Of the crossbows that didn’t have a crank, it was the heaviest and felt a little front heavy due to length. MSRP: $1,299
- Hit: Fastest for the money.
- Miss: Front heavy, not as accurate.
We evaluated five attributes of each model (portability, trigger pull, accuracy, ergonomics, and velocity) and recorded the results. In each category, a score from 0–5 was given with 5 being the highest possible score. The human factor is present in the test, especially in the accuracy and ergonomics categories. I’ve worked at a top crossbow retailer in the past and have spent plenty of time shooting at the range. But for this rundown, I shot in hunting scenarios, to give you an accurate handle on crossbow performance when it matters most: in the field with the buck of a lifetime in the crosshairs.
Most top-end crossbows are eight pounds or more when the stirrup, scope, and quiver are mounted, precisely the way you’ll carry it into the woods. I call this “real weight,” and you’ll notice the weights of the crossbows in my test differ from what you’ll see advertised in the catalogs.
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 length in inches. The lower the number, the higher the score.
About five years ago, super-light crossbow triggers were the rage. The result was a series of trigger recalls and nervous hunters. Crossbow triggers are not the same as a trigger you might find on a tactical rifle. They not only release the string with just a few pounds of pull, but also must hold back hundreds of pounds of pressure constantly pushing to be released. Designing a crossbow trigger with less than two pounds of pull simply isn’t possible. The Ravin R26 had the lightest in the test, but the rest weren’t far behind.
Three three-shot groups were fired from each crossbow at 30 yards from a rest. Arrow spread was measured with a 0.001-inch caliper. I threw out the worst group to account for human error and averaged the best two. The Excalibur Micro 360 TD was the most accurate in the test (all five shot well).
You’ll notice even my best average group of 1.1 inches at 30 yards is not as impressive as the groups advertised by some manufacturers. They lock the crossbow in a vice and shoot it with no wind and perfectly tuned arrows. Even then, there will still be other variables that can affect accuracy. A “sub-one-inch group” was probably the best of many shot in their test. Hunters expecting to pull a crossbow out of the box and shoot one-inch groups at 100 yards will be disappointed.
How does it feel? How easy is it to use? The Ravin R26 won this category thanks to its compact design and unique trigger system. The anti-dry-fire mechanism on the Ravin is located behind the trigger latch. The crossbow will not shoot un-less the arrow is indexed properly and securely around the string. This design virtually eliminates partial dry-fire situations, the leading cause of failure.
The R26 and Nitro XRT both include built-in cranks to make cocking the crossbow easy for just about anyone. Removable cranks can be purchased for the Excalibur Micro 360 TD, Mission Sub-1 XR, and Barnett HyperGhost 425. The Ravin, Excalibur, and Mission can all be decocked without shooting an arrow. The TenPoint and Barnett will need to be shot to decock them.Velocity
To measure velocity, we fired three shots with each crossbow through a Competition Electronics ProChrono Pal Chronograph, and averaged the speeds. On paper, this category looks to be the most straight forward, but there are variables. The weight of the arrows varies by manufacturer. For example, the TenPoint was tested at 435 fps with the EVO-X arrow, weighing in at 465 grains. If you shoot TenPoint’s lightest arrow, the ProLite, you’ll pick up an extra 30 fps. The Mission Sub-1 XR shot 414 fps with an arrow weighing a hair under 350 grains. The physics lesson that details the advantages of a heavier arrow is fodder for another article, but let’s just say there is a distinct difference.