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Head to Head Review: Top Crossbows of 2013

Head to Head Review: Top Crossbows of 2013

Our annual crossbow shootout is undoubtedly the project that takes the most time. We do all the testing in-house so we have complete oversight. We don't regurgitate press releases or cater to the best advertiser — this is a true competition in which we judge the bows based on several criteria.

To the best of our knowledge, we are the only magazine that actually tests such a wide range of crossbows this extensively. We start by physically taking measurements and weights, using a certified postage scale to ensure accuracy.

After the tale of the tape is recorded, we start testing. The first is the trigger pull measurement. More difficult than dry-firing a firearm, this involves cocking the crossbow, loading a bolt, and actually firing it with a trigger pull gauge multiple times to establish an average.

The next test is to chronograph velocity. This test often shows a discrepancy between our results and the promoted velocity. Just like the vertical bow industry, there is a difference between how much velocity you can achieve using as light as possible of an arrow versus the typical velocity with a hunting-weight arrow.

So we test velocity in two ways: First, we test with the manufacturer's supplied arrow, then we chronograph every bow with a standard arrow. This year, we used Easton FMJs with a total weight of 485 grains. To best test for accuracy, we used the supplied manufacturer's arrow, as it should be optimized to perform with the particular crossbow.

We fired multiple three shot groups at 25 yards off a bench with several experienced shooters. We list the best group as well as the average. We strive to provide the most accurate crossbow test in the business at Petersen's Hunting, and if you ask us, we have succeeded. So without further delay, we bring you the top crossbows of 2013.

Carbon Express Covert SLS

Testers liked the looks of the green anodized aluminum and the radical styling. However, three things make us reconsider the Carbon Express Covert SLS. The scope, while clear and functional, is mounted too high for proper eye alignment. The trigger is too creepy and heavy for our taste. But the real bummer is shot noise. When fired, the Covert SLS was easily the loudest bow tested. This crossbow is not a scorcher, but velocity and accuracy (1.25 inch average) are more than adequate for hunting tasks. The detachable pistol grip forend, for those that like it, is a nice bonus.

Weight: 9 lbs., 7 oz.
Power Stroke: 13 in.
Draw Weight: 185
Width Cocked: 16 ¾ in.
Width Uncocked: 19 ½ in.
Supplied Arrow Velocity: 337 fps
Test Arrow Velocity: 312 fps
Trigger Pull: 6 ¼
Best Group: 1 in.

Price: $600

Darton Viper SS Xtreme

Built like a battle ship, maybe a bit sturdier, the Darton Viper SS Xtreme is our first experience with Darton crossbows. But after testing this futuristic-looking bow, we're quite certain it won't be the last we test. If the rock solid build and simple operation doesn't catch your fancy, precision accuracy (1-inch group average), good speed, and a match grade trigger sure will. The one downside is, at 9 pounds, 14 ounces, the Viper SS Xtreme feels about like a serpent with a belly full of small lizards and mammals. Slim this model down and it will be a force to be reckoned with!

Weight: 9 lbs., 14 oz.
Power Stroke: 13 ½ in.
Draw Weight: 180
Width Cocked: 17 ¾ in.
Width Uncocked: 20 in.
Supplied Arrow Velocity: 348 fps
Test Arrow Velocity: 329 fps
Trigger Pull: 2 ½
Best Group: .75 in.

Price: $947

Mission MXB-360

Mission Archery is a division of Mathews, an industry leader in the compound bow arena, so they know a thing or two about flinging fletched projectiles. The MXB-360 impressed us. The nimble, lightweight chassis provides great ergonomics, balancing just forward of the support hand. This superb balance, coupled with the low weight (a shade over 7½ pounds) and only moderate shot vibration, make the Mission a pleasure to shoot. It averaged a 1.75 inch three shot group. The only issue we had is the location of the cocking fixture underneath the stock, which made for the slowest reloading of the test, but we have to say it provides a great angle to keep the cocking rope tight along the rail.

Weight: 7 lbs., 9 oz.
Power Stroke: 14 in.
Draw Weight: 160
Width Cocked: 18 in.
Width Uncocked: 20 in.
Supplied Arrow Velocity: 339 fps
Test Arrow Velocity: 322 fps
Trigger Pull: 4 ¾
Best Group: 1.25 in.

Price: $899

Barnett Ghost 410

Do you lust for bolt speed? Have a thirst for accuracy? Prefer lightweight crossbows? If you answered yes to any or all of these, be sure to check out Barnett's Ghost 410, a fine crossbow that embodies all of these attributes and more. Testers were drawn to the carbon fiber coloring and limb-incorporated stirrup, keeping overall length down. Accuracy was likewise a hit, with groups averaging .75 of an inch. Pass through forend ensures a safe and sturdy grip. The one reoccurring complaint was about cocking this speed demon. Due to the long power stroke, it was the most difficult crossbow to cock. Once cocked, however, this bow not only blazes bolts at scary velocity, it does so with scary accuracy, too.

Weight: 8 lbs., 3 oz.
Power Stroke: 15.3 in.
Draw Weight: 185
Width Cocked: 18 ¾ in.
Width Uncocked: 22 ¾ in.
Supplied Arrow Velocity: 386 fps
Test Arrow Velocity: 376 fps
Trigger Pull: 3 ¾
Best Group: .75 in.

Price: [imo-slideshow gallery=137],200

Stryker Strykezone 380

Light in weight and high in speed, the Stryker Strykezone 380 — built by the wizards at BowTech — is one helluva crossbow, cramming a long power stroke into compact real estate. Like other long draw bows, the Strykezone is more difficult to draw than the average crossbow. Once it's set, though, prepare for a steller shooting experience. Shot noise was the quietest tested. Stability, especially for such a short bow, was excellent. And the Kill Switch trigger, the finest of the bunch, made it surprisingly easy to print small groups with the Strykezone 380. Interestingly enough, the group average and the best group were the same — right at an inch. Very consistent!

Weight: 7 lbs., 12 oz.
Power Stroke: 15 ½ in.
Draw Weight: 160
Width Cocked: 18 ½ in.
Width Uncocked: 23 ½ in.
Supplied Arrow Velocity: 348 fps
Test Arrow Velocity: 325 fps
Trigger Pull: 2 ¾
Best Group: 1 in.

Price: $899

Excalibur Matrix 355

John Rambo may have preferred a compound bow, but we're pretty sure MacGyver's weapon of choice — besides a Swiss Army knife, of course — would have been a recurve crossbow, an utterly simple yet capable weapon. Excalibur's new potent, compact, and durable Matrix 355 is a fine example. It's not perfect, as shot noise was the second loudest tested, but speed was respectable, accuracy phenomenal, and it has a fantastic trigger. In fact, after drilling one Easton FMJ shaft inside another at 25 yards and maintaining a group average of just .75 inches, one tester called it 'scary accurate. ' And, as with all Excaliburs, in the field string changes can be done in 30 seconds.

Weight: 7 lbs., 13 oz.
Power Stroke: 13 in.
Draw Weight: 240
Width Cocked: 26 ½ in.
Width Uncocked: 31 in.
Supplied Arrow Velocity: 340 fps
Test Arrow Velocity: 309 fps
Trigger Pull: 2 ¾
Best Group: .5 in.

Price: $950

TenPoint Stealth SS

It's no secret that we're fans of TenPoint crossbows. We're also big proponents of superb handling over supernova-like speed. So when we opened the TenPoint package and withdrew the compact and nimble Stealth SS, it was love at first shouldering. And after we Robin Hooded a bolt after only three shots at 25 yards and achieved a group average of a measly .75 of an inch, this love morphed into all-out obsession. Our sole critique was a bit of shot noise. But that's it. Everything else — speed, stability, weight, accuracy, and trigger pull — was superlative and fitting of the TenPoint name. Best of the test? Absolutely. The Stealth SS may be our favorite crossbow ever.

Weight: 8 lbs., 10 oz.
Power Stroke: 17 in.
Draw Weight: 185
Width Cocked: 17 in.
Width Uncocked: 19 ¾ in.
Supplied Arrow Velocity: 327 fps
Test Arrow Velocity: 316 fps
Trigger Pull: 3 ½
Best Group: .5 in.

Price: [imo-slideshow gallery=137],119

Wicked Ridge Raider CLS

The Wicked Ridge Raider CLS is kinda like the .30-06 of the crossbow world: ultra dependable and highly effective. Wicked Ridge crossbows are made by TenPoint, making this a price-point crossbow — one that costs, and is well worth, $700. The Raider CLS isn't for the macho or magnum crowd, and the moderate velocity may turn off some buyers, but for those seeking practicality and performance, a finer value doesn't exist. And like all TenPoints, this crossbow shoots, turning in a 1-inch average. Having the ACU-52 drawing system (our favorite) built in only sweetens the deal.

Weight: 8 lbs., 9 oz.
Power Stroke: 13 in.
Draw Weight: 180
Width Cocked: 19 ¾ in.
Width Uncocked: 22 ½ in.
Supplied Arrow Velocity: 309 fps
Test Arrow Velocity: 306 fps
Trigger Pull: 3 ½
Best Group: .75 in.

Price: $719

Winchester Stallion SS

The Winchester Stallion SS came out of the gate like Seabiscuit, wowing us with build quality, looks, made-in-the-USA pedigree, and a superb illuminated scope. Cocking the bow was straightforward, resting it on the bench was effortless, and cheekweld and eye alignment felt more like a custom-stocked varmint rifle than a crossbow. The Stallion shot well, too, producing 1.5 inch average groups. Then we met the Stallion's Achilles hoof: its 9+ pound trigger. Needless to say, our bubble quickly burst. While a fine performer in every other category, a crossbow of this price needs a better trigger. Know any gunsmiths that tackle crossbow triggers?

Weight: 10 lbs., 7 oz.
Power Stroke: 12 ½ in.
Draw Weight: 165
Width Cocked: 18 ¾ in.
Width Uncocked: 21 in.
Supplied Arrow Velocity: 317 fps
Test Arrow Velocity: 302 fps
Trigger Pull: 9+
Best Group: 1 ½ in.

Price: [imo-slideshow gallery=137],300

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