Head-to-Head Review: Top Crossbows of 2015
July 24, 2015
Not many years ago, crossbows were seen as a novelty among hunters. You were more likely to see a crossbow in a low-budget action movie than you were in a deer blind, but with the widespread legalization of crossbows during archery season, all that has changed.
While not as "rifle-like" as some would have you believe, crossbows offer several advantages over traditional compound bows. They can be cocked indefinitely, so they don't need to be drawn when a target presents itself; they are fired from the shoulder and equipped with optics, so obtaining lethal accuracy requires less of a learning curve; they are capable of faster velocities than vertical bows; and they can be operated by hunters who cannot draw and hold a traditional bow, including smaller individuals and the disabled. Tradition aside, the crossbow is superior to the bow in nearly every technical aspect.
Crossbows are everywhere, but many of us don't know one from another and base purchasing decisions on less than complete information. Velocity and price are good indicators, but they don't tell the complete story. Our goal was to perform meaningful tests on some of the most popular crossbows on the market to help readers make informed decisions before shelling out cash.
We gathered seven crossbows from top makers and evaluated them using a list of standardized criteria. We shot these bows until we physically couldn't cock them any longer at ranges from 10 to 50 yards.
As always, we kept our testing as fair as humanly possible — what you see is what we experienced, warts and all.
Horton Storm RDX
The Horton is noticeably different as soon as you pull it out of the box. The reverse limb arrangement makes the bow one of the narrowest models that we tested, and it's obviously effective since it is also the fastest.
With an average velocity of 374 fps, the Storm is actually slightly faster than the company's literature suggests — a rare quality. The high velocity results in a flight time that was noticeably faster than the other models that we tested at longer distances.
Though the Storm's 30-yard accuracy was on par with others, the 50-yard groups were incredible. This bow was tough to cock, so the optional ACUdraw crank system would be a good investment for the non-Crossfitters out there.
Hit: Fastest and most accurate bow tested.
Miss: Somewhat tough to cock, high price.
Overall Length | 35 in.
Overall Weight | 8 lbs. 15 oz.
Trigger Pull | 2 lbs. 11 oz.
Length of Pull | 13.5 in.
Width Cocked | 14.75 in.
30-yd. Group Size | 1.35 in.
50-yd. Group Size | 1.46 in.
Arrow Velocity | 374 fps
TenPoint Stealth FX4
TenPoint, which has won in the past, wasn't quite the fastest, wasn't the most accurate, and wasn't the most compact, but it was near the top in each of those categories.
It was one of the quietest bows tested and was fast and easy to cock. The Stealth came equipped with a set of 10 harmonic dampeners to be installed by the user on various parts of the bow — which surely contributed to the decreased shot noise.
The TenPoint's accuracy was fantastic at 30 yards and nearly equaled that of the Horton at 50. The holdover marks on the Stealth's illuminated reticle 3X scope proved to be the most accurate among the factory-installed scopes that we tested.
Hit: Solid accuracy, lots of speed, easy to cock, portable, and moderate noise.
Miss: Highest priced bow tested.
Overall Length | 33.5 in.
Overall Weight | 8 lbs. 10.8 oz.
Trigger Pull |3 lbs. 5.2 oz.
Length of Pull | 13.5 in.
Width Cocked | 16.5 in.
30-yd. Group Size | 0.70 in.
50-yd. Group Size | 2.49 in.
Arrow Velocity | 339 fps
The Stryker Offspring was one of the sleepers in our lineup. Nothing about it jumps out from the pack, but when viewed collectively, it's a real performer. It was accurate, fast, and easy to cock.
It was the most complicated bow to assemble, but even then, it was only a 15-minute task. The velocity was exactly as advertised and was second only to the Horton among the six bows tested.
The Stryker came in last in the portability category, which is either very important or barely relevant depending on your hunting style and location.
Hit: Solid overall performance .
Miss: Somewhat tricky to assemble.
Overall Length | 37.5 in.
Overall Weight | 8 lbs. 7.2 oz.
Trigger Pull | 3 lbs. 13.7 oz.
Length of Pull | 13 in.
Width Cocked | 20 in.
30-yd. Group Size | 1.1 in.
50-yd. Group Size | 2.02 in.
Arrow Velocity | 355 fps
The Excalibur Micro was the only recurve-style crossbow tested, and it's lightweight, compact, accurate, and quiet. The bad news is that since there is no cam, this bow elicits four-letter words from the user in order to get it cocked.
This bow required some basic assembly but nothing too challenging. Despite its limb shape, it was surprisingly fast. Its width was the only thing keeping it from winning the portability category — other than the limbs, it is a slim and trim bow.
Accuracy-wise, it was among the best bows we tested. The trigger pull was good, but it had a definite "wall" just before it broke — not good or bad, just an observation.
Hit: Short and quiet with good performance.
Miss: Hard to cock.
Overall Length | 32.5 in.
Overall Weight | 7 lbs. 7 oz.
Trigger Pull | 3 lbs. 9 oz.
Length of Pull | 9.5 in.
Width Cocked | 22 in.
30-yd. Group Size | 1.0 in.
50-yd. Group Size | 1.98 in.
Arrow Velocity | 335 fps
Wicked Ridge Invader G3
The Wicked Ridge Invader G3 is priced for the hunter who intends to use the bow a week a year and isn't looking to miss any mortgage payments to do so. This bow's limbs are two feet wide when uncocked, making it among the least-compact designs in our lineup.
It is also noticeably louder than the rest. The integrated ACU-52 cocking system makes cocking easy. This bow's accuracy was so good at 30 yards that we actually broke two bolts while shooting groups.
The performance fell off at 50 yards, but I wouldn't hesitate to hunt with it at that distance. With an average velocity of 322 fps, it's nearly as fast as the median of the pricier models. If you're looking for the best bang for your buck, you have a winner.
Hit: Great value, easy to cock, best trigger.
Miss: Slightly noisy and also the widest.
Overall Length | 37.5 in.
Overall Weight | 8 lbs. 5.6 oz.
Trigger Pull | 1 lbs. 12.6 oz.
Length of Pull | 13.5 in.
Width Cocked | 21.5 in.
30-yd. Group Size | 0.91 in.
50-yd. Group Size | 3.03 in.
Arrow Velocity | 322 fps
Mission MXB-Sniper Lite
The Mission MXB-Sniper Lite rules the roost from a portability standpoint due to the combination of its light weight and narrow dimensions. This bow is very easy to cock but the trade-off is a speed that is unimpressive.
If one isn't very careful when cocking this bow, it is easy to bend or break the leaf spring that holds the arrow into position — ask me how I know. This bow was very accurate, with average groups at 50-yards slightly smaller than those fired at 30 which is likely due to optical parallax.
Hit: Good 50-yard accurracy, light-weight design, easy to cock .
Miss: Slowest velocity tested.
Overall Length | 32.75 in.
Overall Weight | 7 lbs.
Trigger Pull | 3 lbs. 7.5 oz.
Length of Pull | 15 in.
Width Cocked | 17.33 in.
30-yrd. Group Size | 1.86 in.
50-yrd. Group Size | 1.78 in.
Arrow Velocity | 295 fps
Barnett BC Raptor Reverse
The Barnett BC Raptor Reverse we tested had a reverse limb arrangement similar to that of the Horton, which made the bow very narrow and portable. Unfortunately for this bow, the biggest standout was a negative: the 5-pound trigger pull.
In reality, this is a non-issue in most field conditions, but it made our accuracy testing a bit more challenging. Accuracy, velocity, and ergonomics were pretty much middle of the road among the bows we tested. This bow was easy to cock and simple to operate.
Hit: Narrow profile and easy to cock.
Miss: Mediocre trigger.
Overall Length | 32 in.
Overall Weight | 7 lbs. 10 oz.
Trigger Pull | 5 lbs. 1 oz.
Length of Pull | 13.75 in.
Width Cocked | 11.5 in.
30-yrd. Group Size | 1.89 in.
50-yrd. Group Size | 2.83 in.
Arrow Velocity | 331 fps
Each bow was weighed, using an accurate postal-style scale, to determine overall mass. For consistency, the only accessory that was included in the weight were the factory-mounted optics.
Additionally, each bow's width was measured both cocked and uncocked at the axle and at the greatest outside width. A simple formula combined the weight in total ounces and the sum of the cocked and uncocked outside widths — the lower the number, the higher the score.
Once a zero was established, the bows were shot from a solid rest to determine accuracy potential. Three, three-shot groups were fired from each bow at both 30 and 50 yards, and the outside spread was measured and averaged.
The 30-yard tests were performed indoors to eliminate wind drift but a 50-yard indoor range was not available. Accuracy was surprisingly good across the board, with all of the bows capable of ethical accuracy out to at least the 50-yard mark and in most cases beyond.
The star of the accuracy show was the Horton Storm, with 50-yard groups averaging just less than 1.5 inches. Group sizes in inches at both distances were averaged in order to achieve the final score in this category.
The weight of each bow's trigger was tested using a Lyman digital trigger pull scale. Since crossbows are designed to prevent dry-firing, the pull weights were tested while firing bolts.
All of the bows had trigger pulls that would make a rifle jealous, though none of them broke as cleanly as a good rifle trigger. The Wicked Ridge had the lightest trigger in the lineup at under two pounds, though there was plenty of take-up before it broke.
All of the triggers were quite good, except the Barnett which scored a two.
Velocity is important in this context for three reasons: higher velocity results in a flatter trajectory requiring less holdover correction, decreased flight time resulting in less wind drift and making it tougher for game to react to the shot, and terminal performance on game meaning a faster and more ethical kill.
Each bow was fired over an Oehler 35P chronograph at a distance of three yards. Three shots were fired from each bow, and the results were averaged. If you're not familiar with crossbows, you'd be amazed at how consistent the velocities are — none of the bows varied more than two feet per second from shot to shot.
This consistent velocity is a key factor in the excellent accuracy that we saw across the board during our testing. The Horton produced the fastest velocities by a wide margin — a full 80 fps faster than the nearest competitor.
In this "catch all" category we measured the intangibles such as ease of cocking and loading, handling characteristics, safety features, noise level, and overall design. To eliminate as much personal preference as possible, emphasis was based on the cocking and noise categories.
Watch these crossbow sighting tips from Petersen's Hunting TV as Kevin Steele and Mark Sidelinger with TenPoint sight in their crossbows before they head out for a mountain lion hunt in west Texas: