The Modern Crossbow: A Not So Primitive Weapon

To most archers who shoot a modern compound bow, a crossbow is little more than a curiosity and, to most traditional archers who shoot either a recurve or a longbow, a cross bow is pure anathema. However, the fact of the matter is that the modern crossbow has evolved right along with the modern compound bow and, in fact, they share the same technology. Consequently, today’s crossbows are significantly more sophisticated than those of even just a few years ago and thus, not only are they considerably faster, they are also more accurate, more compact, and lighter weight. Consequently, there are now more reasons than ever to consider making the switch to this so called “primitive weapon”.

Of course, one question that nearly all hunters ask at one time or another is “why would I want to use a crossbow?” and, while the answers to this question are many and varied, one answer is that a crossbow is perfect for people who are avid gun hunters that would also like to extend their season but, don’t wish to spend the time necessary to become skilled with a compound or recurve bow. Thus, because a crossbow is essentially an extra-short bow mounted on the end of a gun stock, the same skills that are used to shoot a firearm can be employed to shoot a crossbow; thus making it a familiar weapon. Plus, because a crossbow can be pre-drawn and cocked prior to encountering game, it only requires the strength to draw the bow, not hold it in the drawn position while trying to aim; thus making it much easier to achieve an accurate shot. Also, a handful of the fastest crossbows on the market today can achieve arrow speeds exceeding 400 fps (a threshold that compound bow shooters can only dream about) which translates to exceptionally flat trajectories over long ranges. Furthermore, a crossbow can be outfitted with modern, illuminated, multi-reticule, scopes that are specifically calibrated for use with a crossbow and thus, they provide the archer sophisticated optics for pinpoint accuracy. Last, most people can master the basic skills of shooting a crossbow in no more than an hour or so of informal shooting in their backyard and after that, a little practice is all that is needed to hone the skill and keep it sharp.

But, regardless of your reasons for deciding to make the switch to shooting a crossbow, it’s a wise idea to spend some time learning about them and learning what features set one crossbow apart from another so that you can make the best possible choice when it comes time to purchase your first crossbow. So, what features should you look for when choosing a crossbow? Well, the four criteria that most people consider most important are that it be fast, lightweight, compact, and accurate. Now, obviously, the faster the arrow travels, the flatter its trajectory will be but, the reason that a flat trajectory is so important is that even though archers commonly engage targets at much closer ranges than gun hunters, shot placement is still critical and thus, so is range estimation. But, the flatter the arrow’s trajectory is, the less drop it will experience and thus, the less critical precise range estimation becomes. Also, when choosing a crossbow, you should pay close attention to its overall weight because, just like a compound bow, you are going to have to carry it into and out of the woods with you. Therefore, while a crossbow that is a little on the heavy side is not a problem if you are hunting on reasonably flat terrain and/or reasonably close to your vehicle, a few ounces can make a huge difference and, when traversing rough terrain and/or long distances, a difference of a couple of pounds can feel like the difference between carrying a recurve and carrying a compound bow. In addition, most hunters want a bow that is well balanced and easy to maneuver in a tree stand or a ground blind and thus, crossbows with short stocks and short axle-to-axle lengths are often sought after. Then, there is the question of limb design because you will need to choose between recurve and compound limbs. While it is true that recurve limb designs are both lighter and quieter than compound limb designs, it is also true that compound limbs are usually significantly faster than recurve limbs of the same draw weight due to their cams which, in turn, leads us to the next question concerning draw weight. For instance, while it is true that most states only require a minimum crossbow draw weight of 75 to 125 lbs., most hunters prefer at least a 150 lb. draw weight but, for those hunters who like to pursue truly large and/or dangerous game species, draw weights of 175 lbs. to 225 lbs. are not at all excessive. But, archers with smaller statures may find it difficult to draw a bow of that weight and thus, they may require a lesser draw weight instead. However, some models do have integral cocking devices which make drawing the bow much easier; thus placing it within the capacity of most shooters to draw even the heaviest bows. Furthermore, it is wise to choose a model that incorporates both an automatic safety mechanism and an automatic dry fire inhibitor to prevent accidental damage to the bow and, it is helpful to choose one that has a let off mechanism so that you do not have to fire the bow to uncock it. Beyond that, it is mostly a matter of bells and whistles such as whether the stock has an adjustable butt plate and cheek piece or not, whether it has a machined aluminum barrel or a carbon fiber barrel, whether it has a machined aluminum riser or a carbon fiber riser, whether or not it has a vibration dampening system, and the type of sight that it comes with.

So, because the modern crossbow has evolved dramatically over the last decade, speed, accuracy, size, and weight have all been significantly improved and thus, many of the reasons that hunters had for disliking crossbows are now non-existent. In fact, attitudes toward this not so primitive weapon have changed so much in recent years that some states now allow the use of crossbows throughout their entire bow season by any hunter of legal age and more states are expected to follow suite in the future. Consequently, the number of hunters choosing to hunt with a crossbow is also expected to rise. Therefore, if you are not presently an archer but are considering becoming one in order to extend your hunting season, then a crossbow just may be the perfect answer for you.