If you are considering the purchase of a first or newer crossbow, keep these six points in mind. There is no one best bow so that the trick is to buy the one that best fits your needs, dimensions, abilities, and goals. For sure, these are generalizations, but you need facts and to some degree, my opinion on important factors. Here you go:
Recurve vs. Compound- I own each style of bow and took both kinds to Africa on safari, so one isn’t necessarily superior over the other. Recurve limbs are simpler, may be easier to replace, and often can be relaxed with a cocking rope and the proper procedure. Recurve bows cock like a vertical recurve bow such that the farther you pull the string back, the more force is required. If you are considering one, make sure you can cock it manually or purchase a cranking device. Recurve bows have fewer moving parts than compounds and won’t go out of tune, that is, one cam working differently than the other.
Compound crossbows, by contrast, are usually easier to cock since the cams reduce draw weight as the string reaches the cocking point. The Excalibur 365 is the maximum bow I can manually cock, while the Mission Micro which shoots about the same speed, cocks easily. Compound bows, can be more compact and store more energy resulting in greater arrow speed from shorter limbs if speed is important to you.
Cocking Device- Crossbows cock differently and with various devices and this can be a deal breaker on some models. TenPoint has this process down to a science with their ACUdraw 50 and ACUdraw systems. The “50” uses a traditional cocking rope, yet the handles and the rope nest in the stock. In this way you never have to wonder if you brought your cocking rope or where it is for a quick extra shot. Likewise, the crank handle for the ACUdraw system nests in the stock and is as easy as turning a crank.
Mission bows offer a standard cocking rope, yet they do not have a traditional cocking stirrup which give a much better cocking posture. I’m just 5’8” tall and cocking a long bow with a stirrup forces me to pull the rope nearly to my chin, a poor mechanical advantage. Without the cocking stirrup, I can cock the Mission primarily with my leg muscles and doing so is a breeze.
Trigger Pull- Considering all of the factors of various bows, the one that consistently fails the Byers’ test is trigger pull. If you are a rifle shooter, you know the importance of trigger pull. You want one that’s crisp (about 3 pounds of pressure) and has no creep-felt trigger movement. This varies not only from brand to brand, but model to model within a brand. Here’s where the importance of shooting the bow in the shop really comes through. On some of the most expensive bows I’ve tested, I can feel the trigger move and must continue the squeeze further. You want a trigger that’s firm enough for safety, yet fires with no felt travel.
Trigger Tech is a custom trigger manufacturer that makes custom triggers for crossbows. I’ve used them on two models and love the result.
Scopes and Sights– Most crossbow models come as a package with accessories such as a quiver, cocking device, arrows, and a sight, usually a scope. The sight shouldn’t be a deal-breaker for a bow that you really like because you can replace the scope with another model or a red-dot as you’ll see in the chapter on sights.
If you are a fan of quality optics, you may want to check out the XB75scope engineered by Zeiss. This scope offers the best in light transmission and adjusts to the speed of your arrow. Also, the Vortex Viper XBR that’s specifically designed for long range shooting. It offers a “tactical turret” that allows for dead hold-on out to 70 yards.
Size- Just like a firearm, how well a crossbow fits your stature will impact shooting consistency. The stock should fit your frame well and you should be able to swing the bow without difficulty. Weight and size become important if you are very mobile or hunt from compact places such as ground blinds or tree stands. Does the bow come with standard sling studs? If so, you can carry the bow over your shoulder like a rifle.
Warranty/Price- Finally, the amount you pay for a crossbow is probably the greatest choice of all. Prices range from under $300 to nearly $2,000 for top of the line bows. Usually, the more the bow costs, the better the warranty, yet you should ask about the fine print, such as how the bow will be repaired. Do you need to mail it back to the factory or can the shop fix it? Is the warranty transferable? Unlike compound bows, crossbows hold value well and you may want to sell this model to a buddy when a new one catches your eye.
Ultimately, selecting a bow is a matter of choice. How much speed do I want or need? How will I cock the bow? Will it be for target shooting, hunting, or both? What kinds of sight I like to use and so on? If you can’t decide, purchase a used bow, try it for a year and, after saving a few more bucks you’ll know exactly what you want.