Crossbow Buyer's Guide

Bow hunter with crossbow

It's a safe bet that the crossbow has advanced more in the last 20 years than in the past 2,000, and innovation shows no sign of slowing down. New materials throughout, limb designs, strings, sights, bolts, stock construction and cocking mechanisms have made modern crossbows easier to use, more accurate and increasingly effective on game. The modern crossbow allows hunters who may not be able to draw a bow to deliver an extremely precise shot.

Killer Instinct Crossbow Package
Killer Instinct Crossbow Package

Crossbows are very versatile and great for anyone. Those who, through age, injury or lack of arm strength, cannot draw a regular bow can still experience the thrill of archery hunting by using a crossbow. The combination of optical sights and the fact that the user does not have to strain to draw a bow enables many archers to extend their deer hunting by 10 or even 20 years by using a crossbow.

The crossbow’s high precision appeals to those who like to leave nothing to chance. Bench-rest rifle shooters often fall in love with the crossbow’s ability to put shot after shot in nearly the same hole. (When target practicing, or sighting in, shoot only one arrow at the time. or at different targets to keep from ruining your shafts and points.)

Ravin Crossbows R10
Ravin Crossbows R10 Package

Tip: The Killer Instinct Lethal 405 Crossbow Package features incredible velocities of up to 405 fps and its rugged, lightweight composite frame is quite. The frame features an over molded grip and adjustable X-Lok forearm piece for maximum comfort and control, while the included 4x32 scope extends your overall range.    This crossbow package includes a rope cocker, 3-bolt quiver, string suppressors, 3 carbon bolts with field tips, and rail lubricant, ensuring you're ready for target practice, right out of the box!

Tip: The Ravin Crossbows R10 Crossbow Package offers rifle-like feel - measures just 6.5" from axle to axle when cocked. The Ravin's HeliCoil technology coils the cables away from the top and bottom of the R10's cams in helical grooves, keeping the cams perfectly balanced. This unique balance allows the cams to rotate 340° while remaining completely level through the draw and release for precise accuracy you don't expect from a crossbow. Comes with illuminated scope, 3-arrow quiver, 3 Ravin arrows with nocks and 100 grain practice points, removable cocking handle, and accessories bracket. This package is fully assembled and pre-tuned. Check out the Ravin Crossbows hard bow case here.

Two of the Most Common Types of Crossbows

Excalibur GRZ 2 Crossbow Package
Excalibur GRZ 2 Recurve Crossbow Package

Just as there are recurve and compound bows, there are recurve and compound crossbows. The recurve crossbow is simpler because it lacks the complicated stringing required for the round-wheel or asymmetric-wheel compound crossbows. Simplicity is its most attractive feature. The moving cams and cables are eliminated, saving valuable weight. Often this lack of moving parts translates to a lower price point and proves to be relatively inexpensive to operate compared to its compound cousins.

Tip: The Excalibur GRZ 2 Crossbow Package includes: Fixed Power Scope with mounting hardware, 4 arrow quiver with mounting hardware, 3 Diablo arrows with 150-grain field points, and a rope cocking aid.

recurve vs compbown crossbowThe compound crossbow is archery engineering at its finest. Generally, a compound crossbow has shorter limbs, making it somewhat easier than recurves to handle in tight places. Most compounds will shoot the same weight arrows faster than recurves. The complex lever-and-pulley-style systems allow a larger potential energy in the bolt while allowing cocking mechanisms to require less effort. This happens with two cam types.

Bow Cams - Outside & Inside

Outside-rotating cams have been the standard of crossbows since the introduction of the compound. Strings roll off outside-rotating cams at the farthest point apart by rotating inside-out. The angles of the string off the cams are mild and rely more on the limbs to generate power than inside-rotating cams.

Since these cam types translate to wider axle-to-axle widths, they're more suited for open maneuvering outside of blinds and treestands.

The argument for inside-rotating cams is the power generated in a more compact construction. Since the strings rotate off the cams from the inside, the string angles are more extreme. This also means the axle-to-axle distance is far more compact, so it's perfect for working around a treestand or in a blind.

Crossbow Limb Types

Wicked Ridge RDX 400 Crossbow
Wicked Ridge RDX 400 Reverse Limb

Much like how the two cam systems above affect the width of a crossbow, limb types affect the length. Standard limbs are what pops into everyone's mind when they hear the word "crossbow". Looking like a bow turned horizontally, the limb pockets and riser sit at the end of the barrel (where the bolt rests when cocked). How the limbs work allows the cams to have inside- or outside-rotation. The balance is steady in the hand for free-handed shooting.

Tip: The  Wicked Ridge, the RDX 400 Crossbow Package is a reverse-draw balanced design. This big performer utilizes the Reaper Cam System and an elongated power stroke to launch accurate shots up to 400 fps with 140 ft. lbs. of energy.

In 2003 James "Jim" Kempf of Scorpyd Crossbows came up with the reverse-limb or reverse draw crossbow. This looks like the bow part was stuck on backwards, where the riser and limb pockets sit towards the butt of the stock, rather than at the end. The string also appears to launch the bolt "backwards". This has translated to crossbows that are unparalleled for compact power. This means it’s easy to use in a confined space like a blind or treestand.

parts of a compound bow
Compound Crossbow Parts,  graphic courtesy of

Because of this design, they also always sport inside-draw cams (described above). A few decades back almost all crossbows had steel limbs. Now, almost all bows have fiberglass, aluminum or composite limbs with designs ranging from one long, thin bow to thick barrel-stave shapes and split limbs that lessen weight and equalize stress.

Crossbow Stocks

Stocks are available in composite plastics reinforced with metallic elements, full aluminum or with carbon-fiber components.

Molded stocks allow a great range in designs and may incorporate string or wind-up cockers in their stocks. The stock not only supports the firing elements, arrow rail and bow, but is also the crossbow’s most weighty component. Some crossbows have skeletal stocks to reduce weight. Generally, the heavier the crossbow, the easier it is to shoot accurately as weight adds stability during the microseconds that the arrow remains in the crossbow’s guide rail.

Red Hot Crossbow Roller Rope Cocker
Red Hot Crossbow Roller
Rope Cocker

Power and Cocking Mechanisms

For deer-size game, a minimum draw weight of 125 lbs. on a modern crossbow is recommended. Crossbows shooting bolts above 245 fps will shoot a bolt completely through a deer with a broadside shot. Most reasonably fit shooters can hand-cock a 150-lb. draw weight using a foot stirrup. Rope cocking aids, available from most makers, reduce the pull weight by 50% or more. Crank cocking aids require only 10-15 pounds of pressure to cock a heavy-pull-weight crossbow and are becoming more standard integrated as part of the stock.

Tip: The Red Hot Crossbow Roller Rope Cocker is designed for use with all crossbow makes and models.

Crossbow Bolts, Points and Broadheads

BlackOut Lazer Strike Crossbow Broadheads
BlackOut Lazer Strike Crossbow

Selecting properly splined bolts of the correct length combined with an effective game-killing point is as important with a crossbow as with a bow. The manufacturer will always list a series of recommended bolts and point weights. Aluminum, carbon and composite arrows are now available with a variety of fixed and mechanical points. As a rule, faster arrows shoot better with mechanical broadheads like Ravin Crossbows broadheads compared to fixed-blade broadheads.

Ravin Crossbow Broadhead
Ravin Crossbow Mechanical Broadhead

Shop crossbows and accessories at

Aluminum arrows will often perform well with 125-gr. fixed points, while carbon shafts prefer 100-gr. points. Always sight in your bow with your hunting arrows and points. Field points and broadheads often have very different flight characteristics, even if both have the same weight. Use a small rubber gasket to line up the blades of mechanical points with the fletching for best results.

Pursuit X-1  3-Dot Crossbow Sight
Pursuit X-1  3-Dot Crossbow Sight

Tip: The  BlackOut Lazer Strike II Expandable Crossbow Broadheads is a true-flying broadhead featuring a rugged aircraft-grade aluminum ferrule that comes tipped with a cut-on-contact Trophy Tip made of hardened carbon steel for deep penetration through bone, hide, and tissue.

Ravin Crossbows Lighted Arrows
Ravin Crossbows Lighted Arrows

Tip: The Ravin Crossbows Lighted Arrows The only arrows built for use on Ravin crossbows, these 100% carbon arrows feature Ravin-engineered polymer clip-on nocks (the only nocks designed for use on Ravin crossbows). Lighted nock design makes it easier to find arrows shot in the field.

Crossbow Sights

Crossbows are commonly sold with optical or red-dot sights. Since the drop of a bolt is so unique, there are scopes tailored to crossbows specifically with drop-compensated reticles. If your sight doesn't have a drop-compensated reticle, like a red-dot scope, knowing the exact range to the target is extremely important.

A laser rangefinder is a vital element in making a clean kill with a crossbow. When purchasing any crossbow, it is wise to buy needed accessories at the same time, as accessories purchased five years from now may not fit this year’s crossbows.