Bow Test 2014: OL Ranks and Reviews 9 New Crossbows

Photo by Nick Ferrari

While none of them will admit it, manufacturers of hunting compound bows and crossbows are constantly at war with one another, keeping tabs as best as they can on who’s doing what. After all, the spoils of this war are the cash-laden bowhunters they can recruit—or convert—to their brand.

Of course, established brands hold several advantages over newcomers. Typically, the industry behemoths have bigger budgets and star-studded pro staffs, and they employ the most capable engineering minds in the industry.

Start-up companies, on the other hand, are hamstrung out of the gate, with limited intellectual resources and a shallower pool of research-and-development dollars to dip into. Breaking into the archery game is tough.

When the bowhunting history book is written, however, 2014 will be remembered as the year when several relative unknowns stepped onto the national stage in a big way. As consumers, we can only hope that this increase in competition continues to raise the bar of bow design for years to come.

Ratings Key:
★ ★ ★ ★ - Excellent
★ ★ ★ - Good
★ ★ - Fair
★ - Poor

1. Editor's Choice: Scorpyd VTEC

Photo by Nick Ferrari

Six years in, Scorpyd’s reverse-draw limbs and cams remain an oddity in the industry. But the design isn’t just for looks: The “backward” orientation lengthens the power stroke, thereby increasing top speeds while appreciably dropping draw weights. Case in point: The VTEC draws 165 pounds and produces a whopping 410.98 fps, or 2.49 fps per pound of draw weight, while the 185-pound Carbon Express Covert CX-3 SL produces 1.83 fps per pound of draw weight.

The metal-injection-molded trigger on the VTEC is masterful, rolling over crisply at 2.1 pounds with minimal uptake. With the limbs oriented as they are, the bow has a delightful balance; the center of gravity is at the midline, over the forearm.

Quality Barnsdale laminated limbs support twin cam eccentrics that are synchronized with a Viper-X string and cables. Titanium fasteners throughout promise rust-free service.

An anti-dry-fire mechanism keeps the bow safe when cocked, eliminating the possibility of an inadvertent release of the string. A manual safety is standard, which means it’s up to the hunter to remember to slip it on after loading. However, it is large and easy to find and engage.

At nearly $1,700 ($1,400 without the scope), the VTEC represents a substantial investment. But for that outlay, you get one of the most technologically advanced pieces of hunting equipment available.

Overall: ★ ★ ★ ★
Performance: A+
Design: A-
Price/Value: B+
Speed (FPS): 410.98
Vibration (M/S2): 28.68
Noise (DBA): 96.6
AD/40 (IN.): 9.1
KE/20 (FT.-LB.): 137.44
Time of Flight (MSEC.): 147.57
Power Stroke (IN.): 19
Cocked/Uncocked Width (IN.): 16.125 / 22.25
Weight (LB.): 9.59
Length (IN.): 36
Trigger Pull (IN.): 2.1
Price: $1,679 / scorpyd.com

2. Great Buy: Stryker Solution

Photo by Nick Ferrari

The Solution is a compact shooter with graceful ergonomics. At 35 inches long and weighing just over 8 pounds, the bow shoulders, mounts, and aims as effortlessly as a fine Italian trap gun.

The grip’s overmolded pliable rubber melds into the palm, while the simple trigger mechanism breaks cleanly at 2.3 pounds. A removable oversize forearm finger guard (not pictured) keeps the digits of even the clumsiest users out of the string’s path. Matched string stops help make the Solution the quietest bow in this year’s field (92.4 dBA).

This crossbow offers a little something for everyone. Its low weight makes it ideal for ground pounders, while its dimensions make it a solid choice for the confines of a stand or ground blind. With a 125-pound draw weight, the Solution is a good candidate for less muscular hunters or those of a smaller stature.

The bow can be disassembled by removing four screws and easily stored inside a rolling duffle. This feature makes it a great option for traveling hunters who don’t want to deal with checking an awkward (and expensive) crossbow case.

Whether you’re looking to buy your first crossbow or your next one, the Stryker Solution is a heck of a value and well deserving of our Great Buy award.

Overall: ★ ★ ★ ★
Performance: B
Design: A-
Price/Value: A
Speed (FPS): 345.31
Vibration (M/S2): 34.42
Noise (DBA): 92.4
AD/40 (IN.): 12.9
KE/20 (FT.-LB.): 97.86
Time of Flight (MSEC.): 175.36
Power Stroke (IN.): 15.75
Cocked/Uncocked Width (IN.): 15.75 / 19.375
Weight (LB.): 8.11
Length (IN.): 35
Trigger Pull (IN.): 2.3
Price: $899 / strykerxbow.com

3. Barnett RAZR

Overall: ★ ★ ★ ★
Performance: A+
Design: A-
Price/Value: B
Speed (FPS): 405.35
Vibration (M/S2): 25.22
Noise (DBA): 97.7
AD/40 (IN.): 9.3
KE/20 (FT.-LB.): 133.94
Time of Flight (MSEC.): 149.55
Power Stroke (IN.): 15.75
Cocked/Uncocked Width (IN.): 16.125 / 20.25
Weight (LB.): 9.02
Length (IN.): 35.75
Trigger Pull (IN.): 2.9
Price: $1,600 / barnettcrossbows.com

4. Tenpoint Venom

Overall: ★ ★ ★ ★
Performance: A-
Design: A
Price/Value: B+
Speed (FPS): 364.98
Vibration (M/S2): 22.62
Noise (DBA): 95.6
AD/40 (IN.): 11.6
KE/20 (FT.-LB.): 108.18
Time of Flight (MSEC.): 167.18
Power Stroke (IN.): 14
Cocked/Uncocked Width (IN.): 13.75 / 17.625
Weight (LB.): 8.44
Length (IN.): 34.125
Trigger Pull (IN.): 3.1
Price: $1,719 / tenpointcrossbows.com

5. Cabela's Vindicator

Overall: ★ ★ ★ ½
Performance: B-
Design: A-
Price/Value: A-
Speed (FPS): 354.72
Vibration (M/S2): 22.28
Noise (DBA): 96.5
AD/40 (IN.): 12.3
KE/20 (FT.-LB.): 102.45
Time of Flight (MSEC.): 171.91
Power Stroke (IN.): 13.625
Cocked/Uncocked Width (IN.): 16 / 19.375
Weight (LB.): 8.31
Length (IN.): 36
Trigger Pull (IN.): 3.2
Price: $550 / cabelas.com

6. Carbon Express Covert CX-3 SL

Overall: ★ ★ ★ ½
Performance: C+
Design: A-
Price/Value: A-
Speed (FPS): 338.5
Vibration (M/S2): 21.1
Noise (DBA): 94.8
AD/40 (IN.): 13.5
KE/20 (FT.-LB.): 93.06
Time of Flight (MSEC.): 180.01
Power Stroke (IN.): 13
Cocked/Uncocked Width (IN.): 13.125 / 16.75
Weight (LB.): 8.69
Length (IN.): 34
Trigger Pull (IN.): 5.1
Price: $699 / carbonexpressarrows.com

7. Darton Viper SS

Overall: ★ ★ ★ ½
Performance: C+
Design: A-
Price/Value: B+
Speed (FPS): 332.39
Vibration (M/S2): 21.1
Noise (DBA): 93.7
AD/40 (IN.): 13.9
KE/20 (FT.-LB.): 89.91
Time of Flight (MSEC.): 183.48
Power Stroke (IN.): 13.25
Cocked/Uncocked Width (IN.): 13.5 / 17.125
Weight (LB.): 9.74
Length (IN.): 36
Trigger Pull (IN.): 4.4
Price: $895 / dartonarchery.com

8. Excalibur Matrix Mega 405

Overall: ★ ★ ★ ½
Performance: A-
Design: C+
Price/Value: B
Speed (FPS): 399.86
Vibration (M/S2): 50.2
Noise (DBA): 100.85
AD/40 (IN.): 9.6
KE/20 (FT.-LB.): 130.27
Time of Flight (MSEC.): 152.9
Power Stroke (IN.): 14
Cocked/Uncocked Width (IN.): 24.75 / 30.75
Weight (LB.): 8.42
Length (IN.): 36
Trigger Pull (IN.): 5.2
Price: $1,350 / excaliburcrossbow.com

9. Killer Instinct KI350

Overall: ★ ★ ★
Performance: C+
Design: B
Price/Value: A-
Speed (FPS): 334.58
Vibration (M/S2): 20.36
Noise (DBA): 98.5
AD/40 (IN.): 13.8
KE/20 (FT.-LB.): 90.96
Time of Flight (MSEC.): 182.09
Power Stroke (IN.): 14
Cocked/Uncocked Width (IN.): 15.375 / 19
Weight (LB.): 7.67
Length (IN.): 35.25
Trigger Pull (IN.): 3.5
Price: $500 / killercrossbows.com

Trends: Upping Their Game

Crossbow technology continues to improve as manufacturers integrate more advanced materials (titanium, carbon) and manufacturing processes into the design and build of their new models. Triggers saw the biggest gains, as new metal-injection-molded mechanisms allow for tighter sear tolerances, improved feel, and dramatically lower pull weights. These new bows are also more ergonomic and easier to cock, shoulder, hold, and carry than their predecessors were.

Among the standouts, the Barnett Razr demonstrates a flair for the dramatic, with blingy titanium stock inserts (which serve the function of stiffening the assembly) and a skinning knife integrated into the stock. With a top end of 405.35 fps, the Razr muscles arrows downrange. Its silky-smooth trigger breaks crisply at 2.9 pounds.

The Bednar family has carved out a niche at the top of the crossbow market. Their company’s designs and manufacturing processes have been industry benchmarks for years, and its new TenPoint Venom continues in that vein. Among the highlights are an updated, less bulky design of the ACUdraw 50 cocking mechanism, and an innovative woven-carbon-fiber arrow track. Weighing less than 8.5 pounds, the Venom balances effortlessly, while a 185-pound draw weight produces a top speed of 365 fps.

How We Test Bows and Crossbows

Photo by John Taranto

We employ a number of different instruments in our data-gathering process. Compounds are triggered via a shutter release while mounted to a Spot Hogg Hooter Shooter (above), and crossbow triggers are tripped remotely as they sit in a Caldwell Lead Sled. A sound-level meter measures peak noise in decibels at the shot, while two accelerometers (mounted to the compounds' risers and near the pistol grip on crossbows) measure vibration in meters per second squared. The Velocitip Ballistic System (velocitip.com) is tasked with measuring arrow velocity, arrow drop at 40 yards (AD/40), and kinetic energy at 20 yards (KE/20).

Once all of the data is gathered, our test team spends time shooting every bow. Performance scores reflect both the testers’ opinions of the bows’ mechanical functionality and ease of use, as well as the speed figures. Design scores represent tester grades for workmanship, ergonomics, and aesthetics, plus the noise and vibration data. The compound and crossbow with the highest overall scores get our Editor’s Choice award, while the bows that score highest in Price/Value are annointed as Great Buys.