Crossbows are quickly becoming a mainstream means of hunting as more and more states permit their use during fall deer seasons. While still somewhat controversial, crossbows offer additional hunters an ethical alternative that gets them into the outdoors and to enjoy all it has to offer. We rounded up the newest crossbows on the market and put them through a rough-and-tumble battery of tests to determine what’s hot and what’s not. Click here to ENTER TO WIN the Editor’s Choice or the Great Buy Crossbows >>
How We Test
Bows were tested as “kits,” meaning that each was equipped with factory scopes (the prices listed reflect this). Our battery of empirical tests included those for speed, vibration, noise and trigger pull. The overall length of each bow was measured, as were its width in both cocked and un-cocked positions. Each bow was weighed on a certified postal scale. To eliminate any human interaction during our objective testing, bows were shot from a Caldwell Shooting Supplies Lead Sled FCX and triggered using a remote.
X- and Y-axis (horizontal and vertical plane) plate-mounted Vernier 25-g accelerometers were installed on the trigger guards. After each shot, the vibration data was downloaded to a laptop loaded with vibration analysis software. Vibration data was then crunched to arrive at an average vibration “score,” which is displayed in meters per second squared (m/s2). The lower the number, the less total vibration caused by the bow when fired. Peak sound level was recorded using a Vernier Sound Level Meter. Speeds were recorded using a ProChrono digital chronograph. However, due to varying arrow weights, speed was not a consideration in final scores.
Each bow was scored from 60-100 by our panel of experts in seven subjective categories: Ergonomics (how well the bow fit the shooter); Safety (the relative ease-of-operation and design); Cocking (the relative ease of the cocking system); Fit-and-Finish (the overall quality of construction); Balance (the bow’s overall in-hand feel); Trigger Feel (the crispness and travel of the trigger); and Price/Value (the perception of value as it relates to price). Where We Tested
Autumn Sky Outfitters, located in Street, Maryland, is a full-service archery, muzzleloader and crossbow retailer. Boasting some 9,000 square feet of retail space, ASO houses a 20-yard indoor shooting range and an AIS Techno-Hunt electronic shooting center. Autumn Sky sells and services crossbows online, at
Barnett Predator
The Predator blitzed our chronograph, churning out a top speed of 389 fps at 175 pounds of draw weight (second fastest). Horsepower is squeezed from a pair of portly limbs and a high-velocity cam system. Limbs are shrouded in an elastopolymer rubber cladding to minimize noise. A patented one-piece, cast magnesium riser with an integral stirrup provides a solid cocking foundation. The thumbhole stock, which is gloved-hand friendly, has a novel adjustable butt plate, lending itself to a custom fit no matter the archer’s size. The large safety is easily acquired and readily available; however, its labeling is eye-chart small. At 3.105 pounds, the trigger is smooth and crisp once you find its engagement point. Hits: The Predator peels paint at 389 fps, enabling you to catch up with any target centered in your scope. Misses: The trigger is too far forward and the 0.993-inch trigger travel will have you wondering if you’ll ever bury it.
Bottom Line**: This Predator combines top-fuel performance with ample features in a priced-right package. [ $699; ]
BowTech Stryke Force
Perennial compound innovator BowTech set the industry on its collective ear a few years ago with the first 400-plus fps production crossbow. For 2010, the Stryke Force joins its stable. Thanks to center-pivot riser technology, stress is distributed evenly across the limbs’ surface and inner core. The 190-pound draw weight limbs grind out 385 fps of arrow speed (third fastest). The patented binary synchronized dual cams supply the horses to the efficient 15.25-inch power stroke. Unlike traditional two-cams whose eccentrics work independently, binary cams are slaved together, working as a single-unit, virtually eliminating temperamental timing issues. Attention to detail is evidenced in the teflon-coated string hook, string stops, bolt sensor and universal military Weaver rail for aftermarket accessories. Hits: The InVelvet finish is pleasing to the touch and the stark simplicity of design is both functional and remarkably uncluttered. Misses: The knurled safety is extremely small. Bottom Line: A great bow, rich with techno-features that are sure to find favor with crossbow fans and newcomers alike. [ $999; ]
Carbon Express Covert XB-3.5T
At first glance, you’d expect to see the Covert carried by a superhero fighting his way through a science fiction thriller. The uni-molded stock is nothing short of an abstractionist’s dream, providing plenty of eye-candy. But Covert’s ergonomic design drew mixed reviews. The stock configuration offers both an integral forearm and a traditional AR-style fold-down grip. The folder navigates along a Picatinny rail for ease of adjustment. Quad 200-pound limbs delivered 342 fps at a mass weight of 11.9 (heaviest in field). Even while carrying a bit of extra baggage, the XB-3.5T balances well, with virtually no hand-shock at 18 m/s2. The stock is adjustable and has a removable butt plate. The extruded, CNC-machined barrel is stout, as is the riser. An anti-dry-fire mechanism and oversized, ambidextrous safety are welcome standard equipment. Hits: A rock-solid shooting platform with little hand shock or vibration. Misses: At 11.9 pounds, the Covert should consider a call to Jenny Craig. Bottom Line: A great-feeling bow with a complement of features sure to please the most discriminating of buyers. [ $849; ]
Darton Phazer
The Phazer is built on a sub-compact frame (less than 36 inches) and features a radically skeletonized stock with an extruded, CNC-machined aluminum barrel that is clean and super simplistic. An aircraft-grade aluminum riser is sized just right, contributing to the bow’s great feel. The almost anorexic stock drew mixed reviews, with some testers liking its narrowness, and others finding it boney and uncomfortable. The placement of the embossed “Darton” logo on the forearm was universally disliked. Interestingly, the narrow-musculature of this bow is deceiving, zipping arrows downrange at 341 fps (at 165 pounds), with a modest mass weight of 9.5 pounds. Vibration registered at 28.4 m/s2, placing it second highest. An adjustable butt stock eases fitting concerns. Hits: The Teflon-impregnated barrel is impressive, and the safety was best-in-class. Misses: The Phazer’s 28.4 m/s2 of vibration (second highest) will rattle teeth. Bottom Line: Worthy of a close look by crossbow hunter searching for a complete shooting package at a bargain price. [ $649; ]
Excalibur Vortex
The Vortex was the only recurve-style crossbow in the field. Among the advantages of recurves are their light mass weight and maneuverability. At 8.3-pounds (second lightest), the Vortex did not disappoint with its nimble balance and portability. The thumbhole stock grip fits like a favorite glove. The trigger had the least amount of creep, measuring a minuscule 0.081 inches of travel; however, the 4.158-pound trigger drew mixed reviews. Taping an expansive 35 5/8 inches wide uncocked (28 ¾ inches cocked), the Vortex might be a challenge for hunters in confined spaces, even given its excellent balance. The Vortex is easily serviced in the field and has few moving parts, minimizing potential headaches down the road. Hits: This bow feels great in hand and the stock is as well designed as they come.
Misses:** The Vortex, with its long limbs, will not appeal to shooters shopping a compact package. Bottom Line: The recurve design is simple, straightforward and easily serviced. The lack of moving parts on the limbs makes this a great companion for the practical hunter. [ $825; ]
Horton Vision
The Vision’s reverse limb design will boggle the uninitiated mind. The limbs are mounted backward, resulting in an ultra-compact cocked width of 9 7/8 inches and a 34 5/16-inch overall length. The Vision was the quietest bow, generating a pin-drop 90.6 dBA and a mere 11.35 m/s2 of vibration. Once past the odd aesthetics, users will immediately notice the uncanny balance. The Vision’s center-of-gravity is near its midline, allowing it to handle like a European sports car. Given its scant size, the Vision will excel in cramped groundblinds, in tree stands or on extended stalks. The through-finger forearm keeps fingers tucked neatly out of harm’s way. The thumbhole stock, with its raised cheek plate, nestles nicely when shouldered. Hits: This ultra-compact bow is destined to change the way crossbows are designed. Misses: The Vision’s top speed of 304 fps is lethargic and the cocking rope is in desperate need of a makeover. Bottom Line: The Vision is perfectly suited for those looking for a easily manageable bow that’s a tactile pleasure to hold and shoot. [ $799; ]
The PSE TAC-15i (Tactical Assault Crossbow) immediately drew a crowd with its “black gun” styling, turning heads and gleaning double-takes. The distinct, tactical styling has a menacing profile that commands instant respect, and at 397 fps, this ground pounder’s performance did not disappoint. The basic black-anodized finish and distinctly G.I. Joe look is one you’ll either instantly love or dismiss as odd. At 41¼ inches overall, it was the longest entry, while remaining compact at 11 15/16 inches wide when cocked. The fully adjustable stock and forearm are appreciated touches. The cocking crank makes quick and easy work of loading chores. The TAC-15i’s fit-and-finish received high marks, and if we had a “coolness category,” the TAC-15i surely would dominate the class. Hits: The machining and quality of construction on this bow are first-rate. Misses: The TAC-15i is oddly balanced and the price tag will induce sticker-shock in some. Bottom Line: A niche bow for those tactical types looking for the most technologically advanced crossbow out there. [ $1599; ]
Wicked Ridge Invader
This 180-pound split-limb bow from a subsidiary of TenPoint had the second widest limb stance of the field―25 7/8 inches un-cocked. At just 93.4 dBA, the Invader was the third quietest in the field. The composite-core semi-skeletal stock has an idiot-proof integral ACUdraw52 self-retracting cocker. A dry-fire inhibitor and surprisingly high-end trigger on a bow this price are unexpected. In fact, the trigger pull, at 2.139-pounds, offers the perfect balance, one that will delight the most ardent rifle converts. Standard equipment includes an ambidextrous safety, two molded sling swivel mounts and an oversized forearm grip, which shelters digits from acutely painful finger-string contact. Hits: TenPoint quality, with a surprising number of high-end features, on an entry-level bow. Misses: We’d like to see a bit more “oomph” than the standard 290 fps. The 34.62 m/s2 of vibration was the most in the field. Bottom Line: A bow worth considering for those seeking a feature-packed shooter that won’t stress even the stingiest of budgets. [ $499; ]
TenPoint Turbo XLT (Editor’s Choice)
The TenPoint brand has been synonymous with crossbow quality since 1994. The XLT was one of the most condensed, traditionally designed crossbows in our test, taping a modest 13 15/16 inches cocked. Acutely angled limb pockets snug limbs while radically sweeping them backward, accounting for the XLT’s compactness. Equipped with the best cocking system on the market, the ACU-Draw cranks effortlessly, reducing the 180-pound draw weight to around 6 pounds. All XLT components are top-shelf, most notably the extra-beefy string/cables and rich, vibrant double-dipped Mossy Oak camouflage cloaking. The molded fiber-reinforced resin stock and barrel assembly is rugged and capable of withstanding the harshest use and most demanding of elements. A patented dry-fire inhibitor works flawlessly, and the 3.13-pound trigger is straight-razor crisp and clean, with minimal creep (0.233 inches). Hits: Quality oozes from every nook and cranny with each component thoughtfully designed and masterfully executed.
Misses:** The safety is small, and at 300 fps, the XLT could benefit from an octane boost. Bottom Line: A rare shooting treat for those uncompromising types who demand the utmost in quality from their hunting tools. [ $999; ]
Parker Tornado (Great Buy)
The Tornado, with its bull pup trigger design, measures a mere 34 5/8 inches stem-to-stern, making it the second shortest bow. At 8.3 pounds, the Tornado will be a trusted companion on long stalks or when you’re attempting to negotiate tricky tree stand or groundblind shots. A pair of robust limbs lashed with inverted eccentrics provides the power. The ultra-compact design, oddly enough, packs an unexpected performance punch, delivering arrows at 330 fps (at 165 pounds) even with its abbreviated 12¼-inch power stroke. At 93 dBA, the Tornado has a quiet demeanor, generating the second least amount of noise in the field. The soft-touch finish is tactically pleasing and the Next G1 Vista camo artwork is inspiring and flawlessly executed. Hits: The automatic safety is clever, defaulting to the “safe” position when cocked and easily located and activated. Misses: At 5.3-pounds of pull and with 0.744 inches of travel, the trigger begs for a bit of refining. Bottom Line: The Tornado will create a storm in the crossbow market in 2010. A delightful shooting machine with mass appeal, tastefully fitted with no-nonsense features. [ $699; ] Click here to ENTER TO WIN the Editor’s Choice or the Great Buy Crossbows >>