Crossbow Test: The 8 Best New Hunting Crossbows of 2011

#1 - TenPoint Stealth XLT (Editor's Choice) Ohio-based TenPoint is a third-generation family-owned company producing high-end crossbows and accessories. Its American-made Stealth XLT took center-podium honors in this year's test, scoring high marks across the board. The Stealth is as clean and well-thought-out a bow as we've seen. Hide-a-Crank: Panel members cheered the crank system--a powerful winch that simplifies cocking. For the physically challenged, this is one of the best string-drawing mechanisms we've seen. The handle storage in the underside of the buttstock is genius, keeping it out of the way yet available at a moment's notice. The twice-dipped Realtree APG camo is flawless, as is the machining on the barrel, scope mount and riser. A bronze hard-cast anodizing richly accents the overall motif. Testers appreciated the abundance of redundant safety features, including the anti-dry-fire mechanism, forearm grip safety and flared forearm--all designed to keep the shooter safe. The Stealth is compact, whether uncocked (17 5⁄8 inches) or cocked (13 7⁄8 inches), a bonus for hunters in ground blinds. The 185-pound draw weight shot arrows at 321 fps while registering a vibration score of 113.8 m/s2 (second least in the field). Best of the Test: We'd lobby for a tidier trigger, but the 3.5-pound pull is smooth, with moderate creep and no over-travel. However, as Vehr noted, "The trigger take-up is excessive and can be distracting to an educated finger." The Stealth XLT proved itself to be an extraordinary shooter--one with many valuable features and exhibiting a stellar performance worthy of our Editor's Choice award. Overall Rating: 4 out of 4 stars
Performance: A
Design: A
Price/Value: A
Weight: 10lb. 10 oz.
$1,199; tenpointcrossbows.com
#2 - Horton Ultra-Lite Express (Great Buy) The Ultra-Lite Express oozes decades of pedigree. It is rare for a crossbow to bring together so many high-end amenities--customizable fit, split limbs, a forged aluminum riser--in a budget-minded platform. The result is a rock-solid winner that will stretch recession-weary dollars. Plenty of Muscle: Our 175-pound Horton, with its 13-inch power stroke, zipped arrows at 326 fps, generating 140.8 m/s2 of vibration and 100.5 dBA. The Express uses aggressive cams spooled with a synthetic string, and cables lashed to quality Gordon split limbs. The extruded aluminum barrel is quite thin, giving the bow an attractively slender silhouette and an overall weight of just 7 pounds 6 ounces--virtually unheard of for a cam-driven design. A forged aluminum riser centers twin string-stops, minimizing the transfer of shot-shock to the shooter. Inlaid rubber overmolding on the grip and the stock's comb augment the bow's pleasant feel and visual pop. Fans of Thompson/Center firearms will notice a familiar pistol-grip design. Nice Touches: A customizable length of pull incrementally stretches the bow from 13 to 14 inches. An integrated anti-dry-fire mechanism and a metal injection-molded trigger add to the bow's creature comforts. The crisp 2.7-pound trigger was the lightest of the group. Noted Vehr, "The Ultra-Lite Express has the best trigger in the field, with a uniquely cool shape, zero creep and a great design for all weather conditions." Heck of a Value: Given our druthers, we'd have the safety tightened up a bit, as it has some play. However, this is nit-picking a fantastic package, one that unanimously earned our Great Buy award. Overall Rating: 4 out of 4 stars
Performance: B
Design: A
Price/Value: A
Weight: 7lb. 6oz.
$599; hortonarchery.com
#3 - Scorpyd Telson 130 The Telson's reverse-draw limbs scorched arrows through the chronograph at 382 fps, generating 134 pounds of kinetic energy despite a draw weight of just 130 pounds, an example of stellar mechanical efficiency. The 2.9-pound trigger received accolades from both the test team and Vehr, who said, "The large relaxed radius of the trigger and the open trigger guard make the trigger easily accessible, even with gloved hands."
Producing readings of 109.2 m/s2 and 94 dBA, the Telson was both the most shock-free and the quietest bow in our test. A foldable buttstock is convenient for smaller shooters when cocking the bow, though its boxy shape needs some refining. The oversize safety, however, is a real gem. Overall Rating: 4 out of 4 stars
Performance: A
Design: A
Price/Value: B
Weight: 10lb. 7 oz.
$1,250; scorpyd.com
#4 - Darton Serpent LTD II With a 13 1⁄4-inch power stroke, the Serpent strikes quickly, delivering 345 fps at 160 pounds of draw weight. The bow shoots nearly shock-free, generating a scant 118.2 m/s2 of vibration (third least in the field). The lack of recoil translates into a comfortable and steady shooting platform. And at 94.9 dBA, the bow is dormouse quiet. The cast trigger has a bit of creep, but with 2.8 pounds of pull, Timney Trigger's John Vehr (see "The Trigger Guru," page 77) rated it "one of my favorites, with a good feel and a great shape that fits the finger nicely." The safety doesn't auto-engage when cocked, but otherwise, quality can be seen throughout the bow, with an abundance of CNC-machined components, as opposed to cast parts. Overall Rating: 4 out of 4 stars
Performance: A
Design: A
Price/Value: B+
Weight: 9lb. 6oz.
$799; dartonarchery.com
#5 - Barnett Ghost 400 As the Ghost's moniker suggests, the "400" muscled a mind-boggling 398 fps reading from our chronograph. Stoked by 185 pounds of draw weight, the bow produces a whopping 146 foot-pounds of kinetic energy. The near-16-inch power stroke is fueled with aggressive whiplash cams driving overmolded split limbs. Overmolding hushes limb noise and shields the limbs from the bumps and bruises incurred in the field. The injection-molded trigger (which broke at 2.95 pounds) produced a pleasurable pull and short take-up. A machined aluminum flight track guides arrows to the target with precision. Flaunting a runway-fashionable carbon-dip finish, this Ghost is sure to haunt many a whitetail this fall. Overall Rating: 3.5 out of 4 stars
Performance: B
Design: A
Price/Value: A-
Weight: 9lb. 5oz.
$999; barnettcrossbows.com
#6 - Carbon Express Covert CX1 The CX1's fully CNC-machined aluminum riser and barrel highlight attention-to-manufacturing detail. An adjustable forearm, a five-position foregrip and a 1-inch stock insert pad allow this bow to fit a wide range of shooters. The bow sports design lines that are understated and sleek. The 200-pound draw weight, along with a 14-inch power stroke, enables the bow to blister arrows at 329 fps while creating a modest 123.7 m/s2 of vibration. That said, at 101.6 dBA, the CX1 was the loudest crossbow tested and the 6.75-pound trigger drew mixed reviews. This is a feature-packed, priced-right performer capable of impressing the most discerning of crossbow aficionados searching for an affordable shooter. Overall Rating: 3.5 out of 4 stars
Performance: B
Design: B-
Price/Value: A
Weight: 9lb. 10 oz.
$499; cxcrossbows.com
#7 - Excalibur Axiom SMF The lightweight, 7-pound 5-ounce Axiom is built on a recurve limb design, eliminating the need for bulky cams and cables. Recurve designs are generally more reliable than cam-driven crossbows, as there are no mechanical parts. At 35 1⁄2 inches axle-to-axle uncocked, the Axiom was the widest bow tested. However, given its low weight, the width is an afterthought when you're handling the bow. With 175 pounds of draw weight, the Axiom pushed arrows at
282 fps, noticeably slower than other bows in the field, but that's to be expected of a recurve. The injection-molded chassis is rugged and promises maintenance-free operation under even the harshest use.
Best of all, the streamlined Axiom is priced right, at under $500. Overall Rating: 3.5 out of 4 stars
Performance: B-
Design: B+
Price/Value: B+
Weight: 7lb. 5oz.
$490; excaliburcrossbow.com
#8 - KodaBow Bravo Zulu ER The Bravo Zulu--with its AR-inspired lower--turned heads on the range. Deftly designed split limbs, a first on a recurve crossbow, are synched via limb tip collets. The 4.6-pound trigger drew rave reviews from Vehr: "This trigger has virtually no creep, is crisp and is one of the best in the group." The Bravo Zulu does pack a punch--its vibration reading was 158.3 m/s2--but it's also tight-lipped (97.7 dBA). With an adjustable buttstock and ergonomic forearm, the bow shouldered nicely. At 299 fps, we'd like to see more pep from such an innovative design. However, the bow will appeal to those seeking the reliability of a recurve mated with cutting-edge engineering. Overall Rating: 3 out of 4 stars
Performance: C+
Design: B
Price/Value: C+
Weight: 9lb. 7oz.
$999; kodabow.com
A closer look at the crossbow test results.
How We Test
Our battery of tests included subjective evaluations of each bow's weight, trigger pull, fit-and-finish, balance, cocking, ergonomics and safety. Bows were tested as "kits"--that is, each was equipped with its factory scope (listed prices reflect this kit pricing). To eliminate any human interference during objective testing, bows were shot from a Caldwell Lead Sled FCX and triggered remotely. Plate-mounted Vernier 25-g accelerometers, which measure vibration along both the X and Y axes, were installed on the trigger guards. Once the bow was shot, the vibration data was downloaded to vibration-analysis software. Vibration data was then crunched and an average vibration "score" is displayed in meters per second squared (m/s2). The lower the number, the less total vibration in the bow. A Carbon Express Maxima Hunter arrow, weighing 414.5 grains, was used during testing. Speeds were recorded by a Pro Chrono digital chronograph. (Due to varying draw weights among the bows, speed was not a consideration in final scores.) Peak sound level was recorded (in dBA) using a Vernier Sound Level Meter. As with vibration, the lower the reading, the better.
Every bow was scored in each subjective category by our panel of experts. Scores in these subcategories were averaged to determine performance and design scores. Bows were also given price/value scores. The bow with the highest price/value score earned our Great Buy award. Overall scores are a reflection of our empirical objective data combined with the various subjective scores. The bow with the highest overall score received our Editor's Choice award.

Earlier this year we tested the newest hunting crossbows on the market. Here's our scores and rankings of the top 8 bows.