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Almost every state allows archers to use crossbows. Yet many hunters still believe doing so allows crossbow users an unfair advantage. But are these beliefs accurate? How do crossbows and modern compound bows stack up? Follow along as we look to answer the question, "Crossbow vs. Compound Bow: Which is Best for Hunting?"
Crossbows were first invented during the Middle Ages to provide armies with a more substantial, easier-to-use alternative to the longbow. Longbows took years to master and, with the advances in armor, proved too weak at longer ranges. With the crossbow, legions of soldiers could be trained quickly, and steel-tipped bolts sliced through chain mail.
Fast forward to modern hunting applications; many hunters believe these advantages exist. But do they? Modern compound bows are far more advanced than the longbow. Of course, modern crossbows are also more advanced than early models.
Let's look at some key areas and see how they compare...
Speed is an area where the early advantage clearly went to the crossbow. Even ten years ago, compound bows maxed out at 300-325 feet per second, while crossbows reached almost 400 feet per second. However, that advantage has all but disappeared. Modern compound bows are capable of speeds approaching and, in some cases exceeding 400 feet per second. Conversely, crossbows have remained relatively consistent with speeds between 400 and 450 feet per second.
Although on paper, the crossbow offers slightly faster speed, the difference is negligible, meaning in terms of speed, it is a draw.
So how does this speed convert to energy and the ability to make a penetrating kill shot on a big game? Surprisingly, not many would guess how.
Although many hunters believe the higher draw weights and slightly higher crossbow speed would make it deadlier, the compound bow takes the lead. How? It all comes down to draw length.
Crossbows rely on a 14" draw length, whereas compound bows average 25+" in draw length. This longer draw length provides more kinetic energy and more penetration.
Traditional archery, including with a compound bow, has a steep learning curve. Finger placement, stance, and follow-through all impact accuracy- and all that years to master. Many archers shoot every day to maintain their skills.
Crossbows offer a quicker way to get hunt ready. The rifle-style stock and trigger release allows those accustomed to shooting firearms a more familiar platform. Using a scope rather than sight pins is also easier for beginners to understand.
Although even a crossbow will require regular practice to master, the amount of time necessary to be proficient is significantly less. Most new users can consistently hit targets out to 40 yards after only a few hours of practice.
The most significant advantage of the crossbow is the ease of use. Physically it is easier to draw, load, and fire a crossbow. For individuals with medical conditions, minimal upper body strength, or disabilities, the ability to use a crossbow can be a game changer, allowing them to archery hunt when they would otherwise be on the sidelines. This is why many states permitted their use for special classes long before doing so for general use.
However, there are trade-offs. While the crossbow is easier to learn and use, it is also much heavier than a compound bow. Even with the advances in recent years that have allowed lighter-weight components and more compact limbs, a typical crossbow can be two times the weight of a comparable compound bow.
This extra weight can make steadying the platform difficult for weaker shooters. It can also limit range time due to fatigue.
One of the biggest reasons anti-crossbow archers state for now allowing their use is their accuracy. But is this true? Are crossbows more accurate than compound bows? The answer is yes…and no.
A beginner can be more accurate with a crossbow more quickly with a crossbow than with a compound bow. It is also easier to hit targets at further ranges than with a compound bow. However, with practice, an experienced archer can be more accurate with the compound bow in the long run.
Compound bows can be tuned finer and, with proper technique, shot more accurately. In the hands of an experienced archer, the compound bow is a far better weapon.
So far, there are areas where the crossbow excels and where the compound bow offers the advantage. Most states allow unrestricted use of either during regular archery season and are comparable price-wise. So, it comes down to how each performs in the field. After all, this is what matters to the archery hunter.
Either is capable of taking any of North America's big game species. But which makes it easier to take that shot and harvest your trophy? Here the advantage lies with the compound bow.
The crossbow's weight and size make it cumbersome in the field. Although this is less of a concern when hunting from a blind, it can be a real problem in a stand or stalking game. Shots around tree trunks, at weird angles, or in tight spaces can be nearly impossible to line up.
The increased range of the crossbow is negated by the fact that most archery shots are within 40 yards, a distance of almost equal performance for either platform. At longer ranges, the compound bow's increased accuracy can be the difference between a miss ( or wounded animal) and a successful hunt, so the crossbow again loses its advantage.
Finally, there is the issue of follow-up shots. The need for a second or even third shot is not uncommon in archery hunting. This is relatively easy to do with a compound bow but nearly impossible with a crossbow. Between the increased noise a crossbow creates and the time it takes to reload, most opportunities for a second shot will be lost long before you are ready to take it.
In the hands of an experienced archer, the compound bow is a far better hunting platform. However, crossbows allow a host of archers to enjoy the sport who otherwise would not be able to. Whatever platform you choose, enjoy your time in the field, building memories.
And if you're looking for a top model, check out our blog summarizing the Best TenPoint Crossobows!