Laws maintaining the use of crossbows for hunting have been relaxed seriously over the last several years. At this time, the majority of U.S. states allow crossbows for hunting during some portion of the hunting season, even for nondisabled hunters. Only Oregon bans their use for hunting altogether.In many states, including the ones that I hunt most frequently, crossbows can be used throughout archery season. This expansion of the opportunity to use the best crossbow in the field has dramatically expanded their sales and, in turn, has led to a serious investment in innovation. Crossbow technology is growing by leaps and bounds, as evidenced by the performance increases we have seen over the past few years of conducting these evaluations. Today’s crossbows are faster, more accurate, and better constructed than ever.
To help you, the consumer, separate performance from marketing hype, we have once again evaluated a selection of seven popular bows from different manufacturers. We held these bows to honest criticism using as many objective test categories as we could. Each of these bows was tested for accuracy, triggers pull, and velocity as well as weighed and measured to determine portability. Finally, we allowed one subjective category where I, your reviewer, had a chance to voice my opinion.
The Ravin is a game-changer in terms of velocity, portability, and accuracy. This bow was so powerful that we had to beat the bolts out of the Block target by the tips with a small hammer to remove them. Due to its unique design, this is the narrowest bow we’ve ever seen, and it’s also the fastest by a healthy margin. This technology doesn’t come Cheap, but for serious hunts, especially for a game such as an elk, the premium price is worth it in terms of performance. The Ravin uses a detachable crank to cock the bow, which makes it easy to load despite its impressive velocity, another feature that helps it achieve full points in the ergonomics category. Our only criticism, which is really more of an observation, is that this bow has a slightly front heavy balance when carried.
A slightly different version of this bow was our Editor’s Choice in 2015, but the market has changed since then. The Horton is still extremely well made and has a great trigger. Plus it received excellent marks in both ergonomics and velocity. This bow was the most accurate we tested and, thanks to its reverse-limb arrangement, is among the most compact. However, It registered the second-slowest velocity of the seven bows, albeit only 11 fps off the median. The Horton comes with a padded nylon case with a specific pocket for holding bolts and accessories, which are a very nice touch that helps, prevent the bow from banging around on the way to the range or field.
Mission MXB Sniper Lite
Last time around, the Mission was the slowest bow that we tested, but in 2017-2018, it is tied for the second fastest. This bow is lightweight, short, and narrow, which earned it nearly full points in terms of portability. We found this bow to be well built, relatively easy to cock, and accurate, which helped in both the ergonomic and accuracy areas. The only real knock on this bow was the weight of the trigger pull, which was among the heaviest. The weight is a bit deceiving, though, as the actual feel of the trigger pull when shooting was fine. If I were doing a hunt in rough terrain and couldn’t afford the Ravin, this bow would be my choice.
Tenpoint Carbon Phantom RCX
The Tenpoint Carbon Phantom RCX is a supremely well-built crossbow in every respect. Our test model had a good trigger and tied for second place in the velocity department at 357 feet per second. Thanks to the ACUdraw crank system, the Phantom was simple and easy to cock, and you don’t have to worry about losing the cocking device since it is stored in the stock. The downside of that convenience is a bit of added weight, which hurt this bow in the portability department despite its narrow width when cocked. This bow lost points in the accuracy category, though it is plenty accurate for the vast majority of hunting situations. For stand hunting where weight is not a factor, this bow would be a very strong choice.
Stryker Katana 360
This was the least expensive of the models tested, which will be an attractive feature for many prospective buyers. The Stryker’s best qualities were its great accuracy and trigger pull, both of which give up little to the competition. Its velocity was right at the median speed of 347 fps, and if you take the standout Ravin out of the mix, it is within 10 fps of the top tier bows. This bow loses some points for portability due to a rather wide cocked width, but it was far from the heaviest bow in our lineup. This bow turned in all-around good performance in the categories that matter to many hunters, making it a good value at under $1,000.
This bow didn’t blow us away in any one category, but it was a solid performer across the board. It was the lightest bow tested, which certainly helped it in the portability category, and it proved to be very accurate during our range testing. It was the slowest bow in terms of choreographed velocity among our seven test models and had the heaviest and creepiest trigger.
Excalibur Micro Suppressor
Last time around, this little recurve bow did pretty well in our test, but this year’s version was plagued by a harmonic dampener that fell off after every shot. If the dampener wasn’t stuck back on the limb before firing again, the point of impact shifted 6 inches to the right and nearly missed the target. It eventually launched itself far enough downrange that we couldn’t recover it. It’s a shame that a two-dollar piece of rubber affected the test outcome, but it’s the little things in life that get you. Though the limbs are wide, this bow is otherwise very portable thanks to its short length and reasonable weight. The velocity is actually pretty good for a recurve, but the cam-less system was the toughest of all the bows tested to cock to its full position.
My Chart about Best Crossbow
We evaluated five attributes (portability, ergonomics, accuracy, trigger pull, and velocity) of each model and recorded the results.
In each category, a score of 0–5 points were awarded 5 points being the highest. None of the crossbows scored perfectly, and the difference from worst to first was 7 total points. As in any such test, some of these categories require a measure of subjectivity.
I have no connections to any of these brands and, as a freelance writer, no idea which, if any, of their manufacturers, advertise in this publication. I could figure it out, but I don’t care. I strive to be as objective as humanly possible in my evaluations, and this test is no exception.
If you’re deer hunting out of a stand and riding a Polaris to get there, portability may not be much of an issue for you. On the other hand, if you’re hiking up mountains and creeping through timber, size and weight can be a really big deal. To evaluate the portability of these crossbows, we devised a formula based on size and weight. Each bow was weighed, using an accurate postal-style scale, to determine overall mass. Just like in our last crossbow test, the only accessories that were included in the weight were the factory-mounted optics. We measured each bow’s width at the greatest outside point as well as its length.
Our formula combined the weight in total ounces, the cocked outside width in inches, and the length in inches. The lower the number, the higher the score.
In this “catch-all” group we calculated the intangibles, such as ease of cocking and loading, safety features, handling characteristics, noise level, and overall design. We used an iPhone app designed to measure noise, but the consequences were relatively worthless and were not considered in the rankings. This is the most subjective category by a good margin, and it essentially came down to “how much do I like this bow?”
Once a zero was established, the bows were shot from a solid benchrest to determine accuracy potential. Three three-shot groups were fired from each bow at 25 yards, and the outside spread was measured and averaged. The Ravin and Horton bows shot nearly identical groups with both bows averaging just over one inch. The Stryker and CamX bows finished just behind the top entries, with identical average group sizes down to 0.001 inches. The Mission, Tenpoint, and Excalibur bows finished fifth, sixth, and seventh respectively. Just to add some context to the accuracy performance, all of these bows shot really well, and I wouldn’t hesitate to take a 50-yard shot on a broadside whitetail with any of them.
There’s probably a no better aid to real world accuracy than a good trigger. We tested the weight of each bow’s trigger using a Lyman digital trigger pull scale. This test was performed while firing live bolts. This makes the testing a bit awkward as compared to a firearm since you have to make sure to hit the target while you’re pulling the trigger gauge. Once again, the Ravin and Horton took top honors with 46.8- and 39.9-ounce breaks respectively; as a shooter, I couldn’t pick a favorite between the two of them. The Stryker, Tenpoint, and Excalibur bows all had great triggers as well, with all of their pull weights within a 10-ounce range of one another.
It’s worth noting that the Stryker’s trigger pull was quite long. The Mission had a pretty heavy pull, but it didn’t actually feel that heavy while shooting. Not only was the CamX trigger the heaviest, it had some noticeable creep at the end of its pull.
To measure the velocity, each bow was fired over a ProChrono Pal chronograph with the included bolts from each manufacturer at a distance of three feet.
We fired three shots and averaged the results. When I performed this test just two years ago, the fastest bow we tested clocked in at 374 feet per second. This time around, the Ravin R15 smashed that record with consistent shots at over 420 fps—talk about innovation. With the exception of this outlier, the rest of the bows all scored within a pretty narrow velocity window between 329 and 357 fps with a median of 347 fps. Because the Ravin was so much faster than the rest of the pack, we scored it a full point ahead of the next best group of bows to adequately weigh the difference.