Mention that you are thinking about getting into the sport of bow hunting, and you will likely be bombarded by lots of advice.
Some of your buddies may tell you to buy a crossbow. Others will strongly urge you to go with a compound bow. And if you know little about either, it’ll be easy to become confused and unsure about which one to buy at all.
This is a familiar scenario that archery technicians across the country get confronted with on a regular basis. And it’s hard not to allow our own biased opinions to take over and persuade budding bowhunters to purchase what we personally use.
But experience has taught me that the best path to take is to lay out the issues at stake so each person can decide what’s best for them. Both options have clear advantages over the other in certain situations. So, let’s dive into what crossbows and compound bows do best and how they are each best suited.
- Higher arrow speeds
- Greater kinetic energy
- Ease of accuracy
- Less movement required to harvest quarry. Lower chance that target animals will sense the hunter’s presence
Compound Bow Advantages:
- Quieter shots
- Quicker follow-up shots
- Less awkward to handle in tree stands than a crossbow
- Lighter weight
Both crossbows and compound bows are highly effective tools for hunting. Crossbows have the advantage of producing higher arrow speeds and kinetic energy over compound bows. Today’s modern crossbows are capable of producing arrow speeds anywhere from 300 - 470 f.p.s. and over 100 ft-lbf of kinetic energy. Modern compound bows regularly produce arrow speeds of 270 – 310 f.p.s. and about 60 – 90 ft-lbf of kinetic energy. Clearly either choice has energy to spare when it comes to producing a clean and ethical harvest of an animal within common bowhunting ranges of 0 - 40 yards.
Crossbows also have the advantage when it comes to ease of accuracy. I use the term “ease of accuracy” because I believe that a compound bow and a crossbow can be shot with the same amount of precision when in well-trained hands. While the shooter plays the major role in placing an arrow down range precisely, it is an easier task performed with a crossbow. I have seen many occasions where someone shooting a crossbow for the first time can repeatedly hit a quarter sized dots at twenty yards. That same shooter is very capable of repeatedly hitting that same quarter sized dot at twenty yards with a compound bow. It just requires much more practice than a crossbow does. And, speaking of practice, it doesn't always matter which kind of archery target you use (as long as it's not the neighbor's dog). Just try to put in as much time as you can, even if it's only 10-15 minutes a day.
An additional advantage of the crossbow is the lack of movement required to operate it when the time comes to harvest an animal. Anyone who has ever hunted anything knows the value of being still and quiet. With bowhunting being a close range sport, it is much easier for target animals to sense the hunter’s location due to movement and sound. Crossbows can be shot with very little movement by the hunter.
A lot more movement is required to shoot a compound bow, and that increases the risk that a hunter’s movements and associated noise will be detected by their target animal and alert them to the hunter’s presence. However, some would argue that the added challenge of getting to full draw on an animal with a compound bow makes the task of harvesting an animal with a compound bow more difficult and, therefore, more rewarding. And that brings me to the advantages of compound bows next.