Compound Bow vs. Crossbow: Which Is Right for You?
Posted by Billy Nicar on Jul 28th 2020
Mention that you’re thinking about getting into the sport of bow hunting, and you’re likely to get 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.
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.
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.
Compound Bow Advantages:
Compound bows tend to be much quieter shooting than crossbows, which helps a lot when a shot on an animal does not go as planned. Yes, everybody misses at some point. And since a quieter shot is less likely to put the forest critters on high alert, that makes the possibility for a follow-up shot greater with a compound bow. And not only are compound bows quieter than crossbows, they also have a faster reload time.
Most crossbows require some form of cocking aid, usually in the form of a rope-style cocking device that is not integrated into the crossbow. Some crossbows do have a crank style cocking device that is integrated into the stock of the crossbow. It takes time and is usually a cumbersome process to cock a crossbow while in a tree stand. Either way, a follow up shot is much quicker and more easily performed with a compound bow.
While in the confines of a tree stand, a compound bow tends to be less awkward and consumes less space than a crossbow. A fully cocked crossbow can take up a lot of room when sitting in a tree stand, leaving less room for the hunter. This can sometimes lead to excessive movement in an attempt to sit comfortably while waiting on the quarry.
Compound bows also tend to weigh less. The average compound hunting bow weighs about 6 pounds, while the average crossbow weighs about 8 pounds. So, the hunter who needs to travel long distances on foot to get to the hunting ground may find the lightweight design of a compound bow to be advantageous.
There Is No Wrong Choice
Now let’s look at each one and how to determine why someone would benefit more from one choice over the other. But before saying much more, I believe that there really is no wrong choice. It is a personal choice and should be looked at from the perspective of not only the hunter but also the hunter’s prey. As hunters, we owe it to our prey to make a quick, clean, humane harvest. And whichever option enables the hunter to do so should be a key factor in the choice to be made.
Hunters with physical disabilities or who suffer from injuries to the neck, back, or shoulders may find it difficult to practice shooting a compound bow enough to become proficient with it. Because such conditions make it harder for the hunter to ensure a clean harvest of an animal, a crossbow presents a clear, ethical option. With much less practice time, that same hunter could easily become very proficient with a crossbow and, thus, be able to make a quick, clean harvest.
Similarly, younger hunters or any hunter who struggles with drawing the weight on a compound bow, ought to consider whether they are ethically able to hunt with one. The same can be said for the hunter who simply does not have time to dedicate to practicing with a compound bow. These are good examples of hunters who would benefit from a crossbow over a compound bow.
Don’t get me wrong. Shooting with a crossbow still requires hours of practice in order to become proficient with the weapon. But far less time is required.
Hunters who thoroughly enjoy the sport of recreational shooting and have the desire to shoot frequently may get more enjoyment out of shooting and hunting with a compound bow instead of a crossbow.
Personally, I shoot my compound bows daily. Aside from practicing just to become good enough to cleanly harvest an animal, I just enjoy shooting a bow. It can be very calming at the end of a long day.
A compound bow can be shot with every bit of the same precision as a crossbow, but it takes a lot of practice to become proficient enough with a compound bow to ensure a clean and ethical harvest of an animal. And, for many compound bow hunters, regular practice is part of the enjoyment.
It's a Personal Choice
As mentioned earlier, the added challenge of hunting with a compound bow over a crossbow holds great appeal for many hunters. Additionally, if a hunter aspires to bowhunt in other states around the country, a compound bow may be the better option since some states only permit the use of a crossbow for hunting if the hunter is physically disabled and cannot physically use a compound bow.
Again, the choice between hunting with a compound bow, a crossbow, or both is an entirely personal one. Anyone who tries to shame you into using something that may be a great option for them but not the best option for you or for the animals you intend on hunting isn’t thinking correctly about all the issues involved.
Bottom line: it’s going to be you out there with the intent of taking an animal’s life and you owe it to the animal to make that transition as humanely as possible.
In the end, no matter which weapon you choose, make sure to become skillful with it and enjoy it.
Billy Nicar’s enthusiasm for hunting and fishing began when he first went along with his grandfather, father and stepfather, and has continued through his adult life. It was that enthusiasm, and his affinity for serving customers that first brought Billy to Green Top.
Billy enjoys both freshwater and saltwater fishing. He is also an expert fly fisherman, and has had great success with tying his own flies. Billy holds multiple International Game Fish Association World Records, and over 60 Virginia freshwater fish citations. He enjoys fishing in a variety of locations, and says his favorite type of fish is whatever’s on the end of his line.
Billy also enjoys hunting. He hunts mostly for deer, turkey and waterfowl. An avid archer, Billy only hunts for deer during bow season. For all your fishing and archery needs, come see Billy, a member of the Green Top family since 1999.
Compound Bow Advantages:
- Quieter shots
- Quicker follow-up shots
- Less awkward to handle in tree stands than a crossbow
- Lighter weight
- 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