Compound Bows vs. Crossbows: Which one is right for you? – Foundry Outdoors

Compound Bows vs. Crossbows: Which one is right for you?

     Although crossbows are every bit as ancient in design as both long bows and recurve bows are, compound bows are a relatively modern invention. However, while modern compound bows and crossbows are based on ancient weapons technology, both bear only passing resemblance to their ancient counterparts due to the fact that both designs feature composite limbs made of modern materials and incorporate pulleys on the ends of both limbs which not only makes them easier to draw, they also drastically increase the speed at which the bows fire arrows and bolts. However, there are many other less obvious differences and each type of bow has both advantages and disadvantages that may not be immediately apparent to archers who are not intimately familiar with modern designs.

     Thus, let’s start with the more obvious differences and then move on the less obvious ones. So, to begin with, while compound bows have a “riser” (aka handle) to which the upper and lower limbs are attached via large bolts, crossbows feature a “tiller” (aka stock) to which the bow or individual limbs are attached. Therefore, while compound bows are held and drawn vertically, crossbows are held and drawn horizontally.

     Furthermore, due to the fact that compound bows are required to accommodate archers with different draw lengths, they are forced to fire relatively long arrows whereas, crossbows are able to fire significantly shorter arrows called “bolts”. In addition, while all compound bows have eccentric cams affixed to the ends of each limb, crossbows are available in both recurve and compound designs as well as with standard limb or reverse draw limb designs. Plus, while compound bows generally have a maximum draw weight of 80 pounds, crossbows generally feature significantly greater draw weights of 150 to 175 pounds. But, some models of modern recurve crossbows feature draw weights as high as 400 pounds. Therefore, due to their shorter arrows and greater draw weights, crossbows are able to fire bolts at significantly higher speeds than compound bows are arrows which, in turn, results in a significantly flatter arrow trajectory as well as significantly more kinetic energy and inertia for deeper penetration.

     In addition, compound bows lack any sort of trigger mechanism and thus, they require an archer to draw and then hold the bow’s string manually before release whereas, crossbows enable an archer to draw the bow and then lock it in the drawn position by securing the bow’s string in the trigger mechanism. Thus, due to the fact that crossbows have a trigger mechanism that enables the archer to draw the bow and then lock it in the drawn position and then, release it at will by simply pulling the trigger contained in the tiller, crossbows do not require the archer to manually hold the bow in the drawn position which relieves the stress that compound bow archers experience despite the fact that the eccentric design of their cams (aka pulleys) produces an effect called “let-off” which reduces the draw weight at full draw by 60 to 70 percent. Therefore, many archers are able to shoot a crossbow far more accurately than they are a compound bow with significantly less practice.

     But, due to their relatively long tillers and the horizontal orientation of their bows, crossbows are significantly more bulky than compound bows are and thus, crossbows are less convenient to carry and more difficult to maneuver in tight quarters such as tree stands or ground blinds as well as in dense foliage than compound bows are. Also, due to their greater draw weight, crossbows require considerably more effort from an archer to draw and thus, they are slower to fire additional shots. But, this is somewhat mitigated by the fact that most crossbows also feature a metal ring called a “stirrup” attached to the front end of the tiller which enables an archer to place their foot in the stirrup and then use both hands to draw the bow while the compound bow archer is limited to holding the bow’s riser in one hand and drawing the bow’s string with the other.

     Then, there is the issue of accuracy. For instance, while it is possible to mount a handgun scope or a reflexive sight on a compound bow, doing so is not really practical due to the fact that such sighting systems are bulky and they can only be zeroed for a single distance. Therefore, most compound bow archers prefer to use either fixed, adjustable, or pendulum sights with fiber optic pins. On the other hand, because crossbows feature a tiller that is very similar to a rifle’s stock, they are the perfect platform for mounting a crossbow specific scope or reflexive sight. In addition, due to their significantly greater draw weight and thus, a significantly flatter trajectory, crossbows are inherently more accurate than compound bows are.

     Last, there is the issue of weight. For instance, most compound bows weigh less than four pounds with some as light as three pounds whereas, most crossbows weigh somewhat more than four pounds. Therefore, due to the fact that crossbows are significantly more bulky than compound bows and the fact that they are also somewhat heavier, most archers prefer to not to carry a crossbow over long distances; especially when carrying a tree stand as well.

     But, despite the many advantages of crossbows over compound bows, crossbows also have some very noticeable disadvantages. In addition, despite the fact that compound bows require greater strength from an archer as well as far more time spent practicing in order to become proficient, throughout history avid archers have displayed a distinct preference for long bows and recurve bows over crossbows and, the same is true today of compound bows. But, regardless of which type of bow you prefer, the end result is the same in that both types of bows are designed to propel a field point or broadhead attached to a feathered shaft with a high degree of accuracy and thus, both types of bows are a very efficient means of dispatching game animals at long ranges. Plus, they are both fun to shoot at targets and, due to their limited range and their lack of noise, they can be safely shot in an archer’s back yard or basement. So, if you are not yet an archer, then you should give it a try since you will undoubtedly find it to be a highly enjoyable sport!



Written by,

Bill Bernhardt

Outdoor Professional

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