BUDGET BOW SHOOTOUT
By Chris Larsen
Budget Bow Shootout
By Chris Larsen
Most crossbow hunters would love to have a high end crossbow, but what if your budget doesn’t allow for a top of the line choice? There are still some fantastic crossbows for under $500. Crossbow Magazine put six of them to the test in this budget bow shootout. The six crossbows chosen were the Barnett Raptor FX, Excalibur Cub, Killer Instinct KI-150, Parker Enforcer, PSE Fang and Wicked Ridge Warrior. These crossbows were picked due to their popularity and widespread availability.
The test consisted of measuring the true weight of the crossbow with all accessories attached, a chronograph test using the arrows included in the package, a trigger pull test, and an accuracy test. The accuracy test was conducted by shooting three groups of three arrows from a bench rest using the included arrows. We threw out the two worst arrow spreads and listed the best group for the purpose of this test. Then each crossbow was tested using Black Eagle Executioner arrows in an attempt to eliminate the arrows as a variable in the test. Again, the best arrow spread of the three groups is listed.
Crossbows in the test are listed in alphabetical order. It is important to note there is no perfect crossbow for everyone at any price. They all have advantages and disadvantages, even high end crossbows. Choose the crossbow that fits your needs and budget the best.
Barnett Raptor FX
The Raptor FX ($399.00) is one of the most popular budget minded crossbows on the market. This is due in large part to its 330 feet per second advertised speed, affordable price, and the Barnett name. Barnett Crossbows has a huge following and the Raptor FX is one of the top affordable crossbows in the line. The Raptor FX is both the lightest and narrowest crossbow in the test. However, the trigger weight was the highest of the group. The Raptor shot 323 feet per second through the chronograph. Considering the Barnett Headhunter arrow is the second heaviest arrow among those tested, there is plenty of energy down range and the Raptor is among the fastest crossbows in the price class.
The Raptor produced a mixed bag on the range. It was one of the quietest crossbows tested and seemed to absorb vibration well. However, the groups from the Raptor FX were the widest of the test at 3.6 inches. The groups shot with the Black Eagle arrows were no better. The best group at thirty yards was 3.8 inches which is plenty accurate for hunting whitetails at thirty yards, but not pin point accuracy.
An exception had to be made for the Excalibur Cub ($449.00) due to price. It is the lowest priced Excalibur Crossbow, but keep in mind this is a bare bow price. You’ll have to add a scope, arrows, and a rope cocker to enjoy this crossbow. These items probably put the price over $500, but it is still a great value. I outfitted the Cub with an Excalibur multiplex scope and Diablo arrows. With these items attached to the crossbow, the Cub was the second lightest crossbow of the group at 7.8 pounds. However, the Cub was the slowest crossbow tested. It fired a 350 grain Diablo arrow through the chronograph at 284 feet per second.
This crossbow is designed for younger shooters, and the short power stroke makes it very easy to cock. The Cub is surprisingly quiet, and to no surprise, it is incredibly accurate. All groups were tight. The best group shot with the Diablo arrows was 2.1 inches. When switching to the Black Eagle arrows, the Cub performed even better. All groups were less than two inches. My best group had an arrow spread of 1.4 inches. The Cub is not a speed burner, but it is one of the most accurate low priced crossbows available. It is also one of two crossbows on the list with a lifetime warranty.
Killer Instinct KI-350
The KI-350 ($399.00) isn’t well known; but the Crossbow Xpert store carried them last year, and were blown away by the value. Killer Instinct released their first crossbow last year, and the KI-350 is the lowest priced model. Among the six crossbows in the test, there was only one illuminated scope and one machined aluminum rail. Both belonged to the KI-350. These upgrades do come with a side effect. The KI-350 was the heaviest crossbow tested at 8.4 pounds with all accessories. The crossbow was the fastest of the six crossbows, but was well short of the advertised 350 feet per second. The Killer Instinct sent the included arrow through the chronograph at 334 fps. The trigger weight was average, 3.4 pounds.
Theoretically, a machined aluminum rail is more accurate than a molded rail. That idea was confirmed on the range. Simply put, the Killer Instinct KI-350 tested was as accurate as a high end crossbow. All groups with the included arrows were under two inches with one group boasting an arrow spread of 1.4 inches. All fletchings were touching. When switched to the Black Eagle arrows, one group was 1.1 inches. The arrows were stacked right next to each other. At 30 yards, this level of accuracy is unmatched in this price category.
What is the difference between the KI-350 and a high end crossbow? Sound and vibration. The KI-350 is loud, and it transfers a lot of that energy throughout the crossbow. I’ve felt a noticeable kick in only a few crossbows, and this is one of them. The KI-350 won’t compare well to high priced crossbows; but when it comes to crossbows under $500, you won’t find anything more accurate. The lifetime warranty is also a plus.
The PSE Fang($299.00) was introduced in the fall of 2014. The low price quickly made it a favorite among budget minded crossbow hunters. It looks eerily similar to the KI-350. The main differences are the Fang is fully molded and does not have an aluminum rail. The KI has an illuminated scope, and the Fang is camouflage compared to the black KI-350. The Fang is slightly lighter than the KI at 8.1 pounds due to the differences in the rail and scope. The Fang I tested shot slightly slower than the KI-350, but this could easily be due to differences between crossbow to crossbow. We’re not going to lose sleep over 1 fps. The Fang I tested for the spring issue of Crossbow Magazine shot in the upper 330s.
On the range the Fang seems as loud as the KI-350, and the vibration is there too. The Fang is respectably accurate but doesn’t perform as well. My best arrow spread was 2.7 inches with both the included arrows and the Black Eagle arrows, but the average group size was slightly better with the Black Eagles. The Fang is easily the least expensive crossbow tested, so it is easy to forgive the sound and vibration. Comparing accuracy numbers is interesting too, but keep in mind the difference between a 2.7” spread and 1.4” spread at thirty yards doesn’t mean much when taking twenty yard shots in the whitetail woods.
Parker has revamped their crossbow line for 2015, and the Enforcer ($499.00) may have received the biggest face lift. New limbs and a new camo pattern along with string suppressors are all part of the upgrade. Parker did increase the price from $449 to $499. You can go for the illuminated scope for another $50.00. With the scope, quiver, and arrows attached, the Enforcer weighs in at 8.1 pounds which is about average among this group. The Enforcer does have great balance and feels good in the hand. The crossbow shoots the included 404 grain Red Hot arrow through the chronograph at 308 feet per second. Trigger pull was the second highest at 3.9 pounds.
On the range the Enforcer isn’t exceptional but performs very well. My best group with the Red Hot arrows had a 2.2 inch arrow spread. With the Black Eagle arrows, the top group was slightly better at 2.1 inches. I often tell people the Enforcer is a workhorse. It’s not the best at anything, but it isn’t bad at anything either. It is a solid crossbow and one of two crossbows on this list made in the USA.
Wicked Ridge Warrior
The Warrior ($449.00) is the other made in the USA crossbow in the test. Made in Ohio, Wicked Ridge is the less expensive brother of TenPoint Crossbows. The Warrior is the widest of the compound crossbows I looked at, but the 8.1 pound crossbow is about average when it comes to weight. The Warrior did have the best trigger among those tested. I measured the trigger at 2.3 pounds.
The Warrior is excellent on the range. It is fairly quiet and vibration is light. The Warrior is also among the most accurate crossbows tested. With the included aluminum arrows, the crossbow put together consistent groups with the best group of 1.8 inches. Groups tightened up slightly with the Black Eagle arrows. The best group with the Executioners was 1.6 inches. This crossbow feels a bit front heavy, but it is an exceptional shooter. Tight tolerances and a crisp, light trigger lead to superb accuracy and an enjoyable shooting experience. If you want a TenPoint but your budget won’t allow for it, the Wicked Ridge Warrior is an excellent choice.
One of the evident themes of the 2015 ATA Trade Show was that crossbow manufacturers were moving away from pushing the limits of speed and performance and focusing on value and shootability. Budget crossbows and their owners are benefiting from the technology of more expensive crossbows. Never before have you been able to get crossbows this good for under $500.00.