Movement through the trees drew my attention, and I slowly shouldered my crossbow and leveled my scope on the game trail in front of my stand. A giant four-point buck sauntered into view with his nose to the ground. The hulking body was easy to find in the scope, and when the buck stopped to check the wind, my arrow launched off the rail. The buck kicked up his back legs and bolted into the trees with a crash and commotion that ended in silence. My hands started to tremble excitedly, sensing that weeks of hunting the big, old buck had finally ended with a well-placed arrow.
The blood trail was easy to follow, letting me know the shot was true and my SEVR broadhead had done its job at high speed. The hunt was a testament to the advancements in crossbow technologies and design. I was shooting the TenPoint Flatline 460 with an ultra-compact design, extreme speed, deadly accuracy, and consistency, providing my family with venison meals over the winter. How could all of the positive attributes in a diminutive, lightweight crossbow be possible? The answer is from years of engineering and reverse-draw limb technology that made the perfect combination for hunting for weeks on end with the confidence to be successful.
Crossbows continue to lead the industry as the fastest-growing segment of the archery community. The majority of states and provinces now allow crossbows in archery seasons, increasing the number of users and their days afield. Changing regulations, views of hunters, and wildlife managers, have been matched by research and development to build a better crossbow. Modern crossbows are easy to set up, shoot, and become proficient with to hunt successfully. The biggest challenge is keeping up with options for crossbow designs and what best suits your needs.
A fly-in trip into northern Saskatchewan for black bears meant weight restrictions. The toil over what to pack and what to sacrifice was daunting. Ultimately, the decision to use a Wicked Ridge Blackhawk 360 with conventional forward-deploying limbs proved wise. The forward-draw limbs are 15 inches wide when cocked, and the bow’s total length is 35.5 inches. The most important note for the trip was the weight at an even 6 pounds. A power stroke of 13.5 inches generates 350 fps and 109 FP KE with a carbon arrow. The bow is skeletonized to reduce weight but features modern components that produce accurate and consistent arrow placement downrange. With a retail price of under $400, it was hard to beat.
On the second day of my adventure, a big boar roamed within 24 yards. An Easton XX75 arrow, tipped with a 100-grain 2.0 SEVR broadhead, signaled the end of the hunt and the start of a week of fishing. The arrow shot through the bear, and the big boar only went 30 yards before expiring. There was no tracking required. I love the old-school arrows for performance.
Head to head
Why all the storytelling? There are practical uses for all crossbows. Knowing the pros and cons of each design ensures consumers make informed decisions when buying and getting the results they expect in the field.
If you have a crossbow that is ten years old, it is time to upgrade. The advancements in the last decade are astronomical, and anyone that wants repeatable performance, and more venison in the freezer, will appreciate the upgrades and new attributes. Bows are lighter, stronger, faster, more accurate, quieter, easier to use, and safer. When one dives into the new crossbow options, it is easy to determine why so many people are embracing crossbows for hunting.
The big considerations for anyone are performance and cost. The performance can be broken down into speed, accuracy, and ease of use. The cost can be related to value or the latest and greatest to hit the market. The price range is extreme, but the top-end bows are quality tools that will rival custom firearms in similar markets.
The original crossbows were a basic longbow mounted to shoot on the horizontal plane. The same blueprint is used today, albeit much more refined and consistent. The modern crossbow revolution was based on historical design, and several companies worked tirelessly to improve design and performance.
Do the limbs need to spring forward to release energy? What would the advantage be to having reverse-facing limbs? The first time anyone looks at a reverse-limb-designed crossbow, it is challenging to comprehend how it shoots an arrow forward, but it does. In fact, there are several benefits to the reverse draw that should be considered when looking at a crossbow.
Anyone looking to upgrade or purchase a new crossbow must consider the differences between reverse and conventional draw bows. The different designs have pros and cons, and knowing and seeing the differences can help you purchase the best horizontal bow for hunting and shooting.
The chance to shoot and handle a new crossbow model or option should never be overlooked. Archery shops are great about letting potential customers shoot and experience new products, so go and shoot. If you have shot dozens of crossbows, there will be a couple of things that stand out.
The biggest advantage of the reverse draw is an increased power stroke, which is easy to see with the length of the rail. Historically, crossbows required an extreme draw weight to shoot faster and farther, but with a reverse draw, pulling the string into the curve of the limbs instead of away from the limbs increases the power stroke. The increased power stroke eliminates the need for heavier draw weight to obtain faster arrows and flatter trajectories. When you carefully look at the design, the string placement at the leading edge of the cables and riser, instead of below, makes a significant difference. Reverse draw crossbow limbs point toward the front of the bow, with the string in front of the limbs, providing more rail to pull the string down when cocking. A couple of inches may not seem like much, but the percentage gain is substantial.
By increasing the power stroke, a lower draw weight can be used. The real difference is in the bow’s total length, which does not have to increase to accommodate the longer power stroke. It is a design modification to maximize energy production while keeping the overall bow compact. When you understand power stroke and energy produced by the distance of arrow travel on the string, it is easy to see why reverse-draw bows are faster than conventional-draw bows of the same length.
There are advantages with the reverse-draw limbs beyond speed. Having lower draw weights makes the bows easier to use and cock. Less draw weight equals less stress on parts and components, especially string load. One of the most overlooked benefits is reduced noise due to the bow’s lighter draw weight.
Reverse-draw bows are easier to design as a compact unit. Reverse draw technology brings the weight and balance of the bow into your grip. Please pick up a conventional draw crossbow; it is easy to feel the weight-forward balance. The traditional crossbows are front-heavy and can be difficult for shooters to hold and maneuver. With the reverse draw, more components and weight are balanced in the center of the bow, making it easier to hold and balance. A shorter, compact design is easier to hold close to your body, reducing front-heavy weight issues.
There are concerns with any design. The cons to consider are the acute angles of a cocked bow, making it harder to load without having your fingers in the danger zone of the cocked string. Practice is required to master correct arrow placement on the rail and ensure the arrow is properly seated before shooting.
A big reason why forward shooting limbs are still popular is that they are easy to understand and see the simple operation. Safety and consistent shooting start with knowing how a crossbow works and functions. Knowing and understanding the operation of a crossbow allows you to quickly build confidence, shoot consistently, and troubleshoot potential issues.
Conventional crossbows have a shorter power stroke, making them generally easier to draw. New cocking aids eliminate the challenges of pulling extreme weights to prepare any bow to shoot. Having arms to reach the entire length of a shorter power stroke is easy to understand. It explains why conventional crossbows are usually easy to draw.
A crossbow’s weight and balance point have advantages and disadvantages for a specific shooter. Some shooters will embrace the front heavy bows and shoot well. The use of a rest or shooting sticks can eliminate the issue. The extra weight can also stabilize the bow in hand, much like when a competitive archer uses stabilizers.
The advent of a bullpup stock design meant conventional crossbows could also benefit from an increased power stroke, and we understand how that equates to speed and energy. A bullpup design arranges the crossbow’s working action behind the trigger and in front of a short buttstock, decreasing the overall length. The unique design also decreases the weight while retaining the same barrel and rail length. Bullpups can allow for a 25 percent reduction in crossbow length, providing advantages with maneuverability in restricted spaces while increasing overall performance.
You cannot go wrong
There is not a modern crossbow that cannot outperform all crossbows from a decade ago. The race to build a better mouse trap has occurred. Crossbows are highly specialized tools better defined as precision instruments.
If you are considering a new crossbow, head to your local archery shop and shoot them all. Knowing, seeing, and feeling the difference is the best way to understand what is best for you and your goals. Pay attention to each crossbow’s ease of operation, repeatable performance, and overall quality.
Regarding hunting, the advantages will be measured in venison steaks and roasts. If you cannot decide on a specific model or design, you should buy more than one. Some states have statistics showing that vertical archers are buying crossbows at a staggering rate. Having options is always beneficial.
Protect your investment
Consider a backpack or case to protect your bow when hunting and traveling. It is easy to catch the string or accessories; protecting it means it will work when needed. The ALPS OutdoorZ Crossfire Backpack can be configured for your needs. The pack uses a lightweight X frame, vented back panel, and large front and main pockets with an accessory pocket. Drop-down weapon-carry pocket secures a gun, crossbow, or bow for hands-free carry. The padded waist belt has two pockets for small items. A hydration pocket and port are included, with a blaze-orange rain cover, bottom, and side compression straps, rounded out with side mesh pockets. The smaller, economical ALPS OutdoorZ Matrix Pack could also be considered. alpsbrands.com
A broadhead that can keep up with the high performance of a modern crossbow is a must. The SEVR broadhead line flies like a field point with consistent and devastating results. The rear-deploy head has a practice screw, allowing you to use the same head for practice and hunting by adding or removing the screw. The blades can steer around the bone to reduce deflection and damage. SEVR broadheads feature a precision 7075-alloy ferrule with a stainless-steel tip. The .035-inch thick blades provide the strength and sharpness to make clean pass-through shots. The chisel-type tip helps stretch the hide on contact but makes the initial penetration easy. The tip is strong enough to lead the charge through bone if needed. There are 1.5, 1.7, and 2.0 cutting-diameter SEVR heads. All SEVR mechanical broadheads are designed and rated for any modern hunting-weight vertical bow and even the fastest crossbows. www.sevrbroadheads.com