Compounds vs. Crossbows

by Patrick Meitin

You've heard the chatter in Web forums and at bow shops. Myths and half-truths abound. Here are the real differences between these two awesome hunting tools.

Which is right for you?

Recently a couple of the mainstream bowhunting magazines began sprinkling occasional crossbow articles among the compound-bow content. Letters to the editors followed. They were split between two camps. On one side were those threatening subscription cancellations. On the other side, they openly applaud the move, welcoming new input on this relatively new development in hunting opportunity.

No one seems to sit the fence in this discussion.


One of the most common complaints is that crossbows are no different from a rifle.

Just for the record, I'll provide you a modern, scoped crossbow; I'll shoot one of my tricked-out compounds. We'll step back 60 or 70 yards (or 100 if you prefer), and we'll shoot bulls-eye's for $20 a shot.

Odds are I'll walk away richer.

The shorter arrows pushed by the crossbow's abbreviated power stroke, simply cannot match the energy stored by longer arrows launched from compound bows via longer power strokes -- even if the crossbow's draw weight is four times that of the average compound. No, the crossbow's not a firearm, despite what you've observed in Hollywood renditions of medieval warfare. From personal experience I've found maximum effective range of the two weapons is parallel -- about 40 to 50 yards for the average hunter.

Interesting, how often this very information is also used as an indictment against crossbows by compound users. New crossbow owners, say the critics, expect rifle-like performance from their new weapons and attempt shots well outside an ethical range. The result of a long shot could mean wounded animals.

Now the my-weapon-is-morally-superior-to-yours is getting a bit threadbare.

The longbow man feels ethically apart from the recurve guy. The traditional bow gang looks down on the compound archer.

It's all pretty silly, really. There is the concept that we actually need to stick together as hunters in politically dangerous times.

Still, there are a couple of sticking points associated with the modern crossbow and hunting.

First, since the weapon remains locked and loaded while hunting, there's the real potential for accidental discharge absent a hand-drawn bow. Heeding the tenets preached in hunter's safety classes is important.

To truly understand crossbow phobia you must understand this is most of all a debate between dedicated, life-long bowhunters versus those rifle hunters who recently turned "bowhunters" through the purchase of a crossbow.

The reluctance to allow crossbows into a regular bow season is likely the biggest contention regarding crossbows -- especially in the West, where there are steep odds in limited lottery drawings.

No one is fighting crossbows in firearm season.

There is seldom an argument against allowing crossbow use during firearms seasons, must bowhunters just don't want to share time in the woods with crossbow hunters during archery-only seasons. Hard-core bowhunters naturally see new recruits -- taking advantage of better seasons rather than adopting real love for the sport -- as a threat to their quality experience as much as competition for limited resources.

Finally, and perhaps a point most often overlooked regarding crossbows: They're undeniably heavy and ungainly. Surveying a couple popular models, crossbow mass ranges from 9 to 10 pounds, opposed to 3 1/2 to 4 pounds for compounds in the same price class (bolt-action rifles falling somewhere in the middle). The industry responded with any manner of crossbow day- or backpacks to make schlepping them easier.

Handling a crossbow in a tree-stand or ground blind scenario is no problem. And in most portions of the nation -- for the majority of American hunters who still hunt for relaxation and fun, not caught up in trophy mania sweeping the land -- highly limited tags are simply not the rule. In many places conservation agencies have a difficult time getting hunters to kill enough deer.

In these instances the crossbow gives the average hunter more time afield. He gets more deer tagged, better fulfilling management objectives.

On the other side of the coin, there's also a blaring positive in all of this many fail to see: The rifle hunter-turned-crossbow hunter is as likely as not to someday graduate to a compound bow, perhaps later traditional gear. The crossbow may bridge rifle hunting to bowhunting.

Like it or not, gaining a voice in today's political forum means recruiting numbers of noisy voices.

Like anything else, both the compound and crossbow have gone high tech. Knocking the capabilities of one without accusing the other is highly hypocritical. The modern compound's capable -- equipped with the latest bowhunting accessories -- of more repeatable accuracy and sheer range than most game managers likely had in mind when doling out special seasons.

The only real difference in contrast to the crossbow is the compound must still be hand drawn with your own muscle. This is a conspicuous move under the best of conditions. Yet given the unwieldy nature of the crossbow I'd give them equal billing in matters of inconvenience.


Crossbows are quickly becoming accepted in more states every season. For those who object, you're likely facing a losing battle. There will be holdout states, no doubt, akin to states that still don't allow use of mechanical broadheads. But in time crossbows will become part of the regular bowhunting scene.

I don't see this as the end of the sport as we know it. Those of us who've been around awhile no doubt recall when compounds were the red herring of the sport, another technical advancement touted as the end of bowhunting as we knew it.

But somehow survived.

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