Crossbows: Is It Worth It?
Is a $2,000 bow that much better than a $299 model?
What hunter doesn’t want the sweet new Ravin R20 or TenPoint Nitro X prominently displayed at the bow shop like they’re the holy grail of hunting? Both bows are so compact you can carry them anywhere, and each will bunch arrows on a target tighter than quills on a porcupine.
But are they worth their lofty MSRPs?
Meanwhile, there’s a Barnett Recruit on the bottom rack. Though it looks pretty good, and the bow shop owner says it shoots fine and that he’s “sold a bunch of ’em,” just how good could it be for $299? You look up at the oracle that is the Ravin and Nitro, then back to the Barnett. Are those bows worth it? What makes them so expensive? Why’s the Barnett so inexpensive?
To help answer “Is it worth it?” think about a product you know well, whether it’s cars, computers or tools, and apply the same wisdom to crossbows. At some dollar threshold, consumers begin paying as much for prestige or monikers as for actual performance. While there are some real performance gains and some exceptions when specific models are compared, a few generalities can be drawn about expensive crossbows versus bargain-priced models.
Generally, premium crossbows incorporate the maker’s latest innovations. Most of these technologies have extensive development behind them, that is, engineering, manufacturing, licensing, trademarking and patenting. So, the company has to recoup some of these costs. Some features, such as reverse draw technology, which makes crossbows shorter and faster, or Ravin’s Helicoil technology, which makes bows much narrower, have proven benefits, while other “technology” may be just marketing hype.
Take the Recruit’s “Single Screw Assembly” technology, for example. Marketers took a standard assembly facet found on many crossbows and hyped it as a feature. Most companies do it. You need to find out what technologies actually provide advantage to your style of hunting and then ask yourself what it’s worth to you. If you want all the latest and greatest technologies, expect to pay big.
COMPONENTS AND MATERIALS
Top-enders usually feature machined aluminum risers, barrels and frames rather than cast metal or molded polymer. They typically have premium strings, triggers engineered for lighter pulls, and rock-solid fire-control systems. While cast metal isn’t bad, it’s just isn’t as sexy or quite as strong as machined parts. But it is less expensive to produce in bulk.
Most American-made bows over $1,000 are near-fully assembled and shot by an employee who signs their name to it before he or she lays it in its box. Many are shipped in field cases that ensure they don’t get abused or damaged during shipping. This is because no company wants to invest in quality control procedures only to have the bow arrive to the consumer damaged.
These are expensive steps in the manufacturing process, but it ensures that a human actually tests each bow and takes personal responsibility for it. In the end, best components and hand assembly imbue top-end crossbows with a feeling of quality that’s difficult to describe, but you know it when you feel it.
Accessories, such as scopes, quivers, slings, arrows and so on, play a major role in the price of a crossbow. Typically, the more inexpensive the bow, the lower the quality of the accessories. This is natural, of course, as accessorizing a low-end bow with high-end accessories is counterproductive, as it would drive retail up.
On the other hand, accessorizing high-end bows with high-end accessories pushes the “quality narrative,” and thus commands top retail dollar for those “performance” packages.
While price has little bearing on speed, premium crossbows tend to be quieter. They often have more silencing components than less expensive models. Additionally, component fit is meticulously scrutinized from its CAD engineering design to machining, so tolerances between parts are tight.
In my testing, top-tier 350-fps crossbows average 3 to 5 decibels quieter than less expensive 350-fps models. Can deer hear 3 decibels? Probably. Does it matter? Probably not.
Typically, top-shelf bows are slightly more accurate. I’ve found that the lowest price point bows average around 1.5-inch groups at 30 yards (3 inches at 60 yards), whereas premium bows average 1 inch at 30 yards (or 2 inches at 60.)
Generally, the best groups I’ve ever shot (3/4 inch at 30 yards) have come from the most expensive bows. But I’ve also seen some mid-priced bows shoot on par with the most expensive. How much is 1/2 inch worth to you? If you’re a Westerner where long shots are the norm, probably plenty.
Marketing strategy can artificially influence pricing. In any market, products are found at the low-, mid- and high-price spectrum to appeal to all socio-economic classes. For insight, consider the TenPoint Crossbow Technologies company. TenPoint models are known for their wonderful accuracy and come ready-to-shoot.
TenPoint also produces its Wicked Ridge brand to compete at lower price points. They’re great bows, but without all the bells and whistles. Then, rather than dropping prices of its TenPoint models, thereby devaluing them, or elevating its Wicked Ridge models and risk losing low-end sales, TenPoint began offering its Horton line to compete at the mid price range.
While all these brands are made in the same factory and may not exhibit the $1,000 performance disparity indicated by their prices, TenPoint has maximized its sales potential by offering bows across the entire price spectrum.
REALLY WORTH IT?
So, is the Ravin worth it? In real world terms, it’s slightly quieter, more accurate, and easier to carry and uncock. All told, it’s a much better crossbow than the Recruit, but that’s as it should be. Barnett never intended that model to compete with $2,000 crossbows, but rather to entice new hunters into crossbow hunting. Look to their $1,299 Razr Ice if you want a top-shelf Barnett.
At $299, it’ll still kill any whitetail, provided that you do your job. It’s just not a bow that will make your friends green with envy like the Ravin will.
Ultimately, your decision depends on your style of hunting, your financial situation, and whether you insist on being the hunter that has the latest and greatest gear.
Note: Originally published in 2018 Crossbow Revolution Magazine.