In a society captivated by speed, two crossbows vie for the title of "World's Fastest Hunting Bow."
Crossbows have become increasingly faster in recent years. In 2014, crossbow innovator Jim Kempf introduced a watershed crossbow called the Scorpyd that launched heavy arrows at 440 fps right out of the box. At the most recent Archery Trade Association show, a newcomer to the crossbow industry, Ravin, announced its new R15 chronographed 443 fps with a production 400-grain arrow.
These two speedsters are the fastest production bows. So now we are dying to know: When will we see a hunting crossbow that shoots 450 fps, or even 500 fps?
At the time of this interview, Kempf was intimately involved in the development of a new crossbow, the Death Stalker. Aware that he had designed and developed the world's fastest production crossbow and that he was working on a new model, my first question was about speed. "Will the new bow be even faster?"
The answer surprised me.
"Our new bow will not be as fast," said Kempf. "It will be a little bit smaller, more compact, and lighter in weight with a speed of approximately 385 with 130-pound draw weight."
When I asked about a 500-fps bow, that answer surprised me as well.
"Personally, I hope we don't get there," said Kempf, who invented the 440-fps Ventilator Xtreme. "There are too many people who think because the weapon can, they can. High speed entices them to shoot longer range with less practice and not consider the wind and all the other things that affect arrow flight.
"The technology is there," he said. "I've built them, but I don't think they're good for the industry."
Kempf takes speed very seriously. He warns that speed kills, yes, but speed will also kill accuracy if you don't practice extensively and determine the right type of arrow and broadheads you should be shooting. Speed magnifies any tiny variable, such as wind, operator shake, or arrow-to-arrow differences. Some arrows shoot at 340 fps but fly all over the place at 400 fps, he said.
It sounds like the higher the arrow speed, the greater the disappointment for all shooters except those who are most dedicated to making sure that both their gear — arrows and broadheads in particular — and their skills are at peak form.
RAVING ABOUT A RAVIN
Last deer season, a new crossbow company had five prototypes of a new model called the R9. I got my hands on a Ravin R9 for testing, and I happened to take the biggest whitetail buck of my life.
Soon after, the company introduced a more powerful R15 that shoots a 400-grain arrow at 425 fps, just topping Barnett's Ghost 420, which shoots, you guessed it, 420 fps.
The Ravins get speed from a few different features. First, its helicoil system lets cables load up without bending, like most crossbows ask of their cable. This avoids friction, which can rob energy and slow down the arrow. Similalry, the bow is designed so that the arrow does not slide along a rail when shot but only touches the bow in two spots: at the nock and at the front where a roller-type rest holds the arrow. This also reduces friction and increases speed.
Also of note is the mere 6-inch draw width that this traditional-draw bow has when cocked. Could this design bring us past 450 fps with accuracy?
Dave Choma is with CamX, and he has been designing crossbows for 30 years. Regarding a 500-fps crossbow, he said it's possible but there would be compromises.
"You can increase the power stroke, and thus the speed, by making the bow longer," he said. "But if it was two feet longer, would the average person hunt with it? Or be able to cock it?"
The only hunting advantage would be a slight reduction in trajectory.
Fred Bear took about every animal in North America with arrow speeds of 220 fps or less. Back then, we wanted to preserve the sport of archery, getting close, using camouflage, scents, and having that close, personal experience with an animal, he said.
Higher speeds can help the archer by flattening out the trajectory and therefore mask mistakes in distance ranging. But, more importantly, increased speeds magnifies arrow, bow or shooter imperfections. This will be the challenge for manufacturers and hunters who want to shoot ethically and accurately.
The Scorpyd isn't easy to cock. The 175-pound draw weight is one of the heavier in the crossbow world. Still, it's very manageable with the rope cocker. With 175-pound draw weight, the bow will launch a 400-grain arrow at 440 fps with an incredible kinetic energy of 173 foot pounds.
The Scorpyd has an 18 1/2-inch powerstroke. The 18 1/2-inch powerstroke is actually one of the longest in the industry. Often, a long powerstroke means a front-heavy bow that is uncomfortable to shoot. But Kempf's reverse-draw technology mitigates that with a better balance point than most traditional bows.
This bow features stored energy of the reverse draw limbs with unique risers. And those risers — the aluminum that connects the limbs to the bow — along with the limbs are designed in such a clever way that the whole industry admires them. Many companies actually pay royalties to Kempf to use his design because no one has come up with a better one yet.
- Advertised Speed: 440 fps
- Kinetic Energy: 173 ft. lbs.
- Axle-To-Axle: 12 7/8 inches
- Bow Weight: 8.1 pounds
- MSRP: $1,799
A new cam system allows the cams to turn 340 degrees while keeping the cables parallel. Most crossbow cams bend the strings, which introduces torque into the bow that's inefficient.
The bow does not have a shooting rail. That reduces friction. The bowstring touches only the nock of the arrow. The string does not slide down the length of a rail to create friction and bleed off energy.
Without a rail, the arrow is held only by a roller rest and by the nocks. Less friction means more energy.
Advertised Speed: 425 fps
Kinetic Energy: 160 ft. lbs.
Axle-To-Axle: 6 inches
Bow Weight: 6.9 pounds