By Alex Gouthro
It was obvious after one step; that’s all it took. The new models were in and the old models were out. These, most definitely, are not your daddy’s crossbows. A visit to the 2010 Archery Trade show in Columbus, Ohio, showed the crossbow market is expanding rapidly and, like their compound bow counterparts, modern crossbows come in a wide variety of models and draw weights.
Some crossbows use traditional-style bows with straight or recurve solid limbs. Others use compound bows, which can have split limbs (called quad limbs by some manufacturers) or solid limbs, with a wide variety of cam designs. More recent compound crossbow models use inverted cams and/or reverse-limb technology to gain increased power strokes, with the manufacturers claiming benefits such as increased speeds and lower noise.
Other improvements on some models are evident with improved ergonomics. For example, parallel limbs allow the use of shorter bows that improve balance and maneuverability. Better strings with little stretch or creep help deliver more stored energy to arrows. Anti-dry-fire devices make triggers inoperable if no arrow is loaded on the flight deck. And inhibitor devices immediately catch strings if dry fires occur, thereby preventing damage. With crossbows having anti-dry-fire devices, it is usually necessary to fire an arrow to uncock the weapon. Now let’s look at the various types of crossbows.
1. Traditional Crossbows
Excalibur Crossbow Inc. is probably the best-known manufacturer of “traditional-style” crossbows. Excalibur crossbows have been around for a long time and have a reputation for reliability and good performance. I selected the Excalibur 200-pound-pull Exocet 200 crossbow as a good example of a traditional-style crossbow having solid recurve limbs.
The Exocet 200 has a forward-mounted recurve-limb assembly and comes standard with a manual safety and fiber-optic sight. Optional accessories include strings, arrows, slings, cocking and stringing aids, and scopes. The company’s multiplex scope has trajectory crosshairs offering trajectory compensation for any crossbow shooting between 250 and 350 fps. Generally, these crossbows are cocked by using some type of cocking aid, but a very strong shooter can cock them manually. The Exocet 200 doesn’t have an anti-dry-fire device, so a rope cocker can be used to safely uncock the bow (not a good idea for safety reasons).
The Exocet is not the fastest crossbow in the Excalibur stable. Its Equinox model, for example, has been beefed up to a 225-pound draw weight. It has a longer power stroke (16 1/2 inches), and this combination of draw weight and power stroke offers an advertised speed of 350-ft-lb seconds using a 350-grain arrow and producing 95.2 ft-lbs of kinetic energy.
2. Compound-Bow Crossbows
Many manufacturers of fine crossbows produce compound bows. But because of its unique features, including great maneuverability, the TenPoint Turbo XLT crossbow will serve as our example here. TenPoint is well known in the industry.
The Turbo XLT’s most noticeable feature is its very short, parallel-construction, tapered, split-limb assembly. This radically compact bow assembly spans only 13 1/2 inches axle to axle when cocked, which probably makes this crossbow the most maneuverable on the market. Add the high-performance cams to these limbs and you have a very well-balanced crossbow that delivers excellent kinetic energy when using 420-grain arrows.
Another unique feature of this crossbow is the TenPoint ACUdraw patented automated cocking unit, which is integrated into the stock for storage when not in use. And like all TenPoint models, the Turbo XLT features TenPoint’s patented dry-fire inhibitor. TenPoint has a full line of accessories for the Turbo XLT, including scopes, soft and hard crossbow cases, slings, quivers, strings, cables, and a crossbow maintenance kit.
TenPoint also has many other crossbows in its stable, and some are faster than the Turbo XLT. For example, its 185-pound-pull Phantom CLS is advertised at shooting 343 fps, producing 109.7 ft-lbs of kinetic energy. TenPoint’s 175-pound-pull Defender CLS is advertised at shooting 330 fps, producing 101 1/5 ft-lbs of kinetic energy.
3. The Compound Inverted-Cam Crossbow
This bow was easy to select because Parker Crossbows is one of the only manufacturers that makes crossbows featuring the inverted cam. They gain 2 1/2 inches on the power stroke by inverting the cams, so it’s a unique idea. I chose the Cyclone Express 175 to illustrate this concept because this model also has some other neat features that allow the crossbow to be custom fitted to shooters. These features include an adjustable stock and adjustable forearm to accommodate many sizes of crossbow enthusiasts. Other features include an auto-engage safety, an anti-dry-fire device, and tunable string suppressors to dampen noise.
This crossbow is sold in two packages: Buyers can choose between various scopes and other accessories such as the roller-rope cocker, crank cocker, arrows and broadheads, crossbow slings, and crossbow cases. One of the scope choices is a scope calibrated so the shooter, after getting a distance to the target using a rangefinder, can dial-in the exact range on the scope.
Like the other major players, Parker has many crossbow models to choose from. Its other 165- and 175-pound models show slightly lower performance figures. Note: I’d check with Parker to make sure all of this is accurate.
4. The Compound Reverse-Draw Crossbow
The most radical departure from customary crossbow designs is the Scorpyd RDT 125 crossbow. When Jim Kempf designed this bow, he was clearly thinking outside the box. By reversing the limbs in this crossbow, he got a 20-inch power stroke—all gained by using the brace height part of the bow, which is normally dead space on any bow. This longer power stroke allows the bow to deliver increased kinetic energy using a greatly reduced draw weight, longer arrows that have increased stability, and shorter limbs that give shooters great maneuverability in the field. This technology was first introduced at the ATA (Archery Trade Association) Show in 2005, when the company was called RDT Archery Inc. The Scorpyd RDT 125 bow is a refinement of the bow introduced at that time.
This bow is sold separately, standard with a rope cocker, or as a package that includes a three-dot or 3X scope, quick-detach quiver with four arrows, field points, a sling, rope cocker, tip tamers, and string stoppers for noise reduction.
Scorpyd also introduced an RDT 165-pound model at the 2010 ATA Show. This model has higher speeds and kinetic energy and should currently be available for purchase.
Ideally, you now have a better understanding of the various crossbow technologies offered to today’s consumers. In some cases, data for the specs given below for each bow were taken from manufacturers’ websites. In other instances, explanations and data came from conversations with factory sales and tech personnel. Some data, such as momentum figures, came from my own calculations.
In the past decade, crossbows have come a long way in terms of performance. At one time, because of their short power strokes, crossbows needed about two and one-half times the draw weights of their compound-bow counterparts to get the same performance. Better bow materials and innovative designs have changed all this, allowing crossbows to have longer power strokes, much shorter limbs, and better cam designs. And it all results in much better performance—often with relatively low draw weights.
Makers of traditional crossbows have a tougher time getting better performance figures in terms of speed and kinetic energy. They have only three ways of doing this: First, they can use lower-weight arrows to show higher speeds and better trajectories, but this lowers potential kinetic energy gained with heavier arrows. Second, they can increase draw weights to get higher arrow speeds and higher kinetic energy figures. But heavier draw weights make crossbows more difficult to pull back. They create more shock when the crossbow is fired, making the weapon noisier. Shorter crossbow limbs can stand only so much stress with heavy draw weights. Third, they can lengthen the flight decks and bows on their crossbows to get longer draw strokes. But this makes the crossbow more bulky, more difficult to balance, and more difficult to cock. None of these avenues is entirely satisfactory.
I believe traditional crossbow manufacturers will continue to hold a large share of the market purely because of the simplicity and reliability of their crossbows. Crossbows promise to be around for a long time; although, new compound crossbow designs are delivering higher performance figures.
While the figures for speed, kinetic energy, and momentum differ greatly for each crossbow used as my examples, any of these bows would be suitable for hunting any big-game animal in North America. It’s interesting how much further the limits have been pushed to gain increased crossbow speeds and kinetic energy over the past 10 years. One can only wonder how far technologies can further advance without compromising reliability and safety.
In “Let’s Go Shooting” on pages 50-57, we take these four crossbows out to the shooting range. First, we’ll compare their performances against each other, and then to see how they stack up to the performance of a high-end compound bow.
Excalibur 200-Pound Exocet Specs
Velocity: 330 ft-lb seconds using 350-grain, 20-inch arrows, and using an optional 1989 Flemish Dyna-Flight String
Kinetic energy: 84.7 ft-lbs
Momentum: 0.51306 lb-sec
Draw weight: 200 pounds
Power stroke: 15.5 inches
Mass weight: 6.4 pounds
Overall length: 38.5 inches
Bow assembly, limb tip to limb tip, cocked: 28.5 inches
Trigger pull: 3.5 pounds
Safety: Manual, ambidextrous
Dry-fire inhibitor: No
Warranty: Five years from date of purchase
TenPoint Turbo XLT Specs
Velocity: 315 ft-lb seconds using 420-grain, 20-inch arrows
Kinetic energy: 92.5 ft-lbs
Momentum: 0.58769 lb-sec
Draw weight: 180 pounds
Power stroke: 12.0 inches
Mass weight: 7.7 pounds
Overall length: 37.25 inches
Bow assembly, axle to axle, cocked: 13.5 inches
Trigger pull: 3.5 pounds
Safety: Automatic, ambidextrous
Dry-fire inhibitor: Yes
Warranty: Limited lifetime operational warranty
Parker Cyclone Express 175 Specs
Velocity: 340 ft-lb seconds using 400-grain, 20-inch arrows
Kinetic energy: 102.7 ft-lbs
Momentum: 0.60412 lb-sec
Draw weight: 175 pounds
Power stroke: 12.5 inches
Mass weight: 8.3 pounds
Overall length: 35 to 39 inches with adjustable stock, including stirrup
Bow assembly, axle to axle, cocked: 18.375 inches
Trigger pull: 5 pounds
Safety: Auto engage (built in the G2 Trigger Mechanism with lifetime warranty)
Dry-fire inhibitor: Yes, also built into the G2 Trigger Mechanism
Warranty: Lifetime warranty to original owner
Scorpyd RDT 125 Specs
Velocity: 356 ft-lb seconds using 425-grain, 22-inch arrows
Kinetic energy: 119.0 ft-lbs
Momentum: 0.67209 lb-sec
Draw weight: 125 pounds
Power stroke: 20 inches
Mass weight: 9 pounds
Overall length: 37.5 inches
Bow assembly, axle to axle, cocked: 17.5 inches
Trigger pull: 2.5 pounds
Dry-fire inhibitor: Yes, integrated into lock assembly system
Warranty: Limited lifetime warranty to original owner