Crossbow are more popular than ever. As more states relax regulations to allow their use during general archery seasons, there are signs that crossbows may eventually phase vertical bows out of popular use—much like compound bows did to recurves once upon a time. One indication is that for the third year in a row, the number of new crossbows submitted for our annual review of bowhunting equipment has exceeded the number of compound bows.
Former archery pro-shop owner Danny Hinton and I have been working together on the crossbow test, concurrently with the annual vertical bow test, for nearly a decade, and we are always looking for innovations and trends. Whereas change happens gradually in the vertical-bow world, you never know what’ll pop up in a given year’s crossbow test. Only five years ago, the fastest crossbow we tested shot 353 fps. This year, the slowest of them was 20 fps faster than that, and four of them shot in excess of 400 fps.
As for this year’s field, a handful of the top-tier companies are laser-focused on creating the best high-performance crossbows possible. These things shoot harder and more accurately than ever. Virtually anyone can cock them. And they cost as much as a custom rifle.
Meanwhile, other brands are realizing that many crossbow buyers just want something that they can take deer hunting for a few extra days ahead of gun season—and they don’t want to spend $3,000 to get it. As a result, the 2020 crop is split between a few high-end, high-dollar models and a bunch of solid, affordable bows. We put all of them through the toughest test you’ll find anywhere. We scored each model in nine different test categories, crunched the numbers, and then ranked them from bottom to top. Here’s how they stacked up.
9. Centerpoint Amped 415 (with Power Draw)
Specs: 388.5 fps., 134.7 ft./lb. KE, 14.5” powerstroke, 12” wide (cocked); 7.8 lb., $450
Final Score: 69.63 (out of 100)
The Amped 415 was new last year and good enough at the time to win Outdoor Life’s Great Buy Award. The company sent us a 2020 version of the same bow, updated with the new Power Draw cocking device.
Cocking a crossbow should be one of two things: either manageable with a conventional rope-style cocking device, or easy with a mechanical crank-style device that works without fail. Not half-way between the two. The Power Draw did not win our confidence. For starters, we had to polish it with sandpaper in order to attach and remove it easily enough to even operate the bow. It also tangled easily, and once the bow was cocked, you had to put your fingers too precariously close to the loaded string to remove the hooks. For that, we docked this crossbow pretty serious points for both safety and cocking effort.
Last year’s Amped 415 was one of the test’s best shooters; this year’s was decidedly the worst. We averaged 4.85-inch 50-yard groups with it. It’s possible that we got a lemon—it happens—but the unvarnished truth is that our test bow didn’t perform well. The bow did have a pretty good 2-pound, 4-ounce trigger, and it was fairly ergonomic, but we were surprised at the overall poor showing, given the performance of what was essentially the same crossbow in 2019.
8. Killer Instinct Speed 425
Specs: 422 fps., 154.98 ft./lb. KE, 15” powerstroke, 14.375” wide (cocked), 7.2 lb., $549
Killer Instinct has at times done very well in our tests, having won it in 2015 with the Machine and earned an Outdoor Life Great Buy Award in 2018 with the Ripper 415. Unfortunately, this year’s Speed 425 was not a tester favorite. Sure, it was fast and the third-most-powerful bow in the test, but it was very difficult to cock (the supplied rope’s hooks wanted to jump off the barrel during that long power stroke), and it had the worst trigger of the test, with a 4.53-pound average pull weight.
The safety was unusually heavy, and the oddly designed, down-turned foot stirrup was mostly in the way at the range. Finally, it averaged 3.75-inch groups at 50 yards, which is good enough to kill a deer, but the second-least-accurate of the test.
7. Rocky Mountain RM 415
Specs: 373 fps., 140.5 ft./lb. KE, 14.5” powerstroke, 14.5” wide, 7.5 lb., $350
Final Score: 79.14
If you’re just after the least-expensive barrier to entry for this fall’s crossbow season, the RM 415 is the cheapest bow we tested—and it didn’t do half bad. With a heavy 455-grain bolt and long power stroke, it hits hard. The 2.75-inch groups we averaged with it at 50 yards were good, too, especially for the price. It’s fairly easy to cock, and the scope—bereft of any frills though it may be—worked.O
Our test bow’s trigger was plenty light as2.64 pounds, but it stacked up like you’re loading a mouse trap. That said, it was manageable enough that we shot the groups we did. The RM 415′s fit and finish is just as you’d expect it to be, and it handles about like any other traditional compound crossbow. Of this test’s final three finishers, this is the one to buy.
6. Wicked Ridge M-370
Specs: 352 fps., 111.13 ft./lb. KE, 13.8” powerstroke, 9.5” wide (cocked), 5.8 lb., $670
Final Score: 83.06
With a skeletonized stock and an overall weight topping out at less than 6 pounds, Wicked Ridge claims this is the lightest crossbow on the market. To heft it, I don’t dispute that. Though it’s available with TenPoint’s ACUdraw system, we tested the M-370 using a standard rope-cocking device, and found it easy to cock. It’s perfectly safe, handles nicely, and it tied with the Bear for the second-tightest groups of the test (1.35 inches at 50 yards).
The M-370 fell a little short in the trigger-pull evaluation, with a long (but smooth) 4-pound, 5-ounce pull. But it lost the most ground in speed and power, where it was the slowest bow of the test and also the most anemic, thanks to the 404-grain bolts. Still, perspective is important, since that’s far and away more powerful than any compound bow we tested this year. This is an excellent crossbow for the money, and one just about anyone can use.
5. Bear X Constrictor
Specs: 407 fps., 139.38 ft/lb. KE, 14.5” powerstroke, 10” wide (cocked); 8.9 lb., $599
Final Score: 83.25
The Bear X Constrictor is a mostly no-frills crossbow that was fast (albeit with light, 379-grain bolts) and a fine shooter, turning in 1.35-inch groups—tied for the second-tightest in the test. Though the limbs on the Constrictor are compact enough to make the bow pretty narrow, it does have a long barrel that makes it a little unwieldy to handle and something of a pain to cock with a standard rope. The 3-pound, 7-ounce trigger was creepy, and the bow’s overall fit and finish was a step down from the Barnett’s.
Still, this crossbow is a solid option in the sub-$600 price range, and if you want a 400-fps. bow for the least amount of money, this is the best one on the list. Just be sure, before buying, that you’re doing your push-ups and eating plenty of protein so you can cock the thing.
4. Best Value: Barnett TS380
Specs: 371 fps., 122.5 ft./lbs. KE, 12.625” powerstroke, 13.25” wide (cocked), 6.9 lb., $550
Final Score: 85.81
Sometimes lost in the discussion of crossbow performance is this simple fact: A bolt tipped with a good broadhead and moving along at 350 fps. will kill anything on Earth. It’s also worth knowing that most people who buy a crossbow only need it to shoot a whitetail—and maybe a pig or turkey on occasion—and they don’t want to spend big bucks on it.
Because of that, recognizing a bargain when we see one is especially important for this test. For the money, the Barnett TS380 is about as good as you can get in 2020, and it was a shoo-in for our Best Value award. It was easy to cock with a traditional rope, safe, and very well fit and finished for the price. It was the second-slowest crossbow of the test, but 401-grain bolt moving 371 feet per second is certainly all anyone needs. It finished squarely in the middle of the pack for accuracy, turning in 2.45-inch 50-yard groups, sported an adjustable AR-style stock, and has a pretty good 3-pound, 6-ounce TriggerTech trigger. At this price, I can’t fault this crossbow for much.
3. Excalibur Assassin 400TD
Specs: 393 fps., 121.04 ft./lb., 15” powerstroke, 20.5” wide (cocked); 7.9 lb., $1,900
Final Score: 87.24 (Includes +1 bonus for outstanding accessories)
I’ve always told anyone who asked that when it comes to our test results, the Excalibur recurve design doesn’t always get the credit it’s due as a hunting tool. In an apples-to-apples test of performance, the design just can’t compete with a Ravin or TenPoint—but there are intangibles we can’t test, including long-term durability and simplicity.
This year’s Assassin 400TD puts Excalibur on the podium. Like last year’s Assassin 420 TD, this one has a slide-style cocking device that’s not unlike the Ravin’s. We ran into some problems with last year’s crossbow that have been totally solved on this year’s model. With 325-pound limbs, I don’t think a human could cock this bow with a traditional rope, but it was easy to cock with the new crank-style device. It was an accurate crossbow, too, turning in 1.8-inch groups. It had an excellent trigger, perfect fit and finish, and top-shelf accessories. With lightweight 350-grain bolts it did lose points in the kinetic-energy category and, being a recurve design, it obviously wasn’t as handy as the more compact compounds.
But the “TD” stands for Take-Down, and that’s another feature that’s been improved since last year. The crossbow’s limbs snap on and off quickly and positively, for easy transport. This is the best crossbow yet from Excalibur, and though its final score was a fair step down from the two crossbows ahead of it, that a recurve finished third in this test is worth noting.
2. TenPoint Vapor RS470
Specs: 429.5 fps., 191.29 ft./lb. KE, 17” powerstroke, 6.5” wide (cocked), 8 lb., $2,999
Final Score: 94.19 (including +1 accessory bonus)
TenPoint’s 2020 flagship was neck-and-neck with last year’s Nitro XRT (which also finished runner-up in our test) as the most powerful crossbow we’ve ever tested. Though it was technically slower than the Ravin R29X, the Vapor RS470’s bolts were a full 65 grains heavier, giving it an energy boost.
This one is superior to last year’s TenPoint flagship in a number of ways, but the most notable improvement is in the new ACUSlidwe cocking system, which is pretty similar to the Ravin’s—but one I actually, slightly, prefer. It is just as quiet and just as easy to to use for both cocking and de-cocking the bow, and while de-cocking, a built-in “brake” allows you to let go of the handle if needed, without it spinning out of control under weight of the string. It received max points for cocking effort. It also had the best trigger of the test—and that’s an area where this brand had lost ground in previous years. And of course, it comes decked out with several optional combos of premium accessories, which is something we expect from TenPoint, and that earned it a bonus point.
The only reason this crossbow didn’t win was because of the range test. At 50 yards, we averaged 1.75-inch groups with it—which is still damned amazing for a crossbow—but more than an inch wider than the Ravin’s average groups, and actually a little wider than the Wicked Ridge M-370, which is TenPoint’s by-far budget-friendlier sister brand. At a cool $3K, the RS70 lost value points but still placed second, which should tell you how good a crossbow it is.
1. Best of the Test: Ravin R29X
Specs: 456.5 fps., 186 ft./lb. KE, 12” Powerstroke, 6” wide (cocked), 6.75 lb., $2,650
Final Score: 97.8 (including +1 accessory bonus)
The first Ravin crossbows launched with an ad campaign promising rifle-like accuracy at 100 yards, and they could back it up. The R15 was the first one that we tested, in 2017, and it won; 2018’s R10 narrowly finished runner-up, and 2019’s R26 won again. Add 2020’s R29X to Ravin’s collection of blue-ribbon winners. The design is so good—and so unique in a number of ways—that only TenPoint has made anything to seriously compete with it.
All Ravin crossbows use the same Heli-coil system, which allows the cams to rotate 340 degrees for crushing power in a very compact package. The bolt is supported in the bow via a traditional nock and a rest up front; there is no contact with a barrel, and that’s a recipe for excellent accuracy. The bows have all used the same 400-grain finished arrow, and the R29X is the fastest of them yet—and also the most accurate that I’ve tested. I averaged 0.7-inch groups at 50 yards with this bow, destroying a couple bolts in the process. Nothing else tested this year came close to that level of accuracy, and it was the fastest bow of the test.
The biggest improvement to the R29X is in the new cocking system, which eliminates the signature “boat trailer ratchet” sound that previous models had. It’s a safe system that’s easy to use (and easy to de-cock), giving this bow max points in both the cocking effort and safety categories. It also had a great trigger, with an average pull weight of 2.03 pounds. Combine that with Ravin’s signature compact dimensions, and you’re left with a crossbow that, performance-wise, is tough to beat. We did dock it some value points because $2,650 is a whole lot of money—but we awarded a bonus point for outstanding accessories, which it indeed has.
How We Test Crossbows
Our crossbow test takes place every March at my place in Kentucky, and as with our vertical-bow test this year we were unboxing the first-to-arrive equipment in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic. Several test-panel members had to cancel travel plans, and so the procedure took longer than usual, with one tester at a time shooting groups and taking notes on a lonely range. But we didn’t sacrifice any of the test’s integrity to make it easier.
We tested all crossbows with the factory-provided bolts and accessories. We began by assembling them as needed and sighting them in. For each bow, Hinton and I averaged the speed of three shots through a Caldwell chronograph and then weighed the bolts to calculate kinetic energy. We then measured trigger-pull weights with a Lyman scale and subjectively evaluated them for creep, travel, and overall feel. We tallied accuracy scores by measuring three three-shot groups from a Lead Sled atop a D.O.A. Shooting Bench at 50 yards, into a Rinehart bag crossbow target. We further evaluated the bows for cocking effort (some are far easier than others), safety (some still don’t have auto-safeties or require you to put fingers where fingers shouldn’t be during operation), fit and finish, handling, and value. We awarded a single bonus point (indicated above) for crossbows we felt came with outstanding accessories. —W.B.