Hunting has become increasingly popular over the last couple of years, and as a result, there’s been a noticeable increase in hunting implements. One hunting tool that seems to have gotten loads of attention is the crossbow, and whether this is because people have been binging The Walking Dead, or because its firing mechanism resembles that of a conventional firearm, loads of people have been looking for a good deal on their first crossbow. This being said, let’s have a look at what exactly a crossbow is, what you should look for in a crossbow, some of the best budget crossbow models out there, and how to effectively use a crossbow for hunting applications.
What Is a Crossbow?
While it might seem pretty straightforward, it can be surprisingly challenging to aptly describe a crossbow. Put simply, a crossbow is a projectile weapon that uses stored potential energy to shoot arrow-like projectiles known as bolts. The crossbow resembles a bow and arrow, with the primary difference being that the bow is mounted horizontally on a frame (that looks like a gun stock) known as a tiller.
The “bow” in this instance is referred to as a “prod” instead to ensure a clear distinction between the components of a bow and arrow and a crossbow. The defining feature of a crossbow is that instead of you having to hold your drawstring while you line up your shot (as you would with a bow and arrow), the crossbow allows you to draw back your prod string and hook it in place, allowing you to focus on your aim, posture, and surroundings overall.
How do you release your bolt if the prod string is hooked in place, you ask? Well, the hook that your prod string is attached to can be released by pulling on a trigger, which in turn releases your bolt in your desired direction. This makes the crossbow rather similar in functionality, shape, and operation, to a repeater rifle like the Winchester ones used in frontier times.
The operation of the crossbow is part of the attraction to new hunters. Why? Well, the concept is easier to wrap your head around compared to firing a bow and arrow. After all, you don’t have to take things like shelf size, arrow size, personal strength, gripping your bow, or bow type into consideration.
It feels more approachable, and it’s pretty fun too! Crossbows have been around for hundreds of years and have been used all over the world as an advantageous long-range projectile weapon that could easily turn the tide in any skirmish. The crossbow was just as popular back then as it is now because you didn’t need months of training to become reasonably effective in a real-life scenario.
One could argue that it takes far more skill to fire a bow and arrow effectively than it takes to fire a crossbow, but you could also argue that technologies evolve to make our lives easier. This doesn’t mean that firing a crossbow accurately takes no skill at all, there are simply fewer variables to consider and less strain involved in readying your projectiles and training them on your target.
What Else Should You Know About Crossbows?
There are other reasons that crossbows are more popular than bows and arrows in some circles. Unlike bows and arrows, crossbows are equipped with sights that allow you to magnify your target, a stock that allows you to stabilize your crossbow, and even a quiver which is typically attached to the underside of your crossbows frame. The limbs of modern crossbow prods are retractable, which combined with their inherently short length, makes them easier to store and carry around too.
The safety considerations for a crossbow are also different from that of a bow and arrow. Since crossbows store arrows on a shaft before releasing them, this section needs to be kept clean, lubricated, and free of any obstructions. You should also keep your fingers and any other body parts free of this section, especially if a bolt is loaded into it.
There are similar safety precautions to a bow and arrow too. For example, you should always ensure that a loaded crossbow faces toward the ground or towards your intended target. You should also ensure that the libs of your crossbow are unobstructed when lining up your shot, especially out in the field.
The Best Budget Crossbow
Thanks to the law of supply and demand, crossbows can be really expensive, especially the high-end ones. Everyone wants a crossbow, and as a result, retailers can sell them for pretty much whatever price suits their fancy. However, there are relatively cheap crossbows out there that are of decent quality and are readily available, so let’s have a look at a few of them and see how they stack up against one another.
Best Budget Hunting Crossbow: CENTERPOINT Tormentor Whisper 380
Looking for cheap crossbows for some deer hunting? Well, there are loads of options out there but we think that the Tormentor Whisper 380 from the CenterPoint team is an excellent buy. The perfect crossbow for deer hunting, this thing is not only powerful, it is unusually quiet for a weapon type that usually makes quite a bit noise.
This is not the lightest crossbow you are bound to encounter. At 7 pounds and 8 ounces with-the scope and quiver attached, it weighs about the same as a rifle, but it is nice and compact, so it should not be too cumbersome to take out hunting. On the upside, that weight is due to its build quality which comprises an all-weather composite stock and well-made aluminum and hard rubber components.
The overall quality of the Tormentor Whisper is impressive, it is accurate, well-balanced, safe, fast, quiet, and powerful at a much lower price point than you would expect. The one point where users disagree is the trigger. While most users appreciate the rifle-like trigger and low recoil, others regard the as safety far too difficult to disengage for hunting purposes. All in all, the Tormentor Whisper was designed to be as quiet and frictionless as possible. If that is your priority, then this is the crossbow for you.
Best Budget Compound Crossbow: BARNETT ARCHERY Whitetail Hunter Crossbow
Don’t want the effort of harsh draw weights but still want the power and range it offers? Well, then a compound crossbow might be just what you’re looking for. Compound crossbows are pretty much the same as compound bows and arrows, offering you greater power and range compared to traditional setups. If you’re looking for a powerful crossbow on a budget, the Whitetail Hunter from the Barnett Archery team is a great option.
For its price range, this bow is pretty well made and doesn’t make you feel like you’re holding something that was slapped together for a kid’s first time using a bow. This bow is pretty light and won’t stop you from carrying it around and lining up your shots with ease. It also arrives completely ready to use with a complete hunting accessory package.
This bow comes with a 4.32mm Multi-Reticle Scope, two 22″ Headhunter arrows, a rope cocking device, lubrication wax, and a handy quiver. For a crossbow on a budget, it boasts impressive penetration power, enabling you to fire bolts at around 375 feet per second. This ensures that pretty much any game you’re hunting goes down easily, provided you’ve hit it where it counts most. The Whitetail Hunter is a great affordable crossbow for deer hunting and is easily modified to suit your specific needs too.
Best Budget Recurve Crossbow: CENTERPOINT Archery Sniper Elite
Another great crossbow from the CenterPoint team is the Sniper Elite recurve crossbow. It’s yet another cheap crossbow for deer hunting that packs one heck of a punch compared to other bows in its price range. CenterPoint is a relatively reputable brand that has a loyal following of crossbow enthusiasts that pretty much swear by their products.
This is a rare example of affordable crossbows that aren’t only cheaper than the competition, but it’s light and more powerful too, which seems a little too good to be true at first glance. However, CenterPoint seems to hit the nail on the head with this one when it comes to value for money, offering a crossbow capable of flinging a bolt up to 370 FPS.
Like the other CenterPoint model, we covered this one is nearly entirely CNC machined, which means each crossbow has a guaranteed baseline performance. This makes it an ideal setup for those looking to cut their teeth on a crossbow for the first time. The party piece of this crossbow has to be the stock, which resembles an AR stock in shape and size, and it is incredibly adjustable.
What’s more is that you don’t just get the bow with this package. The beginner’s package includes three carbon fiber bolts, a set of dampeners for your prong, lubrication for your shaft, and some stoppers for your prong string. Still not sold? Well, this package also comes with a CenterPoint brand sight that’s good for around 50 or so yards.
Best Budget High-Speed Crossbow: WICKED RIDGE Invader 400
Another reputable name in the crossbow industry is the Wicked ridge team. They offer a wide range of crossbows, bolts, and accessories for all manner of crossbows that are designed to work in pretty much any environment you find yourself in. The invader is no different, offering one of the fastest bolt speeds of any budget crossbow we’ve covered so far.
This bow doesn’t sacrifice comfort for speed, though, as it features an easy cocking mechanism that ensures that you can fire your bolts at a cool 400 FPS with minimal effort. The trigger itself features an auto-safety, which includes a mechanism that prevents dry fire, ensuring that your shaft is never accidentally damaged.
The built-in cocking device ensures that you have the best drawing experience as it reduces the draw weight by half, ensuring a quick and easy reload in hunting scenarios. That’s not all though, this bow ensures accurate cocking every time, so you never have to take your eyes off your game, allowing you to move and reload reliably.
This unit also comes with a scope that offers three-times magnification, ensuring that you can stalk your game and line up your shot accordingly from up to 50 yards away. The site itself is equipped with three crosshairs and red dot targeting, allowing you to mark your game in 20-yard increments easily. This package also includes three aluminum bolts that feel and shoot as good as they look.
Best Budget Reverse-Draw Crossbow: WICKED RIDGE RDX 400
If you don’t know why reverse-draw crossbows are so sought after, we’ll explain. Essentially, reverse-draw crossbows offer increased power due to increased tension and their ability to store more potential energy, which makes for a faster bolt once it’s been released. More power for less effort means that they are quite popular, which makes the RDX 400 from the wicked ridge team one of the more attractive affordable crossbows with a reverse draw configuration.
It requires little to no effort to draw this crossbow, and this in combination with the fact that it will release your bow at a whopping 400 FPS makes this an extremely efficient hunting instrument. It’s not just powerful, but super accurate too, which means you should be able to get off multiple high-powered shots while your buddies are still fumbling around to reload their conventional bow set-ups.
Apart from being one of the most powerful and accurate crossbows on this list, it also comes equipped with a sight that offers three-times magnification, which allows you to view your target from up to 50 yards away. This site has red dot markings at 10-yard increments that allow you to adjust your power and approach accordingly.
Like the raider, this crossbow comes equipped with an integrated trigger safety that prevents dry firing. Other safety features to note are wings that ensure your appendages are tucked away from moving parts before firing, which is great considering the power of this crossbow. It also includes three arrows, a quiver, and decent shock dampening.
What You Should Look Out for When Buying a Cheap Crossbow
Like most things in life, you typically get what you pay for. After all, manufacturers need to make a profit after they’ve spent loads of money researching, developing, manufacturing, and packaging their products. This being said, there are a few things you should look out for when looking to buy a crossbow on a budget to ensure that you get a decent quality product instead of one that breaks after two or three uses.
Decide on Your Budget
Since you’re looking for a crossbow on a budget you need to decide what you’re willing to spend on once. If you’re a beginner you don’t need a super fancy crossbow, but you do need a crossbow of a decent quality that will allow you to get the most practice possible without it breaking. It is possible to pick up a really good crossbow for $400,00, and if your price range is anywhere near this mark, you’ll actually have more options as most manufacturers target the entry-level market.
If you have thousands of dollars to spend on a crossbow and want a really high-end unit you typically have fewer options. Most brands in this price range differ incrementally, with the only noticeable differences being in the materials used in their construction and the quality of the arrows and strings. Add-ons like scopes and quivers for high-end crossbows are also pretty expensive, so keep that in mind if you intend on personalizing your weapon.
Choose a Reputable Brand
This might seem like it goes without saying, but the entry-level crossbow market can be confusing to a newcomer. There are loads of brands that sell crossbow units simply as another product, and they tend to offer little in the way of quality, accuracy, and longevity. This being said, check out which brands are most reputable in your region and then check out their lower-tier bows.
Reputable brands tend to offer a wide range of bows to cater to various market segments. This means that they’ll offer packages for beginners, which typically give you good value for money as they’d like you to stick with their brand when you inevitably upgrade your unit. You should also choose a brand with good after-sales support in case anything goes wrong with your crossbow.
Choose a Crossbow With Features You Value
When choosing your crossbow, you should choose one with features that you need. If you’re going to be firing over long distances, then you should choose one with enough power to be effective over those distances. If you’re participating in competitions that involve accuracy, then you should choose one with good stabilization and accuracy.
If you’re going to be hunting, you should choose one that’s easy to draw and lock in place quickly, less your game escapes your sight. All of these features are important, but another thing you should consider is whether the crossbow is capable of performing its function repetitively and this is where the quality of your crossbow comes in. Sure, most bows these days can shoot bolts up to 400 FPS, but cheaper ones tend to break after about 20 or so shots, and even if you’ve only shot a bow and arrow in your life, you know that 20 shots can feel like eight when you’re in the moment.
It’s not only the quality of the bow itself that you need to be concerned about. Sometimes manufacturers looking to make a quick buck will sell a decent quality crossbow (including prong and body) but will cheap out on accessories like the scope, trigger, stock, and even the cocking device! Unfortunately, you’ll need to operate a crossbow to test these accessories which are pretty difficult if you’re not making your purchase in-store, so it’s best to check out both long- and short-term reviews online.
If you’re purchasing a crossbow for the first time for yourself or someone younger, you should take safety into consideration first and foremost. Even the best budget crossbow can cheap out on safety features like trigger safety and dry firing prevention. Check the safety features and reviews online and/or in person, if possible, to ensure they are adequate.
Consider After Sales Service
Contrary to popular belief, most reputable brands aren’t successful because they sell high-quality goods alone. Customers tend to trust retailers that provide good after-sales service for their products, as can be seen with certain car brands, electronics, and even sporting goods sellers. If you’re going to be buying even the best budget crossbow, we recommend choosing a brand that’s been around for a while and is both responsive and capable of helping you out if you encounter any issues with your bow.
What do we mean by “after-sales service”? Well, besides encountering problems with your bow like something breaking and ordering a replacement part, you might need advice on aftermarket accessories that are compatible with your bow, or even something as simple as help assembling and maintaining it. This being said, fly-by-night manufacturers will offer little support in these scenarios, so be careful!
A good indication that a manufacturer is trustworthy is when they offer a warranty on their crossbows. While there’s no such thing as a blanket warranty when it comes to crossbows, some companies do offer warranties on no perishable components to compensate for errors that might occur in the manufacturing process.
Consider the Specifics of the Bow
Choosing a bow based on price alone would be silly. We highly recommend that you try out a bow before you buy it to avoid disappointment. Things like speed, accuracy, and noise can play a big part in how comfortable you are with your bow in the long and short term. Knowing this, let’s have a look at how these factors affect your crossbow experience.
As with any non-explosive projectile weapon, the speed at which a bolt travels is extremely important. After all, the faster a bolt travels the more power has been transferred to it by the prong, which gives it a better chance of penetrating its target, which makes for a more effective hunting instrument. Most half-decent crossbows these days are capable of firing arrows at more than 300 FPS, which is more than enough force for hunting.
One of the most fundamental factors to consider when hunting (not so many competitions) is noise. The amount of noise your crossbow produces can mean the difference between lining up your shot and taking it and scaring your game away.
There are many accessories out there to reduce the noise your bow makes when firing and tensioning, so check if the bow you have in mind has a compatible kit available. Besides these kits, it’s a good idea to check how much noise your crossbow makes off the shelf by testing it out beforehand, so that you know whether a kit is entirely necessary.
Another common thing that you should consider when dealing with any type of projectile weapon is recoil. Recoil is essentially a percentage of the force you have applied to fire your bow that has been transferred back into the frame of the bow and prong. Recoil can cause the crossbow to move incrementally, and can even be transferred back into the stock, which can be a little bit painful.
There are loads of accessories out there for rifles and crossbows which are capable of greatly reducing the effects of recoil, or even dissipating it completely. If you have pre-existing joint problems or simply want to avoid the possibility of recoil throwing off your shot, you should consider researching these additions for your crossbow.
Weight is something that you should consider when buying a how too. These days lightweight crossbows are all the rage. After all, the lighter the crossbow the easier it is to carry and the less effort it takes to keep it elevated and trained on your target. However, as is true with many other projectile weapons, the answer is balance, and not a super light or super heavy unit.
A crossbow that is too light will likely have a lot of recoil, but it will be easier to hold up and carry around with you. A crossbow that is too heavy will absorb a lot more recoil but can be challenging to keep trained on your target and carry around. Again, testing out the weight of the bow you want before you buy it is the best way to ensure that you get a crossbow that suits you.
Length and Width
The dimensions of your crossbow will determine how well you’re able to handle it. This makes the correct weight for a crossbow a very subjective thing, but there are some things you should keep in mind when choosing a weight class of bow. Remember that if you’re out on the range, you have all the time in the world to line up your shot, and you aren’t competing with the elements.
On the other hand, if you’re hunting, you’ll have to line up your shot and load your bow quickly, while competing with the elements. This being said, a shorter, narrower bow is far better in a hunting scenario, whereas a longer, wider bow wouldn’t really restrict you in the same way if you’re out on the range. This being said, you should consider the application when choosing the weight of your next bow.
Now that you know what a crossbow is, what some of the best budget crossbows are, and some of the things that you should take into account when choosing a budget crossbow, it’s time for you to get out there and put your newfound knowledge to the test. Remember that physically testing how a bow feels and inspecting it up close is always better than buying one blindly.
Frequently Asked Questions
Is a Crossbow More Powerful Than a Bow?
This is one of the most commonly asked questions when it comes to crossbows and conventional bows and arrows. This being said, modern crossbows are incrementally more powerful than a bow and arrow, thanks to the amount of energy they’re capable of storing.
How Powerful Is a Crossbow?
Crossbows are known for being pretty powerful, but how powerful are they? Most modern run-of-the-mill crossbows are capable of firing bolts up to 380 FPS, with slightly more expensive ones being able to fire bows more than 400 FPS.
Which Is Better: a Crossbow or a Bow?
This really depends on the application. Where a crossbow is typically more powerful, the average compound bow is far easier to carry around. On the other hand, it takes a lot less skill to operate a crossbow, but the average compound bow has fewer mechanical components which means that there’s less of a chance of things breaking.