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Ranking the 5 Best Crossbows for 2020

Crossbow technology, accuracy and power continue to advance with demand, and this year's crop is the most impressive yet; here's a look at the top five that caught our eye.

Ranking the 5 Best Crossbows for 2020

Crossbows continue to grow in popularity despite ongoing controversy. As technology continues to advance, some states and provinces are studying whether or not they are too effective. But it seems as though crossbows are here to stay for a number of reasons. They are excellent tools for hunter retention and recruitment. Many vertical bow archers are aging and unable to shoot their bows effectively. Gun hunters are using the crossbow as an introduction to archery hunting. First-time and youth hunters are also embracing crossbows as they lack the painful recoil and loud report of firearms.

This year’s test includes four flagship models ranging from $1,799 to $3,000. A budget-minded crossbow is also included. The CenterPoint Amped 415 fits nearly every hunter’s budget with a price point of less than $400. The strengths and weaknesses of each crossbow were assessed to compile a total score. As in past tests, the scores are based on portability, trigger pull, accuracy, ergonomics, and velocity.

How We Test

We rated five attributes of each model (portability, trigger pull, accuracy, ergonomics, and velocity) and recorded the results. In each category, a score from 0 to 5 was given with 5 being the highest possible score. The human factor is present in the test, especially in the accuracy and ergonomics categories. The goal is to determine the usability of each crossbow in a hunting application and not just on the test range.

Portability

Don’t be fooled by the weight listed on manufacturers’ spec lists. These numbers are often determined by the marketing department and are unreliable when compared to the actual field weight of the crossbow when set up to hunt.


Our numbers reflect the total weight of the crossbow with the scope and quiver mounted just as you would carry it hunting. These “real weights” differ from what you’ll see advertised. Don’t compare real weight to advertised weight when shopping as they are not an apples-to-apples comparison.


The Ravin R29X and Excalibur Assassin 400 TD are given high marks in this category but for opposing reasons. The Ravin is the lightest and most compact crossbow in the test, even with a built-in crank. The Excalibur, while wider when assembled, can be taken down and put in a case smaller than a duffel bag.

Trigger Pull

The best crossbow triggers on the market are right around three pounds, with few exceptions. A growing trend is two-stage triggers. The TenPoint Vapor RS470 and Mission Sub-1 XR have two-stage triggers. Excalibur’s trigger can be set to a two-stage, depending on preference.

The TenPoint and CenterPoint had the lightest triggers in the test at 3 pounds and 3.1 pounds respectively. The other three crossbows were all under four pounds. Only a small percentage of shooters notice a difference with triggers on a range and almost none of them notice during a hunt. All the crossbows tested had respectable triggers that won’t hinder accuracy, especially while pursuing game.

Accuracy

We shot three groups of three arrows out of each crossbow at 30 yards using a benchrest. That distance best replicates an ethical shot for hunting. Over the past few years, manufacturers have marketed 100-yard shots as the benchmark for accuracy in crossbows. While many crossbows are accurate enough to effectively hit targets at that range, in our opinion shooting at animals at 100 yards is impractical at best and unethical at worst. Many crossbows are capable of hitting that shot, but the majority of shooters are not, especially in a hunting situation.


The worst group was thrown out to account for human error, and we averaged the best two groups for the final score. The Excalibur Assassin 400 TD had the best average, but all five crossbows shot groups effective enough for any hunter.

Ergonomics

This category is all about the user experience. We looked at ease of use, balance, and fit and finish of each crossbow. The ACUslide decocking mechanism on the TenPoint Vapor RS470 is truly revolutionary. It allows for decocking with the crank system without worrying about your hand slipping and potentially ruining the crossbow. The Ravin and Excalibur both have silent cranks that can be used for cocking and decocking as well, although not as fail-safe.

Many high-end crossbows sold today have a built-in crank. Cranks are much easier on the shooter’s back and shoulders, and they cock the crossbow the sameway every time, which, theoretically, leads to increased accuracy. But there is something to be said for cocking a crossbow with a rope cocker. It is simpler and much faster. A second shot might be possible with a rope cocker, when, in most cases, there isn’t enough time with a crank-cocked crossbow.


Velocity

To measure velocity, we fired three shots with each crossbow through a Comp-etition Electronics ProChrono Pal Chron-ograph. The speeds were averaged todetermine the net score. While this cate-gory may seem to leave no room for subjectivity, there are variables here as well. For example, the TenPoint Vapor RS470 shot the package-included CenterPunch 465-grain arrow at 428 fps. The Ravin R29X shot the included 400-grain arrow at 451 fps. When switching to TenPoint’s 400- grain ProElite arrow, the speeds were almost identical.

The CenterPoint shot the included 400-grain arrow at speeds far below the advertised 415 fps. The Mission and Excalibur shot as advertised, but both use a 350-grain arrow to gain those speeds.

All of these crossbows are worthy of consideration. All have strengths and weaknesses. Seek out the advice of as many unbiased, experienced crossbow shooters as possible to find the right crossbow for you.

Excalibur Assassin 400 TD — Score: 23

Excalibur-Assassin-400-TD.jpg

Excalibur Crossbows are widely known for building high-quality recurve crossbows. That “wide” part has always been the obstacle for Excalibur to gain a foothold in a market focused on ultra-narrow design. With this year’s new Assassin 400 TD, Excalibur packs nearly 400 fps into its Micro platform. The built-in crank makes the crossbow easy to cock and decock. The Assassin 400 TD really shines while traveling. The limbs can be removed quickly from the stock and reinstalled in a snap without losing zero.

Hit: Accuracy and overall portability for traveling hunters.

Miss: Heavy. Widest bow in test.

  • Weight: 10 lbs. 3 oz.
  • Length: 30.75 in..
  • Width Cocked: 20.5 in..
  • Accuracy: 1.2 in. (30 yds.).
  • Trigger Pull: 3 lbs. 14 oz..
  • Velocity: 392 fps (350-gr. arrow).
  • MSRP: $,1799

    Ravin R29X — Score: 23

    Ravin-R29X.jpg

    Ravin Crossbows continues to innovate and build increasingly impressive crossbows. This year’s flagship model, the R29X, is built on the foundation of last year’s popular R29 with a few important enhancements. The R29X is 20 feet per second faster, shooting 450 fps. And it features an integrated, completely silent crank, the first Ravin Crossbow to do so. The R29X is the most compact crossbow in our test at just over 29 inches long and nine inches wide at the widest point when cocked.

    Hit: Compact. Fast.

    Miss: Price. String under the cheekpiece when cocked.

  • Weight: 8 lbs. 14 oz.
  • Length: 29.25 in..
  • Width Cocked: 9.125 in..
  • Accuracy: 1.8 in. (30yds.).
  • Trigger Pull: 3 lbs. 14 oz..
  • Velocity: 451 fps (400-gr. arrow).
  • MSRP: $2,624

    Tenpoint Vapor RS470 — Score: 23

    Tenpoint-Vapor-RS470.jpg

    TenPoint Crossbows has a reputation as a leading innovator in crossbow technology. However, TenPoint owners have always had to shoot to decock them, until now. The new ACUslide system features an internal brake that prevents dry-firing during cocking and decocking, an industry first. The Vapor RS470, TenPoint’s new flagship, includes ACUslide, is blistering fast, and had the best scope in our test. But keep in mind: The Vapor RS470 is also the most expensive crossbow of the group.

    Hit: Fast. Best decocking system.

    Miss: Expensive. Heaviest bow tested.

  • Weight: 10 lbs. 5 oz.
  • Length: 34.75 in.
  • Width Cocked: 10.75 in.
  • Accuracy: 1.6 in. (30yds.)
  • Trigger Pull: 3 lbs.
  • Velocity: 428 fps (465-gr. arrow)
  • MSRP: $3,049

    Mission Sub-1 XR — Score: 22

    Mission-Sub-1-XR.jpg

    Mission Crossbows released the Sub-1 XR in 2019. Legendary bowmaker Matt McPherson is best known for being the man behind Mathews Archery. McPherson also puts a lot of work into Mission Crossbows, and when the Mission team gets it right, they don’t reinvent the wheel every year. The Sub-1 XR is extremely accurate and can be cocked easily without the use of a crank, although the totally silent RSD Crank is available. Thanks to Mission’s Benchmark Fire Control, the Sub-1 XR is also the safest and easiest crossbow without a crank to decock.

    Hit: Simple decock feature. Optional crank.

    Miss: A little front heavy.

    Weight: 9 lbs. 8 oz.

  • Length: 36.25 in.
  • Width Cocked: 15.25 in.
  • Accuracy: 2.1 in. (30yds.)
  • Trigger Pull: 3 lbs. 1 oz.
  • Velocity: 387 fps (400-gr. arrow)
  • MSRP: $1,799

    Centerpoint Amped 415 — Score: 20.5

    Centerpoint-Amped-415.jpg

    The CenterPoint Amped 415 is an anomaly among the crossbows in this test. At $379, it’s priced well below all the other crossbows. For price-conscious hunters, the Amped 415 is loaded with value. My test model shot below the advertised speed of 415 fps. But 387 fps is still fast enough to take down any North American big-game species. A $200 investment in higher-quality arrows and an upgraded scope would make the Amped 415 even better.

    Hit: Fastest for the money.

    Miss: Front heavy. Not as accurate.

  • Weight: 9 lbs. 8 oz.
  • Length: 36.25 in.
  • Width Cocked: 15.25 in.
  • Accuracy: 2.1 in. (30yds.)
  • Trigger Pull: 3 lbs. 1 oz.
  • Velocity: 387 fps (400-gr. arrow)
  • MSRP: $379
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