Best New Crossbows for 2014

Photo by Travis Rathbone This past spring, the F&S bow-testing panel met in my hometown of Murray, Ky., to evaluate … Continued

Photo by Travis Rathbone

This past spring, the F&S bow-testing panel met in my hometown of Murray, Ky., to evaluate the latest top-end archery tackle. We named our top-seven compound picks from the test in the July issue. Now it’s time to reveal the year’s best new crossbows.

To assess the field, we clocked bolt speeds with a chronograph and calculated kinetic energy. We measured noise with a decibel meter, trigger pulls with a scale, and accuracy from a bench on an indoor range. We argued over a few subjective points, including fit and finish and handling, but then it was just a matter of adding up the numbers: a maximum of 10 points for each category above—except accuracy, which we doubled—plus up to 10 apiece for cocking effort and safety, and a bonus point for outstanding accessories (each bow was tested with its included accessory package) for a potential total of 101. We started with 11 models and narrowed those down to the top entries from each company. Below are the remaining eight—the best new crossbows for 2014, ranked and reviewed.

1. Best of the Test: Stryker Solution

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Photo by Luke Nilsson

Very lightweight and compact for a crossbow, the Solution generates outstanding speed with a feathery 125-pound draw weight.

Hits: An excellent trigger and first-rate scope resulted in one-hole groups.

Misses: We docked a couple of points for its bland styling and all-black finish.

The Skinny: The degree to which this crossbow outpaced the competition astounded us. It’s the quietest, the lightest, and the most accurate in the test. It’s not the fastest, but it is 20 fps faster than the slowest test bow—and with a 45-pound lighter draw weight. Best of all, the Solution costs only slightly more than half its nearest competitor. Fellow tester Dave Hurteau said, “If we had a category for best value, I’d award it that, too.”

Specs
– 125-lb. draw weight
– 15 1⁄2″ powerstroke
– 348 fps • 106.8 ft.-lb. KE
– 7.78 lb. (by my scale, fully accessorized)

Total Score: 90
Price: $899; strykerxbow.com

WEB EXTRA: Bonus Bow

Cabela’s Instinct Lancer

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Crossbow companies are invited to submit models of their choice for this test, and some companies submit more than one model. When that happens, we shoot them both (or all three), and pick our favorite for final evaluation.

This year, Cabela’s submitted both the Vindicator, reviewed below, as well as the Instinct Lancer. Because the Instinct Lancer is so similar to the Stryker Solution that was already in the test (it’s a made-for-Cabela’s version of the 155-pound Stryker Solution LS), we elected to test the Vindicator and send the Lancer back to Cabela’s.

Then we finished the test. And the Solution not only won, but dominated, beating out the second-place bow by four full points, which is pretty amazing considering just three points separate the second- and fourth-place bows.

Given that performance, the Instinct Lancer is just as deserving of the first-place award. It’s a slightly fancier version of the Stryker Solution LS, which is the 155-pound draw-weight version of the Solution, and as such, has a slightly fancier price tag of $1,049.99.

Hurteau and I had the chance to put the Lancer to another test back in May on a couple big Nebraska gobblers. The birds were henned up on that hunt, so belly-crawling behind a dried turkey fan was standard procedure to get within range. But work the crossbows did. Hurteau zipped his bird as it strutted 30 yards away. Mine was standing at 48 yards—the longest shot I’ve ever taken at animal with an arrow, and a plenty long shot for even a 12 gauge. With this crossbow—and really, most of the ones reviewed here—it’s a shot I’d take again without hesitation. Read more about that hunt, and crossbow badassery in general, in Hurteau’s Shoot Me Down blog post.

2. Tenpoint Venom

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Photo by Luke Nilsson

The Venom is like a compact version of last year’s Vapor, similar in both appearance and performance but with a shorter powerstroke and a heavier draw weight.

Hits: A shortened barrel makes this a handy package while retaining plenty of speed. The integrated AccuDraw system eases cocking effort immensely.

Misses: It’s a little heavy for its size, and it costs as much as a custom rifle.

The Skinny: A TenPoint’s performance rarely disappoints; the Venom is no exception. It’s solidly built, quiet, and very smooth shooting. As Bestul put it, “This crossbow simply didn’t do anything wrong.” From the bench, I used it to shoot a 5⁄8-inch group. If not for the mutant performance of the Stryker Solution, the Vapor would’ve won the test.

Specs
– 185-lb. draw weight
– 13 1⁄2″ powerstroke
– 354.5 fps
– 118.01 ft.-lb. KE
– 8.35 lb.

Total Score: 86
Price: $1,719; tenpointcrossbow.com

3. Barnett Razr

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Photo by Luke Nilsson

It is a big and bulky thing, but the Razr trims much of the expected weight with its lightweight CarbonLite stock. It’s packed with features many would describe as tactical, including a short Picatinny rail in front of the foregrip.

Hits: Blazing fast. Plus, the Razr has a skinning knife built into the handle. Ridiculous? Of course. But totally worth a bonus point.

Misses: Recoil is substantial enough that there was an uncomfortable slap to the cheek following every shot with our test bow. And its bulk can’t go unnoticed.

The Skinny: Aggressive cams and a long powerstroke deliver impressive power. It was the second fastest and the hardest hitting (KE) of the bunch. It’s also highly accurate, putting three bolts into a 1⁄4-inch group for me.

Specs
– 185-lb. draw weight
– 16″ powerstroke
– 392.5 fps
– 139.93 ft-lb. KE
– 8.46 lb.

Total Score: 85.3
Price: $1,600; barnettcrossbow.com

4. Excalibur Matrix Mega 405

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Photo by Luke Nilsson

A recurve with extremely heavy limbs, the Mega 405 delivers­—and demands—mega power, clocking speeds nearly 10 fps in excess of the advertised 405.

Hits: This was the fastest bow tested by a wide margin. It earned a bonus point for an excellent scope with a 30mm tube.

Misses: I have a buddy who shoes horses for a living and could probably whip your butt good and proper. Even he had difficulty cocking this thing. It was also the loudest in the test.

The Skinny: I love the simplicity of Excalibur’s recurve design, but 290-pound limbs are excessive for most people. It is fast, but some of that speed is gained via its light 350-grain bolts. Still, I can’t sell it short on quality. It had an outstanding trigger and great accessories and put three shots into a 5⁄8-inch group.

Specs
– 290-lb. draw weight
– 13.87″ powerstroke
— 413.5 fps
– 133.3 ft.-lb. KE
– 8.46 lb.

Total Score: 83
Price: $1,350; excaliburcrossbow.com

5. Darton Viper SS

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Photo by Luke Nilsson

There’s nothing flashy about this bow. It’s as ugly as a bighead carp, and heavy, too. But the same can be said of some fine benchrest rifles. The Viper SS has many things going for it.

Hits: It was the easiest to cock and has an excellent trigger. This and the Stryker were the only bows we tested that put every arrow into the same hole.

Misses: It’s slow, and the heaviest bow tested.

The Skinny: The SS is a solidly built crossbow, and any model that will put a bolt into the exact same hole in three consecutive shots is one to consider. (We shot a Darton in our compound test and weren’t especially wowed. Bestul says the company’s crossbow designer should take its compound ­designer out for lunch to explain a few things.)

Specs
– 170-lb. draw weight
– 13 1⁄2″ powerstroke
– 328 fps
– 101.08 ft.-lb. KE
-9.45 lb.

Total Score: 80.3
Price: $1,042 with hunter package; dartonarchery.com

6. Carbon Express Covert CX-# SL

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Photo by Luke Nilsson

The Covert CX-3 SL is a compact bow with a bullpup-style stock and full-length Picatinny rail on the fore-end. An AR-style folding foregrip comes standard.

Hits: Hinton loved the convenience and flexibility afforded by the foregrip.

Misses: The trigger was lousy, and we didn’t like the offset stirrup for cocking.

The Skinny: I shot a 7⁄8-inch group with this one, and its all-around performance—speed, kinetic energy, noise, handling—was solid.

Specs
– 185-lb. draw weight
– 13″ powerstroke
– 348 fps
– 103.82 ft.-lb. KE
– 8.53 lb.

Total Score: 77.6
Price: $699; carbonexpressarrows.com

7. Cabela’s Vindicator

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Photo by Luke Nilsson

Made by Barnett, this is the other of two new Cabela’s-branded crossbows. While it didn’t blow us away, making the top seven is a significant feat for a budget bow.

Hits: Bestul liked the stock’s ergonomics, especially the fore-end.

Misses: The trigger broke at nearly 9 pounds.

The Skinny: It shot the largest groups of the test at 1 1⁄4 inches, and I believe the trigger is 100 percent to blame. Otherwise, this is a solid product at a great price.

Specs
– 160-lb. draw weight
– 13 1⁄2″ powerstroke
– 343 fps
– 103.48 ft.-lb. KE
– 8.15 lb.

Total Score: 71.6
Price: $550; cabelas.com

WEB EXTRA

8. Killer Instinct KI 350

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Killer Instinct is a new crossbow company, and the KI350 is their entry-level model. You might not expect a bow of this price to compete with the premium bows reviewed here, but it held its own.

Hits: Along with the Stryker Solution, this was the lightest bow tested. It’s compact and handy, with a relatively light draw weight that makes it easy to cock. It has a pretty good trigger.

Misses: The KI350 wasn’t a standout in any one performance category. It was fairly slow, and its lightweight bolts produced kinetic energy figures below 100 foot-pounds. My best 3-shot group with it measured 1 1/8 inches. The safety was extremely heavy, both to engage and disengage.

The Skinny: Regardless of what the final score says, everyone on the test panel really enjoyed shooting this bow, and we were wowed by its solid performance for the price. If you’re shopping for a crossbow on a budget, this one’s tough to beat.

Specs
– 165-lb. draw weight
– 14″ powerstroke
– 336 fps
– 98.8 ft.-lb. KE
– 7.78 lb.

Total Score: 71
Price: $499.99; killer-instinct-crossbows.myshopify.com