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Photo by Will Brantley

With so many states now allowing or considering the use of crossbows during archery season, the big debate is whether a crossbow offers significant hunting advantages over a standard compound bow. For the October issue’s Field Test section, I recently tested six brand-new crossbows. It was the perfect opportunity to answer the crossbow-vs.-conventional compound question once and for all. I put my Hoyt Spyder Turbo head-to-head against the latest crossbows in the following categories.

Efficiency: My compound bow has an IBO speed of 340 fps, which translates to about 90 foot-pounds of kinetic energy. That’s comparatively fast, but most hunting setups, mine included, fall way short of IBO specs. And even if they didn’t, the slowest crossbow I tested throws a 437-grain arrow at 307 fps for 91 foot-lb. of kinetic energy and significantly more momentum. The rest of the crossbows simply blew my compound away in this category. Edge: Crossbow.

Accuracy: I shot my compound for accuracy against the Excalibur Matrix 380 Xtra at 40 yards. Offhand, I shot 4-inch groups with the crossbow and 3.75-inch groups with my compound. But when I put the crossbow on shooting sticks, my groups shrunk to 2.63 inches. Shooting sticks, or a treestand shooting rail, are a crossbow-only capability that many hunters use in the field. Edge: Crossbow.

Speed of First Shot: From a seated position, I removed the readied weapon (cocked crossbow, bolt in place, safety on; arrow nocked on the compound) from a bow holder, centered the vital zone of a 3D deer target at 20 yards, and shot to determine which offers the faster first shot on a deer that shows up unexpectedly. Average crossbow time: 8.3 seconds. Compound: 10.3 seconds. Edge: Crossbow.

Speed of Follow-up Shots: Using the same drill, I evaluated which weapon is faster for firing three killing arrows (the first shot sitting, the second two standing). Crossbow: 58 seconds. Compound: 35.3 seconds. Edge: Compound.

The Takeaway: Although the compound certainly wins follow-up shot honors (especially when noise is considered in the equation), the modern crossbow has the edge in every other test. It may be the heavier, bulkier, louder choice in the woods. But it’s unequivocally the deadlier hunting tool.