When I mull over the new crop of 2021 crossbows, it makes me think of the 1998 film “Armageddon,” which may have been the single worst movie ever made. But when Harry the driller (Bruce Willis) said to the NASA suits, “I’m sure you got a team of men sitting around somewhere right now just thinking sh*t up!”, it was nothing short of profound.
Well, crossbow engineers must have spent a lot of time sitting around, thinking stuff up in 2020. And now that we’re in 2021, we’re rewarded by their efforts with some truly innovative products, including one crossbow that’ll shoot two arrows at a time, another with an auto-rangefinding scope promising 250-yard accuracy, and some of the fastest crossbows we’ve ever seen. There’s a movement to make ultra-compact, 400-plus fps crossbows way more affordable, too, which is arguably the most exciting trend of all.
If you ask me, it’s all cooler than Aerosmith on an asteroid. So let’s dig in.
I’ve been testing crossbows for years, and I’ve always believed that an apples-to-apples comparison of performance and specs doesn’t quite do the Excalibur recurve design justice. The way we test crossbows makes it virtually impossible for a recurve to beat out a high-end compound (though last year, the Excalibur Assassin 400 TD finished third overall).
The utilitarian designs of Excalibur Crossbows have advantages that any serious hunter can recognize, of course, but their latest advancement surprised even me. The TwinStrike is the first practical two-shot hunting crossbow ever produced. It is essentially two crossbows assembled onto one stock. There are two sets of limbs, two strings, two shoot-through barrels, and two triggers. That means you can load a pair of bolts and take a second shot at a buck when the jitters get the best of you on the first one (or when you kill a doe, have another tag, and look up to see another one just standing there).
The bow weighs just under 8 pounds and is 21 inches wide—meaning it’s not much larger than a regular Excalibur crossbow. The TwinStrike shoots an advertised 360 fps (Excalibur bolts are typically light; right around 350 grains) and promises point of impact to be within 1.5 inches out to 50 yards with both barrels.
Can you fire both bolts at once? What kind of a redneck would ask such a thing? (I did, and you can.) ($2,222.22; excaliburcrossbow.com) —Will Brantley
TenPoint Havoc RS440 XERO
Yes, I see what this thing costs, too. You might think that for all that money a crossbow should fire 6.5 Creedmoor ammunition—and the way things are going, that might well be the future of crossbow innovation. But for now, this one still shoots broadhead-tipped bolts, and you can plug the weight and speed of said bolt into the state-of-the-art Garmin Xero X1i rangefinding scope, hit a button, and an electronic reticle will show you where to aim, clear out to 250 yards. You can set up multiple bolt profiles in the scope to play around with different arrow and broadhead combos, too. And by using other compatible Garmin devices, the scope can be paired with the Laser Locate system, so you can walk to exactly where the critter was standing at the shot, after you shoot.
I played with one of these in Texas back in November, and realistically, it doesn’t extend the effective range of the crossbow on critters—but it is sure fun to play with at long range. We were hitting 80-yard targets pretty easily with it. The crossbow itself is a 440-fps model similar to last year’s Vapor RS470. The bow is just 7.5 inches wide when cocked and 26.5 inches long end-to-end. It features the outstanding ACUSlide cocking/decocking system, a two-stage trigger, elevated cheekpiece, and the overall quality of build I expect to see from TenPoint. ($3,600; tenpointcrossbows.com) —W.B.
Wicked Ridge NXT 400
Wicked Ridge crossbows are American-made and among the best crossbows out there for the money. I’ve shot and tested a number of them and have noted that they’re well-built and fire their arrows into tight little groups. From a performance standpoint, though, they’ve never been that exciting.
That changes this year with the NXT 400, which puts flagship-level specs and capabilities into a crossbow with a far more reasonable price tag. NXT stands for “Narrow Crossbow Technology,” and this bow delivers, at just 6 inches wide when cocked. It shoots to speeds of 400 fps and comes equipped with a 3.5-pound trigger and the TenPoint ACUDraw cocking mechanism. I expect it to be a shooter, and with those specs, it could well set a new standard of what hunters can expect to get from a mid-tier-priced crossbow. ($1,099; wickedridgecrossbows.com) —W.B.
Centerpoint Wrath 430
Here’s another affordable crossbow that capitalizes on the market demand for compact dimensions and blistering speed. The Wrath 430 clocks at—you guessed it—430 fps (advertised) with the included CenterPoint bolts. It’s a bullpup design that weighs 8 pounds, measures just 9 inches wide when cocked, and is about 29 inches long, end to end. The ball-bearing retention spring promises to be a good way to hold an arrow in place, though I haven’t seen it in person yet to say for sure. It’s available with a crank-style cocking device. Most ultra-compact compound crossbows can’t be cocked without one, but that remains to be seen on this bow. It does have a folding foot stirrup that could double as a prone-style shooting rest—and if it can be cocked with a traditional rope and hooks, I’d call that a plus. ($649.99 – $699.99; centerpointarchery.com) —W.B.
Bear Impact and Impact CDXV
If you’re interested in packing a more compact crossbow into the woods this year, you should consider Bear’s latest: the Impact and Impact CDXV. At just 27.5 inches long, the Impact is shorter than the Ravin R29 and is being offered at a fraction of the cost. It comes with a silent cocking crank that attaches behind the buttstock. The Impact CDXV is more or less the same crossbow, but costs 100 bucks less and comes with a traditional pull-string cocking aid instead. Both models measure just over 8 inches wide when cocked and will launch an arrow at an advertised 420 fps. They also have a folding bipod which could come in handy in the right situations. If you’re looking for a shorter, more compact setup but aren’t ready to shell out serious cash, these crossbow packages are worth taking a look at. ($949 – $1049; beararchery.com/bear-x-crossbows) —Matthew Every
Wicked Ridge Blackhawk 360
If you appreciate the value that Wicked Ridge crossbows has always delivered but don’t want to drop a grand on their latest flagship, don’t worry. The company is still offering plenty of solid no-frill shooters at bargain prices, and the newest is the Blackhawk 360. This bow is very much in line with what the company has offered in the past, and if those past models are any indication, the this one, too, should be well-built and very accurate right out of the box. At just 6 pounds, the Blackhawk 360 will be a breeze to carry in the field. While it isn’t the fastest new crossbow out there, it’s more than fast enough at, you guessed it, 360 fps. And it has a number of nice features, including machined cams, a 3.5-pound trigger, and a pic rail on the bottom for accessories. ($399; tenpointcrossbows.com) —M.E.
Barnett HyperTac 420
I’ve hunted a bunch with various Barnett crossbows, and they’re another brand that makes a great mid-tier-priced bow. Last year’s TS380 was the winner of our Great Buy award in the 2020 flagship crossbow review. The 2021 HyperTac 420 maintains a reasonable price tag, but like most of this year’s competition, it’s built for the shopper who wants something fast, but also compact. The bow sports an axle-to-axle width of less than 10 inches and speeds of 420 fps. It’s built for Barnett’s micro-diameter (.204) HyperFlite arrows, too, which have been around a few seasons but haven’t caught on like they should. Micro-diameter arrows have the same benefits for crossbow shooters—like truer flight and deeper penetration than standard-diameter arrows—that they do for vertical bow shooters. The HyperTac 420 sports a 3.5-pound TriggerTech trigger, and can be cocked with a traditional rope (though a crank-style cocking aid is available). ( $800; barnettcrossbows.com) —W.B.
I’ve been badgering the Ravin folks about their new crossbow launch for a few days now, and they finally shared not one but two new models—either of which would be big news, and each of which satisfies a different niche.
First up is the R500, which is the first 500 fps. crossbow, and also the first crossbow with an optional electronic cocking/decocking system called the Electronic Drive System. Thanks to a removable 12-volt battery and motor, users can cock or lower the string on the crossbow with the press of a button. The R500 sports Ravin’s new adjustable turret scope, and an axle-to-axle width of just 3.6 inches when cocked. Those tiny dimensions—and crushing power—are due to a new HexCoil cam system.
I’ve figured a 500-fps crossbow would be on the market sooner than later, and that Ravin is the one to introduce it doesn’t surprise me a bit. Where does it fit into archery seasons? Probably right alongside two-shot repeaters and rangefinding, 250-yard scopes. You can bet we’ll be talking about all of that soon enough but for now, let’s take a moment and appreciate the innovation. ($3,749.99 with Sniper Package; ravincrossbows.com) —W.B.
As noteworthy as the R500 is, I’m including a second Ravin in the mix that is just as impressive, but for different reasons. The R18′s limbs compress vertically—not horizontally—and it uses the HeliCoil cam system to rotate the cams 720 degrees, wrapping the crossbow string around them and the cam axle. That result is a package that’s just 4.75 inches wide and 1.3 inches tall when cocked—and doesn’t look at all like a traditional crossbow, even though it’s still powered by a flexing limb, string, and cams.
The stock of this 6-pound bow is also detachable, effectively making it a take-down with an overall length of just 18 inches. It shoots a 350-grain, 16-inch arrow, at 330 fps. It comes equipped with the usual safety features such as an anti-dry-fire device, and a 3-dot reflex sight in lieu of a traditional crossbow scope. As Ravin crossbows go, this one is about the most economical, too. ( $1,549; ravincrossbows.com) —W.B.