How Deadly Are Modern Crossbows?

How Deadly Are Modern Crossbows?

The crossbow has developed a reputation as an extremely deadly weapon.

But how powerful is it really?

Is it really more deadly than a compound bow.

And how does it compare to a firearm?

Read on to get all the answers.

Crossbow VS Bow

Man Holding Crossbow and Compound Bow

When it comes to hunting, the modern archer is always going to be better off than the crossbow hunter.

The modern bow is lighter, easier to handle in the field and, most critical of all, easier to reload for follow up shots.

If the hunter overshoots the target animal runs away from the noise that it hears when the arrow impacts whatever it strikes.

This will often cause the animal to run directly toward the hunter. The archer is able to quickly pull another arrow from his quiver and shoot the kill shot.

However, when this happens to the crossbow hunter, he  will make so much noise recocking his crossbow that the animal will be long gone.

Crossbows are most effective at short range. Within a range of twenty yards, they will have more penetration power than a compound bow at the same range.

However, beyond the range the heavier arrow of the compound or recurve bow will be both more accurate and more penetrative.

Both bows and crossbows are considered to be short-range hunting weapons. They are not suitable for shooting game at a distance of greater than 40 yards.

An advantage that the crossbow has over the longbow is that it allows the hunter to wait for the ideal shot and to place that shot.

In contrast, the longbow hunter must hold the bow at full draw for an extended period of time.

This can cause shaking and arm strain. This could lead to a prematurely released shot.

In general, the crossbow hunter can expect to get more accurate hits within 20 yards and more effective kill shots.

This is the result of the better shot placement that is possible because of the steadiness that you have over a compound bow rather than the greater penetrating power.

Modern VS Ancient Crossbows Power Comparison

Holding Two Different Crossbows

The modern-day crossbow is a very different weapon than that used by ancient armies of thousands of years ago.

They now incorporate stocks with synthetic composite or laminated components, a fiberglass or laminated single or multiple-staved prod, low-pull weight triggers and the availability of a range of cocking aids.

Most modern crossbows have also incorporated compound limbs.

All of these adaptations have made the crossbow easier to use.

They have also made them a more effective hunting weapon than their earlier counterparts. However, it has not made them more powerful.

The crossbows of centuries past were made with stronger limbs. This produced a tremendous amount of power.

What the modern crossbow can do is to pack an equally powerful punch in a far lighter weight limb package.

A greater percentage of the crossbow’s energy is also transferred to the arrow.

With the older crossbows, a large percentage of the force expended by the bow went into accelerating the heavy limbs and hefty strings.

The improvements in crossbow arrow technology added to the power of the modern crossbow. These arrows are lighter and stiffer.

This allows them to hurtle through the air at greater speeds and with less wind distortion. The result is that they are more accurate and have greater penetration power.

However, modern crossbows do not necessarily have greater killing power than the crossbow of old.

The lighter arrows and faster speeds of modern arrows have increased the point-blank range out to about 20 yards.

However rapid arrow drop, which averages about 20 inches at 40 yards, limits the effective use of the crossbow.

Within this range, the lightweight arrows of a crossbow will kill most effectively.

However, beyond this range the heavier arrow of a compound or recurve bow is most effective.

The modern crossbow arrow is made from either aluminum, carbon fiber or a composite of the two materials.

This makes them lighter, faster and more effective than wooden arrows.

Their shafts also will not warp in the wet and their plastic fletchings are still effective when it is raining.

In centuries past, crossbows were much bigger than they are today. Huge crossbows were mounted on ships.

A heavy steel shod arrow from such a weapon could break the hull of a ship. Different styles of points were designed to cut rigging, tear sails, and even disable banks of oars.


How does a crossbow work?

To cock the crossbow, the string is pulled to the rear to the point where it is caught by a hook, which is then put under tension.

A sear fits into a notch on the bottom of the restraining hook.

Once cocked, an arrow is placed into the crossbow in contact with the string.

Now the crossbow is ready to be aimed and fired. When the trigger is pulled, the string flies forward and the arrow or other projectile is released.

Some crossbows can be hard to cock. In addition to manual cocking, you can also use a rope cocker and a number of mechanical devices that provide more leverage.

These devices can reduce the amount of force required to cock the weapon by between 50 and 90 percent.

What is the effective range of a crossbow?

The effective range of a modern crossbow is 20 yards. Beyond that range, it will exhibit a fall-off rate (20 inches over 40 yards) that will severely limit its accuracy.

Is a crossbow as powerful as a rifle?

No, a crossbow is not as powerful as a rifle or a handgun. It is very rare to see a large game animal taken down from a shot by a crossbow.

Even if it has received a fatal hit, it is very likely that the animal will run.

An arrow shot from a crossbow will usually register between 70 and 90-foot pounds of muzzle energy.

In comparison, a .44 Remington Magnum pistol cartridge at one hundred yards registers 500-foot pounds of energy.

Are crossbows unsafe?

Woman Holding Crossbow


Crossbows are safe if used responsibly.

Crossbow hunters may hurt themselves when out hunting just as compound and recurve bow hunters may injure themselves.

However, the crossbow itself is a safe and reliable tool. The most common type of injury to crossbow hunters is jabbing with an arrow.

This happens to also be the most common injury among traditional bowhunters.

Do crossbows shoot farther and faster than compound bows?

No. A crossbow will get off to a faster start but it will decelerate more quickly.

It is generally considered to be the more effective weapon with a 20-yard range. Between 20 and 40 yards, however, the compound bow is more efficient.

Are crossbows legal all over the United States?

Crossbows are legal in every state apart from Oregon.

However, there are restrictions on their use in a number of states. Here are the regulations in those states:


Crossbows legal for handicapped hunters by permit.  Also legal for anyone during firearms season and Turkey and Bear seasons.

Legal for 60+ for deer, bear, turkey and rough fish.


August 30, 2010.  Effective July 2011, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission passed a new rule which will extend zonal crossbow seasons by a month. 

The new rule adds 30 days to each crossbow season in zones A, B, and C, and adds 33 days in zone D, thereby coinciding with the archery season on private land only.


Carrying Crossbow

To be eligible to purchase a crossbow hunting permit, any person (16 years of age and older) must hold a valid license to hunt big game (either a big game hunting license or an archery license), and must submit proof of having successfully completed an archery hunting education course and a crossbow hunting course or evidence of having previously held adult archery and crossbow hunting permit issued specifically for the purpose of hunting with a crossbow or bow and arrow in this State or any other state, province or country in any year after 1979.

When proof or evidence cannot be provided, the applicant may substitute a signed affidavit. Also legal for disabled hunters.

South Dakota

Crossbows legal for handicapped hunters during archery season. Must have a minimum draw weight of 125-pounds and a functional mechanical safety device.


During an any-weapon hunting season, you can hunt with a crossbow without any other permit besides your hunting license and proper tag.

Crossbows also legal for handicapped persons by permit-to hunt with a crossbow during an archery season, you must also have a valid archery permit as well as a hunting license and a proper tag.


At close range, a crossbow will deliver more penetrative power than a compound bow.

Beyond 20 yards, however, it will provide too much drop off to be effective, so that a compound bow will be more effective.

Neither a crossbow nor a compound bow will have anywhere near the penetrative power of a firearm.

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