Photo: Today’s high-performance hunting crossbows, like the TenPoint Nitro XRT pictured here, shoot arrows at high speeds, but still do not “shoot like rifles.”
With the rise of a new generation of high performance hunting crossbows, the temptation to compare crossbows to rifles has become almost irresistible. Each year, technological advancements made in crossbow designs set new standards for speed and accuracy, with many crossbows now being produced that shoot can shoot faster than 400 feet per second (fps).
But, even with these advancements, it is unrealistic to suggest that crossbow arrow ballistics are like that of a hunting rifle. Consumer marketing of crossbows that “shoot like rifles” has led many to misinterpret the real advantages that shooting a high-performance crossbow gives to the hunter.
One way to show that the ballistics of rifles and crossbows are dissimilar is to examine the distance that a rifle bullet drops at 100 yards as compared to a crossbow arrow.
Let’s examine the ballistics of a 150-grain 30.06 rifle bullet traveling close to 2,900 fps versus a 400-grain crossbow arrow traveling at 400 fps.
For the sake of drop comparison, both the rifle and the crossbow are zeroed at 20 yards. At 100 yards, the rifle bullet will drop approximately 4 inches, so you must hold 4 inches above the desired impact point on the target. Because the crossbow arrow is heavier than the rifle bullet and is traveling much more slowly (2500 fps slower), it drops significantly faster than the rifle bullet does.
At 100 yards with the crossbow arrow, you must hold around 93 inches above your desired point of impact — in other words, the crossbow arrow drops 93 inches at 100 yards whereas the rifle bullet only drops 4 inches! So, while 400 fps is “fast” in the crossbow world, it is dwarfed by a speed of 2,900 fps which is considered “fast” in the rifle world. Both speeds can be said to be “fast”, but only “fast” relative to the weapon that is being used.
Many crossbow hunters now have the impression that they can take an 80 or 100 yard shot at an animal in a hunting situation if they are shooting a high-performance crossbow, since it is said to “shoot like a rifle.” Nothing could be further from the truth.
Shooting a high-performance crossbow does not mean that you can take hunting shots at distances that are beyond what is ethical.
High-performance crossbows help us to shoot harder and faster than before at the same ethical distances that we have always shot.
The advantages gained by using one of these crossbows for hunting is that the arrow will travel faster to the animal, which helps to reduce the chance for the animal to “jump the string,” and the arrow will have greater penetration power to do more damage to the animal as it passes through.
Remember that crossbow “up to” speeds are measured at the point when the arrow leaves the flight rail, and crossbow arrows significantly lose speed and energy the further they travel downfield.
Photo: High-performance crossbows help to reduce the chances that an animal will “jump the string” and yield greater arrow penetration power.
While a crossbow is shouldered and fired like a rifle, the similarities between the two weapons end there.
A crossbow does not have the same long-range shooting capabilities as a rifle does.
Despite many new advances in crossbow technology, the crossbow is still a primitive weapon that has limits to its downrange effectiveness that should be respected.
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