With two of the fastest crossbows ever made topping this roundup, it’s safe to say that the speed race is still running strong in the crossbow world—so much so that 400 feet per second now seems to be the new unofficial barrier to entry in the flagship category. But there are other advancements besides raw velocity. Crank-style cocking devices are getting safer, easier, and quieter—a necessity since most high-performance crossbows can’t even be used without them. Triggers continue to improve, too, and not just by being lighter. Product-recall lessons from a few years ago proved that ultralight trigger sears have their limits when it comes to holding 200-plus pounds of limb pressure. The best new crossbow triggers rival those found on fine rifles, and they’re safer than ever too.
As to overall design, there are both some radical new systems and some thoughtful updates from several heavyweight brands that have dominated our crossbow testing for several years now. While the prices of some have reached near-ridiculous levels, a few remain comparatively affordable.
One thing’s for sure: Flagship crossbows keep getting better and better. For any new model to have any shot at winning our annual test, it’ll have to be damn near flawless. I can’t wait to put them head-to-head this spring, but for now, here are top flagship models that caught my eye at the 2020 ATA show.
TenPoint Vapor RS470
Specs: 8 pounds, 6-1/2 inches wide (cocked), 470 fps.
The Lowdown: The RS470 shoots up to 470 fps., and knowing that TenPoint bolts err on the heavy side means that this is probably the most powerful crossbow on the market. It’s a reverse-draw system that actually rotates the cams 404 degrees. It sports the new ACUSlide cocking mechanism and revamped SW1 trigger.
First Look: A brand-new design for 2020, the RS470 is a powerhouse that’s packed with innovative features. The silent ACUSlide cocking mechanism looks a lot like the Ravin’s cocking system, but with some stark differences. While de-cocking the bow, you can stop and even let go of the handle without it spinning out of control. The trigger box, once cocked, also snaps into place with a release latch, giving a sure signal that the bow is cocked while eliminating tension on the cocking strap.
In the past, the triggers have been among my few complaints about TenPoint bows, but the new SW1 system seems to be a big improvement. It’s a two-stage trigger with an advertised 3.5-pound pull weight. I spent only a little time with it on the range, but I liked it. This will be a tough crossbow to beat in this year’s test. $3,000; tenpointcrossbows.com
Specs: 6 ¾ pounds, 6 inches wide (cocked), 450 fps.
The Lowdown: The R29X is Ravin’s fastest bow yet, thanks to a longer powerstroke and beefier limbs. But the big news on this bow is the improved—and silent—cocking mechanism.
First Look: Ravin’s HeliCoil design has, in a big way, changed the entire crossbow industry. Last year’s bullpup, ultra-compact R26 won our annual crossbow test. Some on our panel—me included—actually found the dimensions and length of pull to be a little too cramped. The R29X looks much the same as the R26, but is just a little larger and to my tastes, about the perfect size. It is still the lightest, most compact crossbow on this list—and 50 fps faster than the R26 too.
But anyone can make a bow bigger. The story here is in how the thing is cocked. Older model Ravins sounded something like winching a boat up onto a trailer as you wound the string into place. This new system cocks the bow silently. Aside from that, the procedure is perfectly familiar. You still need to control the handle while de-cocking it. $2,650; ravincrossbows.com
Specs: 9 ½ pounds, 10 ⅛ inches wide (cocked), 405 fps.
The Lowdown: The AXE 405 is a brand-new design with a shoot-through riser, trackless barrel, 14 ½-inch powerstroke, and reverse-draw limbs. The crank-style cocking system can be stopped at any point in the draw cycle.
First Look: This one is so new that only a functioning prototype was present at the ATA show, and I wasn’t able to try it. It’s designed to shoot micro-diameter Carbon Express crossbow bolts, and it is an interesting design with a lot of promising advertised features. It’s a physically large bow, and with that kind of weight, the performance will have to be pretty good to compete with the likes of TenPoint and Ravin. On the other hand, it’s more than $1,000 cheaper than both. Time and testing will tell. $1,500; feradyne.com
Barnett Hyperflite EVO
Specs: 10.9 pounds, 9.3 inches wide (cocked), 420 fps.
The Lowdown: This one gets my vote as the most radically new design of the show. The cams are mounted to the riser, which eliminates lean and torque, according to the company. The cables are connected to the limbs, which flex independently of the cams. It has a TriggerTech trigger and shoots Barnett’s micro-diameter HyperFlite arrows. It comes with an easy-to-use crank-cocking mechanism.
First Look: This is one crazy looking bow, but I found it fascinating. The Barnett guy said right up front that it’s heavy but, “So are sniper rifles.” It’s made for precision, long-range shooting. I had fun busting Lifesavers on the 10-yard practice range with it, and I’m anxious to see what it’ll do out in the field. I don’t think I’ve ever shot a flagship Barnett that wasn’t accurate, and so I’m expecting big things—meaning, small groups—out of this one. $1,600; barnettcrossbows.com
Excalibur Assassin 400 TD
Specs: 8 pounds, 20 ½ inches wide (cocked), 400 fps.
The Lowdown: The Assassin 400 TD (Take Down) is built on Excalibur’s Micro platform, and it produces speeds of 400 fps. from a bow of manageable size.
First Look: The first crossbow I ever owned was an Excalibur, and I’ve always had a soft spot for the recurve design. They’re well-built, lightweight, simple, and I’d lay odds that they’re the most durable design on the market. They always have exceptional triggers, and are usually good shooters, too. They don’t always finish at the top of our crossbow test, but in some ways, comparing an Excalibur to a Ravin is apples and oranges.
Still, this is a top-end crossbow with top-end performance and features. It sports the Quick-Lock take-down system and the Charger cocking system, both of which address some of the drawbacks inherent to the recurve design, namely that they can be a bear to cock and bulky to transport. Both of those systems were new to Excalibur last year, and we ran into a few minor bugs during our testing. From the looks of it, both systems have been much improved for 2020. $1,800; excaliburcrossbows.com
BearX Constrictor Stoke
Specs: 7.8 pounds, 10 inches wide (cocked); 410 fps.
The Lowdown: There’s a massive difference in price between this crossbow and the others on the list. It has 190-pound limbs and is cocked with a rope aid and old-fashioned muscles. But it does meet our speed threshold, via a lengthy powerstroke.
First Look: Bear began making crossbows a few years ago and I admit that initially, I wasn’t impressed. But the company has long excelled at making really good mid-tier vertical compound bows at a great price, and this new crossbow option nails that sweet spot. If you can’t see spending the same for a crossbow than you would for major plastic surgery (I researched that), but would still like to have something that shoots 400-plus fps and is relatively light and compact, this seems to be a good one. I found it to have a quality trigger, and the overall fit and finish were just fine for the money. $599; beararchery.com
Killer Instinct SWAT XP
Specs: 7.2 pounds, 9 ⅛ inches wide (cocked), 415 fps.
The Lowdown: This is another ultracompact, bull-pup design featuring KI’s enclosed Accutac Barrel system. It’s cocked with the Dead Silent Crank (DSC) system.
First Look: It was unfortunate that I did not get to check out this bow firsthand at the show. I’ve been testing Killer Instinct crossbows since they came out, and I frequently tell people that the company makes some of the best ones on the market for the money. As a past overall winner of our crossbow test, they’re not to be underestimated when it comes to high-end performance, either. With its narrow limbs and high velocities, the SWAT XP makes a serious run at the top-end flagship brands, but with a much more attractive price tag. I didn’t get to try it on the range, and so I can’t offer much more than that—but I hope to change that soon. $1,000; killercrossbows.com