I didn’t know what to expect. On my first shot, I was startled. On my second shot, I was impressed. After that, I was downright cocky. These crossbows were too easy.
I started shooting a recurve bow as a teenager. I have a lightweight takedown recurve that fits in my emergency load-out bag, along with a half-dozen arrows and other survival gear. Eventually, I bought a compound bow too.
However, I wanted to find out whether it made sense to take the next step. Especially as a tool for wilderness survival or for procuring food in the aftermath of a disaster, would spending money on a crossbow provide enough advantages to make it worthwhile?
To answer that question, I put three crossbows to the test. All three are made in United States, and each sells at a different price point. These crossbows are more than simply small, compound bows stuck on shoulder stocks. I would put them in the same class as a Star Wars light saber—a mix of classic weapon “cool” and sci-fi fantastic.
Here are the ones I chose.
Wicked Ridge M-370
At a mere 5.8 pounds, the Wicked Ridge M-370 weighs the least of the three crossbows I tested. Wicked Ridge (a part of TenPoint Crossbow Technologies) markets it as the “lightest crossbow on the market.” At an MSRP of $669.99, it’s also the least expensive of the crossbows I tested. It’s rated to launch the short arrows (called “bolts” in crossbow lingo) at up to 370 feet per second (fps) using the company’s VX-5 reverse cams to elongate the power stroke to 13.8 inches. It measures 9.5 inches wide, axle to axle, when cocked.
When I took it out of its box, I needed to attach the bow assembly to the stock. I accomplished this without loss of blood or patience by simply following the instructions (believe me, if I can do it, so can you!). I also had to attach the quiver mount, choosing the sideways installation option.
My test sample came with the basic Dedd Sled 50 rope cocker. The “sled” portion of the device hooks under the bow string and rides the rail as you pull the two ends of the cord; this ensures even cocking. You don’t have to be a weight lifter to get it done. If you prefer, for an additional $100, you can get the same bow equipped with a built-in ACUdraw crank-operated cocker.
The safety is automatically engaged upon cocking. The safety lever, itself, is installed on the right side of the crossbow; however, it’s reversible. The trigger mechanism makes use of TenPoint’s Dry-Fire Inhibitor (DFI), which prevents firing without a bolt in place, which is bad for any type of bow. The trigger pull is rated at 3.5 pounds.
One downside is that there’s no way to de-cock this bow without firing it. The company suggests swapping out the bolt for a practice arrow and then firing it either toward rock-free ground or into a safe object.
This model came with a TenPoint Multi-Line three-power scope already mounted and factory sighted for 20 yards. It features a reticle that has four horizontal lines crossing the upright for sighting at 20, 30, 40 and 50 yards.
Mission Crossbows SUB-1 XR
Stepping up in price—and velocity—is the Mission Crossbows SUB-1 XR. These bows start at an MSRP of $1,699.99. My test sample also came with the optional $199.99 Pro Kit that included a Hawke XP-1 1.5-5-power scope with dual (red and green) illuminated reticle; three-arrow quiver; three 19-inch carbon-fiber bolts; rail lube; cocking rope; and a really nice, soft-sided carry case for the crossbow and accessories. The only assembly required was mounting the scope and the quiver bracket.
The Mission SUB-1 XR crossbow has an axle-to-axle width of 9.1 inches and a power stroke of 14.625, allowing it to launch the bolts at a speedy 410 fps. The cams are fully synchronized for better accuracy by preventing horizontal nock movement upon firing. A built-in bubble level lets you know if you’re canting the crossbow, which could also affect accuracy.
The SUB-1 XR features the company’s Benchmark Fire Control unit with de-cocking button, which allows you to safely and easily de-cock the crossbow after removing the bolt. A bolt-retention arm securely holds the bolt in position upon loading. The safety engages automatically when you cock the crossbow. The manual safety bar is ambidextrous. A very nice feature is that the stock is adjustable for both length of pull and comb height.
While the included cocking rope worked flawlessly, a silent crank cocker is available for an additional $189.99. It’s called the RSD (“Removable Silent Draw”), and you can mount or detach it quickly under the stock with the throw of lever.
Ravin Crossbows R29
The Ravin R29 I tested is rated for an amazing 430 fps bolt speed—but it comes at a price. The MSRP for this crossbow is $2,349.99 (and if you’re really speed-crazy, Ravin now offers the R29X, rated for 450 fps). But you do get a lot of bow for the money.
This bow features Versa-Draw, a streamlined hand-cranked cocking system with the spool discreetly enclosed in the stock. The draw arm, or crank, is removable and locks into the same bracket that holds the quiver in place under the bow. A thumb release at the rear of the stock releases the spool, allowing the Trac Trigger Firing System (TTFS) module to slide down the bow’s rail to capture the bow string. Then, you attach the draw handle and wind the bow string until it’s fully cocked. The safety and anti-dry-fire mechanisms are engaged automatically upon cocking the bow.
The scope features a dual (red and green) illuminated reticle with gradients out to 100 yards. Ravin claims that the R29 is capable of shooting 3-inch groups at 100 yards. That level of accuracy is possible, in part, due to the Frictionless Flight System—a design that holds the arrow at the nock at the rear and on two rollers at the front. The arrow is basically free-floating. Upon firing, it doesn’t contact along the rail at all. The R29 is very compact: just 26 inches long and 6 inches wide, and the axle-to-axle width is a narrow 6 inches.
Sighting-in all three models was easy. The scopes on the Mission and Ravin bows both had speed dials. You set the dial to the speed of your bow, and that calibrates the scope for the trajectory of the included arrows. Then, you make any slight windage and elevation adjustments that might be necessary. The Wicked Ridge scope was dialed in at the factory to be close (at 20 yards) … and it was. Only fine adjustments were needed after that.
The cocking ropes with both the Wicked Ridge and Mission models worked very well. Mission had sent one of its RSD crank cocking units to test as well, but I opted to use the rope most of the time. The crank cocking system on the Ravin R29 was very convenient. It took less effort to cock this bow than it does to operate a manual can opener!
I mentioned that I was startled at my first shot. That’s because I shot the Ravin first; that shot clocked across my chronograph at 431 fps. I hadn’t experienced anything near that speed with my recurve or compound bows. My second shot was right next to my first—an early indication that these bows were going to be very accurate. The Mission SUB-1 XR fired bolts at an average of 419 fps.
The Wicked Ridge M-370 averaged 341 fps. I didn’t play with the limb adjustments, but I’m confident this bow could be tuned up to the advertised 370 fps. Remember, too, that 341 fps is still pretty fast. It’s comparable to what you might get out of a quality compound bow. However, a crossbow is much easier to shoot.
My son, Sean, joined me in testing these crossbows. He had no archery experience whatsoever but was hitting the mark with ease at 20, 30, 50 and 75 yards! In addition, the illuminated reticles (with variable brightness settings) in both the Mission and Ravin model scopes proved to be especially helpful when we started to lose sunlight late one afternoon.
I shot each of the bows from a rest at a target 50 yards away. I was getting 1.5-inch, three-shot groups with the Ravin and about 2.0-inch groups with the Mission and Wicked Ridge models. Because I kept switching back and forth among the three crossbows, I think my accuracy suffered. If you were to stick with any one of these crossbows, I think you’d do better. Nevertheless, I did try some shots at 100 yards and had no problem hitting where I aimed.
“These crossbows are more than simply small, compound bows stuck on shoulder stocks. I would put them in the same class as a Star Wars light saber—a mix of classic weapon ‘cool’ and sci-fi fantastic.”
I wasn’t prepared for the penetration either. At first, I used a 2-foot-square cube archery target. The bolts went nearly all the way through. Because I had to pull the arrows out, point first, through the back of the target, I did lose a couple of the Alpha Nocks from the Wicked Ridge bolts. That was my only complaint about that crossbow. Afterward, I switched to putting a 2-inch target in front of the cube and several layers of thick cardboard in front of that. Even at 50 yards, the bolts were penetrating deeply.
The safety on the Ravin had a very short amount of travel from the “safe” to the “fire” positions. And, when firing, the Ravin did make slightly more noise than the others. But at the speed that bolt is flying, I doubt any game animal would have time to react to the sound.
In addition, the triggers on all three were excellent.
I did come to some conclusions about the advantages of crossbows for hunting, especially in survival situations:
- You don’t need to be an experienced archer to use a crossbow. They’re easy to cock—especially with crank systems. They’re easy to shoot, and there’s no recoil. So, anyone in your family could learn to use one and quickly become deadly with it.
- Your effective range is extended greatly. Based on my own meager skills, I limit my shots on deer with a recurve to about 25 yards and to around 35 with a compound bow. But what if the only game animal you see is 80 or 90 yards away and your survival depends on getting that meat? I’d have no problem hitting the kill zone with a crossbow and, based on the penetration I was getting, I don’t think there’d be a problem putting an animal down humanely.
- These crossbows are so accurate that small game animals are easy targets as well.
- Crossbows have advantages over firearms: They’re economical to shoot; arrows can be used over and over; and they’re quieter than a firearm, so they won’t attract the attention of predators wanting to steal your downed game animal. Bears have been known to do this … and you can expect the same from desperate people in a critical situation.
- You can practice with a crossbow without becoming fatigued (as you might with a conventional bow).
- While you’d be limited to one shot, in a pinch, you could use a crossbow for home or camp defense. In the event an intruder comes through your bedroom door, you could literally nail them to the wall.
How Do You Choose?
I was impressed by all three of these crossbows. The Wicked Ridge M-370 is the least expensive, and you could add a wind-up cocking system or better scope later. As is, it’s so lightweight that if I were backpacking through a remote area on foot, this would be the crossbow I’d carry. Keep in mind, too, that fancy gadgets, bells and whistles don’t kill deer; a well-placed arrow does.
The Ravin R29 is so compact that it would be great in dense woods. Yet, in open country, I’d be most confident with this bow if I had to take a long shot. The dimensions of the Mission SUB-1 XR seemed to fit me better. Because of that, I found it more comfortable to shoot. The stock was adjustable too. It was a bit quieter to shoot than the Ravin and gave up very little to it in the way of velocity.
“At a mere 5.8 pounds, the Wicked Ridge M-370 weighs the least of the three crossbows I tested. Wicked Ridge (a part of TenPoint Crossbow Technologies) markets it as the ‘lightest crossbow on the market.’”
I would feel confident in taking a shot with any one of these bows. In dire circumstances, I’m convinced a crossbow can be a dependable game-getting tool that can be used effectively by anyone in your group.
Editor’s note: A version of this article first appeared in the July, 2020 print issue of American Survival Guide.