by Jeff Johnston - Tuesday, October 18, 2011
I can’t believe there are hunters among us who don’t like crossbows. If you’re one of those people, you’ll find no sympathy here, nor will you find reasoning for why they are indeed useful tools for hunting. What you will find is the truth about the performance of four popular crossbows that span all price spectrums, and the idea behind each.
Wicked Ridge Invader
Wicked Ridge is made by Ten Point, a company known for top-end bows that often cost over two grand. Ten Point is to Wicked Ridge what Lexus is to Toyota. A Toyota, like a Wicked Ridge, will kill a deer if you hit it with the implement, but it doesn’t have seat warmers. I suspect Ten Point created the Wicked Ridge brand because they simply didn’t want to give away market share to other budget-priced bows like Horton and Barnett.
In a nutshell, the Invader is a bare-bones, safe, accurate and dependable bow. It has a polymer (plastic) stock and barrel and a machined aluminum riser. Rather lengthy split limbs are harnessed with two old-technology wheels; the power stroke is relatively short. Combined, these factors give it a velocity of 296 fps according to my Easton Bow Force Mapper.
Its trigger pull is long, but can be overcome with familiarity. Its ambidextrous safety is simple and effective (crossbow safeties can be too safe, much like a dull knife), but I wish its audible click wasn’t quite so loud. With the relatively short power stroke and the wonderfully simple rope-and-pulley cocking system that’s built into the buttstock, it’s quick and very easy to draw. I reloaded, aimed and fired a shot every 21 seconds. On the negative side, it is fairly loud. I don’t really like the way the thin cheek piece feels, either. And, while this sounds crazy, it has surprising recoil for a crossbow.
All in all I recommend the Invader for the budget-conscious hunter. It is accurate, relatively light and for $500 you can be hunting hours after purchasing it. And it’ll kill anything on the planet, too. Just don’t count on species of the opposite sex flocking to you just because you own one—a Lexus it is not.
Stryker Strykzone 380
Archery giant Bowtech—owned by Savage Arms—makes the Strykzone 380. This is an ultra-high-performance bow at a mid-level price. It was the lightest and smallest bow I tested, yet it was by far the fastest at 375 fps. (This is partly attributed to its 395-grain bolt, the lightest tested). This thing blazes despite its modest draw weight due to a very long power stoke of 15.5 inches and aggressive cams. On a vertical bow, there are some negatives associated with an aggressive design, but on a crossbow that is mechanically drawn and held, I’m all in favor of aggressive cams that produce speed and power.
The Strykzone’s cams and long power stroke, however, combine to make it fairly difficult to draw, especially for short people. But hey, I’m 5-foot-7 and I drew it a bunch, so you can too. If you’re buying a crossbow because you don’t have the strength you used to, know that the Strykzone is stout and must be manually cocked with its separate cocking rope. (I wish the rope was integral, like the Invader’s.) After a couple failed attempts to cock it, I learned to keep downward tension on the string as I drew it to prevent the rope’s pulleys from riding over the barrel and preventing it from cocking. Also, it’s not the quietest bow, which is the tradeoff for its tremendous energy and light weight.
On the overwhelmingly positive side, it has a wonderfully simple, tang-mounted primary safety. It’s automatic (as are all the bows here)—so when it’s cocked it automatically engages the safety. Its trigger is the best of the bunch. Best of all, the bow with scope weighs only 7.8 pounds.
Crossbows in general are extremely cumbersome and unwieldy in the woods. Try moving through a briar thicket with one—it’s not easy. So the lighter and smaller the bow, the better, provided it performs. The Strykzone shot 1.18-inch groups. For the money—or even more money—this is a whole lot of bow in a neat little package that I highly recommend.
PSE Tac 10
When it was introduced I raved about the Tac 15—an attachment that morphs your AR-15 into a crossbow—because it was the coolest thing I’d seen in a while. PSE wanted to break into the burgeoning crossbow market (brought about by many state game departments legalizing them for archery seasons), and to capitalize on the AR-15 craze. It did, and the Tac 15 remains a marvel of engineering. The Tac 10 is a more compact version of it. In seconds it attaches to a standard AR lower receiver via two pins just like an AR upper does. Once installed it utilizes the AR’s trigger and safety system normally.
To cock the Tac 10, push the winch release lever while pulling the small “sled” out of its docking/firing station and attach it to the string. Place the supplied crank handle on the crank shaft then simply winch back the string until it locks into place. This system allows the bow to be let down without firing it—a handy feature, even though the thought of a runaway crank handle is scary at first. The negative: The ratcheting winch system is loud. It can be made silent by pressing the release lever and cranking at the same time, but you lose the safety and benefit of the ratcheting system this way.
Unlike the other bows here that use a barrel channel to guide the bolt via its cock vane that slides in the channel, the TAC 10 uses a Whisker Biscuit rest; I like this system because it prevents the bolt from falling off the bow while in the field.
The Tac 10 uses aggressive cams, X-Tech split limbs and a long power stroke to produce 340 fps. It’s very accurate and has little vibration, and the safety and trigger are tops because they have the benefit of decades of refinement and user familiarity—it feels like you’re shooting a gun. It also impresses all the neighborhood kids. It’s easy for even the wimpiest hunter to cock, and there is something about the machined engineering and positive clicks and cranks that instill confidence during operation. With a full-length stock, it is long at 45.5 inches. The Tac 10 is available in upper form only, or as a package that comes with an AR-15-like (non-working) lower. All in all it’s a wonderful crossbow every man, woman and child should own.
Parker Concorde w/Quick Draw
Parker set out to make a bow anyone can cock and shoot, and they achieved it. The Concorde is a great bow on its own—not particularly fast, but very smooth and super-accurate—and the addition of its Quick Draw system has eliminated the only dreadful thing about crossbows: cocking them.
It uses a pneumatic system, drawn from a 9-ounce CO2 tank to power a piston that quietly drives back the string. With an easy push of a button recessed in the buttplate, the bow cocks itself and engages the safety. Just place a bolt in the barrel channel, flip the safety and fire. Before cocking again, the cocking lever must be manually reset, but this is simple.
I am not a fan of doing upright rows unless I have to, so this was my favorite bow to test. From the benchrest I shot it continuously without ever picking it up. The Quick Draw system has numerous advantages. First, it can be cocked by anyone who can push a button. Secondly, it can be cocked from precarious positions, such as when sitting in a treestand. Also, arrows can be fired in rapid succession. Another huge advantage is that it can be de-cocked easily and silently without shooting it.
The downside is that upon cocking, the system makes a loud purging sound as excess air bleeds off. But the noise is probably less disturbing than standing up and making a bunch of racket while cocking a bow manually. Also, I blew out the tank’s 99-cent O-ring and had to buy more. I wish they would have included spares. Lastly, because of the air tank, the Concorde is heavy at 12.5 pounds with scope. It’s a little like lugging around an M60 all day—tiring, but once you get dug in and the shootin’ starts, you’ll be glad you lugged it. Also, the air tank lasts only about 40 shots (less in cold weather). The upside is tanks are refillable for $2.99 at Dick’s Sporting Goods or elsewhere, and in a pinch the bow can be cocked manually with a cocking rope.
The Concorde was the slowest bow tested at 293.3 fps (only a minor bother, really). It was also the most accurate tested, averaging 1-inch groups. It’s got a good trigger, it’s silky-smooth and pushing its button and watching it cock itself brings me great satisfaction.
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