There was a time when using a crossbow to deer hunt was only legal for persons who had medical issues that prevented them from using other bows. Over the years, to encourage hunting, many wildlife agencies have changed the laws regarding crossbow use, especially in regard to urban bowhunting.
Because of this modification to regulations, more hunters are indeed using crossbows for deer hunting, which influenced crossbow technology. Crossbows are now faster, more powerful and more accurate than ever before.
“With the increase of crossbows being allowed to be used during the archery season, crossbows have really taken off in the last five years,” said Mike Houlis, president of Barnett Crossbows. “We have seen a lot of rifle and shotgun hunters move over to crossbows to extend their seasons, and they want to shoot high-performance gear.”
Traditionally, crossbows have been heavy and slow compared to modern compound bows. But today’s crossbows rival, and surpass, compound bows on both speed and kinetic energy, especially models like the Barnett Ghost 400.
According to the company, the Ghost 400 uses a 185-pound draw weight to deliver an arrow at 400 fps with 151-ft-lbs of energy. Shots through an Easton Bow Force Mapper System chronograph, however, showed that a 340-grain arrow tipped with a 125-grain field point soared off the Ghost at 345 fps, which while fast, does not validate the claim of 400 fps. That is until you realize that every bow is speed rated under optimal conditions using lighter equipment than would typically be used in hunting. To determine a realistic speed approximation knock off about 50 fps from the bow’s rating. Obviously, a 100-grain tip would be faster than the 125-grain tips that I prefer, with lighter tips going even faster. But I like a heavy tip with a lot of cutting space and am willing to sacrifice a little bit of speed for those qualities. Regardless, the Ghost is fast. So fast, in fact, that the first arrow I sent downrange during sight-in missed the target and shattered in the trap before my eyes told my brain what was happening.
In addition to speed, the Ghost features a carbon riser to reduce the frontal heaviness typical in a crossbow. It also comes with a Metal Injected Mold trigger to provide a smoother trigger pull, and anti-vibration technology, consisting of over-molded limbs and components, for more accurate shots. The rubber-like coating also protects the limbs from wear and tear, and reduces noise when the bow invariably bumps something when you’re trying to be quiet. But the most interesting feature on the Ghost is the Anti Dry Fire trigger, which prevents the bow from firing unless an arrow is fully seated in the mechanism. In fact, the safety cannot be disengaged unless an arrow is inserted. Believe me, I tried.
Another really nice feature about the Ghost is that it comes as a kit with almost everything needed to head into the woods, including a sling, three-arrow quiver, three Easton arrows and a crossbow specific scope. The only essential hunting elements not included are field points for practice and broadheads. Of course, it does require some assembly, but putting it together is simple and quick by lining up the cables in the rail and tightening the included set screw. While this set screw is designed to hold, all crossbows require regular maintenance, including tightening the set screw every 20 shots or so and waxing the string, especially where the string touches the rails.
The scope that comes with the bow is made by Cross, an accessories company owned by Barnett, and is a 3x32 powered scope with an illuminated reticle and placement circles out to 50 yards. I sighted the scope at 20 yards using the supplied arrows with 125-grain field points. From there, the 30-, 40- and 50-yard circles were dead on. I then attached a 125-grain Rage practice broadhead and received the same results, before finally trying it with an actual broadhead. Multiple shots showed that the crossbow was ready for the woods, and had an easily effective range out to 50 yards.
In accuracy testing, I fired the Ghost 400 at the standard bow shot range of 40 yards using both the supplied arrows and Easton XX75 Magnum arrows. As sizes and length were the same, I didn’t expect any major differences in arrow placement using the same points, and I was right. Three-shot groups averaged 3 inches, with one group just stacking in the target and the largest group measuring a little under 4 inches.
While not overly front heavy, the Ghost is also not light, weighing in at 8 pounds, 2 ounces, and it can be a little awkward to hold for long periods if your stand doesn’t have a rail or bow holder. However, shooting it, with or without a rest, is easy. You just have to remember to be safe.
In addition to the standard firearm safety rules that should be followed at all times, you also have to keep all body parts out of the path of the string. The string is so fast and powerful that anything that gets in its way will be damaged. The Ghost 400 has an oversized foregrip to prevent fingers from protruding into the string’s path, but you still have to be watchful, especially if you have really large hands. You also have to remember that a crossbow is not designed to be constantly cocked. If you’re hunting and don’t take a shot, your arrow is still in the bow, where it will remain. You should always carry an arrow with a field point that you can fire into a safe target before getting out of your stand.
You also have the added worry of loading a crossbow by pulling a heavy poundage string far enough back to engage the mechanism. This can be accomplished by stepping into the riser and pulling with both hands. This is difficult, but the Ghost comes with a rope cocking device, which reduces physical strain on the user. You can also purchase a turn-crank device that attaches to the bow and makes loading quite easy.
In the field, I used the Ghost 400 on urban deer via a depredation permit. Two deer were put on the ground with the Ghost, which slung arrows into the kill zone with such speed that I barely saw the arrow hit the deer.
On one, it also went through her so quickly that she didn’t even realize that she had been hit, trotting only 25 yards before blood loss brought her down. Neither went more than 40 yards. Now part of the success was due to the effectiveness of the Rage broadhead, which exited with a 2 1/2-inch cut, but the speed and energy produced by the crossbow certainly played a major factor. The crossbow responded as much like a rifle as any item that doesn’t produce a bang. I simply put the 20-yard circle on the target and squeezed the trigger.
With a suggested retail price of just under $1,200, the Ghost 400 is not inexpensive, but it is also not cheaply made. It is a high-quality piece of advanced technology that hunters can use to extend their seasons and effective range. And the package gets you in the woods hunting, quickly.
“The Ghost is an easy conversion to crossbow hunting, because you get almost everything you need to start hunting,” said Houlis.