What are the Types of Crossbows

what are the types of crossbow
What are the types of crossbows?

Crossbows have adapted to varied uses, and today’s crossbows speak of engineering prowess have distinct designs and types. All crossbows available on the market are categorized and defined by their method of operation and design features. Crossbow hunters prefer various crossbows, depending on their range, accuracy, ease of use, and budget.

This article will describe different crossbows, their advantages and drawbacks, and why you choose a particular crossbow.

Now, let’s dig into the various types of crossbows.

Types of Crossbows

Recurve Crossbow

As the name implies, a recurve crossbow has a curve or arch in the limb. The construction and design for recurve crossbows are simple because it has no moving parts; cams, pulleys, and cables (often seen in other crossbow types, e.g., compound crossbows). This lack of components contributes to recurve crossbows carrying less weight at the front of the crossbow than compound crossbows. As a result, Recurve crossbows today look similar to the earliest known crossbows that were used in Asia.

The curvy tip in recurve crossbows points away from the archer for the archer’s safety. The curved tips help keep the string strained, thereby providing the necessary tension and energy in the string to launch the bolt. Recurve crossbows have a bigger footprint, approximately double in size than compound crossbows because of their wider limbs and longer barrels.

Recurve crossbows are made of aluminum alloy, carbon fiber, or magnesium, solid and resilient materials. Many recurve crossbows can be disassembled into three parts; rise, top, and bottom limbs for easier portability.

Recurve crossbows are suitable for hunting large game such as deer, sheep, and mountain goats- targets that require precision, power, and acceleration. Recurve crossbows also have a larger draw length, giving them more acceleration, power, and velocity for long-range shots. However, a larger draw length results in more crossbow recoil. Although modern recurve crossbows have built-in silencing and dampening features, they are still among the noisier crossbows to use.

How to replace the string of a Recurve Crossbow?

You will need a bow stringer and rope cocker to unstring a recurve crossbow. When the bow stringer is attached to the limbs and tightened with either the rope cocking device or the feet, the old bowstring slackens, and you can easily pull it out and replace it.

The drawback of the recurve crossbow is if the bow is kept cocked without being fired, the constant strain of the string causes it to weaken and thereby have a shorter lifespan. As a result, the bowstring needs a more frequent replacement. Investing in better-quality strings could help. However, the tradeoff would be higher maintenance costs.




Compound Crossbow

The name “compound” describes the system of cams, cables, and pulley systems that are exclusively seen with this crossbow type. These components work together to improve a crossbow’s speed firing power and store increased kinetic energy within the bow limbs. The energy is transferred to the arrow once the trigger is released. Compound crossbows are also called “vertical crossbows” because the crossbow limbs are positioned vertically, unlike recurve or other crossbows where limbs lie in a horizontal plane.

Compound crossbows are of the kind seen in “Dying Light,” the popular survival video game or “Avengers” films where it is used by the character “Hawkeye.” It is one of the most popular choices for crossbows after recurve crossbows. Its distinguishing features are shorter limbs, moving cams and pulleys, and more than one string.

How does a Compound Crossbow work?

The front-end section of the compound crossbow, which is the connecting piece of the barrel to the limbs, is called a riser, made of aluminum or carbon. The primary function of the riser is to hold the bow limbs at an optimal shooting angle. The short and stiff limbs are connected to the riser.

The bowstring is attached to the limbs via cams and cables. The bowstring is drawn back for shooting the bow, whereas the cables remain in place and work in conjunction with the cam system. The short limbs, bolt, and host of cams and cables (which make up the pulley system) help store a lot of kinetic energy in the limbs. The elastic energy on firing is transferred in the form of kinetic energy to the arrow and results in high-speed projectile delivery. The whole pulley system (cam and cables) gives it more power for shooting the arrow.

The working mechanism of cams and cables gives compound bows the leverage of a “let off,” which means the effort required to hold the bow will be much lower than other crossbows such as recurve crossbows when its’ bow is drawn at full length.

For example, A traditional crossbow with a 60-pound draw weight means a force of 60 pounds weight will be required to draw the arrow and hold it while aiming. The hunter will feel the pressure of 60 pounds in their arms, consequently causing them arm and shoulder pain if the bow remains in a drawn position for a more extended period. In a compound crossbow with 60 pounds draw weight, you will need less force around (30-35 lbs.) to hold it in a full-drawn position. The hunter won’t feel muscle strain or fatigue even if he keeps having the crossbow for more time.




Rifle Crossbow

Rifle crossbow is the hybrid blend of traditional crossbows with rifle technology. Its distinguishing feature is its superior accuracy and aim capacity.

The integration of better sights, foot pull, and fiber-made construction gives it an edge in shooting long-range games with the strength to damage the target. In addition, the maximum shot range can go up to 250 feet, making it a better fit for long-range hunting.

Along with accuracy, its most impressive feature is its compactness and narrow design. Rifle crossbows have a shorter bow width (average 6 inches only), measuring from axle-to-axle when fully drawn. It makes it easier to maneuver in the narrowest places and forests. Hunters can stealthily move into the cramped spaces and bushes, get near the target and fire the bolt with deafening silence without alerting the prey. The rail design and construction help rifle crossbows shoot the target with exceptional velocity and almost zero friction.


The drawback of the crossbows rifle is that it requires a lot of upper body and arm strength to operate and has a complex cocking mechanism; therefore, it would not be recommended for beginners.

Repeating Crossbows

Repeating crossbows, also known as automatic crossbows, allow the hunter to shoot it like a gun movement. Repeating crossbows originated in China and were used mainly for self-defense and had a weaker shot and shorter range. The bolt tips were dipped in poison and repeatedly fired to inflict fatal damage to their enemy. A hunter or crossbowman would be spared from reloading their weapon, again and again.

Modern repeating crossbows have come a long way and have a well-built mechanical design that allows them to shoot three times faster than traditional crossbows. It has a top-mounted magazine where several bolts are fed (usually 5-6). When the hunter moves the lever back and forth and fires the arrow, another arrow falls from the top and is ready to be fired.

The straightforward and uncomplicated usage makes it an ideal choice for beginners who are more inclined towards faster shooting. With the ability to shoot six arrows continuously in 15-20 seconds, the success rate of shooting down a rapidly moving target increases manifold. However, due to its complex mechanical design, maintenance of the weapon will require specialist services. It is unlikely for the hunter to repair such a crossbow in the field.


Repeating crossbows have the drawback of utilizing only smaller, shorter arrows for continuous shooting. Even though it may be theoretically possible to shoot with larger arrows, in reality, the option of feeding, engaging, and releasing multiple large 15-inch arrows would be technically tricky, require numerous steps, and would not be possible in practice.

Reverse Draw Limbs Crossbow

The reverse crossbow’s limb design makes it distinct from other crossbows. Unverified facts relate reverse crossbows’ design to Leonardo DaVinci. Still, the modern design of reverse crossbows was patented in 2005 by “Jim Kemph from Scorpyd,” and various manufacturers make many latest advancements.

As the name suggests, in reverse draw crossbows, limbs are bent backward in a reverse position. The center of gravity has also been moved to the middle part, resulting in the draw weight shifting nearer to the hunter. All these design enhancements help to improve crossbow balance, and the hunter doesn’t feel that much weight even if he carries the crossbow for an extended period. This crossbow type has the added advantage of offering the hunter more control over their shooting.

In a reverse crossbow, the aluminum riser is positioned closer to the middle of the barrel instead of near the barrel end. The string’s position is also adjusted and extended to the far end, which results in an increased power stroke and a faster shooting arrow.

The lower draw weight of the reverse crossbow and the faster shooting arrow make it more efficient. The whole working mechanism produces less vibration and less noise. As opposed to front-heavy crossbows, which tend to move downward in shooting, the weight balance of the crossbow enhances shot accuracy. The design of the reverse crossbows makes them compact with low axle-to-axle measurement. Thus, maneuvering in the field with denser forests is far more manageable.


The top-notch performance and unique design come with a heavy price tag. The compact design of the crossbow has limited integration of accessories such as scope limb dampeners. Moreover, finding additional accessories (such as a scope that fits the crossbow) may be difficult

Another drawback is that maintenance is complex. The unique strings used for the reverse crossbow are also challenging to find due to limited selection. Moreover, a bow press is needed for a reverse draw crossbow to change the string.

Pistol Crossbows

Pistol crossbows are among the smallest-sized crossbows sold on the market that boast single-handed operation and self-cocking mechanisms. As a result, it’s a good starter crossbow for hunting small games or practicing targets in the backyard.

Composed of lightweight materials such as fiberglass and plastic, less use of metal in the construction makes them less durable than full-sized crossbows.

Although pistol crossbows are lightweight, these have the average draw weight of up to 80 lbs., almost equal to some of the full-sized crossbows. The higher draw weight means a more extended range of shots. The draw weight of the pistol crossbow ranges between 50-200 lbs. but the 150 lbs. pistol crossbow is considered the sweet spot for hunters due to its powerpack performance.

You will get many pistol crossbows pre-assembled for use straight out of the box without meddling and fidgeting with components. Another perk of pistol crossbows is their lower price. You can save up to 40% on the cost compared to traditional crossbows.


Some of the pistol crossbows are not equipped with scope due to the limited range of the firing bolt and the target being in the hunter’s sight. However, the pistol crossbows that have a scope incorporated have an edge in shooting accuracy.