Crossbows are beefy, two-handed monoliths of archery power, packing immense draw weights that traditional archers could only dream of.
Then you have the pistol crossbow, the standard crossbow’s baby brother. Do they match up together, or are we just playing with a big toy?
Pistol crossbow hunting is a thing, and these one-handed crossbows pack a whole lot more power than you might imagine.
What Are Pistol Crossbows?
Pistol crossbows are small, one-handed operation crossbows. They can boast excessive power over most full draw weight standard bows (not crossbows). Many pistol crossbows can use full-sized bolts, and can even self-cock.
Pistol crossbows are limited in their FPS, or feet per second, for their firing shot. This definitely limits what you can kill with a pistol crossbow.
Compact and less expensive than their full sized counterparts, pistol crossbows are good options for fowl hunters, and wintertime hunting of rabbits and foxes.
How Do They Compare to Full Size Crossbows?
They’re no match for a full sized crossbow. That’s not to say that they don’t have their power, though; you’ll notice that they can boast similar features, but there are some obvious drawbacks.
There’s no chance that they will replace full sized crossbows anytime soon, and here’s why.
Advantages of Pistol Crossbows
While there are some benefits, these aren’t going to replace your current full sized crossbow. Let me explain why.
- High Draw Weight: You can achieve up to 80 lbs of draw power on most pistol crossbows, sometimes more. That rivals the draw weight of a lot of full sized crossbows. Keep in mind that this does not equal FPS.
- Carry Weight: Lighter, easier to store, and physically smaller: pistol crossbows are much easier to carry. Most of the time you can find pistol crossbows that weigh about 50% of their larger counterparts.
- Easier to Maintain: Pistol crossbows have less working parts despite providing the same function as a full sized crossbow. These are easier to maintain and clean than standard crossbows.
- Cheaper to Buy: Pistol crossbows can cost about 40% of the total price of similar full sized crossbows. While you can find some pistol crossbows for even cheaper than that, if you measure power and quality against each other, you end up with a decent 40% savings more often than not (just an average based off of independent research).
Disadvantages of Pistol Crossbows
It’s not all sunshine and rainbows. These are some drawbacks to pistol crossbows that you need to be aware of before purchasing one.
- Not the Same FPS: Even if you can match an 80 lb draw weight, that doesn’t mean you’re going to get the same FPS. You’ll average about 45-50% of the FPS of a crossbow with similar specs to your pistol crossbow.
- Smaller List of Available Game: Due to the FPS difference, you shouldn’t hunt large game with a pistol crossbow. Large game can be dangerous, and you would have to be extremely close for an 80 lb 165 FPS bolt to kill a larger target all at once. Large crossbows are better for medium-range to long-distance shots.
- Less Durable: You can find plenty of larger crossbows with parts made out of durable metal, but most pistol crossbows are cheaper because they use plastic and fiberglass over everything else. There are usually fewer metal or highly durable components in a pistol crossbow compared to a full sized crossbow.
What Type of Game Should You Hunt With a Pistol Crossbow?
You can hunt just about anything with this, but that doesn’t mean you should. A pistol crossbow has much less control than a standard crossbow.
While the size and weight play a factor here, the amount of kinetic energy that is released when you fire a pistol crossbow rivals that of most full-sized standard crossbows.
That means you’ll feel the same force and kickback from a pistol crossbow that you would from a normal sized one. When you release the trigger and that force kicks off, it can jostle the crossbow and minorly aim the end of the bolt away from your target.
You should still hit your target, but not as effectively. If you were firing at a target and you knew you were aimed up for a bullseye, the bolt on a one-handed pistol crossbow may still end up there, but closer to the edge of the circle than you were hoping for. Consider this for game hunting.
As a hunter, you know that every minor change in the aim of a crossbow or a hunting rifle can have large-scale consequences. Being slightly off-mark at twenty meters isn’t nearly as bad as being off-mark at one-hundred and fifty meters.
For that reason pistol crossbows should be used up close and personal, and for small game like pheasants, rabbits, and if it’s legal in your state, duck hunting before they take off.
More Effective Than Expected
In some areas of the United States, you need a minimum draw weight of 30 lvs.
While that’s more than likely enough to kill a fully grown whitetail deer with a single, well-placed shot, the recommendation is 40 lbs.
From there, the next jump is 50 lbs of pressure to take down a bear or moose. Most pistol crossbows operate with about 70-80 lbs of draw weight, although some are as low as 50-60 lbs. If 50 lbs of draw weight can take down a bear, and I really want you to think about what I just said, there’s no reason to classify it as a toy.
FPS matters here, and most pistol crossbows hit about 45% to 50% FPS of what a close-up standard crossbow shot can do. That doesn’t mean you should face down a bear with one of these, but they’re still incredibly strong.
Whether it’s self-reloading or not, a pistol crossbow can take down some serious targets. Depending on the draw weight and power of a pistol crossbow, you need an operating license to carry it.
TenPoint made an excellent state-by-state chart with color coding and a helpful legend that you can use to determine if it’s legal for you to purchase a pistol crossbow in your state.
Not Just a Firing Toy
You can hunt, you can shoot beer cans for target practice; the world is your oyster.
While pistol crossbows may not be the most effective things in the world, they’re powerful enough to kill small game. They’re definitely not toys.