What Are the Different Types of Crossbows?

Crossbows have been around for a very long time and with time manufacturers have developed various types of crossbows.

Latest technology is being employed in order to develop powerful yet lightweight crossbows which have incredible accuracy.

In today’s article, we will help you discover all the different types of crossbows and choose the best one for you. We will focus on all their details and features in order to help you learn all about them.

What are the two most common types of crossbows?

The main question that must be on your mind is: What are the different types of bows? There are various different types of bows for hunting. However, the two most common types of crossbows are the following:

1. Recurve Crossbows

recurve crossbow

A recurve bow can easily be recognized using its single stick which is a unique feature. The single string also makes the recurve bow quite easy to use. This makes it the perfect first bow for amateurs and beginners.

The small strains on the bow works as strain and lock. They point away from the hunter in order to protect the hunter from any injuries. A recurve crossbow has very few moving parts. The fundamental parts are the string, stock, trigger and limbs.

They can easily be operated with one hand making them incredibly user-friendly. Manufactured using materials such as carbon fiber, aluminum alloy, wood and magnesium, a recurve crossbow can be used for both sport shooting and hunting.

To use one, all you need to do is pull on the string and then clamp it on to the trigger system. The fired arrows can go a good distance which also makes them quite effective. The ergonomics of the crossbow makes it very comfortable and accurate. They are lightweight and need minimal maintenance. Safety features make the crossbows safe to use for beginners.

2. Compound Crossbows

compound crossbow

Unlike the recurve crossbow, the compound crossbow has multiple cables in addition to many other additional parts. When you pull on these cables, pulleys turn in order to assist the bow and also to store more energy.

It has a central mount which is called the riser. This helps in securing the limbs. It is manufactured using lightweight materials such as magnesium and aircraft aluminum alloy. Limbs of this crossbow are made using materials which are quite tensile because they need to endure a huge amount of energy.

It is much stiffer than a recurve crossbow which helps it deliver more power when fired. Due to this stiffness, these crossbows work with cams and pulleys. The pulleys help cut down on the effort and energy needed to pull back the limbs and string. Cams help in capturing maximum energy from the drawn weight and drawn length.

Compound crossbows are smaller as compared to other crossbows; therefore, cams help in concentrating the bow’s energy in order to increase the bolt’s velocity. The stock’s length is called the powerstroke and longer stocks help increase the speed of the bolt.

Other Different Types of Crossbows

Let’s discuss all the other different crossbow types there are out there.

1. Automatic or Repeating Crossbows

automatic crossbow

The basic purpose of this crossbow was defense. As it had a weak shot, people used to put poison on the bolt’s tip in order to deal more damage. A repeating crossbow has a weak shot but it has a higher rate of fire as compared to other crossbows. This is mainly due the spanning bow’s action and the ideal placement of the bolt which allowed hunters to shoot with one hand.

Bolts are fed through the top-mounted magazine and then loaded through a cocking mechanism. Reloading is easy as the bolts are lined up inside the magazine and the draw is also quite easy. When a bolt is shot, the next one lines up from the magazine.

They have a weak draw so the range is usually 70 to 80 meters. However, the speed makes up for the short distance. They can shoot up to ten bolts in a mere 20 seconds whereas other crossbows may take up to a minute in order to shoot just one bolt.

Newer versions of the repeating crossbow allow you to switch up the strings, giving you increased power with each shot. In addition, you can use accessories for your ease.

2. Reverse Draw Limbs Crossbow

Reverse Draw Limbs Crossbow

The limbs of a reverse draw limbs crossbow are put backwards. Its riser is positioned towards the frame’s back whereas the trigger is towards the front which allows the hunter to put the crossbow’s stock over their shoulder.

This crossbow has a longer power stroke and a lower draw weight due to its design. This helps ensure faster-shooting speed. Bolts shot at high speed have better accuracy and penetration. A reverse draw limbs crossbow with a draw weight of less than 200 lbs. has an average foot per second of around 400.

The accuracy is further improved by the shifting of the center of gravity towards the back which means that hunters can easily stabilize their shots. By holding the crossbow firmly to their body, they can easily prevent wobbling and shaking. The design of this crossbow also allows hunter to stay in position for longer without putting in too much effort.

Since it is a little complex to use, it is not recommended for beginners. However, they are quite efficient and with some practice, you can surely learn how to use these.

3. Rifle crossbow

rifle crossbow

This crossbow is a combination of a regular crossbow and a rifle which means you get the best of both worlds. This crossbow has amazing accuracy similar to a rifle and also offers incredible aim. Other unique features include a foot-pull, heavy-duty fiber construction, and impressive sights.

These crossbows have super long ranges which go up to 250 feet and they ensure accurate shots throughout this range. With a width of about 6 inches, these crossbows are a lot narrower as compared to other crossbows available on the market. This allows you to use them through super narrow spaces which means that you will not startle your prey easily.

Their rail design allows for friction-free shooting which results in unparalleled speed of bolts. However, this crossbow requires a lot of effort for operation and it is difficult to shoot a bull’s eye using it. This is mainly because it stores a lot more power as compared to most others and also, the cocking process is quite complex.

Types of Medieval Crossbows

The various different types also include medieval crossbows which are among the oldest crossbows there are out there. Let’s discuss some of the medieval crossbow types.

1. Gastraphetes

This crossbow type dates bac to 1st century AD as explained by Heron of Alexandria. This was believed to be the forerunner of the catapult. A composite bow powered this crossbow and the process of cocking it included resting the stomach inside a cavity near the stock’s back end and then pressing it down.

It was described by Heron as the catapult’s forerunner which means that the time of its invention was before 420 BC. E.W. Marsden says that a group of craftsmen invented the Gastraphetes back in 399 BC.

2. Pistol Crossbow

pistol crossbow

This is a lightweight crossbow which is quite easy to use. It is basically the smaller version of the automatic or repeating crossbow which can be fired with one hand yet it still has good bolt speed. It can easily hunt small game or even fish.

Other names for a pistol crossbow are hand crossbows, mini crossbows and crossbow handguns. They look like a handgun and pack less power but they still have many uses. These are cheap and easy to use making them perfect for beginners to use.

pistol mini crossbow type

They can also be used as a backup in case you are having issues with your bigger crossbow. It can also be used as a good self-defense weapon when you’re going in bushes or going hiking. This crossbow uses small portable bolts but if you want greater penetration and damage, you can use bigger arrowheads.

However, while using bigger arrowheads, make sure to aim well because the weight of the arrows will be shifted towards the front end of the bolt.

3. Arbalest Crossbow

Arbalest crossbow type

This crossbow is a slightly developed version of the first crossbows. It was quite huge in size, had a steel prod and could easily exert greater force. The maximum force exerted by an arbalest could go up to 22 kN and the range for accurate firing went up to 100m.

It could also load and fire bolts quickly with up to 2 fires per minute. Its name originated from Arcuballista, a roman word which means throwing engine or bow and missile. It referred to various different types of artillery.


1. What are the two most common types of crossbows?

The two most common types of crossbows are recurve crossbows and compound crossbows.

2. Is it OK to dry fire a crossbow?

No. Dry firing from a crossbow is not safe at all and not recommended for security processes.

3. How long can you leave a crossbow cocked?

We do not recommend leaving the crossbow for too long. After 24 hours of staying cocked, the strings of a crossbow might break.

Final word
Crossbows are an incredible weapon for hunting because they have great accuracy and range. We have discussed various different types of crossbows in this article. We hope this article helped increase your knowledge about crossbows and all the various different crossbows there are in the world. If you have any confusion, you can always reach out to us. Happy learning! 


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