Crossbow vs. Compound Bow: What’s the Difference?

Crossbow vs. Compound Bow

Compound bows and crossbows are often discussed together because they are both more modern creations. Crossbows were used in the Battle of Agincourt, but the crossbow of history looks and functions quite differently compared to our modern iteration. Likewise, the compound bow is an evolution of the historical hunting bow that relies on technological progress to achieve its result.

While these two bows are similar in a lot of ways, they are different in just as many. In order to understand which of these is the best for you, we will be looking at the differences between them, so you can be knowledgeable in your selection.

There are seven key differences between a crossbow and a compound bow: accuracy, power and speed, draw, noise, look, simplicity, and size. Each of these attributes can make or break your decision of style. Often, they are a direct contrast to each other, so as one increases, its reflection decreases.

This in-depth discussion has only just started. Each of the seven key differences listed above will be looked at specifically through the rest of this article. By the end, you will be able to make an informed decision as to whether you want a crossbow or a compound bow.

The Differences Between Crossbows and Compound Bows

The seven differences that we will be looking at are connected to each other. Some are direct contrasts, as mentioned above, but others combine together to inform each other. To call these differences clear and concrete would serve only to simplify the discussion too much.

Each of these seven differences should be considered with the other six. You may think that picking which of the two is quietest would be as simple as sound alone; however, by picking for silence, you give up power. If you decide to judge your crossbow by weight alone, then power and noise will be affected. This mental balancing can be taxing, but by breaking these down into seven categories, you can manage this juggling act better.

To see what both of these bows look like when they’re being fired, check out this video. You can see each of the features we’re discussing in action:

You can see each of the features we’re discussing in action. Since both of these shots happen quickly, I recommend watching the bows fire after reading each of the following sections. Doing so will make it easier to conceptualize how these differences can have a real impact on firing.

1. Accuracy

As you’ll learn shortly, the crossbow is the simpler of the two bows to shoot. But, what it offers for simplicity, it loses in accuracy. When you draw back a bow, your hand holding the string comes back to a certain point at which it rests against your face. This is called the anchor point, and it is important in understanding how these two bows differ in accuracy.

Compound bows these days use what is called a string loop, which helps to increase accuracy. The arrow rests between the knots on the loop, and the latter keeps the release at exactly the right distance every time. This means that your effective anchor point will remain the same shot after shot.

When you use a crossbow, it is a little different. Rather than drawing the string back, you must draw the bow and lock it into place with a latch. In this article we looked at how a crossbow slowly loses accuracy overtime. This makes the accuracy on a crossbow much lower, as is reflected in the score difference between compound and crossbow shooters in competition.

2. Power and Speed

The power of your bow is directly related to the speed. Both of these are made up from the relationship between the power stroke and the draw weight. To understand how these create our overall speed and power, we need to look at both in depth.

The power stroke is a measurement of the distance between the bowstring when it is resting and when it is drawn. We use a simple formula to calculate a bow’s power stroke. We start by measuring the length of the draw. This gives us a number we’ll call A. We also measure the distance between the grip of the bow and the string when it is just resting. This gives us a number we’ll call B. To get the power stroke rating, you would simply use this easy calculation A – B = C.

The Differences Between Crossbows and Compound Bows

Power stroke is easy to understand once you have this number. The higher this number, the faster the arrow will fly if the draw strength doesn’t change. A compound bow can change its power stroke by switching out a module, but a crossbow can only change its power stroke by increasing its length. For many crossbows, this simply isn’t possible. However, when it is, it directly increases the weight of the crossbow.

3. Draw

The other aspect that needs to be understood is the draw weight. This is the amount of strength necessary to draw the bow. Compound bows typically have a larger power stroke than crossbows because power stroke doesn’t increase their weight very much. The draw weight on a crossbow is typically much higher than on a compound bow because it is how the crossbow can remain as powerful, if not more so, than the compound bow.

The higher the number of the draw weight, the heavier it is and the more power it shoots out your arrow. But, while draw weight allows you to keep your crossbow shorter, it increases the weight of it. Not only that, but it increases the difficulty you’ll have reloading because it requires more force to lock your bolt into place properly. There is another issue that comes with increasing your draw weight, but we’ll get to that in just a moment.

A crossbow is often more powerful than a compound bow, but it does this in a way that is often antithetical to the goal of the bowhunter.

4. Noise

As the draw weight increases, so does the amount that the weapon vibrates when it is fired. Noise is directly increased alongside the draw weight. Since a crossbow has to have more draw weight to make up for its smaller power stroke, the crossbow will always be a louder weapon when compared to the compound bow.

It should be noted that neither of these bows are quiet. You will still make a lot of noise with either one when you fire, but there is a clear difference in volume between the two. If you haven’t watched the video linked above, then I recommend you do and pay attention to the sound of each weapon. Since that video was taken inside, here is a video that captures the noise out in nature:

The problem with noise is that it scares away any animals that are nearby. Animals fleeing you sure make it a lot harder to bag them. These bows should be considered grass cannons. They are super effective at taking down your prey, but you only have one shot with them. You gotta make it count.

5. Look

This might seem a silly thing to include on a list of differences, but you can’t argue that these two bows look wildly different from each other. This does change how they behave, which is important to realize, but it also changes how you feel when using them. Some people get into archery because of their love of Lord of the Rings, and a crossbow certainly doesn’t feel quite right in a case like this.

The look really comes down to a matter of horizontal versus vertical. Do you want a bow that is lined up horizontally, out in front of you, and branching off to both sides? Or do you want a bow that you hold in front of you from thigh to head? Both of these feel very different when in use, and this sense of feeling is important to consider, even if it is purely personal.

Keep in mind, though, that the look does actually have a lot to do with the difference in these weapon’s simplicity. A compound bow might look way cooler than a crossbow, but it won’t necessarily be as easy to shoot.

6. Simplicity

Shooting a crossbow is extremely easy. Keep your fingers well away from the string that launches the arrow, as this can totally slice off a finger if you aren’t holding it properly; otherwise, all you have to do is point the trigger. The crossbow needs to be level if you want your accuracy to be any good, plus the crossbow needs to be maintained to stay in shape for accuracy as well. Pulling that trigger will send your arrow off just fine.

To shoot a compound bow is harder. The compound bow will have a higher level of accuracy thanks to the secure anchor point. You’ll be able to hit your target where you want to and at a much higher rate with a compound bow, but that comes at the cost of the simplicity. The compound bow needs to be held, drawn, and shot like a bow. This means you need to work on your posture, just like this video demonstrates.

This trade-off can make or break a compound bow for many hunters. Those looking to try their hand with arrows rather than bullets will have a much easier time understanding and mastering the crossbow because it will feel very similar to using a rifle, whereas the compound bow uses an entirely different set of skills.

However, this simplicity does come at a cost, so those who have heard that archery is more accurate or more directly involved in the hunt when compared to rifle hunting will have a far better experience with a compound bow. Just remember to be patient and train with it first both for accuracy and for safety reasons.

7. Size

Whoever said size doesn’t matter has never had to lug a crossbow out and around the wilderness. Those suckers are extremely heavy. The heavier the weight it has to increase its power, the heavier it will be to carry. To add, the larger the crossbow is to increase the power stroke, the longer and larger and heavier the crossbow will be.

You can’t really escape the fact that crossbows are heavy objects. They only come in light sizes when they’re meant to be used at short distances and not expected to kill game. You may see tiny crossbows in games and movies, but you won’t see them when you’re out hunting. It is true that crossbows have been getting smaller and lighter due to technological innovation, but they are still pretty heavy.

A compound bow is a much lighter weapon. In fact, it is probably three times lighter than a crossbow. They can still start to tire you out after a while, but it will take much longer to get there. This is a fantastic feature for those who don’t have great upper body strength.

Don’t forget when first purchasing your compound bow or crossbow that the weight of the bow will be augmented further once you start purchasing add-ons. These will all have weights of their own that must be accounted for. A bow can go from being easy to carry to exhausting to carry quickly when you start attaching all sorts of gizmos.

Which Is Better?

Which bow is better

Ultimately, there isn’t a single right answer for this. However, we can break it down. If you are looking for more stopping power and don’t care about how much you need to carry around, then go with a crossbow. It won’t be as accurate in the long run when compared to the compound bow, but, with persistent maintenance, you can keep it accurate enough to achieve your goals.

If you care more about accuracy than stopping power, then the compound bow will be best for you. It is lightweight and quieter, so it makes a good fit for those looking to move quietly and get in close enough for a clean shot.

If you’re focusing on target shooting, then you’re probably better off going with a compound bow for its accuracy. Likewise, if all you are concerned about is target shooting, then a longbow that you can fire off quicker will be a cheaper purchase and can take you just as far, if not further, than a compound bow. It will most definitely be further than a crossbow.

Do Different Arrows Shoot Differently?

A crossbow and a compound bow shoot two different kinds of arrows. A crossbow shoots what is called a bolt, which is just a type of arrow made specifically for a crossbow. A compound bow can shoot all sorts of different arrows. This, in and of itself creates a difference between the two bows.

But, even among these categories, there are differences. What tip you use, how thick the spine of your arrow is, and the type of fletching it has will all make a big difference when it comes to how the bow shoots. You can find out more about these components here:

It’s a pretty safe rule of thumb to declare that any time you want to shoot something that looks different from what you’ve just shot, it will end up shooting differently. Little changes to your arrows result in big changes when it comes to accuracy and arrow flight.


The differences between crossbows and compound bows are very important. Which one is right for you really depends on your hunting style. If you want power, you will want a crossbow. If you want accuracy and agility, then you will want a compound bow.

However, as important as their differences are, it is important to consider how they are the same too. These bows are what happens when we bring modern mechanics into archery. They are louder and more effective killing machines, but they aren’t necessarily always the best choice. Some people can find both a crossbow and a compound bow to be a bit overkill when all they wanted to do was shoot arrows the old fashion way.

If you have the opportunity, you should rent a crossbow and a compound bow at your nearest shooting range and give them each a try. Nothing will help you decide which is right for you quite like actually getting your hands on and using them prior to purchase. You wouldn’t want to waste that kind of money on the wrong bow.

When you’re trying out these bows, don’t forget that they can be fine-tuned and modified. If you like a certain crossbow, but it doesn’t have as much power as you would want, then you can always look at changing the draw weight or purchasing a bigger one with a larger power stroke. By understanding the attributes in this article, you will be able to shop for the perfect bow and understand how to speak accurately to convey what you’re looking for to the employees.

So, go out and grab yourself the perfect bow. Then, come on back to Archery Guidance whenever you have any more questions.


My name is Roland, and I have over a decade of experience in archery, both with bow and crossbow. I want to share the best tips and tricks about archery and help you reach the next level. So, browse through the blog and find relevant information about archery and stick around.

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