The law of averages.
The first thing most folks look at when selecting a crossbow is performance--how much speed and energy it will produce. Those numbers are largely the result of two variables; draw weight and power stroke.
The overall average draw weight for crossbows in 2015 was 174 pounds. The highest was Excalibur's Micro 335 at 270 pounds and the lowest was Barnett's Recruit 100 at, you guessed it, 100 pounds. The most common weight was 175 pounds, with nine different models, followed by 155 pounds and 185 pounds at five models each. If you're an adult looking for a big-game compound crossbow, you'll probably find the greatest selection in that 155-185-pound range. Also bear in mind that recurve crossbows require higher draw weights (200-270 pounds) to achieve similar speed and energy. The other variable, power stroke, averaged 13 inches and ranged from the 9.5-inch Micro 335 to the 16.5inch Horton Storm RDX.
Let's see how much speed and energy those variables generated. Average bolt speed was around 341 fps, so let's just call it 340. The range was from Barnett's Recruit at 256 fps to Cabela's Instinct Lancer at 395 fps. This group was a bit more diverse, with 22 different speed ratings, the most common being five models at 300 fps and four models at 365 fps. The average kinetic energy for 32 crossbows (manufacturers failed to provide data for five bows) was 103 foot-pounds. The range was from the Recruit's 58 foot-pounds to 135 foot-pounds for the Inferno Scorch. Obviously, those numbers will vary depending on your choice of bolt and broadhead weight. If you want more speed, go with a lighter bolt. And if you prefer more kinetic energy, pick a heavier bolt and/or broadhead.
If you plan on still-hunting or shooting offhand, you may want to consider a lighter crossbow.
While performance is important, crossbow buyers are also interested in the physical characteristics of then-bow. Those hunting in tight quarters want more compact models, while mobile hunters or someone shooting off-hand may be more concerned with weight.
Average length for the class of 2015 was 34 inches. The range spanned from Carbon Express' Intercept Axon LT and Inferno's Heat at 30.25 inches to Barnett's Buck Commander Raptor Reverse at 37.7. Average width was around 20 inches and ranged from the 10-inch axle-to-axle Raptor Reverse to the 30.62inch Excalibur Grizzly and Matrix Cub. Removing reverse-draw and recurve bows from the mix we still end up at 19 inches. Average weight was just under 7 pounds and ranged from the 5.2-pound Excalibur Micro 335 to the 8.8-pound Winchester Dark Horse. This is one area where recurves gain a decided advantage, coming in around 5 pounds.
There are a few other features you'll probably want to consider, one of which is trigger pull weight. The average, and the most common, was 3.5 pounds, with weights ranging from the Dark Horse at 6 pounds to the 2-pound trigger on Killer Instinct's Machine. You'll also want some type of optic, and most crossbows come with either an illuminated or non-illuminated multi-reticle scope.
Last but by no means least is price. The average price for a new crossbow in 2015 was around $660. Most expensive on our list was Winchester Archery's Dark Horse at $1,399, while the least expensive were the Inferno Heat at $219 and the Recruit at $249. For budgeting purposes, you can break down the entire selection into roughly four categories; under $300, $300-$599, $600-$799 and $800 and up. Decide what fits your budget and start honing down your options from there.
If you want what most people shoot (and sell), you're looking for a 175-pound crossbow with a 14-inch power stroke that propels bolts at 340 fps, generates 100 foot-pounds of kinetic energy and costs around $600. You should have no problem finding several models that also have the specific physical characteristics and features you want.
The farther outside that average range you go, the more you limit your choices. If you are on a tight budget or just getting into the sport, you may want to look at less expensive models that will still get the job done but may lack a few amenities.
If you're making a long-term investment or looking for top-end performance, spend the extra dollars.
Tip of the Month
Most crossbows come as kits with most or all the accessories you'll need. You should factor these into the cost when comparing models, and also consider the cost of additional accessories you may want.