A lot has been said and asked in regards to crossbows, their effectiveness and ultimately their place in archery and bowhunting in South Africa. Crossbows are viewed with the same amount of doubt and speculation today as the modern compound was a little more than a dozen years ago. The biggest problem, if I may call it that, is a general lack of knowledge on the subject. I get the feeling that all Crossbows, in all shapes, brands and sizes are lobbed into one box and labelled as speculate weapons that are not worth a second glance. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Over the past few months I have spent a considerable amount of time testing and hunting with a crossbow in order to see what they are capable of and whether there are any legitimate reasons not to use them. I had chosen to use an Excalibur Equinox crossbow in 225 pounds draw weight and with a 16 ½” power stroke and IBO of 350fps. The entire Excalibur range of crossbows feature recurve limbs as opposed to the most other crossbow manufactures that use compound configurations. The reason for this is its superior accuracy according to Bill Troubridge, owner and founder of Excalibur. I can absolutely substantiate this; I could easily shoot 3inch groupings out to 40 yards from the prone position with broadhead tipped bolts and groupings smaller than a licence disk offhand. I have no doubt that in the hands of a more competent crossbow shooter the Excalibur could easily shoot those size groupings at 60yards. Over the years I have had the opportunity to shoot a few different brands of crossbows, from Horton’s to Ten Points and can honestly say that the Excalibur is head and shoulders above the rest, not only in regards to accuracy but also when considering how well the Excalibur is put together, how it handles and the devastating power it unleashes when launching an arrow. In the time I used the Equinox I used three different arrows to see which combination would be best suited in regards to hunting accuracy and energy/penetration. One of the questions often asked is why crossbows have such high poundage as opposed to compound bows, the reason is that a crossbow needs to rely on more power/poundage in order to compensate for the shorter power stroke on the arrow or bolt as it referred to. (A bows power stroke is the distance along which the arrow is pushed by the string, it starts at full draw and ends at brace height) For example, a bow with a 29” draw length and 7” brace height has a power stroke of 22” (29”draw – 7”brace = 22” power stroke), a good 8 ½” longer than with the Equinox. Now a compound bows power stroke does not have that much relevance these days as we have super fast and efficient bows, but when choosing a crossbow it becomes crucial as the longer the power stroke, the more efficient the crossbow will be, therefore you will often see manufacturers list each particular models power stroke together with its poundage, physical weight and IBO speed.
All tests were conducted with the same 20” Excalibur (Easton) Firebolts, Muzzy broadheads and fletched with 3 x 3” Fusion Vanes, arrow speed was obtained by the averaged result of three shots through a Beta Chrony at five paces.
• The first and lightest of the arrows came in at an average of 382gr and gave a speed of 326 feet per second which gives you about 90.16 pounds of kinetic energy.
• The second arrow came in at 433gr and gave an average of 313 feet per second which translates into 94.21 pounds of kinetic energy.
• The last and heaviest arrow, which is also my first choice
with the Equinox weighed an average of 554g and gave an average speed of 297 feet per second which gives an impressive 108.53 pounds of kinetic energy.
Now although these figures speak for themselves I must note that the heavier arrow is obviously the better choice, not only does a heavier arrow exponentially improve penetration but it also goes a long way in making the crossbow quieter, which is the only negative thing that I could find about the Equinox and all crossbows in general. They are loud. It is a small price to pay when considering that you have a weapon that can be used by each and every person in the family or hunting camp, a weapon that has the power and energy to constantly take even the biggest antelope in South Africa. It also needs to be said that Bill Troubridge has recently taken an Elephant bull with a single arrow using a 225# Excalibur crossbow, proving that when it comes to efficiency, the Excalibur range has more than enough power to down the biggest of land mammals, something few compound manufacturers can claim. This also brings me to a point I often refer to when discussing the hunting of any and all animals, regardless of the equipment, in order to ensure that you bring down your quarry quickly and cleanly you will need to make sure of shot placement, perfect shot placement trumps all other factors. It does not matter what bow, broadhead or arrow you are using.
I had the opportunity to test the Equinox on a number of different game animals in a host of different situations and distances and can honestly report that if you do your part as the hunter/shooter, that the crossbow will not let you down. Here are a few examples: the very first animal I had taken was a medium sized Warthog boar standing quartering away at 29 yards, I was using the 433g bolt and the shot entered about four inches behind the crease on the near shoulder, it exited right on the point of the far shoulder, breaking it before passing through. I found the arrow a couple of paces beyond where the pig had stood; the boar went less than 50 yards. Wanting to see in the field, what the penetrating capability of the Equinox was after my speed tests I sighted the crossbow in with the heavier 554gr arrows tipped with a two blade 200gr Muzzy Phantom, I waited until I got a sharp quartering towards, almost frontal shot on an Impala ewe at 31yards and placed the crosshairs right on the point of the shoulder. The shot broke cleanly and I saw the arrow kick up dust behind the ewe before she even moved, the arrow clipped the front shoulder, broke the spine and exited behind the far shoulder, dropping the Impala on the spot. I had also gotten a complete pass through on a perfectly broadside Blue Wildebeest cow at 46yards with a shot right on the shoulder using the 554gr bolts. I had so much confidence in the Excalibur’s capability to put arrow after arrow on the right spot that I even took it with me to hunt Guinea fowl, taking a bird squarely in the chest at 55yards.
One of the biggest factors that has me supporting crossbow hunting is that it enables a great number of people to also enjoy bow hunting, from the physically challenged to woman and children that simply do not have the strength to draw and shoot bows accurately enough to ensure an ethical kill. A crossbow is also a fantastic weapon to keep in the hunting camp permanently should any of the visiting clients experience any problems with their regular equipment on a hunt. There are endless options when choosing a crossbow and although there are “good” and “bad” brands, the crossbow as a whole has really come a long way since they first appeared on the scene. A friend once said that we need more hunters, not less and that is something I wholeheartedly agree with. With all the anti hunting organisations that are popping up like mushrooms we need more support for hunting, not less. As I have said above, in the hands of a competent and ethical hunter a crossbow promises to be just as lethal a weapon as any bow, compound or traditional and they certainly deserve their place in bow hunting society.