Types of Crossbows: Recurve, Compound, Reverse, Pistol – Which One Is Best for You?

There’s a lot of debate out there as far as which one is best: recurve, compound, and reverse draw crossbows. All these types have been tested and proven for a long time, and they still exist today. Which proves that, despite the pros and cons, debates, and heated arguments, they are all good in their own particular way. So in this article, we’re not going to prove that one is absolutely better than the other, but rather to look at different aspects and see which one performs better for that particular criteria. In the end, we hope you’re going to be better informed in making a decision for yourself.

We are going to discuss only the types of crossbows used as weapons, that have a lethal power, and not the newly popular toy variations like toothpick, BB pellet, or other projectile shooting crossbows. If you’re interested in the mini crossbows that would rather fit in the toy category, you can check out this article.

Recurve Crossbow

Crossbows have been around for thousands of years. The first evidence of crossbow-like weapons date around 4th century BC, and they were found in China. The historic crossbows are very similar with the modern recurve crossbows, or in fact it’s the other way around, so we can say that the recurve is the most ancient model. It is the most simple in terms of technology, design, and use.


  • simplicity in design and functionality
  • lighter, due to fewer components
  • least expensive, not a sophisticated piece of equipment
  • less maintenance, no need to take it to the shop for service
  • more durable, fewer things to break
  • easy to un-cock, no need to shoot a bolt


  • not as fast
  • noisier due to the string vibration
  • the string is more lose, which leads to less precision and accuracy

Who it’s best for

The recurve crossbow is ideal for the people who enjoy simplicity in their hunting equipment. If you want the most durable equipment that will last for many years without breaking and without sophisticated maintenance, than the recurve is for you. Good for beginners and seasoned hunters alike.

Top 3 Recurve Crossbows

#1. Barnett Recuit Recurve

#2. SA Sports Fever Recurve

#3. Excalibur Matrix GRZ 2

Compound crossbow

The compound crossbow is an invention of the modern archery. The compound bow was first developed in 1966 by Holless Wilbur Allen in Billings, Missouri, and a US patent was granted in 1969 (*). The application was eventually imported into the crossbows as well.

So what’s the difference between a compound and a recurve crossbow? The compound bow incorporates a set of cams, or pulleys, or wheels into the limb assembly. Otherwise, in a recurve the string attaches directly to the limbs. So when you’re looking at the crossbow and you see the set of wheels, you know right away that’s a compound.

The pulley system gives the crossbow a mechanical advantage. First off, the strings are more rigid and stiff, which gives more power when shooting, because energy is not dissipated in limb movement. As you draw the strings, the cams rotate and give the so-called “let-off” effect, which basically means that less draw weight is required for the same power. The increase in efficiency is about 33%, simply by using the pulley system. This makes the compound crossbow easier to cock , and also exerts less mechanical stress on the trigger mechanism.

The pulley is a system where strings go through tracks to exert this mechanical effect, so here’s another clue on how to differentiate the compound vs. recurve at the first sight: the compound has multiple strings, while the recurve has just one.


  • faster than the recurve
  • more silent
  • strings are more stiff, giving you less recoil and more precision and accuracy in shooting
  • increased shooting range due to more stability and precision
  • easier to cock due to shorter draw weight
  • more compact and narrower


  • considering same materials used, it is heavier due to multiple components
  • the pulley system requires additional maintenance, you may have to take it to the shop
  • easier to break if you drop it from some height, or on frozen ground
  • you must shoot an arrow to uncock

Who it’s best for

The compound crossbows are best for the people who want to take advantage of better mechanics. If you want to enjoy a more precise and accurate crossbow, and do no mind the additional maintenance, weight, and costs, than the compound is for you. Good for beginners and seasoned hunters alike.

Top 3 Best Compound Crossbows

#1. Barnett Whitetail Hunter II

#2. CenterPoint Sniper 370

#3. Wicked Ridge Invader by Ten Point

Reverse-draw crossbow

In 2011, a US patent was granted for “reverse crossbow”. This patent perfected two other inventions patented a few years prior. As always, one invention builds on top of the other, and sometimes it’s very difficult to know exactly who was the original inventor, however, this shows just how recent history is the reverse draw crossbow. Just for trivia, if you’re interested to learn about the history of modern crossbows from patent research, here’s a list of patents granted for various crossbow inventions.

So what’s the thing with the reverse draw or reverse limb crossbow? It’s based on the compound bow, just the limbs are reversed. Meaning that the strings do not face the shooter, but outward. So how do you recognize a reverse draw crossbow? It has the wheels, multiple strings that face outward, and not towards the shooter.

It maintains the pulley system of the compound, and it confers an even further mechanical advantage. The researchers figured out that if you reverse the position of the limbs, you can increase the efficiency even further, gaining an even better ratio between draw weight and speed, draw weight and kinetic energy, unmatched before. So you can create an even faster crossbow with less stress on the mechanics.

Also, this technology allows for a much narrower crossbow, with an axle to axle width of as low as 10 inches, allowing you to get in tighter spaces or thicker bush, where a wider crossbow was not practical before. Another consequence of the reverse design is that the center of gravity moves closer to the shooter instead of on the forearm, which reduces fatigue and gives greater accuracy and maneuverability.


  • best performance in terms of speed and accuracy
  • increased hunting range
  • narrow width allows you to adjust to multiple environments
  • center of gravity closer to the body, leading to less fatigue
  • can hold it longer in shooting position, allowing to wait for the perfect shot


  • highest price
  • increased maintenance, similar to the compound
  • multiple components, easier to break

Who it’s best for

The reverse draw crossbow is best for the advanced shooters who want to use the technology to the max to achieve the perfect shot. If you want to go bushwhacking for the whole day, or you want to hunt a grizzly, that the reverse is for you.

Top 3 Best Reverse-Draw Crossbows

#1. Horton Innovations Storm RDX

#2. Barnett Buck Commander Revengeance

#3. TenPoint Carbon Nitro RDX

Pistol Crossbows

This type of crossbow is worth mentioning, because it is widely used, It became extremely popular as many people, including youth, enter into the field of archery. The crossbow pistol is small in size and weight, and is essentially a mini recurve crossbow without pulley system and just one string. The name derives from the fact that it features a pistol grip, so you can hold it with one hand just like you would hold a pistol.

The pistol crossbow is mostly used in shooting practice, but make no mistake: it is lethal. It can easily kill small animals, and even larger with a precise bolt. So definitely do not treat it like a toy, and do not give it to children without close supervision.

In 1965, a patent was granted to Ernest A Ronan for the invention of the pistol crossbow. In reality, we are not clear if this type of crossbow existed before, or if it’s purely an invention of modern times. We assume it had no use in ancient times, because it was too week for the battlefield. It probably became of any use in modern times, along with the emergence of archery as a hobby.


  • small and lightweight
  • low maintenance
  • great for shooting practice
  • very portable and easy to maneuver


  • not for real hunting, unless small game
  • low speed and shooting range

Who it’s best for

The pistol crossbow is best for the people who want to have an easy introduction to crossbows, who want to practice their archery and shooting skills, and for the ones who need a mini weapon easy to carry around.

We have created an extensive pistol crossbow review, where you can also find the best ones on the market today. Check it out here:

Top 10 Best Pistol Crossbows

The End

We hope you found our article useful, and that you’re now more knowledgeable and comfortable in purchasing your first crossbow. Enjoy your hobby!


(*) Wikipedia

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