Rick is a former news reporter who decided that the corporate world wasn't for him and took off to travel the world. He's been to every continent (yes, even Antarctica!) and has tried out a multitude of outdoor gear along the way. From tents to hiking boots, he's probably tested it all. Now, he's one of our full-time product testers and experts.
Bryan is one of our leading experts since he's got a vast expertise in practically everything connected to the outdoors. He's been hiking since he was a young boy, was an organizer of kayaking tours which later led to another passion of his - kayak fishing. Now, he's a part-time expert consultant involved in our multiple product tests and topic research.
Last updated: April 10, 2022
Outdoorspedia is reader-supported. We may earn a commission through products purchased using links on this page. Learn more about our process here
The crossbow is a great device which allows a person to hunt the old-fashioned way with a little more finesse and accuracy than your regular bow and arrow. Whether you need one for brushing up on your target practice or going out in the deep woods with a hunting party, searching the market for a crossbow can be a complicating process; there are over 200 available styles out there, including compounds, recurves, light weights, heavy weights, short, long, fast, and slow. For developing your accuracy and agility there are no other better weapons, and for your peace of mind we’ve reviewed the best crossbows under $500.
While searching the market for the best and nothing less, the features which were most important to us and which made certain crossbows more valuable than others included their weight, length, and draw. These features in turn affected each crossbows’ kinetic energy – which determines the power of each shot – and the speed with which a crossbow quarrel finds its target.
Research into these fine-tuned weapons included speaking with professional game hunters, crossbow manufacturers, and the verified customers of these products. The final results of our research are organized into a table with detailed reviews for each crossbow, a buying guide explaining the safety measures and specifics for such a powerful tool, and a final section answering frequently asked questions. It’s our hope this guide simplifies your buying and experience and answers all your questions before you head out into the deep woods with your new purchase.
More features: illuminated scope included, side mount quiver, anti-dry fire trigger system
For a serious muscled draw, this crossbow has a draw weight of 165 pounds for a kinetic energy equaling around 135 feet per pound, that’s a speed of 400 feet per second!
In your hand this crossbow feels how a professional instrument should, stable with a comfortable grip and very unobtrusive; it’s also fairly lightweight with a fiberglass composite step-through riser. Designed specifically for full-framed shooters, this offers a natural shoulder rest and its lengthened stock and step-through combine to create power and speed without the awkward bulkiness you get from cheaper crossbows.
While stalking your prey this crossbows design will only further advance your stealth with its fully wrapped camo riser and string dampeners for a muffled shot and recoil that creates very little vibration. In fact, each muffled shot is also assisted by this design’s patented Frictionless Release Technology which offers a free-floating roller between sear and trigger for a highly sensitive light-release trigger; when not in direct use, nock sensors and anti-dry fire offer double the safety for peace of mind.
Additional features include a three-pound pressure release, side mounted quiver, and an illuminated scope. Purchase includes two Head Hunter arrows and lube wax.
Why is it special?
A lengthened stock with a fiberglass step-through riser offer additional power with less bulkiness
String dampeners create a stealthy shot every time
Side mounted quiver gives quick access for making a quick draw
Room for integration of a Barnett crank cocking device
What are the flaws?
Very difficult draw; especially for smaller users.
Cocking device will add around $140.00 to your purchase
Bow strings don’t perfectly line up with the rubber bumper stops
One of the most adjustable crossbows on the market for under $500.00, this unit comes with an adaptable stock and foregrip which accommodates any hunters shooting style for exceptional accuracy and precision with 110ft per pound of kinetic energy; that’s a speed of around 370 feet per second! These mind-blowing speeds are created with an advanced precision CNC-machined rail that’s fitted to the quad limbs, additionally this rail is also very lightweight and durable with a shoot-through riser.
Axle width is a narrow 18 inches when cocked, and 21 inches when relaxed, so this may offer a wider front than you are used to. Draw weight is around 180 pounds which is why this weapon comes with a fantastic rope cocker for an easier and faster draw. Safety measures include an anti-dry fire with an auto-safety mechanism that will help prevent accidental shots; all shots include integrated rubber string suppressors which will quiet your shot and minimize vibration.
With this product you get a CenterPoint Sniper 4×32 mm scope, the rope cocker, a separate quiver, and three 20-inch carbon bolts. Your purchase is also very secure with a strong aluminum riser, high-tech compound system, and a dependable 5-year warranty.
Why are we impressed?
Precision CNC-machined rail for extra speed
Anti-dry fire, auto-safety trigger, and string suppressor safeties are included
Comes with a rope cocker
Purchase comes with an impressive 5-year warranty
What negatives must you be aware of?
The included scope is non-illuminated
Front receivers aren’t glued into the bolt and so vibrations gradually make them come loose
Customers have said that the assembly instructions are not very clear
More features: anti-dry fire trigger system, trigger tech technology, scope included
This crossbows’ unique design allows it to be one of the lightest weapons of its kind without sacrificing that essential kinetic energy and resulting speed. Not only does it weight a mere 6.4 pounds, but similarly its draw weight is only 150 pounds and compatible with a separately purchased crank cocking device. That means with a crank cocking device this crossbow potentially has one of the fastest draw times for a firing speed of 350 feet per second!
Crossbow comes mostly assembled and includes patented Frictionless Release Technology – meaning it has a free-floating roller between sear and trigger which gives you the smoothest and lightest release you’ve ever experienced. Of course, for double the safety this weapon includes rubber nock sensors, anti-dry fire technology, and a 3-pound zero-creep release. The riser is made from incredibly light and strong magnesium, and the crossbow also includes a lightweight quick-access front mounted quiver.
Additional features include a pass-through foregrip which protects your fingers, an anti-vibration stirrup, a 4×32-inch scope, rope cocking device, lube wax, and two 20-inch Headhunter arrows. Last but not least, for the long-lasting use of your weapon, this crossbow offers all stainless-steel components with custom composite laminated limbs.
What makes it stand out?
Comes with a professional metal injection molded trigger.
Safeties include nock sensors, 3-pound no-creep release, and an ADF trigger system.
This is one of the lightest crossbows under $500.
Easiest draw for a younger shooter.
Which disadvantages must you keep in mind?
Once the bow is cocked, the only way to de-cock the bow is to fire it with a bolt in.
The included scope has a very limited adjustment range.
Customers have said that the precision is not great for this crossbow, making it better for shooting targets or smaller game.
More features: the package includes LUMIX 4 x 32 IR-W Scope, Rope Cocker, String Suppressors, 3-Bolt Quiver, (3) HYPR Lite Bolts (370 Grains) with Field Tips, Stick of Rail Lube
Except for the Editor’s choice, no other option listed comes close to the impressive speed of the Killer Instinct Burner 415. It lives up to the name by leveraging the 220 lbs draw weight and the 141 feet per pound kinetic energy to achieve a 415 feet per second arrow speed. This is enough to have crossbow enthusiasts drooling, especially if they have a budget of under $500.
The manufacturer clearly made this crossbow with the idea that different types of people would be using it. This is visible in the bow’s adjustability that allows for just about anyone to handle it without feeling uncomfortable. The AR-style stock, for instance, can be adjusted to six positions, and you can try out all of them for a comfortable fit. The X-Lok foregrip is adjustable as well.
There are additional accessories in this pro package that should be useful to the everyday user. The string suppressors are a great example. You don’t want the deer getting startled by the string vibration and getting away. Let’s not forget the illuminated IR-W Scope.
The arrows provided with the purchase also don’t disappoint. When cocking the tool, the rope cocking device provided will come in handy. After all, it might be hard to pull the 220 pound draw weight with your hands. Also, there is the impressive trigger included. This component comes with an ambidextrous safety switch. In addition, the anti-dry fire will keep you from firing when there is no arrow loaded.
What are its best features?
Impressive arrow speed
Safety features in the trigger
Multiple accessories, including rope cocker
What could be improved?
A 30% restocking fee for those who choose to return the crossbow
More features: metal injection molded trigger, anti-dry fire trigger system, adjustable buttstock
The Barnett Explorer XP370 should be your go-to if affordability is high on your list of preferences. While some people associate affordability with cheap construction and inferior specifications, this is not the case with the XP370. It still performs well whether you’re targeting a bulls-eye or you’re hunting down a deer or rabbit.
The crossbow ships mostly assembled, meaning you’ll have very little to do except for finishing touches and getting out to shoot. After that, you’ll get to experience the 165 lbs draw weight, 115 ft lbs kinetic energy, and the 370 feet per second arrow speed that is on par with other higher-priced bows.
Your first two arrows are provided with the purchase, and you can ensure consistency in your shots by using the other accessory included, which is the lube wax. You use it on both the string and rail of the crossbow for optimal performance.
Despite the price, the Barnett Explorer XP370 is safe to use, and that’s partly because of the anti-dry fire trigger system. When it’s engaged, which is every time you move to cock your arrow, it’s impossible for you to shoot, which helps prevent accidents.
There’s also the adjustable buttstock that can make your use of the crossbow more comfortable.
What makes it stand out?
Includes an anti-dry fire trigger system for safety
This is a light crossbow in the price range
The adjustable buttstock is there for comfort and ease of use
Which disadvantages must you keep in mind?
The quality of the provided scope is disappointing
The remainder of this buying guide is designed to explain certain aspects of these crossbows and what you can expect out of a weapon under $500. Included in this section are detailed descriptions for all features of these crossbows and our examples of fantastic crossbows which meet the ideal qualities for these features; frequently asked questions are answered at the end.
Crossbow under $500 – what should you expect
Though these cheaper crossbows may lack the refinement and precision of higher priced instruments, typically you will only notice that the included scope, cocking mechanisms, and arrows seem to be designed the cheapest. These crossbows under $500 are still from the top brands in archery and for the most part you can expect them to be more than capable enough for tagging and bagging dear.
Types of crossbows you need to know about
As stated in our intro, there is such a wide range of crossbows on the market that it’s often hard knowing which type to look for or even start hunting with. For instance, recurve crossbows – which are the most traditional weapons – have that basic design which is easy to maintain. These crossbows have strings which can be replaced at pretty much any bow shop, and generally these crossbows are lighter and easier to carry far distances.
Compound crossbows on the other hand have a narrower frame and a pulley system attached to the limbs of the crossbow. While these crossbows propel arrows farther and faster than your standard recurve, compound bows can be harder to load and draw seeing as their kinetic energy is stored in the pulley system which uses multiple mods and cams. Maintenance for compound bows is also much more extensive, and replacing parts (since there are so many) can be harder than just stopping at your local bow store for the things you need. Another downside to owning a compound bow is the overall weight of the weapon, especially over long distances. Bonuses, however, include a more accurate shot, a quieter shot, and smaller profile because compound bows typically have shorter limbs.
Though there are other crossbow types, typically these versions fit under the ‘recurve’ or ‘compound’ categories.
Tips on firing a crossbow
Safety always comes first, however how can you be safe until you understand the basic rules and etiquettes of using a crossbow? Which means that first you need to know that cocking your crossbow is never necessary until you are ready to shoot at your target; the same idea applies to loading an arrow. Many hunters will tell you to have the weapon cocked at all times, but for starters it’s probably not a good idea to wander around with a fully cocked weapon. Rule number two then, is never touch the trigger until you are lined up with a target.
Out in the woods your hunting partners may have different suggestions and rules, especially if you’ve got a hunting location in a tree or on some other platform. From straight on or from up high, remember to be aware of what you’re shooting at and if there is anything or anyone directly below or beyond that target. Once you’re certain of all the targets in your range, then you can carefully take aim.
If you have a scope, looking through it should reveal either a vertical line or both a vertical and intersecting horizontal line; these are your crosshairs. Assuming the scope is sighted you can generally place a target between your crosshairs and then just squeeze, but remember that most crossbows under $500 don’t typically come with the most reliable scopes. For targets that are much further off than 100-200 feet, many scopes include additional horizontal lines which are smaller and below the main crosshairs.
Next you can draw your crossbow – though depending on the hunter who trains you this step might come before sighting your target. Remember that drawing a crossbow is nothing like drawing a standard vertical bow, this is because of the draw weight (often between 150 and 200 pounds) which allows your crossbow to produce such accurate and speedy shots. The easiest way to draw a crossbow is with a rope cocking aid (a device which hooks to the bow string on either side of the rails and assists your pullback).
Put your crossbow point into the ground before drawing; next you can place your foot on the piece which sticks from the end of the crossbow (the stirrup). From this position you’ll get the easiest draw, especially if you have a rope cocking aid to attach on either side of the rail to pull the handles. Continue pulling straight up on the handles evenly until you feel the string engage in the firing mechanism and lock securely in place; at this point you can remove the rope cocker and then knock an arrow on the rail. There is even some finesse for loading an arrow, and remembering that the arrow should be loader with the odd color vain straight down will ensure that the arrow is fully seated against your string; a fully seated arrow will ensure a straight shot with little vibration and much better accuracy.
Finally, click your safety to the off position, double check your aim, and squeeze the trigger.
Features to consider while buying the best crossbow under 500 dollars
The following features were listed along with many of the product reviews; in this section we further elaborate on these features and how they affect the overall usefulness of a crossbow. To help your buying process many examples are included!
Crossbows come in varying sizes because there are so many models out there, including recurve and compounds as well as one-handed “pistol” models and two-handed models (which are the most common). For the ideal size you should actually do research on the type of game you are hunting and crossbow hunters which hunt that game. For instance, hunters who operate from tree stands typically prefer a longer crossbow that’s lighter, this is because the crossbow has a longer range but is still easy to carry up a tree.
Not to be confused with ‘draw weight’, this section is about the general weight of the entire crossbow. For hunting purposes, rather than target practice, the weight of your crossbow actually has a lot to do with the size of the game you can catch. For instance, in catching any medium to large sized game – small moose, whitetail deer, and similar animals – a crossbow should at least have a weight over 7 pounds to typically guarantee a humane kill. However, one powerful solution on our list which is lighter than the recommended 7 pounds and great for carrying cross country is the Barnett Whitetail Pro STR.
Again, you want to go for the humane kill, and for larger animals from deer to moose, even to black bears, that means you must have a crossbow with a draw weight of at least 150 pounds. At 150 pounds a crossbow generally has a velocity at or near 300 feet per second, though it is worth noting that many reverse draw crossbows get by with a lower draw weight. Based on this knowledge, its also safe to say that as the size and weight of your prey increases, then so should your crossbows’ required draw weight. It’s always important to keep this in mind and know your limits for a kill, otherwise you might badly injure an animal. Kinetic Energy is a similar concept and relates to draw weight, but always remember that this unit equally measures the weight of your arrow and other components of the crossbow.
One final rule of thumb: as draw weight goes up, so does the difficulty of drawing your bow. For instance, the CenterPoint Sniper has a highly reliable speed and accuracy because of its draw weight, but without the included rope cocker it would be a very hard bow to draw.
Recurve models with parallel limbs are the quietest crossbows on the market; the second quietest models are typically compound crossbows. An extremely silent option from our list is the CenterPoint Sniper with integrated rubber string suppressors which will quiet your shot and minimize vibration.
Everyone seems to think they need a faster crossbow, when actually they do not. It’s not at all necessary to buy a crossbow capable of 400 feet per second (especially since this crossbow would certainly be in 1000-dollar range). For simple target shooting, most dear hunting, and even hunting a small black bear, 350 feet per second is already more than fast enough. In fact, the faster an arrow flies, the less likely it is to hit a target over a long distance because you decrease a crossbows natural tolerance for little mistakes. This means that a faster crossbow will actually over correct your shot and continue to do that time and time again; in fact, for faster crossbows weighted arrows are suggested for a finer shot. For a great bow with a middle-ground speed that’s perfect for any mid to large game kill, consider our crossbow options over 300 fps.
In our opinion, this feature is a must have, even if you’re already an expert crossbow hunter. Integrated safety devices will help keep you from damaging your new crossbow as well as from injuring yourself, and typically all you need is a mechanism which keeps the trigger from releasing whenever you draw. We suggest an auto-engaging safety, not only because all the reviewed bows on this list come equipped with one, but also because you’ll never have to remind yourself to reset the safety before drawing. After all, forgetting the safety can result in unintentionally pulling the trigger and taking or delivering serious injury.
One of our safest models, with multiple safety measures, is the Barnett Whitetail Hunter II.
Put simply, the term ‘dry-fire’ means that your crossbow fires without an arrow notched in place; this occurrence also needs to be avoided as the stress on the limbs of your crossbow from dry-firing may not only damage the weapon, but also eventually break it. Almost all of the bows on our list come with a modern mechanism which will not allow a string to release until an arrow is in place, it’s called the anti-dry-fire and its certainly worth a little extra money.
Located under the rail, the grip is where your stabilizing hand is going to rest for the best rifle designed shot. Typically, this section of the crossbow is made from plastic or wood components; the grip also best protects your hand from any misfiring and unlikely sharp recoil. For the highest level of safety, the best grips are ‘forward grips’ with wings that stick out to the side of the grip and keep your fingers far below the path of your crossbow string while shooting.
Range is the number in yards that an arrow can cover after being fired from a crossbow. On our list this range is mainly described by the listed kinetic energy and speed (feet per second). For a general rule of thumb, any crossbow range of 15-30 yards is very good.
The Barnett Whitetail Hunter II offers a great example of a good trigger because it’s designed with a 3-pound no-creep release, meaning that it takes 3 pounds of applied weight (grip) to launch the arrow at a target. ‘Creep’ on the other hand, is a term which indicates that a crossbow might fire without any warning, it basically warns a user that the crossbow’s trigger is very sensitive. For beginner hunters the ideal crossbow will have ‘no creep’ and a highly weighted trigger.
The best warranties are long warranties which cover all aspects of your purchase, not just the small parts. For a truly exceptional warranty, compare other crossbows to the CenterPoint Sniper with its premium 5-year warranty.
Usually the bow section will already come fully assembled and possibly strung, additionally assembly will include attaching the barrel and stock, mount a scope, and perhaps mounting a quiver. The main area of concern after assembly should be the scope, and only because you want to test this piece and ensure that it is mounted straight up and down with adjustments in the correct position for a proper sight while hunting.
Laws are always changing and always different for certain states and certain areas; we recommend that you check with your local and state regulations before you ever go out hunting in an area. There may be laws pertaining to certain animals and certain lands.
Different aspects which will alter the arrow type you might choose are: listed speed, listed kinetic energy, down range penetration, accuracy, and materials of the bow. Lighter arrows notched onto a high-speed bow, for instance, will actually create more wear and tear over time with a lower rate of hitting their target. For any crossbows that have a higher kinetic energy or higher speed, consider using weighted arrows.
For the best crossbows under $500 dollars, especially if you’re under a strict budget or stuck between options, these three crossbows are certainly at the top of the list:
Barnett Whitetail Pro STR. This professional crossbow is great for hunting large game and includes all those extras you want out in the wild.
CenterPoint Sniper. With great safeties, highly adjustable facets, and solutions for an easy draw, this is a crossbow designed for any hunter with any particular firing style.
Barnett Explorer XP370. The budget pick for our list, this crossbow comes with a sleek profile which increases your weapons overall speed and accuracy. Additionally, this crossbow comes with all those fantastic extras.