A modern crossbow is an extremely lethal weapon up to around 50 yards due to its fast projectile, pinpoint accuracy, high penetration, and relative ease of use. If the arrow is equipped with a hunting broadhead, it would cause tissue damage that is hard or impossible to recover from. Even if it doesn’t hit a vital organ.
Slow, but sure (or very likely) death
It may not have the stopping power of a firearm, but it would cut more effectively through flesh and blood vessels, causing a hemorrhage that could lead to death anyway.
In that sense, a crossbow is deadlier than handguns within their effective range if we take the shocking effect of the firearms out of the equation and focus on the end result. Some even compare them to rifles but we are not going into that deep water now.
Due to their killing potential, the ownership and usage of crossbows is strictly regulated in many countries.
In North America, crossbows are used for hunting large game like moose, caribou, and black bear. And they are pretty effective at that.
How quickly it would kill mainly depends on where the animal is hit. The upper lung area (around the heart) is a preferable target when hunting with a crossbow as it would provide the most consistent (and fast) results. In that sense, accuracy is crucial for ethical hunting, especially if one wants to increase their chances of recovering the shot animal.
One could say that crossbows have even higher killing potential that modern compound bows, considering they can be loaded with arrows that are just as heavy and carry the same type of broadheads, but once shot, travel at a higher speed.
A modern compound bow shoots medium-weight arrows at 280 feet per second on average. And the average arrow speed of the latest crossbow models is beyond 330 fps.
Higher arrow speed ensures flatter trajectory and higher…
In regular hunting scenarios, the arrow from a crossbow won’t be able to shatter the massive shoulder bone of a deer, but it would have no problem passing through the rib cage, breaking any rib that is in the way.
Ease of use
Crossbows are much easier to use than bows because the shooter doesn’t have to hold the draw while aiming. It only needs to be loaded once and then used as a rifle.
This makes it way more accessible to those who have limited physical abilities or simply do not have the time or will to put the time and effort that are needed to become competent with a bow.
Despite all of their unique features, crossbows are not some sort of ultimate killing devices. They come with some drawbacks as well:
They are slow to reload
The rate of fire is no more than 1-2 shots per minute. The main reason is that they need a lot of force to be loaded due to their high draw weight. In practice, they are not that hard to pull back thanks to all helper devices that make the process much easier. But “easier” in this case means “slower”.
They are loud
Forget about follow-up shots that are sometimes possible with bows. Crossbow shots are loud and would alarm all animals in the vicinity.
They are heavy and clunky
Crossbows typically weight between 5 and 8 lbs, which makes them heavier than compound bows (2.5 – 4.5 lbs on average).
Also, their specific shape that doesn’t make for a very slick experience when carrying them through thick bushes.
They have limited range
Despite the impressive arrow speed, shooting at animals that are more than 35-40 yards away is not a good idea due to the many factors that come into the equation at those ranges.
Considering all specifics of crossbows, they are pretty effective tools for hunting, but definitely not weapons of mass murder or anything closer.