When you saw a reverse-draw crossbow for the first time you probably thought something in the line of "Huh, what is this? A crossbow that shoots backward?". Yes, they do look different and work in a somewhat counter-intuitive way. But they present a cool innovation that shows what is possible to achieve with modern compound technology.
Crossbows with reverse-draw design have a number of mechanical advantages over the conventional forward-draw models: longer power stroke, better balance, and lower draw weight. The main drawback is that they typically carry a higher price tag. And they can be a tad more awkward for carrying in the bush.
The structural differences of a reverse draw crossbow, compared to a regular one are as follows:
Basically, the engineers have taken the bow part of a standard crossbow and have mounted it "backward". So now we have the riser closer to the shooter and the cam wheels are at the front.
Logically, the cam and cables system is adjusted so the crossbow still shoots arrows in a forward direction. So, reverse-draw crossbows are not some complex tools for shooting yourself 🙂
Note that there are no recurve crossbow models with reverse bow design. Those cams and pulleys are needed for the whole thing to work.
The most impactful change is the new position of the riser - on reverse-draw models, it is positioned at the center of the stock. A riser is a component, on which the two bow limbs are mounted.
This structural difference allows for a longer power stroke and thus for higher arrow speeds.
The speed a crossbow arrows flights at is determined by two main factors:
(Of course, arrow weight and type of the arrow tip also play a big role, so we assume identical projectiles).
The draw weight is the force (measured in pounds) needed to pull the bowstring back to a locked position. The harder to cock a crossbow is, the more energy it stores, and the greater the initial speed of the arrow is.
Power stroke is called the distance the string travels when released - from its cocked to its resting position. The longer the power stroke is, the longer the string accelerates the arrow down the flight track, which results in higher speeds.
Switching the positions of the riser and the string on a reverse draw crossbow allows the resting position of the string to be moved all the way to the front of the crossbow rail. And this effectively adds a few more valuable inches to the power stroke!
The tradition way to increase the length of the power stroke is to simply use a longer rail, which usually means a larger crossbow overall.
With the reverse design, crossbow engineers can afford to shed some weight from the weapon and aim for a shorter and lighter model. Or leave the rail length intact and let the speed addicts among crossbow shooters enjoy the newly unlocked extreme power!
It is up to you to decide what to pick - a more lightweight or a more powerful model.
Because the whole bow assembly of a crossbow is usually located at the front of the stock, most models tend to be "front-heavy". The leading arm of the shooter must support most of the weapon's weight and that makes aiming and shooting "offhand" uncomfortable and less effective.
With the reverse-draw design, a big deal of that weight is moved back which results in a better-balanced weapon that is easier to aim, shoot, and carry around.
Moreover, the riser of reverse crossbows is usually placed roughly at the center of the stock and behind the fore-grip support hand. So, effectively, the center of gravity of such models is much closer to the shooter's body and that makes for quicker and more pleasant handling.
A side effect of the improved balance is the better accuracy. Because it is easier to hold steady a long object that doesn't put extra strain on your extended arm.
If the longer power stroke provides extra power and speed, then crossbow designers can decide to relieve some tension from the limbs, the cables, and the cams, effectively reducing the draw weight and making the crossbow easier to cock.
And let's not forget that lower draw weight means less vibration when shooting and thus less noise.
Just like the option to shorten the rail, this is another possible trade-off that does not sacrifice power while providing extra benefits that might be useful to some shooters.
The first crossbows with reverse-draw on the market were quite expensive. Quite a bit pricier than regular models with comparative features and performance.
But in 2021, they are not considered that big of a novelty anymore and the price gap is much narrower. An additional reason might be that most consumers prefer to stick to the traditional and much more familiar crossbow shape. And that will be the case until manufacturers decide that it is worth the extra marketing effort to communicate the benefits of the recurve-draw design.
An example of a more affordable product is Horton Storm RDX, which is both competitively priced and highly reviewed by its users.
But be prepared to pay a premium for the top models like the TenPoint Nitro XRT which shoots arrows at blazing 470 fps.
Since a reverse-draw crossbow's weight is shifted to its back, it is easier to hold in ready to shoot state while walking around.
But be careful when passing through shrubs or low-lying branches. That applies to any kind of crossbow since it is so easy to get something between the string and the limbs. With a forward-draw crossbow, you can sometimes use the limbs to plow through those annoying obstacles, albeit not a great idea under most circumstances. Not so much with a reverse-draw model as it has an ideal shape to catch and hold every little branch in front of you. And this is not just annoying, but also comes with the danger of damaging the cables that are exposed at the front.
Of course, this situational inconvenience is not that big of a deal once you get used to the shape of your new and technologically-advanced crossbow.