Crossbow Survival Guide for SHTF Preppers

A Crossbow is a Must-Have Weapon for Preppers

Over at Sharpshaft, I get asked a lot about whether the crossbow is a good SHTF weapon for preppers. This opportunity to contribute as a guest on Bunker Basics is the perfect opportunity to dive into this topic. Ultimately, the answer to the question comes down to you, your experience, your physique, where you live, and the SHTF situation you believe will play out. In this article, I will outline key information related to the crossbow and compare it to other SHTF weapons. You can consider this the crossbow survival guide for SHTF preppers.

Is a Crossbow a Good Survival Weapon for Prepping?

Crossbows, like all other weapons, have their pros and cons. Consider some of the following crossbow survival points.

Portability, Maneuverability, and Engagement

A crossbow is the ideal weapon when used at distances of 5-15 yards and can be used in short-range combat when pre-cocked. They have extremely fast firing action. Additionally, crossbowscan excel at extended ranges of 50+ yards. They are incredibly accurate thanks to a mechanical draw and release. Improved accuracy can be attained when aiming through a scope.

Crossbows are, however, bulkier and heavier than other firearms. This makes the wielder of a crossbow less agile. For this reason, you could argue it is best used as a defensive weapon at base camp.

An essential factor determining maneuverability is the dimensions of your crossbow. Many crossbows are wide, even when cocked. They can easily clank against your surroundings as you move through the wilderness. However, there are some outstanding, well-dimensioned, lightweight crossbows on the market. One example is the Ravin R29X or the TenPoint Vapor RS470. Sadly, both come at an unimaginable financial expense, so they aren’t always a viable option.

The Silence Myth

Crossbows are undoubtedly quieter than firearms. However, the crossbow strings pack a tremendous amount of kinetic energy, so they make an audible thud as you fire. This noise can be reduced considerably with string suppressors. What’s more, your victim, whether human or animal, depending on where you hit them, will certainly not remain quiet while bleeding out. That said, crossbows are tremendously useful as a quiet hunting tool. For example, when SHTF, you may be competing to hunt local game, and a quiet kill could avoid alerting others.

Durable Ammo

Up to a point, your ammo is essentially reusable, although bolts, broadheads, and the string will wear over time. You must wax your string as often as possible, as often as every five or six shots, keep your bow in peak condition.


In terms of reloading speed, the crossbow is the clear loser relative to other SHTF weapons. Cocking your crossbow takes a few seconds and requires exertion. This might disadvantage you seriously in SHTF scenarios.

What’s more, depending on your height and physique, crossbows over 200 pounds are difficult to cock. If you’re under six-feet, look for a 150-to-200-pound crossbow to reduce the force required, or consider using a cocking device.

When SHTF, I like the idea of being able to cock my bow without support from another tool. Admittedly, cocking devices contribute to loading consistency and better grouping over mid-to-long range.


A quality crossbow is not cheap, particularly once you factor in all accessories, such as bolts, broadheads, optics, strings, string wax, etc.

Having said that, the best advice I can give is not to go cheap. The above products can, and probably should cost around $1,000. Most importantly, you will never achieve consistent accuracy with a cheap crossbow. Nor will you benefit from the increased portability and maneuverability a quality crossbow provides.

Practice makes perfect

You want a weapon that you feel comfortable and capable wielding. A crossbow is an accurate weapon even for beginners, as you don’t need to hold any tension to aim and shoot, and coupled a powerful optic, you can quickly become accurate. Plus, if you live in the city or have disgruntled neighbors, shooting a crossbow is a relatively noise-free activity you can practice. When it comes to crossbow survival, there is no replacement for experience.

Quick Crossbow Pros and Cons Compared to Firearms


  1. Highly maneuverable in close-quarter combat
  2. Accurate for beginners
  3. Pre-knock a bolt ready for action
  4. Comparably quiet
  5. Reusable ammo


  1. Illegal in some states
  2. Meager firing rate
  3. Low range compared to firearms
  4. Expensive

Frequently Asked Crossbow Survival Questions

How lethal is a crossbow?

A crossbow is deadly. The newest crossbows travel at up to 500 FPS, packing around 150-foot pounds of kinetic energy.

Is a crossbow more powerful than a gun?

It’s not even close. If ‘more powerful’ means faster, then a bottom-of-the-range rifle bullet travels faster, at upwards of 2200 FPS.

If ‘more powerful’ means more kinetic energy, then the firearm wins again. Any comparison is relative because kinetic energy changes depending on the FPS and the projectile’s mass.

Nonetheless, a 180-grain bullet fired from a .357 magnum may pack anywhere from 400-600 foot-pounds of force, compared to 50-150 foot-pounds from a crossbow bolt.

How does a crossbow kill differ from a gun kill?

A crossbow kills differently than a firearm. A firearm kills by sending a massive shock wave through the body absorbed by all surrounding tissue, causing failure in close vital organs. A bullet will also kill if the permanent cavity (wound) penetrates a major organ or pierces an artery. A crossbow won’t kill from shock; it will only kill from the would and resulting blood loss.

Can an 80-pound crossbow kill?

An eighty-pound crossbow can most certainly kill. Death by crossbow comes from blood loss and damage to vital organs. Even a low-FPKE bolt with a razor-sharp broadhead can pierce a vital artery. However, this may raise ethical questions, as the fastest possible death of a target is the most ideal.

For low-energy shots, accuracy is, therefore, crucial. It would be best to hit vital organs, creating the biggest wound possible to achieve rapid bloodloss. Your choice of broadhead will be a critical factor determining the rate of your target’s bloodloss.

What’s the difference in draw weight between a bow and a crossbow?

Crossbow draw weights are typically double or triple those of the average bow. A vertical compound bow may have 60-70 pound limbs, whereas your average crossbow may store somewhere 150  and 225 foot-pounds of kinetic energy.

Which is louder, a bow or a crossbow?

As a rule, a crossbow is louder than a bow, but significantly quieter than a firearm. The sound you hear is energy leaving the bow, and as mentioned, the crossbow may store three times more energy than a bow, creating a loud ‘crack’ when fired.

What’s less physically demanding, a bow or a crossbow?

I’d say that to consistently fire a bow well is physically more challenging. Although it requires less energy in the limbs, maintaining a full-draw is more demanding and any errors or small movements will result in a missed target.

On the other hand, a crossbow requires you to draw double or triple the weight. Even so, once cocked correctly, your aim will be far more consistent thanks to mechanistic holding of the draw and release of the bolt.

Cocking a crossbow can be challenging and requires a large amount of force. To this end, there are several cocking devices or stirrups to help you.

Once cocked, a crossbow doesn’t need a release like a bow does, which, as discussed, will impact accuracy. It’s also one less thing to stock up on.

What has a better range, a bow or a crossbow?

A crossbow covers a longer distance with less arrow drop, thanks to the fact that it holds more energy in its limbs.

explained above, a crossbow also tends to be more accurate thanks to a well-sighted optic and its user experiencing less muscle fatigue. The mechanical release, when firing the arrow, is more accurate than a manual release, too.

Quick Crossbow and Bow Comparison

Crossbow Pros

  1. Longer distance
  2. More accurate
  3. It can be sighted with an optic
  4. Packs more energy and flies faster
  5. Shoots flatter Easier to train quickly

Bow Pros

  1. Much faster reload
  2. Quieter

What’s the difference between a recurve and a compound crossbow for SHTF?

My SHTF weapon of choice is a recurve bow over a compound bow for a couple of reasons:

A recurve crossbow is more straightforward to fix than a compound bow. Indeed, you need to go to a professional to get your compound bow restrung, so it stands to reason that this isn’t good planning in an SHTF situation.

High-quality crossbow bolts are shorter and sturdier than arrows and do not buckle under the pressure from the string. You could hand-make recurve bolts, but a compound is so powerful that anything not manufactured would likely buckle under the force. If SHTF, you might be better off making your own ammunition.

My favorite recurve crossbow right now is the Excalibur Assassin 400TD. It’s accurate, has a beautiful trigger, is adjustable with a built-in cocking device, and disassembles nicely to transport.


Final SHTF Crossbow Survival Tips

Stock up on bowstrings, bolts, and other accessories like cocking devices. Resupply may be hard to come by in the future, and it doesn’t hurt to be prepared as possible from the outset.

Purchase broadheads for your crossbow bolts. They have designs to increase wounding and bleed out, which will decrease your time to kill.

Lastly, learn to make a flaming arrow for a devastating effect, a highly effective SHTF technique:

Have any questions for Jack about crossbow survival? Leave a comment below or contact us directly.
crossbow survival guide

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