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Bow vs. Crossbow: What’s Better for Survival?

When it comes to choosing a standard bow or a crossbow for survival purposes, there is some debate about which is the better option in this scenario. Each weapon has its advantages and disadvantages, but how do these shape up in a survival situation.

The wilderness puts rigors on tools and equipment that normal circumstances don’t; a tool that may ordinarily seem like a good choice may be disqualified for as a good choice for survival.

In my opinion, a crossbow is better for survival than a bow. The reasons behind the choice include accuracy, ease of use, maintainability, and portability, although I would be happy for either one in a survival situation.

Essentially, the best one to have with you is the one you know how to use. Both of these hunting tools are great to have as a survival tool, but I believe that there are several advantages that give the crossbow a slight edge for survival purposes.

Bow vs. Crossbow: Accuracy

The crossbow is more accurate because it is easier to aim and handles more like a rifle than a bow. This makes sighting the target simpler and more familiar to those who have used a firearm in the past.

A bow requires strength to draw the bow to the point of firing the arrow. The physical exertion required to perform the draw can detract from the stability required to make an accurate shot.

Crossbows have mountings for sights such as telescopic sights or laser sights, which improve their accuracy and usability when it comes to adjusting for wind and distance.

Over a longer distance, the bow may outperform the crossbow, depending on the type of bow and the skill of the archer. A recurve bow, when used by an inexperienced person, is probably only good for around 25 yards. A compound bow has a similar range of a crossbow, about 50 to 60 yards.

A compound bow is not only more accurate at longer distances but has more power for a longer distance shot. The problem is the power of the bow depends on the person’s strength to draw the bow and their ability to aim accurately at the same time.

A crossbow is effective to around 60 yards for an inexperienced shooter, while in the hands of a more experienced hunter, an 80-yard shot is definitely feasible.

However, most hunting shots are not taken over huge distances, so I would prefer to have

In a hunting situation, it is not too big of a deal if you miss a shot, you wait for the next time. In a survival situation where your life may depend on the shot, I would rather have a crossbow in my hands and be more confident that the shot will be accurate.

Bow vs. Crossbow: Ease Of Use

A bow is a great hunting tool in the hands of someone who knows how to use it well, but becoming competent with a bow takes much practice. To get to the skill-level where you can hunt well enough with a bow will take many hours of shooting.

The skills for shooting a crossbow are more directly translatable from a rifle. This means that more people are familiar with the shoulder shooting position, muscle memory for this action, and the sight picture that is presented with a crossbow.

This familiarity with the shooting position will improve your confidence and your accuracy, which, in a survival situation, is paramount if you are to be able to get food with your hunting tools.

With a crossbow, you can easily walk around while hunting with the crossbow ready to shoot at a moment’s notice. This makes for a quicker first shot from a crossbow, which may make the difference between getting the hit or not.

With a bow, an arrow can be held at the ready, but the bow will need to be first drawn back before the shot can be made. It is impractical and, in most instances, not possible to walk on the hunt with a bow drawn and ready to shoot for an extended period.

Bow vs. Crossbow: Maintainability

While a bow is essentially a simpler piece of equipment if it is a longbow style, if it is a compound bow, the mechanics of repairing it or replacing the string becomes a significantly more complicated operation.

The longbow is simpler, but if the wood should crack, the bow is essentially worthless, and it will no longer function for the purpose of hunting. Repairing it would mean finding suitable wood and having the knowledge to fashion a completely new bow.

A longbow and a recurve bow are usually made of different types of wood that have different flexing characteristics, which, when combined, give the bow it’s spring. If this wood gets wet for some reason, which sometimes in the wilderness is unavoidable, the wood may absorb too much moisture. This could cause the wood to swell, separate and render the bow ineffectual, if not permanently, at least temporarily

A crossbow has a shorter string, which will make it easier to re-manufacture a replacement should it break while in the wilderness. While there are some moving parts on a crossbow, the mechanism is fairly basic, and it is unlikely to fail or require much maintenance.

The bow part of a crossbow is usually made from metal or a metal alloy, which is less likely to break than wood, particularly if it is exposed to wet or damp conditions.

In some instances, even the stock of the crossbow is made of metal or synthetic material, which is not affected as much by adverse weather conditions.

The arrows for a crossbow, which are called a bolt, are much shorter than arrows for a bow. This means that it is easier to manufacture replacement bolts for the crossbow than for the bow. For the short bolts, it is easier to find straighter sticks to make the bolts from that for the long arrows for the bow.

Bow vs. Crossbow: Portability

A bow is relatively large and cumbersome to carry. It is more difficult to secure a bow to a pack without it getting in the way and snagging on the bushes that you pass or low hanging branch. Generally, if a bow is in a case, it will be the size of a guitar case, which would not be practical to carry around.

The bow would, therefore, best be carried in hand to protect it sufficiently and to be able to walk efficiently with it through the bush.

A crossbow, on the other hand, is more the size of a small rifle and being more compact, it is easier to strap to a backpack without it sticking up or too much out to the side to get snagged.

Conclusion

My choice of the crossbow over the bow is not only because of the advantages the crossbow has over the bow but also because I know what my bushcraft skills are, and I am comfortable in that I can create my own survival bow.

A bushcrafted bow may not be as efficient as a normal bow, but it would give me a decent chance of obtaining food in the form of smaller game such as rabbits, and keep my crossbow for any larger game that I may encounter.

That being the case, I would rather have a crossbow with me, as with the survival bow that I can craft, I would have the best of both worlds.

The choice of tool for hunting very much depends on your skill level with that particular tool. A person who is more familiar with a bow may find that they would rather have a bow than a crossbow, simply because they are more proficient with a bow.

Someone who is well versed in archery would also be more familiar with the maintenance and repair of the bow, and therefore some of the aspects that I see as disadvantages may be perceived as less of a problem for that person.

Frank Pearmain

As a homesteader, survivalist, and previously a safari guide in Africa, I have extensive bush and wilderness experience. I am passionate about living a self-sufficient, off-grid lifestyle and continuously learn and strive toward that goal!

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