Difference Between Bows and Crossbows


As one of the first projectile weapons, the bow has been used by many cultures throughout history. Stone arrowheads have been found dating back as far as 25,000 B.C. Later, with its first version appearing around 600 B.C., came the crossbow, which turned the orientation of the traditional to bow on its side and used a mechanism to draw back the string. Since this time bows and crossbows have advanced, until today whem both weapons essentially operate the same way, but with a few key differences.


  • The most noticeable difference between the bow and crossbow, and one that has endured the numerous changes to both weapons throughout the centuries, are the designs of the weapons themselves. In its basic form the bow consists of a pair of limbs, a handle and a string, and is held vertically while firing. The crossbow essentially places a bow on its side, for a horizontal orientation, mounted on a rifle-like stock and handle with a trigger used to release the string.


  • Both traditional longbows and modern composite bows allow use of a large, heavy arrow capable of piercing flesh (primarily these days of sporting animals). Crossbows however use smaller arrows, called bolts. While smaller, these bolt are just as capable of piercing flesh. In ballistics tests, modern versions of both weapons have been found basically equal in both range and velocity up to 30 yards, with the energy of the crossbow bolt dissipating faster after the 30 yard mark than the larger bow arrows.


  • Another of the major differences between a bow and a crossbow is how the weapon is readied to fire. As the bow is a manually operated weapon, meaning the tension is supplied by the archer, the weapon is commonly placed in the firing position only when the archer is ready to take a shot. Since a crossbow uses a mechanism to lock the string into place, and is released by pulling back the trigger, it can be fired at any time with no further preparation. However, a skilled archer can still reload and fire a bow in less time than it takes to load and fire a crossbow.

Learning Curve

  • The design of crossbows makes them easier to learn than a standard bow. While skill with a crossbow isn't an immediate thing, the major concern is placing the string correctly and evenly while lining up the bolt so that it flies straight. Crossbows can take as little as an hour to learn to correctly use. Skill with bows, which don't rely on a machine to tension the string, can take years to develop, since the potential for human error is much higher than with a crossbow.

Weight and Handling

  • The design of a composite bow lends itself to an even weight distribution, while that of the crossbow, with the bow positioned at the front, has most of its weight at the front of the weapon. This can make firing along a level trajectory more difficult if the weapon isn't handled correctly. However, the crossbow is easier for people with limited physical function to use, as it requires only one hand to operate.

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