Cashing In On Crossbows


Photo: Howard Communications

In recent years, crossbow sales have risen slowly and steadily. Coinciding with the expansion of hunting seasons allowing the use of crossbows is the growing number of hunters who use them.Today’s crossbows are a far cry from the bows of even 20 years ago. They’re small, compact and light — and much more powerful than older bows.

Retailers who stock crossbows say the volatility of the marketplace over the past 18 months has affected this market segment as well, albeit not as strongly as it has firearms and ammunition; sales have increased moderately as new customers have come into the market.

Observations From Past 18 Months

Morgan VanWinkle is the bow tech at Rocky Mountain Discount Sports in Sheridan, Wyo. He shared, like other segments, the biggest change in the crossbow market has been the difficulty getting inventory in a timely manner. That said, however, VanWinkle has also seen a difference in the products customers are purchasing.

“Ravin has really stepped up,” he observed. “A lot of my high-end older shooters — the ones who aren’t able to cock a crossbow back by themselves — are helped a lot by the crank that cocks their new bow.”

His middle-range shooters are gravitating toward TenPoint Crossbows because of the price.

“They’re looking for middle ground — the $600–$800 price point,” he shared.

“Shooting a crossbow is a fun way to pass the time, and you don’t have to worry about ammunition or going to the gun range.”

Daven Manning, Bow Tech The Outdoorsman San Angelo, Texas

Younger archers who don’t want to spend so much but still want to get into crossbows are going more for Killer Instinct crossbows.

“Those are the $399 packages,” VanWinkle said. “We’re selling a lot of those right now.”

Over the past 18 months, VanWinkle shared sales of lower-end crossbows did pick up some, but they didn’t reach the frenzied sales of firearms and ammunition. For the higher-end bows, sales stayed pretty constant throughout the period. Most of the customers purchasing crossbows are hunters.

“Where sales have really increased, though, is from rifle hunters who are tired of not seeing any animals so they’ve gone to a crossbow,” VanWinkle noted. “These customers are new to crossbows.”

Adding a crossbow to their repertoire of hunting tools allows them to get into the field earlier in the year, when animals have not been spooked by hunters moving around.

A Similar Trend

At The Outdoorsman in San Angelo, Texas, Bow Tech Daven Manning said there was a definite increase in crossbow sales over the past 18 months.

“With COVID-19 hitting, people had a lot of extra time on their hands and wanted to pick up something new without branching too far away from shooting a rifle,” he noted. “Shooting a crossbow is a fun way to pass the time, and you don’t have to worry about ammunition or going to the gun range. As long as you have a big enough backyard, you can shoot a crossbow right there. All of those things are reasons we saw an increase in the number of people buying crossbows.”

Just like what VanWinkle is seeing, Manning shared most of the customers who purchased crossbows in the past year and a half have been hunters.

“They’ve been either older hunters, or younger ones who are going to struggle with shooting a traditional or compound bow,” he said.

No Ammo?

Many new crossbow shooters also have been influenced by continuing supply chain issues.

“They’ve been rifle hunting all their lives, but with the ammo shortage they can’t take their rifles out as much, so they’re looking for something comparable,” Manning said.

Shooting a crossbow feels familiar because in many ways it’s like shooting a rifle, but doesn’t require an ongoing supply of ammunition.
Two trends VanWinkle has observed are shorter axle-to-axle crossbows, and crank or electric draw assists.

“Everyone wants a bow that’s not bulky,” he asserted. “And they’re getting faster with shorter axle-to-axle distance. You’re also getting better accuracy with the higher poundage.”

Some Ravin crossbows, for instance, have only a 7.6″ axle-to-axle width, which goes down to 3.6″ when the bow is cocked; they weigh less than 10 lbs.

Many of the new bows have built-in systems to assist with cocking.

“The crank makes cocking the bow a whole lot easier because you’re using probably 5 lbs. of force to cock the bow instead of 150 to 250 lbs.,”
VanWinkle added. “Both the Ravins and the TenPoints have cranks built into the stocks. The only way you’re going to be able to cock those crossbows is with a crank. It’s nice because you don’t have to buy additional accessories to be able to shoot the bow.”

New Technologies

One thing selling well at The Outdoorsman is the new Ravin R500E bow with an electric drive system; the bolt achieves 500 fps as it leaves the bow.
“Ravin just came out with it this year,” Manning noted. “You don’t have to crank it or pull it back with a string. It has an electric, battery-powered motor that pulls it back for you.”

Retailers don’t sell as many accessories with crossbows as they do with recurve bows, Manning said, because most crossbows are sold already set up with scopes on them. The Ravin R500E comes with a 100-yard illuminated 550 FPS scope on it.

TenPoint Crossbows has two new bows customers like as well, Manning added. Both — the Vapor RS470 and Havoc RS440 — have Garmin rangefinding crossbow scopes on them.

“They range your target and put the dot right where it’s supposed to be,” he noted.

“Where sales have really increased, though, is from rifle hunters who are tired of not seeing any animals so they’ve gone to a crossbow. These customers are new to crossbows.”

Morgan VanWinkle, Bow Tech Rocky Mountain Discount Sports Sheridan, Wyo.

Prediction For The Future?

In the next few months, Manning expects the crossbow segment of the shooting sports market to settle somewhat, although not all the way to pre-COVID-19 levels.

“I think sales won’t be as high as they were in 2020,” he predicted. “People will be working and will find other things to do. However, there’s really no telling until we’re more into hunting season.”

Manning said sales this fall are more like they were pre-COVID, and before stimulus checks.

“Given the fact there isn’t any excess money running around, we haven’t seen an increase in sales of crossbows this year,” he said. “What we have had is customers fixing older bows as they get ready for hunting season.”

VanWinkle doesn’t expect much change in the crossbow market for the next year or so.

“It’s probably going to be pretty close to what it has been,” he said.

Regardless, based on the upward trajectory of this segment — even prior to the pandemic — expect sales of crossbows to continue. A crossbow’s appeal to rifle hunters looking for new challenges, as well as those who may be new to archery or transitioning away from recurve bows, is growing increasingly evident.

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