The bow and arrow, refined into the longbow and eventually the compound bow, can be a very lethal weapon. This simple weapon changed warfare and gave its owner a distinct advantage both on the battlefield and when hunting game. The modern bow and arrow are made of high-strength, lightweight materials that facilitate greater accuracy at longer distances. The crossbow, a variation of the bow and arrow, gave the bow greater strength, a steadier firing platform and greater range. The crossbow was developed primarily as a military weapon but has become the weapon of choice of many modern hunters.
The appearance of a crossbow is that of a bow mounted atop a modern gun. The bowstring is pulled back and locked into place, then the arrow or bolt placed in the firing position. The weapon is fired by pulling a trigger that releases the bowstring. Some crossbows are fitted with scopes and other options normally found only on guns. The crossbow can be fired from a prone position, or it can be held against the shoulder in the same way as a rifle. On some models there is a collapsible tripod that will steady the front portion of the weapon when the operator is lying down, or firing from a bench or table.
The accurate range of a standard crossbow is a much debated subject. In medieval times, very large crossbows were constructed that had a large crank built into the butt of the weapon to draw back the bowstring. These weapons could be fired at distances of more than 270 m (300 yards). Some could reach 450 m (500 yards), while others were said to have a range of nearly 914 m (1,000 yards). It is important to note that these numbers do not reflect the accurate range of the weapon. It is one thing to fire an arrow in the general direction of an advancing army and another entirely to deliver an accurate shot.
The modern-day crossbow, equipped with scope and properly sighted in, is a very accurate and lethal weapon. The accurate range of a crossbow is generally regarded as being 36.6 m (40 yards). Some hunters claim to have stretched the accuracy to nearly 45.7 m (50 yards), but for most the normal range for an accurate shot is 18.2 to 27.4 m (20 to 30 yards). An average crossbow will fire an arrow at approximately 80 metres per second (265 feet per second). In comparison a modern compound bow will fire the same arrow at 90-plus metres per second (300-plus feet per second). In perfect conditions, with an expert operator, a specialised crossbow is capable of hitting a target at nearly 91.4 m (100 yards), but this is certainly not the norm, or the average crossbow.
Since the crossbow has a trigger and is fired like a gun, many archers do not believe it should be classed as a "bow." Crossbow users insist the crossbow does not have the range of any firearm and since it fires an arrow from a string, it is a bow regardless of how the string is released.
The cost to operate a crossbow, or a regular bow, can be quite high. With the purchase of the arrow shaft, tip and other components, each quality arrow can cost nearly £5 or even more, and at £5 a shot, almost any ammunition for an air rifle begins to look good. While some arrows will be retrieved and will be reusable, most are not.