5 Best Pistol Crossbows: What Is The Best One?

by Dave Chesson

June 5, 2023

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Being only a fraction of the size of the regular crossbow, it’s no surprise that pistol crossbows are so popular. I’ve used a few and I have to say, I’m generally a fan. For those of you who don’t know what pistol crossbows are, they are small crossbows designed to be held in one hand. Usually, they have less draw weight and power than your regular crossbows. 

Crossbow vs Pistol Crossbow
Crossbow vs Crossbow Pistol

A common mistake people make with the pistol crossbow is that they look at its small size and assume it’s a toy. I promise you; it is not. The pistol crossbow is a compact but powerful weapon and I treat it with the same seriousness as any other crossbow. From hunting small game like rodents and rabbits, target practice, home defense, to padding up a survival kit, a pistol crossbow is a very flexible weapon. 

The pistol crossbow is also a really good way to ease people into archery. When I introduced my son to shooting, I did it with a pistol crossbow instead of my full-sized ones. It really helped because they are not as intimidating and I didn’t have to work the draw every time he needed to shoot. It’s much more manageable for him and he still enjoys practicing with it. Overall, working with it was a genuinely fun experience for both of us. 

Now, he still loves to shoot dad’s Center Point CP400, but I still need to prep it for him every time. 

Pros and Cons of Pistol Crossbows

So, this brings up an important question – what are the benefits of using a pistol crossbow and perhaps when shouldn’t you?

  • Low cost
  • Easy to use
  • Not as intimidating as a regular crossbow
  • Easy to maintain
  • Small and lightweight
  • Not powerful enough for hunting large or medium game
  • Short range

As you can see, there are definitely some pros to them and if these are important to you, then excellent – let’s get to finding the best pistol crossbow for your needs. However, if maybe you realize that the pistol crossbow won’t be enough for your purposes, then I recommend you check out my full article on the best crossbows.

Best Pistol Crossbows by Category

Best Pistol Crossbows

Snake Eye Tactical Cobra
  • Automatic safety mechanism
  • Budget-friendly
  • Self-cocking system
Buy on Amazon
Tactical Crusader Pistol Crossbow
  • Low price
  • Beginner-friendly
  • Anti-dry-firing safety mechanism
Buy on Amazon
Best For Accuracy

PSE Viper SS

PSE Viper SS
  • Fast speed of the shot
  • Safety and anti-firing mechanisms
  • Durable fiberglass limbs
Buy on Amazon
Best Premium Choice

Prophecy Crossbow Pistol

Prophecy Crossbow Pistol
  • Durable aluminum material
  • Self-cocking system
  • Adjustable sights
Buy on Amazon
Best For a Survival Pack

KingsArchery Crossbow Pistol

KingsArchery Crossbow Pistol
  • Self-cocking system
  • Arsenal of 123 bolts included
  • Adjustable sights
Buy on Amazon

Best Crossbow Pistol Specifications

Below is a table of the specs for pistol crossbow. Click the name of the item to jump to that review.

CrossbowDraw Weight (lbs)Speed (FPS)Cocking MechanismMaterial of Bow
Snake Eye Tactical Cobra80225Self-CockingAluminum

Tactical Crusader Pistol Crossbow

50150Self-CockingFiberglass
PSE Viper SS50215IntegratedAluminum
Prophecy Crossbow Pistol80165Self-CockingAluminum
KingsArchery Crossbow Pistol80216Self-CockingFiberglass/Metal

Best Crossbow Pistols

Here is our list for the best crossbow pistols:

  1. Snake Eye Tactical Cobra
  2. Tactical Crusader Pistol Crossbow 
  3. PSE Viper SS
  4. Prophecy Crossbow Pistol 
  5. KingsArchery Crossbow Pistol

Best Pistol Crossbows – Reviews

Here are the detailed reviews of all the pistol crossbows I’ve listed. They are all good choices, but they have specific features that make them the best fit for their category. 

Best Overall Snake Eye Tactical Cobra

Editor's Choice
Snake Eye Tactical Cobra Featured Image

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  • Durability A+
  • Accuracy A
  • Speed A
  • Penetration A

Our Grade

A

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Snake Eye Tactical Cobra Specs

  • Draw Weight (lbs) 80
  • Speed (FPS) 225
  • Cocking Mechanism Self-Cocking
  • Material of Bow Aluminum

Snake Eye Tactical Cobra Review

The Snake Eye Tactical Cobra is actually my son’s favorite crossbow. I got it for him a couple of years back and he really loves it. One reason I like the Tactical Cobra so much is that it’s quite an adaptable crossbow and works for almost any situation. That’s why I think it’s the overall best pistol crossbow. Whatever you want from your pistol crossbow, the Tactical Cobra is always a safe choice. It might not be the best in any particular category, but overall, I think it’s a solid pistol crossbow for almost anyone.  

It has a fast enough release at 225 FPS (Feet Per Second), especially compared to the draw weight of 80 lbs. The self cocking mechanism is very useful as well since you don’t need any other cocking devices like a rope cocker, where you’ll have to use your foot and the rope to load the bolts. 

It’s also a good choice for hobbyists looking to get started with archery. The Snake Eye Tactical Cobra is pretty standard, but that’s what makes it so good. You can add any scopes you want to try out on its mounting, and some models also come with a built-in quiver. 

Since it’s made from fiberglass and metal, the Tactical Cobra is very lightweight. As a material, fiberglass is also pretty durable and needs very little maintenance. If you are looking for a pistol crossbow to add to your survivalist kit, the Tactical Cobra is a solid choice.

One thing you need to keep in mind is that pistol crossbows rarely come assembled and the Tactical Cobra is a bit more complicated to assemble and string than other models out there. So if you are getting it for your teen, make sure you string it for them as well. 

Snake Eye Tactical Cobra Pros and Cons

  • Self cocking mechanism
  • Lightweight and durable
  • Complicated stringing
  • Extra bolts must be purchased separately

Best for Beginners Tactical Crusader Pistol Crossbow

Tactical Crusader Pistol Crossbow Featured Image

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  • Durability B
  • Accuracy A-
  • Speed B
  • Penetration B

Our Grade

B+

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Tactical Crusader Pistol Crossbow Specs

  • Draw Weight (lbs) 50
  • Speed (FPS) 150
  • Cocking Mechanism Self-Cocking
  • Material of Bow Fiberglass

Tactical Crusader Pistol Crossbow Review

If you are someone who wants to dip their toes into archery but are not ready to commit to a full-size crossbow, my recommendation is to go with the Tactical Crusader. Tactical Crusader is a pistol crossbow specifically designed for beginners. It’s cheap, very easy to use, and has several beginner-friendly features. 

Its ADF (anti-dry firing) mechanism prevents the crossbow from firing if there are no bolts loaded. Dry firing is both dangerous to the archer and also damages the crossbow, so the ADF mechanism is one of the most important features I recommend for beginners. 

Made of fiberglass, the Tactical Crusader is very lightweight and also has a smaller draw weight of 50 lbs. You get a decent 150 FPS with aluminum bolts. It’s also not very loud and is perfect for target practice, as well as hunting small vermin.

However, it’s not the most suitable pistol crossbow for more experienced hunters. You only get 4 plastic bolts for practice and you’ll have to buy aluminum bolts separately. When I tested it out, the sights were very unstable, so I was constantly re-sighting and adjusting them. 

I think the Tactical Crusader is a really good choice if you are starting out. It’s a good way to get started with crossbows and shooting in general. 

Tactical Crusader Pistol Crossbow Pros and Cons

  • ADF mechanism
  • Lightweight and durable
  • Very low draw weight
  • Comes with plastic bolts
  • Unstable sights

Best For Accuracy PSE Viper SS

PSE Viper SS Crossbow Featured Image

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  • Durability B-
  • Accuracy A+
  • Speed A+
  • Penetration B-

Our Grade

A-

Reader’s Grade

TBD

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PSE Viper SS Specs

  • Draw Weight (lbs) 50
  • Speed (FPS) 215
  • Cocking Mechanism Integrated
  • Material of Bow Aluminum

PSE Viper SS Review

If accuracy is what you are looking for, I suggest going with the PSE Viper SS. It’s one of the fastest crossbows of this size with an FPS of 215 and it also gives you a pretty noticeable boost in accuracy. 

The PSE Viper SS, like the Tactical Crusader I talked about earlier, has a draw weight of only 50 lbs. It’s also one of the lightest pistol crossbows out there, weighing just 1.5 lbs. All of this combined makes it very easy to use. 

For me though, what really sets it apart is its track style rail that allows for precision shooting. A track style rail can make a big difference in your shooting because it helps you move and adjust your scopes and other accessories across your crossbow. Combined with the adjustable rear sight, it helps you shoot accurate shots consistently. 

The PSE Viper SS also puts safety first. I really like the ADF mechanism, the finger guards, the self cocking mechanism, and the safety lock. 

You might be asking that if this pistol crossbow is so good, why did I personally go with the Snake Eye Tactical Cobra instead of the PSE Viper SS for my son? My biggest issue with it was the penetrative power. The bolts fly really fast but they don’t penetrate that deep, mainly because it has such a low draw weight. 

Another thing to keep in mind is that some users say the safety doesn’t work all the time as well. I haven’t personally experienced this, but it’s happened to enough folks. 

If you are primarily looking at target practice though, you really can’t find a more accurate crossbow than the PSE Viper SS.

PSE Viper SS Pros and Cons

  • High speed at 215 FPS
  • Very accurate
  • Very low draw weight
  • On the higher end of the price spectrum

Best Premium Choice Prophecy Self-Cocking Crossbow Pistol

Prophecy Self- Cocking Crossbow Pistol Featured Image

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  • Durability A
  • Accuracy A-
  • Speed B
  • Penetration A

Our Grade

A-

Reader’s Grade

TBD

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Prophecy Self- Cocking Crossbow Pistol Specs

  • Draw Weight (lbs) 80
  • Speed (FPS) 165
  • Cocking Mechanism Self-Cocking
  • Material of Bow Aluminum

Prophecy Self- Cocking Crossbow Pistol Review

Let’s get this out of the way first. The Prophecy is a fairly expensive pistol crossbow, but I think it’s worth it. 

I’ve had my Prophecy for a while now and it still works really well. I mostly use it as a side arm or for target practice, mainly because I can carry it around without much hassle. The limbs are fiberglass, so they are foldable and I can easily fit the bow in my hunting bag. They also send a special bag and three aluminum bolts with it as well. 

With 80 lbs of draw weight and 165 FPS, it has a decent speed and penetrative power. It’s not the fastest thing out there, but it’s good for small game like rabbits, vermin, and turkeys.

I just had one problem with it. The built-in sights are not very precise. SAS, the manufacturer, sent a red dot scope along with the crossbow but I didn’t like it and had to get another one. If you get a Prophecy, I definitely recommend replacing the scope. 

I don’t recommend using Prophecy or any other pistol crossbow for large games. One reason is that it’s not ethical because it’s highly unlikely you’ll make a killing shot. Two, it’s most probably illegal in your state. Make sure to meet specific requirements for crossbow size and draw weight for hunting when buying a pistol crossbow.. 

Prophecy Self- Cocking Crossbow Pistol Pros and Cons

  • Durable design
  • Comes with a premium bag and scopes
  • More expensive than typical crossbow pistols

Best For a Survivalist Kit KingsArchery Crossbow Pistol

KingsArchery Crossbow Pistol Featured Image

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  • Durability A
  • Accuracy B
  • Speed A
  • Penetration A

Our Grade

A-

Reader’s Grade

TBD

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KingsArchery Crossbow Pistol Specs

  • Draw Weight (lbs) 80
  • Speed (FPS) 216
  • Cocking Mechanism Self-Cocking
  • Material of Bow Fiberglass/Metal

KingsArchery Crossbow Pistol Review

The pistol crossbow you want for your survival pack is going to differ from the one you want for target practice or home defense. You’re preparing for a scenario where you won’t be able to replace it, and you’ll be putting it to some tough use. A high maintenance crossbow is not going to cut it.

 A pistol crossbow for your survival kit should be able to endure long periods of storage, need very little maintenance, and be lightweight. 

That’s why I think you can’t go wrong with the KingsArchery Crossbow Pistol. With its fiberglass construction, it can withstand tough conditions and repeated use. One of the things that really stood out to me is that in addition to being durable, it also has a self cocking system. This means you can quickly reload and repeatedly shoot your bow, making it perfect for a survival situation. 

What really sells it to me is its arsenal of bolts. The largest KingsArchery package comes with a whopping 123 bolts–all color coded so you can find them easily in the wild.

The main issue I found is its weak strings. The string can easily wear down and if you are a survivalist, you are going to need to keep several replacement bowstrings in stock. 

KingsArchery Crossbow Pistol Pros and Cons

  • Durable design
  • Comes with an arsenal of 123 bolts
  • Weak strings

Buyers Guide for Pistol Crossbows 

If you are new to pistol crossbows, it’s tricky to know what to look for when buying them. Here’s what I look at when buying a pistol crossbow. 

What to look for when buying a pistol crossbow?

When buying crossbows, some specs are more important than others. Here are some features I think are worth looking at more closely in a pistol crossbow. 

Bolt speed and draw weights –The bolt speed and draw weights are some of the important things I look at when buying a crossbow. A crossbow with a higher FPS will definitely shoot faster, but it usually means it would have a higher draw weight as well. On the other hand, there are some crossbows that have a smaller draw weight and a higher FPS but they sacrifice some of the penetrative power. 

So choose according to your needs. If you are hunting, go with a crossbow with a heavier draw weight, but for target practice, a fast and accurate crossbow would do. 

Self-Cocking – Self-cocking makes pistol crossbows easier and more comfortable to use because you can directly draw back the bowstring to load your bolts. Otherwise, you’ll have to use a separate cocking device to pull back the string every time you need to load and that’s not only tiring but also time-consuming. With how small pistol crossbows are, it’s just not worth going for something that doesn’t have a self cocking system. 

Bow materials –If you want something that lasts, then get one that is made of non-degradable materials like fiberglass or aluminum. The material also affects the weight. So choose a bow depending on what’s important to you. 

Power stroke – Power stroke is the length between the string’s resting point when your crossbow is not cocked and full draw when your crossbow is cocked. Longer power strokes generally mean faster bolts, but draw weight and bolt speed can affect it as well.   

Crossbow type –Crossbows usually come in two types, recurve and compound, and it’s the same with the pistol crossbow. A recurve crossbow has a single string and is very simple to use, while the compound crossbow has some additional parts but also packs a lot more power.

If you want to learn more about crossbows vs compound bows, we have that article here.

Mounting –If you want to add accessories like scopes or flashlights, the type of mounting on your pistol crossbow is important. There are different types of mounting, including the Picatinny rail which is good for stability and accuracy, and dovetail mounting, which allows you to mount more accessories but is not as stable. 

Scopes – Pistol crossbows have a very short range, so you won’t be needing a very complicated or powerful scope. I suggest going with the red dot scope. They are helpful in hunting faster small animals like rodents and hares. 

Assembly – I’ve said this before, but pistol crossbows rarely come assembled. Putting together the limbs and body is simple enough, but if you have never strung a bow before, stringing can be difficult. My advice is to either get yourself a stringer or buy a model that comes with a stringer.  

Maintenance – The material of the bow will affect how much time and effort you’d have to put into maintaining it. Fiberglass, plastic, and aluminum need a lot less maintenance than something like wood. Another thing to remember is that strings wear out really quickly, so always have replacement strings in your kit.

Bolts – Pistol crossbow bolts are much smaller than regular bolts and are less powerful, too. Plastic bolts are good for practicing but if you are hunting small game, I recommend using aluminum ones. 

Safety features – Pistol crossbows are small, but they are not toys. They are powerful weapons in their own right and if you don’t handle them correctly, they can cause some serious injuries. 

With your crossbows, something you should never compromise on is safety and when making a purchase, focus on features like anti-dry firing mechanisms and auto safety.

What Can You Use a Pistol Crossbow For?

The best thing about pistol crossbows is that we can use them for so many activities, from hunting to target practice. If you are on the market for a pistol crossbow, knowing what you want to use them for can help you narrow down your choices.

Hunting –If you are looking to hunt small game like rodents, squirrels, and rabbits, a pistol crossbow is definitely a good choice. Before you get excited about hunting though, I recommend you look up the laws in your state. Some states have a minimum draw weight and size requirement for hunting with a crossbow, and you can check your state’s laws here.

On the other hand, if you want to hunt deer and other large game, I recommend you get a regular crossbow and utilize either a fixed blade broadhead or a mechanical broadhead that is designed for hunting larger game. Some pistol crossbows might have a draw weight of 80 lbs, but there’s more to taking down game than just the draw weight or bolt speed. Pistol crossbow bolts weigh a lot less than your regular crossbow arrows and don’t have the same power, so they are not good for hunting large or even medium game. 

Home defense –If you are not comfortable having a firearm at home or can’t have one because of local laws, then pistol crossbows are a solid choice for home defense. Look for one that’s low maintenance and easy to use. It won’t be seeing much use, but in case you need it, you should be able to handle it without any issues. 

Survivalism –For survivalists, there’s no better weapon than a pistol crossbow. They need little to no energy to operate and are compact enough to store in your kit. If I were a survivalist, I would look for the same specs as the home defense one, but also make sure the crossbow is very durable. 

Target practice –I personally use mine for target practice since I usually hunt with my CP400. It helps you improve your aim and you can add another tool to your arsenal.

Side-arm – If you don’t want to carry a firearm when you go hunting for self-defense, a pistol crossbow could be a good alternative. It’s not as heavy and laws are usually more relaxed on them than firearms. 

Conclusion

It’s amazing how small crossbows have become. Pistol crossbows are a compact and lightweight option for when you hunt, for home defense, or when you just want to do some target practice in your yard.

When getting one, don’t sweat the details too much. They are not a big investment like a full size crossbow and you can always try out several ones until you find the one that’s right for you.

Crossbow Pistol FAQs

Are pistol crossbows worth it?

Yes, pistol crossbows are definitely worth it. They give great value for the price and are great for hunting small game, home defense, and target practice. 

What are pistol crossbows used for?

Pistol crossbows are small crossbows designed to be held in one hand. Usually equipped with a self cocking mechanism, they can be used for hunting small game, home defense, and target practice.

How far can a pistol crossbow shoot?

Pistol crossbows can shoot anywhere between 8 to 15 yards, so it’s good for target practice or hunting vermin in your yard. 

Can I hunt with a pistol crossbow?

Yes, pistol crossbows are lethal enough to take down small game like rabbits, rodents, and bullfrogs from a small range. Of course, this depends on the accuracy of your shot.

Are pistol crossbows good for home defense?

Yes, pistol crossbows are a good choice for defense, especially if you don’t want to or can’t have a firearm in your house because of local laws. They don’t need a lot of maintenance and are very easy to use. 

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About Dave Chesson

Dave Chesson is prior Navy with a specialty in international arms dealing for the US government across multiple countries. Having traveled the world and abided by ATF and ITAR, Roy has a unique background in legal as well as practical capabilities of weapons deployment and use.

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