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Providing the biggest range of crossbows in the UK since 2003

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Crossbow History

The use of crossbows in European warfare dates back to Roman times and is again evident from the battle of Hastings until about 1500 AD. They almost completely superseded hand bows in many European armies in the twelfth century for a number of reasons. Although a longbow had greater range, could achieve comparable accuracy and faster shooting rate than an average crossbow, they could release more kinetic energy and be used effectively after a week of training, while a comparable single-shot skill with a longbow could take an archer years of practice. In the armies of Europe, mounted and unmounted crossbowmen, often mixed with javeliners and archers, occupied a central position in battle formations. Usually they engaged the enemy in offensive skirmishes before an assault of mounted knights. Crossbowmen were also valuable in counter attacks to protect their infantry. The rank of commanding officer of the crossbowmen corps was one of the highest positions in any army of this time. Along with weapons made from farming equipment, the crossbow was also a weapon of choice for insurgent peasants. Famous were the Genoese who were hired as mercenaries for many countries in medieval Europe, while the crossbow also played an important role in anti-personnel defence of ships. Flemish citizens, in the army of richard Lionheart, and others, could have up to two servants, two crossbows and a shield to protect the men.

Then one of the servants had the task of reloading the weapons, while the second subordinate would carry and hold the shield (the archer himself also wore protective armor). Such a three-man team could shoot 8 bolts per minute, compared to a single crossbowman's 3 crossbow bolts per minute. The archer was the leader of the team, the one who owned the equipment, and the one who received payment for their services. The payment for a mercenary was higher than for a longbow mercenary, but the longbowman did not have to pay a team of assistants and his equipment was cheaper. Mounted knights armed with lances proved ineffective against formations of pikemen combined with crossbowmen whose weapons could penetrate most knights' armor. The invention of pushlever and ratchet crank cocking devices enabled their use on horseback, leading to the development of new cavalry tactics. Knights and mercenaries deployed in triangular formations, with the most heavily armored knights at the front. Some of these riders would carry small, powerful all-metal crossbows of their own. They were eventually replaced in warfare by gunpowder weapons, although early guns had slower rates of fire and much worse accuracy. Up until the seventeenth century most beekeepers in Europe kept their hives spread across the woods and had to defend them against bears. Therefore their guild was granted the right to bear arms.


Crossbows are mostly used for target shooting in some countries hunting is still allowed, such as in a few states within the USA, parts of Asia and Australia or Africa. Other uses with special projectiles are in whale research to take blubber biopsy samples without harming the whales. Few modern military units are equipped with crossbows as lower noise alternatives to suppressed firearms. Modern models are light but high powered with some recurve models having a draw weight as high as 225lbs. Compound models have quickly become the weapon of choice for hunting due to the reduced energy required to cock them. Some compound models even come with crank cocking devices, a simple rope cocking device can be used on all other models.  Modern manufacturers such as Barnett, Excalibur, Horton and Armex are constantly improving their design and introducing new ideas but the basic shape has not changed for hundreds of years. Bolts have also evolved to cope with the shear power at which they are delivered into the target. Bolts are now either aluminium or carbon fibre with interchangeble points for either hunting or target shooting. Pistol crossbows have become a popular introduction to shooting as they are inexpensive but as the pistol bolt is smaller the effective shooting range is quite impressive. Nemesis have produced a new range of compound pistols  that can fire bolts accurately up to 80yds. This new range of compound pistols have a reduced draw weight but use smaller bolts to acheive excellent accuracy. Modern competition shooting limites recurve prod to 90lb draw weight or less, this may seem low in power but the Excalibur Apex can generate 220ft per second.