Crossbows have been around forever. Well almost forever. It has been documented that the earliest known crossbow was from around 6000 B.C. One thing that has stayed consistent with most every crossbow built from that point up until now is that the bolt or arrow was held in place, and launched down some sort of barrel or rail. Why? Because it works. Then PSE Archery came along in the late 80’s and built and designed a couple of railless crossbows. These bows for the time where very accurate. One of the biggest disadvantages though, was trying the keep the arrow from falling off the lizard tongue style arrow rest. Then came the capture rest. As vertical archery technology improved the invention of an arrow rest that would hold an arrow no matter what position the bow was in came about. PSE Archery once again developed a railless crossbow with their TAC series of bows that now included a capture style rest eliminating the worry of arrows falling off the bow. While I would not consider the TAC series of bows very practical for use as a hunting bow, they have spurred the debate as to wether or not other manufacturers should develop railless crossbow technology.
So what elements are appealing about railless crossbows? I think for most people the ability to have an arrow rest you could actually move is really appealing. This would aid in the ability to “tune” a crossbow. Currently we do not have many things we can to try and increase the accuracy of our current bows. Being able to move the arrow rest would allow the hunter to setup his particular bow to fit his specific arrow. This is something that is quite common in the vertical bow world, however this is something that I think crossbow manufacturers just do not want to get involved in.
String wear, or lack of it is an advantage of railless crossbow designs. Because the string does not ride down the barrel on a railless crossbow, string wear or more specifically serving wear is almost nonexistent. While most of todays bows do a good job of dealing with this serving wear, some have pretty heavy down pressure that wears out servings quickly.
Arrow vane orientation is a big advantage on railless crossbows. With todays current bows, we are limited to how much offset or helical we can fletch our arrows with. If we go too much, the cock vane will rub the inside of the barrel effecting arrow flight. Also, some of the higher profile vanes are too tall to fit in the track of a crossbow rail, again effecting arrow flight. The railless design would eliminate both of these vane issues allowing you to choose whatever type of vane you want while allowing you to choose how much offset or helical to fletch them at.
There are some disadvantages to the railless crossbow design too. Just as I stated it was an advantage to be able to move an arrow rest to make tuning a bow easier, this could also be detrimental to some hunters. Sometimes, less is more. Giving the consumer the opportunity to move things around can sometimes cause more grief than it’s worth. As stated before crossbows have been around since 6000 B.C. Maybe they just got it right the first time around.
Arrow rests also wear out. With the friction produced from the arrow going across the arrow rest, parts of the arrow rest that come in contact with the arrow wear down. Will this mean that after a certain number of shots you will have to tune your bow again?
What happens if you drop your bow? Or even have it bang against your tree as you pull it up to your treestand? Will your arrow rest be bent effecting your point of impact?
As you can see, there are some legitimate concerns that you just don’t have to worry about with a conventional style bow with a rail. I do believe that more and more manufacturers are taking notice of railless technology. Will it have a place in the future? I think it definitely could. Will it replace the way crossbows are currently built? I don’t think that will ever happen. But is there room for both in todays industry? As we are already seeing, there is. However, PSE developed this railless technology 20 years ago, and as of today, they are still the only ones to use it. But with the X-bow industry exploding like it is, it’s only time before another manufacture will adopt this technology and perfect it.
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