REVIEW BY JEFF JOHNSTON
In just four years of existence, one American company has done more to revolutionize crossbow technology than anyone else—warring empires included—since this weapon’s inception dating back well before Christ: That company is Ravin. And while this Superior, WI, firm’s R29X crossbow isn’t even its most cutting-edge model to date, it may be its best all-around unit for hunters considering its size-to-power ratio.
In essence, Ravin’s R29X is a more powerful upgrade to the company’s standard R29. The X indicates it launches a 400-grain arrow at 450 fps for 180 ft.-lbs. of bone-shattering kinetic energy. Yet the 29X retains the original’s lithe 6.75-lb. (bare) weight and its nine-inch maximum overall width, so you don’t need a war horse to carry it.
Fact is, speed sells bows in the stores, but accuracy and ease of use—or huntability—kills game in the field. Huntability refers to a combination of a crossbow’s size so it can be maneuvered easily in a blind and features that make it intuitive to shoot when the pressure’s on.
Ravin’s 29 series crossbows have been stripped of most gimmicky cosmetics and left with a skeletonized, bridge-style riser design machined from solid aluminum. Only the non-stress-bearing parts of the body, such as the fore end, pistol grip are made of injection-molded polymer and overmolded with grippy rubber to save weight and make the bow comfortable in the hands. The fact that the R29x is among the most powerful available but also among the lightest—yet still shoots accurately—is an indicator of the Ravin’s top-notch engineering and manufacturing capabilities.
The 29x’s incredible power is owed to a combination of features, including Ravin’s patented HeliCoil eccentrics system that’s as simple as it is efficient. Its cams are yoked to the inside of the axles so its bus cables coil around the axles as the string is drawn. This applies pressure evenly to the cams’ tops and bottoms, thereby reducing cam cant and increasing accuracy potential. The cams and thick, stubby limbs combine for a draw weight of 300 beastly pounds, delivered to the arrow via a 12.5-inch powerstroke.
The design omits a traditional barrel that the arrow typically rides upon as it’s launched. Rather, the Ravin uses a dual roller arrow rest through which the vanes pass untouched. This system drastically reduces friction and therefore increases arrow speed, although it’s not entirely “free-floating” as some literature suggests. While I’ve had one of these roller guides break in the past, it is 99.9 percent reliable and quantifiably accurate.
Ravin has also upgraded its Versa Draw cocking system by making it silent, a huge deal if you like to kill deer. Plus, if you decide to stop cocking at any point and let go of the handle, it’ll stay in place rather than busting you in the chops.
The R29X utilizes the company’s patented sled-like fire-control system that cocks the bow, contains the anti-dry fire device, and engages the trigger sear and safety. It’s called Trac-Trigger. With a tested pull weight of two pounds 10 ounces, it’s nothing short of spectacular. If I could change one thing about it however, I’d make the safety lever larger and more tactile so using it without looking or with gloves was more intuitive.
On the Bench
My test unit averaged exactly what the company claims—450 fps—to produce an incredible 181 ft.-lbs of kinetic energy. It averaged 1¼-inch groups at 30 yards. It was fairly loud at 108 decibels compared to other (often slower) crossbows, but when I experimented with heavier arrowheads a transformation occurred: With 150-grain points, kinetic energy increased to a silly 194 ft.-lbs! Groups shrunk to 1-inch; decibels decreased to 105. I suspect bow life will greatly increase as well. If this bow were mine, I’d also upgrade the 29X’s Chinese-made scope for one of higher quality. For a bow costing $2,500, what’s another few Benjamins? (Or, if you desire the most advanced crossbow scope ever, see sidebar, Garmin Zero X1i.)
In addition to the eye-popping performance of the R29X, its diminutive size and huntability is what I like best. Most 450 FPS crossbows are heavy and a b-word to lug through the woods. But not this light and narrow xbow. Details like its half-moon-shaped fore end that make it easy to rest on anything speak to its huntability; an integral handle in the buttstock facilitates carry; it’s 100-percent ambidextrous; I could go on. Simply put, the R29X is a pure hunting crossbow that also features top-notch performance. I believe it’s among the top two or three crossbows made during, oh, about the last 2,600 years.
– Velocity: 450 fps w/403 gr. arrow
– Riser: machined aluminum
– Stock: polymer
– Trigger: 2 lbs. 11 ozs.
– Dimensions: Length: 29”, axle-to-axle width cocked: 6”, power stroke: 12.5”
– Weight: 6.75 lbs.
– Accessories: 6 arrows, crank, quiver, illuminated scope
– MSRP: $2,624
Garmin has revolutionized crossbow scopes much like Ravin has crossbows. The tech giant’s Xero X1i optic is a 3.5-magnification digital telescope featuring an integrated laser rangefinder and reticle system that automatically displays the appropriate hold-over dot for any given range out to around 80 yards. In real world terms, the shooter must simply range a target, hold the illuminated dot on the bullseye, and pull the trigger. It’s like an F-18’s heads-up missile lock system for crossbow hunters.
While this computer-controlled optic has more features than I can list, one of the most noteworthy is its set-up wizard that makes it easier than other digital optics to zero, thanks to three buttons and on-screen instructions. Still, if you’re a hunter who isn’t handy with a cell phone, it may not be for you. Some additional features include a digital compass, angle compensation, digital level, multiple profiles for toggling between various arrow selections, and a shot counter.
The aluminum-framed, waterproof unit is built well to house high-quality coated optics, an oversized master/ranging button and a remote button routed to the shooter’s fingertips. Its downsides? It requires three AAA lithium batteries that don’t last as long as Garmin claims. Secondly, it’s bulky at 1.9 lbs. And then there’s its price of $1,799. But if you demand the most modern crossbow technology, the Zero X1i is it.