Hunters looking for an accurate, durable, lightweight crossbow in basic black need look no further than Stryker's new StrykeZone 350. Solidly built with a number of integrated safety features, the StrykeZone 350 is more than enough crossbow for deer, bear, hogs and other big game, yet with its comparatively light draw weight, is a pleasure to shoot during long sessions at the range.
Assembly is quick and easy, though somewhat different from most other crossbows. The rail, limbs and trigger arrive as one unit. The stock is attached to the rail using three No. 2 Philips-head screws, and then the stirrup is attached using four Allen-head screws. All screw holes are counter-bored and line up nicely, making initial assembly a snap. No instructions are included regarding installation of the quiver mount to the crossbow, but once the bow is assembled, there are only two screws and two screw holes left — the process of elimination takes care of the rest.
Included with the package is a 3x32 four-circle reticle scope, which easily mounts on the Picatinny-type rail using the provided mounting screws. Illuminated scopes are available as accessory options.
The instructions included with the scope reference rifle shooting techniques starting at 100 yards. For crossbow use, the logical starting point is 20 yards. Each circle along the vertical reticle plane is set in 10-yard increments, giving the shooter a 50-yard playing field. For shooters who prefer to sight in at 10 yards, the scope will max out at 40 yards, which is more than adequate for the majority of hunting scenarios. If the target is more than 40 yards away, wait for a better opportunity or get closer!
The StrykeZone 350 is easy to cock and shoot. Unlike most crossbows that have a cocking groove built into the rear of the receiver area, the center of the cocking rope lays over the top of the 350's buttstock. Thanks to the bow's 135-pound pull weight, cocking and loading is easy. The safety automatically resets when the bow is cocked, and for additional safety, the Cease-Fire safety pins can be installed in the trigger shell from either side. This locks the trigger in place and also serves as an anti-dry-fire device. When the pin is removed, the crossbow is ready to shoot and will fire when the trigger is pulled with or without an arrow in place.
Stryker recommends 20-inch arrows weighing at least 380 grains, with half-moon nocks. Using the arrows provided with the crossbow package I was on target at 20 yards after one round of shooting. Another round at separate targets at 20 yards produced arrows-touching accuracy. Moving out to 30 and 40 yards, the StrykeZone 350 produced continuous two-shot groups that were danger-close. I recommend shooting one arrow at each bull's-eye; one arrow in the right place is all it takes to down a buck or boar, and "shooting for group" will just ruin shafts, fletching and nocks unnecessarily.
Stryker recommends waxing the entire string "every other time you shoot your bow," but I went with the standard five- to 10-shot rule and had no problems with arrow flight, performance or accuracy. Light waxing is preferable to leaving gobs of wax on the string. Excess wax can work its way into the trigger mechanism and gum up the works — most noticeable when shooting during periods of cold weather.
The Stryker 350's black composite stock has several features that will appeal to hunters. The fore grip is perfectly designed for a steady hold while allowing the fingers to curl naturally around the grip, well away from the rail and string path. Also, the extra-wide thumbhole and trigger guard openings are ideal for hunting in cold weather when heavy gloves and handwarmer inserts often get in the way.
The buttstock is relatively short and non-adjustable, but hunters with longer arms and necks can make the necessary adjustment in scope placement. There is no appreciable recoil associated with firing a crossbow, so the standard 3-inch rule when mounting scopes on a centerfire rifle does not apply.
What matters most in crossbow hunting is accuracy — in which the Stryker 350 excels — and handling to and from and while in stands or blinds. With sling (not included in the crossbow package) attached, the Stryker 350 is light and well-balanced. I carry my arrows quivered with the fletching to my right as I carry the crossbow over my right shoulder. This protects my neck and the fletching, and eliminates any issues with wear and tear on me or my gear en route to my stand or camp.
The Stryker 350's compact design makes it a pleasure to hold in the stand or blind, and its short axle-to-axle width provides a wide field of fire at any angle. With a little judicious trimming of leaves and twigs, full coverage to the right, left and center is no problem. Also, the Stryker's short power stroke makes it easy to cock and load the crossbow while in a tree stand or blind. Normally I cock the bow prior to raising it by rope into a tree stand, and then load an arrow after I am safely in position. Second shots mean re-cocking the crossbow while I'm 15 or 20 feet in the air, at which point a compact, short-limbed bow is a godsend.
To test the Stryker 350 under typical still-hunting conditions, I have set up a "roving range" that includes a variety of foam and block-style targets set at varying distances off a 400-yard walking trail where trees, saplings, brush and other cover has been left in its natural state. Some of the targets are barely visible from the trail; just enough for an alert still-hunter to see the target and take the shot.
The Stryker 350 is nicely balanced and comparatively light in weight (almost 4 pounds lighter than some models) and carries easily in a relaxed port arms position. One quickly becomes accustomed to the heft and bulk of any implement being carried through the woods, be it a rake, a crossbow or a bazooka. With crossbows it is limb width that is the primary limitation, and after a few steps down the trail, dodging limbs and branches becomes second nature.
Some of my targets are set close together to the left and right of the trail, providing a turn-and-shoot opportunity such as might be encountered when caught in the middle of a herd of wild pigs. The Stryker 350's smooth, 135-pound pull makes it easy to cock, load and shoot in seconds. To make cocking easier, I always carry my cocking rope in a pants cargo pocket for quick and easy access. No crossbow is suited for rapid-fire shooting, but when seconds count, it helps to have your cocking rope handy and be experienced and comfortable with the cocking and loading process.
A minor point of contention with the Stryker 350 is the Cease-Fire trigger locking pin, which keeps the trigger from being pulled after the crossbow is cocked and loaded. This small unit is free-standing and, therefore, subject to loss or misplacement. Forget it or lose it and you are down to the integrated safety button, which is your last resort against misfires or accidental discharge. It would be nice to have a compartment or slot in the stock where the pin could be stored when not in use. Safer is always better!
The basic Stryker 350 package includes the crossbow, three arrows, quiver and quiver mounting bracket. MSRP is $649. Additional details, product information and accessories are available by logging onto www.strykerxbows.com.