Crossbow Review: Darton Serpent LTD II

March 25, 2013

It’s only recently that crossbow manufacturers have refined their assembly process to allow eager buyers to put their new crossbow together in minutes instead of hours. Faced with pages of after-thought instructions and armed with a handful of tools, new crossbow owners could expect to spend the better part of an evening assembling their purchase, and with luck and Daylight Savings Time they just might be able to shoot a few arrows on the same day their bow arrives.

Things have changed, fortunately, and Darton wins the assembly game hands down. I have been unpacking crossbows for testing and review for close to 15 years and was expecting Darton’s new Serpent LTD II to be the usual mish-mash of parts, strings, nuts, bolts, screws, rails and sights. Instead, I was able to cock, load and shoot my LTD II before the UPS truck that delivered it began to pull out of the neighbor’s driveway. Assembly was a snap using the Allen wrench supplied with the bow. Line up the string and cables, tighten one bolt melding the stirrup, barrel and limbs and it’s time to head for the range.

Nicely balanced at a well-distributed 8.8 pounds, the LTD II is 35 ½ inches long and 19 ½ inches axle to axle. At 180 pounds peak draw weight with a 13-inch power stroke, the LTD II sends a 400-grain arrow downrange at 355 fps. Some of my arrows chronographed at over 370 fps over a well-lubed rail right out of the box, but once the bow settled down I was able to maintain speeds of around 350 fps throughout the test session.

There are plenty of features on this crossbow that hunters will find appealing. The extra-wide stirrup has a serrated edge that provides a non-slip base for cocking no matter how wet or muddy your boots are. The stirrup’s sure, solid foot grip makes it a breeze to cock and load the crossbow even in a cramped blind or tree stand.

I was pleased to see that Darton chose to offer noise dampeners and string stops as standard items on the LTD II. As fast as modern crossbows are in delivering an arrow to the target, limb noise is always a factor when shooting skittish game. Also, string stops aid in reducing string travel and wear over a long pre-season of practice shooting. Included is a noise dampener that easily fits under the barrel between the cable guide and limb assembly for additional noise reduction.

An interesting and unusual feature of the LTD II is its unique rifle-style safety mounted on the barrel of the bow in front of the trigger. Quiet, positive and easily accessible, the safety is positioned so any shooter (left- or right-handed) can operate it without having to look down at the mechanism — a real benefit when game shows up unexpectedly offering a quick “now or never” shot.

The 2012 LTD II also features an improved trigger design with a pull set at 3 lbs. Travel was minimal on my test bow and was consistent over 200 non-stop shots. My bow included a 4x32 scope with six crosshairs set at 5-yard increments. With the top reticle set at 20 yards, the bow shot dead-on at 25, 30, 35, 40 and 45 yards — more than enough for hunting under normal big-game conditions. I would not recommend attempting shots at game over 40 yards except under ideal conditions (no cover, no wind), but for target shooting only, the scope could be useful for shots out to 70 yards and farther.

Once I had the LTD II sighted-in, I continued to shoot, my goal being 200 arrows non-stop. Most shooters will be satisfied to sight-in and then fire an arrow or two prior to each hunt, but I wanted to see how the bow would perform and how its parts would stand up to continuous shooting. Strings and cables do stretch, and weak or faulty parts will reveal themselves after several dozen shots. Every mechanical device has its breaking point, of course, but I expect my tested crossbows to be able to withstand the rigors of a full hunting season, and 200 arrows is probably more than most hunters shoot in five years.

I was careful to apply string and rail lube every three or four shots, and made sure that the string and serving were undamaged before cocking and loading. I fired four arrows each at 20-, 25-, 30-, 35- and 40-yard targets, 10 times in a row, and found the LTD II to be tight, solid and perfectly functional throughout. Accuracy was unaffected by the constant back-and-forth between targets.

After the first 10 shots I tightened all screws per the manufacturer’s instructions. At the end of the session I checked all fittings, nuts and bolts and found none to be loose or fatigued. Learning from past experience, I tightened the stirrup bolt every 10 shots, but there was really no need — it remained solidly locked throughout the test period.

Darton’s owner’s manual indicates the LTD II may remain cocked indefinitely without damage to the unit. This is a great feature for hunters spending a week or more in camp, trophy hunters who might go several days (even weeks) without firing a shot or active hunters who do not want to unload and re-cock their crossbows several times per day. Of course, cocked crossbows should be stored in a safe place away from children and other curiosity seekers. And, although the LTD II is equipped with an anti-dry-firing mechanism, Darton notes that dry-firing any of its crossbows will void the warranty.

Regarding dry-firing, Darton cautions shooters to ensure the arrow nock is securely placed against the bowstring before shooting and that only serviceable arrows with undamaged half-moon nocks be used. If the nock is not set directly on the string, the string can jump the nock when the bow is fired, creating a dry-fire situation that could cause injury and will void the warranty.

My testing includes leaving review crossbows cocked and on safe outdoors overnight regardless of the weather in an attempt to see how these units fare in extremes of heat, cold, rain and/or snow. The cocked LTD II was purposely left outside for five consecutive nights and functioned perfectly when fired each morning.

There is a trend in crossbows lately where manufacturers recommend specific arrow weights and nocks and warn that using “others” will negate the warranty. Darton warns that only arrows equipped with half-moon nocks and weighing at least 400 grains be used with the LTD II. Weight and nock recommendations vary from bow to bow, so it’s up to the user to know and use only the arrow types recommended by the manufacturer. Though I have not met an arrow nock (flat, half-moon or full) that won’t function with today’s crossbows, it’s best to adhere to the manufacturer’s instructions for warranty purposes. In some cases only the manufacturer’s arrows are recommended for use with the company’s crossbow lineup.

Because I do most of my crossbow hunting in the typically thick cover of the eastern U.S., I have repeatedly challenged crossbow manufacturers to come up with lightweight, balanced, accurate bows that do not limit hunters to sitting in tree stands or blinds all day. While the LTD II is not exceptionally lightweight at nearly 9 pounds, it is well-balanced with a slim (20-inch) profile. It scored high points on my backyard still-hunting course, a trail that winds through brush, saplings, blown-down trees, briars and other clinging cover. The LTD II has the comfortable feel and heft of a favorite rifle or shotgun and is easy to maneuver in dense cover. It goes over and around obstacles with ease and comes up quickly for a shot without feeling front-heavy or unwieldy. I have several Block targets placed at varying distances along my impromptu crossbow course, and the LTD II aced the course its first time out.

Darton’s limited 10-year warranty covers the riser barrel, trigger assembly and stock while limbs and “eccentrics” are covered for five years. Not covered are strings, cables, component parts and cable slides. Only bows accompanied by a copy of the sales receipt and intact serial number are covered by the warranty.

From a buyer’s point of view, the only complaint I could muster about the Darton line is that sights and scope are considered by the company to be accessories and must be purchased separately, which essentially increases the base price of this crossbow by 10 percent or more. Also, although the LTD II can be cocked by hand, not all users will find this method appealing or even possible in the case of young, old or handicapped hunters.

Every crossbow should be shipped with at least a rope-cocking device, arrows and basic open sights so the shooter can head straight to the range after making his purchase.

Otherwise, I found the Darton Serpent LTD II to be an excellent choice for hunters looking for a lightweight, well-balanced crossbow that should provide many seasons of dependable service in all weather conditions. This is a quality product designed with hunters in mind and would be a good choice for the sportsman who can afford to buy just one crossbow for all his big- and small-game outings.

MSRP for the bow only is $899.99. Colors available include Shadow Black or Next G-1 Vista camouflage. A package including a 4x32 scope and mounts, quiver and rope cocker is sold separately. According to the LTD II owner’s manual and website, accessories including sling, arrows, quick-detachable quiver, sights, scopes and rings, track lubricant, winch-type or rope cocking devices, monopod and soft case are available and cost extra.

For more information on the Serpent LTD II bow and Darton’s full line of crossbows, log on to www.dartonarchery.com or call the customer service department at (989) 728-4231.