I’ve often stressed in this column the value of reading the owner’s manual before attempting to assemble or fire a new crossbow, regardless of the manufacturer. The point was driven home once again when I took delivery of the new PSE Dream Season RDX; it looks and shoots like any other crossbow, but it’s also different in many ways from any other crossbow on the market.

For starters, PSE calls its split-limb assembly a “prod,” one of the few words I could not find in my 5-pound Webster’s New Universal dictionary. Also, while nearly every other crossbow on the market assembles using a bolt or bolts that attach to threads integrated into the forward portion of the stock or rail, the RDX package includes a rather curiously designed “prod nut,” which is inserted perpendicularly through a hole in the front of the barrel. This is where things get dicey, because the instructions say, “Insert the foot stirrup into the two holes on the front of the prod.” (There is only one hole.) Then, “Make sure the two notches in the foot stirrup are facing toward the bolt used to secure the stirrup and prod.” (There are no notches in the foot stirrup.)

Truthfully, most crossbow assembly instructions contain similar minor glitches due to constant improvement in product design. Apparently, updating the owner’s manual is not a top priority. Fortunately, anyone who is minimally adept at “figuring things out” can work around the confusion and successfully assemble the crossbow. I did it, so there’s no doubt you can, too.

Installation of the (included, with battery) 3×32 illuminated scope (referred to as a 4×32 in the manual) was simple enough, as was mounting of the sturdy metal quiver bracket and locking assembly. All Allen wrenches required for assembly of the crossbow and scope are included in the RDX package. The end user needs to supply a Phillips-head screwdriver for installation of the quiver bracket using the two screws provided.

Upon assembly the RDX cocks, loads and shoots like any other modern crossbow. Product specifications suggest that the RDX should more than match up to most other hunting crossbows on the market today. Weighing in at 7.6 pounds, the RDX features a draw weight of 165 pounds with a power stroke of 14.5 inches, sending a typical 20-inch, 400-grain arrow downrange at 355-365 fps. Axle-to-axle length is 20 inches with an overall length of 37.5 inches.

The 2015 Dream Season RDX is built on an independent machined aluminum barrel and composite camo-patterned stock. The field-serviceable RDX also features a reverse-draw cam system and consistently crisp trigger pull set at 3 pounds.

The PSE XO 3×32 illuminated scope features five dot-reticle crosshairs designed for arrows traveling at 350 fps. Zeroed at 20 yards with the top dot-crosshair, the scope is calibrated to provide dead-on accuracy at 10-yard increments out to 60 yards. Interestingly, the PSE XO scope manual is one of the few I’ve seen that actually refers to the scope provided and is not just a standard riflescope set up for crossbow use. Also unique to the RDX is that the (red) illumination highlights only the center dots and vertical crosshairs in a continuous line with no illumination on the horizontal crosshairs or peripheral dots.

Aside from a few head-scratching moments during assembly, the RDX is a good, solid, competitive product that, with proper maintenance and care, should provide the owner with several years of dependable service. Short and relatively light in weight at just under 8 pounds, the RDX is comfortably maneuverable in a blind or treestand, and thanks to the included sling can be easily transported from camp or car through typically rough whitetail terrain.

As always, the final analysis must be a crossbow’s performance at the range, and the RDX lives up to its “amazing 365 fps” billing. Arrow chronography being what it is, I found very little variation in arrow speed, and during my standard test (100 arrows) chronograph readings rarely wavered above or below 365 fps.

It’s to be expected that some fine-tuning would be required because the scope and mounts are packed in a box separate from the crossbow. I actually prefer to mount my own scopes because eye relief is such a personal thing ­– one shooter’s 3-inch eye relief might be too much or too little for another, and if that’s the case the scope must be adjusted anyway. When a scope is mounted to the shooter’s personal specs (eye relief and cant are important factors) arrow groups tend to be more consistent throughout the process.

At 10 yards, the RDX was grouping a few inches high and right, but a few clicks of elevation and windage put the shafts right on target. Moving back to 20 yards I had to add a couple of elevation clicks, and from then on it was one arrow per target.

There are few modern crossbows that are not supremely accurate at 20 and 30 yards, but the real testing begins when attempts are made at 40, 50 and beyond. When a crossbow shows up for testing that includes 50- or 60-yard scope reticles, I feel compelled to test it at those distances even though I am not a big fan of long-range lobbing at live game. Fifty yards in typically dense whitetail habitat is a long poke, and clear, open shots at 60 yards are extremely rare except in farm country.

According to PSE, the “XO aiming system provides a series of aiming points and an easy-to-use drop-compensation system,” noting that the crossbow scope reticle has been developed for a (arrow) trajectory of 350 feet per second. With that being said, PSE also recommends that shooters verify their aiming points by shooting at measured distances. Also, accuracy will be affected by varying arrow speeds and “a number of other environmental factors.” Again, it pays to read the owner’s manual.

What this means is that shooters can expect slight variations in accuracy, especially at longer distances. Sighting in using the 50-yard dot, for example, might reveal that the arrows will be dead on at 48 yards or even 52 yards depending upon total arrow weight, wind and other factors – information that will be useful to the shooter under hunting conditions.

In my testing, the RDX was dead on at 10-yard increments out to 40 yards, and then at 47 and 56 yards. Making click adjustments to compensate for accuracy variations at the longer distances tends to have a deleterious effect on accuracy at 20, 30 and 40 yards, where most shots at whitetails occur, so I would tuck the long-range information into the back of my head and do some mental calculations (with the help of a rangefinder) should 50- or 60-yard opportunities arise. For me, it’s best to wait until the animal moves closer (as it should if the blind or stand is properly placed) and avoid the riskier long-range shots.

On the roving portion of the range, the RDX performed admirably. The crossbow is well balanced and comfortable to carry while “stalking” deer, bears, hogs, elk and hay bales, and shots were dead on out to 40 yards. Accuracy diminished at 50 and 60 yards when offhand shooting, but that was not the fault of the crossbow. From a sitting position or over sticks, the RDX put its arrows where they needed to go. Practice and experience is key when shooting at targets (or game) beyond 40 yards.

There is much to like about the PSE Dream Season RDX. The string stops and sound deadeners (included) provide a great functional touch, and I also like that the RDX package includes a sling and cocking rope. Other than broadheads, the RDX is ready for the field right out of the box with no additional accessories required. It proved to be accurate and hard-hitting at typical hunting distances, and no malfunctions were observed during the test period.

Strictly for testing purposes, I left the RDX cocked (unloaded) for a week and then fired 10 arrows in rapid succession. All hits were dead on (including the first shot) and there were no noticeable glitches or parts failures. The PSE does not specifically recommend against leaving the RDX cocked for long periods of time, although most other manufacturers do. In 20 years of testing crossbows I have never seen a malfunction or collapse due to leaving the crossbow cocked for a week or more, but for warranty purposes it’s always best to follow the manufacturer’s instructions.

Also, purely for testing purposes, I fired several dozen arrows of various manufacture and design (flat nocks, half-moons, carbon, aluminum, etc.) and all performed flawlessly. Of course, in a field situation accuracy might be affected by changing arrow configurations, but functionally, the RDX easily handled every type and style of arrow I ran through it.

Active hunters might want to consider purchasing a soft case for transporting the crossbow locally, and a hard case is recommended for long-distance travel. Careful handling of limbs (or “prod”), strings, cable and scope are important for crossbow accuracy and longevity. Do not put a crossbow at the bottom of a pile of gear before a 1,000-mile drive. Odds are it won’t shoot as well as it did when you left home.

The RDX package includes string stops and sound-deadening inserts as well as anti-dry-fire mechanism and automatic safety. Also included are three Charger carbon arrows with half-moon nocks and field points, rail lube, a cocking rope and sling. The stock, prod and cams carry lifetime warranties, while the limbs are warranted for one year, and then 50 percent of replacement cost thereafter. Suggested MSRP for the PSE Dream Season RDX crossbow package is $699.99.