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The Terracotta Army crossbow that could shoot twice as far as a modern-day rifle: Archaeologists unearth 2,200-year-old weapon at historic Chinese site

Historical texts indicate that its firing range could have been up to 2,600 feet, according to Huashang Newspaper, which is double the range of an assault rifle, which is about 1,300 feet.

Is the title statement true?

  • Comments are not for extended discussion (And they are definitely not for insulting each other!); this conversation has been moved to chat. – Jamiec Sep 28 '16 at 16:07
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    Wikipedia's entry for the M16 (a typical assault rifle) says Maximum firing range 3,600 m (3,937 yd). That's 11,811 feet - considerably more than 2,600 feet for the crossbow, even if that were accurate. – FumbleFingers Sep 28 '16 at 16:28
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    And remember we have longer ranged rifles called sniper rifles. – Nelson Sep 30 '16 at 9:20
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    The longest recorded sniper kill is 2,707 yards. See en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Longest_recorded_sniper_kills – Mawg Oct 2 '16 at 9:26
  • What is TL DR? Also does asian bow have longer range than european? – user4951 Oct 2 '16 at 10:26
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TL;DR: No

Crossbow vs. sniper rifle

The Terracotta Army crossbow that could shoot twice as far as a modern-day rifle: Archaeologists unearth 2,200-year-old weapon at historic Chinese site

This headline from the Daily Mail is a little misleading. It is easy to read this as "twice as long as any modern-day rifle" but later it limits the comparison to just assault rifles.

The implicit claim of any is clearly wrong. There are recorded sniper shots that are well over a mile. The maximum range of this crossbow was apparently only half a mile (there are 2640 feet in a half mile, or 800 metres). Contrast that with 8121 feet (2707 yards or roughly 2.5 kilometres) for the record lethal sniper shot.

Crossbow vs. M-16

Later we see a more limited claim:

Historical texts indicate that its firing range could have been up to 2,600 feet, according to Huashang Newspaper, which is double the range of an assault rifle, which is about 1,300 feet.

An assault rifle has a lower range than a sniper rifle. This seems a more likely claim. As someone noted in the comments, the M-16 is a typical assault rifle and has an effective range of 1500 feet (500 yards or 450 metres). So it seems reasonable that there is some assault rifle with an effective range of 1300 feet.

The problem is that the 2600 feet is unlikely to be an effective range. Instead, it is likely the maximum distance that a bolt could travel. The equivalent range for an M-16 is 9000 feet (3000 yards).

It is possible that the 2600 feet was a lethal range. That would be the equivalent of the sniper rifle's 8121 feet range. For an M-16, the equivalent number is 2952 feet (984 yards). That's still more than the 2600 feet claimed for this crossbow. The lethal range would be the deadly range at which a volley could be fired at the enemy (many bolts shot at the same time without specific targets).

The current world record for a crossbow shot on level ground is 6141 feet (2047 yards). Yet the typical recommendation for bow hunters is to never take a shot beyond 100 feet or so. 150 feet (50 yards) is considered to be an extreme distance. Target shooters consider 300 feet (90 meters) to be a long distance.

The range for an M-16 bullet can be up to 9000 feet (3000 yards). That's longer than the world record with a crossbow designed specifically for distance shooting. And well over the 2600 feet claimed for this crossbow.

Summary

The most likely explanation is that the historical record was giving the longest distance of travel for the crossbow. The modern comparison of 1300 feet would seem to be an effective range, a range at which an aimed shot can hit consistently. It would be more appropriate to compare either two maximum ranges or two effective ranges. The maximum is easier, as that would seem to be what we know for the crossbow. Another possibility is that the crossbow's range is a lethal range, the longest known range at which someone was killed. That too is less than the equivalent range for an M-16.

The 1300 feet is the wrong range to use for an assault rifle in this context. The correct range is more like 2952 feet or 9000 feet, depending on exactly what the 2600 feet is.

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