A Beginner’s Guide to Crossbow Hunting: Everything You Need to Know

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Crossbow hunting is a great way to get into the sport of bow hunting without having to learn how to use a compound bow or recurve bow. Crossbows are very common, and can be used for deer hunting, elk hunting, bear hunting and more. Many areas have relaxed the regulations regarding crossbows, making this method accessible to a larger audience of hunters. In this article, we will discuss everything you need to know about crossbow hunting as a beginner!

Quick Navigation:
What Is A Crossbow?
Types Of Crossbows
Benefits Of A Crossbow
Drawbacks of Crossbows
Reasons To Try A Crossbow
How To Load A Crossbow
How To Shoot A Crossbow
How To Sight A Crossbow
How To Choose A Crossbow
Crossbow Safety A Crossbow

 

What Is A Crossbow?

A crossbow is a long-range weapon that utilizes an elastic launching mechanism consisting of a bow-like component called a prod. It is positioned horizontally on the primary frame called a tiller, which is hand-held, similarly to a long firearm’s stock. Crossbows fire arrows like projectiles known as bolts or quarrels. Crossbow hunting is allowed for different animals during different seasons, so check your area before getting started.

We have included an image below of a crossbow and parts to help you visualize:

Crossbow Parts Diagram

Image was sourced from Outdoor Life, but we have added additional notations.

 

Types Of Crossbows

Crossbows come in three types: recurve crossbows, compound crossbows and pistol crossbows.

Recurve Crossbow: This is the simplest type of crossbow and often the cheapest to purchase. It has a curved bowstring that pulls back on two arms (or recurves), which store more energy than a straight-limbed bow.

Compound Crossbows: These are much like compound bows, but of course, in a crossbow style. They use cams and levers to multiply the force applied to the bowstring. This makes them more powerful than recurve crossbows, but they also tend to be more expensive.

Pistol Crossbow: These are very small crossbows that can easily be carried in a pack. They are not as powerful as the other two types of crossbows.

 

Benefits Of A Crossbow Over Recurve Or Compound Bows

Crossbows are a crossbreed between bows and guns. They have a cross-shaped mechanism (hence the name) that allows hunters to hold, aim, and shoot without exhausting as much energy as other bow systems. A crossbow is easier than both recurve and compound bows because it doesn’t require you to use your muscles to pull back, and hold tension on the strings in a position to fire.

  • There is no drawback time, as a crossbow can be left in a ready to fire position without the hunter exerting themselves.
  • Crossbows are generally easier to aim, fire, and operate over compound or recurve bows. Holding the draw for recurve or compound bows can cause fatigue, which makes it hard to hold a steady aim. This doesn’t make the more accurate, just a little easier to manage.
  • Crossbows often shoot arrows at a higher speed than most compound and recurve bows.
  • Because crossbows shoot at slightly higher speeds on average, they also tend to have a longer range of accuracy for hunters.

Drawbacks of Crossbows

  • Crossbows tend to be heavier than other bow types, which can be a major consideration when traveling on foot for longer distances.
  • Crossbows generally require a little bit more maintenance due to additional parts. It is a minor increase in maintenance, but worth noting.
  • Crossbows on the higher end tend to be more expensive, while crossbows in the mid and lower end of the price range tend to be very comparable to compound bows.

Reasons To Try Crossbow Hunting

  • Extending the hunting season – crossbows can be used during the early archery season and also during muzzleloader season in many areas (check local regulations).
  • Increased accuracy – crossbows can be more accurate than compound bows, especially at longer ranges. A very experienced bow hunter however can shoot just as accurately with a bow, but the learning curve is a bit easier on a crossbow.
  • Convenience – crossbows can be cocked with a hand crank or rope cocking device, which makes them very easy to use for those who might have disabilities, are younger, older, or don’t quite have the strength to utilize a compound or recurve bow.

How to Load A Crossbow

Crossbows can be cocked via a hand crank cocking device or with a crossbow rope cocker. Each method will allow you to draw back the crossbow’s string and lock it in place without using your bare hands. Of course, crossbows can also be loaded manually.

We have included a video below for you:

 

How To Shoot A Crossbow

Once loaded, crossbows are shot by simply pulling the trigger on the crossbow. Be sure to keep a proper stance, much like shooting a gun.

Crossbows are incredibly accurate weapons when used correctly, and with a little bit of practice you can be extremely accurate at impressively long distances. The more time dedicated to practice will result in more accuracy.

Take a look at the video below for more tips on how to shoot:

 

How To Sight A Crossbow

Many crossbows come with a pre-sighted scope designed exclusively for crossbows. It must, however, be fine-tuned at the range before being used in the field, just like a scoped weapon. That means you’ll have to put in some time at the range.

When sighting in your crossbow, use a sturdy rest or shooting aid and start at a distance of 20 yards. Before extending your range, make any necessary windage and elevation changes and zero at 20 yards. To guarantee correct sight-in with your optic of choice, see your owner’s manual.

Here is a helpful video on the topic:

 

How To Choose The Right Crossbow For You

There are a few things you will want to consider when choosing which crossbow is right for you. Choosing the wrong crossbow could cost you in many ways, and there’s no point spending money on something that isn’t going to work for your needs.

When deciding what crossbow is right for you, be sure to consider:

How often will you go hunting during the season?

If you are an avid hunter, investing in a reliable crossbow with accuracy, durability, and the exact right features is important. The more you plan on hunting, the more likely you should invest in a higher end option.

What are your state regulations?

Check your state and local game rules to determine the minimum (and maximum) draw weight required while hunting with a crossbow. This will aid in determining the draw weight range to be considered.

Will anyone else be shooting your crossbow?

If others may be utilizing your crossbow, you need to consider size, weight, and draw weight so that the crossbow can be shot by anyone that plans on using it. Like most weapons, personal preference is a major factor in what feels the best for your body, so holding a bow is really the only way to tell if it is going to feel right for you.

Will you need to hike a substantial distance with your bow?

If you plan on hiking a lot with your bow, you may want to elect for a model that has reduced weight, or is a bit more compact to make travel easier. The balance between weight, and drawback strength is really dependant upon your hunting needs.

What maximum range are you expecting to need to hunt at?

The higher the drawback range, the more accuracy you often can achieve at greater distances. If your shots are going to be consistently long, or never long, you may be able to purchase a crossbow that fits your particular hunting scenario. Finding the top crossbow brand for your needs can be difficult without the above questions answered.

If you need some examples of the crossbow to start from, here are some well known brands and individual products: Barnett-Recruit, Barnett Jackal, CenterPoint Sniper, Excalibur Matrix, TenPoint Crossbows, and many others. We have also included some well reviewed products on Amazon below to learn about different models in the market.


 

Choosing Bolts and Broadheads

Crossbow bolts (arrows) are available in various weights. You should use heavier bolts in the 300- to 350-grain range when more energy is needed (not including a practice point or broadhead). Heavier bolts will provide more downrange energy, resulting in greater penetration. Check your owner’s handbook for the right length and suggested weight.

Fixed-blade broadheads and extensible broadheads will both work effectively for medium-sized games. Whichever broadhead design you choose, practice with the arrows and broadheads you plan to use for hunting since hunting broadheads rarely hit the same spot as field points. Many broadhead makers provide a practice head with their goods, which is a good alternative for the real thing.

 

Loading and Unloading with Care

Crossbows should be treated in the same way as firearms are. All of the basic gun safety principles apply: Assume that every crossbow is loaded and ready to fire. Never aim a crossbow at something you don’t intend to shoot. Keep your crossbow aimed in a safe direction at all times.

It is also preferable not to walk with a loaded crossbow to and from your hunting location. Load the crossbow only after you’ve settled into your hunting posture. Aside from following fundamental safety precautions, additional care should be used when loading and unloading your crossbow.

The first rule of reloading and discharging your crossbow is to not try to dry fire it. Before firing, make sure the crossbow is oriented in a safe direction. The best solution is to always utilize unloading accessories designed for safety. Select either a portable target or a bolt built for the same function.

Allow your local archery store representative to walk you through the loading and unloading process on their range, then practice on your own at the range well before the season begins.

 

Practice Is Key

When firing a crossbow, you should always try to use a stable rest, much like when hunting with a rifle. It is also critical to practice real-world shots before going hunting with them. Knowing the distance between you and your goal is crucial, which is why a rangefinder is so useful.

The maximum range for crossbow shots on deer should be 40 to 50 yards. To imitate hunting from a treestand, practice taking angle shots from an elevated posture. To imitate hunting from a ground blind, shoot from a sitting position.

Shoot in low-light situations as well. Learning how to judge ranges and shoot accurately at certain ranges is also vital.

This is why a good rangefinder is essential to have with you when you go hunting. Take the time to range items surrounding your stand so you’re aware of critical distances before that huge deer comes into range.

 

Know Your Range

Contrary to popular belief, a crossbow is not the same as a rifle. The distance you can shoot depends not only on your aptitude but also on the arrow and broadhead you use.

An arrow loses speed and thus energy as it goes downrange. If you shoot too far, you may wind up with a wounded and unrecoverable animal. Time spent practicing on the range and in the field is essential when it comes to succeeding with a crossbow.

In most circumstances, the greatest range you should shoot is 40 to 50 yards. With experience, hunters will gain the ability to take confident shots beyond this distance, but this often takes significant practice, experience, and performance testing with your bow. There’s nothing wrong with having a good time on the range. If it’s safe to do so, go ahead and take longer shots on the range to build those skills and familiarity with your bow.

 

Safety First!

No matter where you shoot, be sure your crossbow’s limbs don’t collide with anything when you pull the trigger. This will not only alter the flight of your arrow, but it will also most likely ruin your bow. Be sure to get in some down-angle practice before hunting season starts.

Crossbows contain a variety of built-in safety systems, and while accidents are exceedingly rare, all basic safety standards must be followed. Always keep your bow aimed in a safe direction, never carry it without the safety on, never climb a tree with a loaded bow, and keep your fingers below the barrel at all times.

Of course, once you’re on your stand, you should wear a harness. The most common hunting mishap is a treestand fall.

Below is a fantastic safety video from TenPoint, one of the most well known crossbow manufacturers in the world:

We know this article doesn’t replace actually getting in the field and practicing, but we hope this gave you a great starting point, you feel a little more educated, and you want to take steps to learning more. Remember that nothing is more important than practice, and working with a mentor, or professional can help you pick up crossbow hunting at a much faster rate. Let us know if you’d like to see more information within this article.

Max DesMarais
Max DesMarais

Max DesMarais is the founder of Hiking & Fishing. He has a passion for the outdoors and making outdoor education and adventure more accessible. Max is a published author for various outdoor and marketing websites. He is an experienced hiker, backpacker, fly fisherman, trail runner, and spends his free time in the outdoors. These adventures allow him to test gear, learn new skills, and experience new places so that he can educate others. You can read more about him here: hikingandfishing/about