Setting out on a bowhunting expedition does not guarantee that you will walk out of the woods with a deer or other trophy. Having your crossbow ready to go is one thing, but having the proper arrows, nocks, and tips will make a difference in whether you walk out of the woods successfully or with nothing to show for your time and energy. It’s a good idea to learn about the powerful tools that you take into the woods.
Terminology for the Projectiles
The first thing to understand about the projectiles that shoot from your crossbow is the actual name. They are comfortably referred to as arrows, but the actual term for them is bolts. The only time that the projectiles are referred to as bolts rather than arrows is when they are used with crossbows. The difference between the bolt and the arrow is the fact that the arrow has stabilizers at the backend of it. Bolts do not.
Length of the Bolts
Crossbow bolts come in a limited number of lengths. Before you invest in bolts for your trip to the range or out into the field, it is wise to know what the manufacturer says will work best with your crossbow. There will be a recommended length. The recommendation is made so the crossbow will fire properly and so that you are not injured while shooting. A bolt that is too small can misfire because it will not properly fit in the rail.
Breaking Down the Bolt
Bolts have a few different pieces that make them so deadly.
The main part of the bolt is called the shaft. This is the long, thin section of the bolt that is usually made of lightweight materials like aluminum, carbon, or a composite material. The other pieces of the bolt attach to the shaft. They are durable and flexible. The flexibility of the bolt is due to the spine, which is the also the term that is used to measure the stiffness of the bolt.
When you decide what bolts to buy, you will buy them by the grain – which is the weight measurement that is used. They are sold in grains per inch or GPI. If the letters GPI are not given, but a number is instead that number is still in reference to GPI. The GPI is determined by the length of the shaft and the GPI. The shaft could be 20 inches long and the GPI could be 12, so the grain would be 240. The grains can also be used to figure out how much the bolt weighs. The formula is the the grain weight x 0.0648. So a bolt that is 240 grains would be 240 x 0.0648 or about 15 grams.
Knowing the weight of the bolt will help determine how far it will fly when fired from different crossbow models.
What is a Nock?
Another important part of the bolt is the part called the nock. The nock has a special job; it lines up the bolt prior to being fired. It is usually made of plastic or aluminum. Prior to shooting the crossbow, the nock has a groove that fits on the string. The nock has either a half-moon or flat groove. Like the length of the bolt, manufacturers also recommend what nock works best with their crossbows.
What is a Fletching?
Along with the nocks, bolts also have a part called a fletching. These are placed at the rear of the bolt and they look like wings. They are the stabilizing piece that keeps the bolt in the direction you fire it. Instead of the bolt flailing back and forth as it moves towards the target, the fletchings make the bolt spin – keeping it on its designated track. The bolts for sale today usually have three wings – those little wings are often called vanes. Arrows for other types of bows often use feathers, but feathers are never used on bolts for crossbows. In most instances, the length of the fletchings will be determined by the length of the bolt and in most cases, the fletchings are just glued on the bolt.
Broadheads and Target Field Points
At the other end of the bolt is the head. There are a few different types and they have different jobs. If you are practicing in the range, it is best to use field points because they are the safest option. The points on the arrowheads are just sharp enough to break through a target, not an animal. They are usually just strong enough to be reused after they have pierced a paper target or a straw target. Also, the field point bolts are usually lightweight – between 125 and 150 grains. But, before you use field point bolts, be sure they have enough grain weight to work with your crossbow. Using bolts that are too light can harm your crossbow.
Another type of head is the broadhead. These are used for hunting and they come in several varieties based on the type of hunting you plan to do. In most cases, the broadhead needs to be attached to the bolt, in most cases, they are simply screwed into place. Broadheads used for hunting usually have extremely sharp blades. Some come in a fixed position and are called fixed-blade broadheads. Some have removable blades and some are expandable, so the broadheads open when the arrow hits its target.
The best blades for hunting are the expandable ones. They travel faster because there blades do not slow down the bolt. The only issue is that the expandable broadheads are more expensive than the other types because of the way they work.
When you are ready to get shooting, it is a good idea to consider the crossbow and the bolts you plan to use. It is important that you match the weight of your field points and broadheads, otherwise your practice will be for nothing. It is also important to always use bolts that are the recommended weight or heavier. No crossbow manufacturer will ever recommend using lighter bolts because crossbows can misfire or malfunction and you could get hurt. When you buy your first crossbow, you will usually get bolts that come with field points; most hunters buy their hunting bolts and broadheads on their own.