Dos and Donts: Crossbow Hunting

Shooting a crossbow is a skill that takes time to learn. These tools are powerful and they can be dangerous. Fortunately, they are quite fun to shoot, so many people enjoy the time they spend on the range learning to master these effective and accurate weapons. To get the most out of the crossbow, it is helpful to learn a few dos and donts to become an effective, efficient, and accurate shooter. These dos and donts involve more than just shooting, they include choosing the right bow and accessories, learning how to put it all together and take care of it, and making good decisions when you are out in the field.

Ten Important Do’s When Hunting with a Crossbow

(1) Practice, practice, practice. When it comes to learning any new skill, practice is the key to success. It doesn’t matter what type of bow you are using; you should practice as often as possible. Many hunters recommend shooting in the field, but if you don’t have a field to use, a range is just as good. When you practice, shoot from different positions. Shoot from high up and from your knees. If you can practice from a tree stand or a blind, you will be more accurate and comfortable when you really shoot from those locations.


(2) Take good care of your bow and accessories. Crossbows are precise instruments that require proper care. The bow that you own needs to be maintained. It is a good idea to inspect the string and cables because friction and abrasion can wear them out. If you see any flaws, you should replace those pieces. It is also important to clean and lubricate the parts that the manufacturer recommends after each practice session or hunting trip.

(3) Buy a good quality crossbow. When it comes to hunting, a good crossbow can make a big difference. The inexpensive models will not have the same features and quality that the higher priced models have. Most of the inexpensive models will not last long, so you will eventually spend just as much repairing or replacing a cheap model that you would buying a good quality model for a higher price. It is also helpful to buy a package that includes the accessories that you need, like some arrows, a scope, a quiver, and a cocking rope.

(4) Be sure the draw weight is sufficient for your hunting neds. If you are trying to shoot big game, you will want a draw weight that will make the kill. States do have minimum requirements for crossbows, so be sure that your bow meets the requirements before you venture out in the field. It is best to choose a heavier draw weight because it will kill the animal. The best choices are 150 pounds and up.

Body TypeSuggested Draw Weight
Small child (40 to 70 lbs.)10-15 lbs.
Child (70 to 100 lbs.)15-20 lbs.
Women and large-framed boys (100 to 140 lbs.)30-40 lbs.
Women with a larger frame & youth boys (140 to 160 lbs.)40-50 lbs.
The majority of males (160 to 190 lbs.)55-65 lbs.
Larger males (190+ lbs.)60-70 lbs.

(5) Learn the physics of the crossbow. When you shoot a crossbow, the arrow will fire in a parabolic arc. A good scope and crosshairs will show you where the arrow should land, but being in the field can change the arc slightly. It is important to learn how the arc changes from different distances and how to get the arrow where you want it – especially if the target could move.

(6) Rest occasionally. Since crossbows are heavy, it is easy to get tired out if you use one several times. Once you get tired, you might find that your accuracy drops. So, it is helpful to rest occasionally so you can be at your best. No one wants to be injured from their own crossbow, but accidents tend to happen when people are worn out from a long day of shooting. Find a way to rest, even if you shoot from a kneeling or sitting position. Some people will pad the forearm of the crossbow to reduce the recoil.

(7) Buy arrows with the right velocity. Crossbows will shoot an arrow at an incredible speed, so you need to buy arrows that can handle the speed. It is a good idea to get arrows that will managed 300 feet per second. If you can find arrows that will manage 400 feet per second, then you have made a good choice.

(8) Get a good scope. Crossbows often come with scopes, but they not be the best ones on the market. The best scopes have magnification, from zero to five times. A really good scope will have a reticle, which are commonly called the crosshairs. Many of the best scopes will be sighted to 20 yards as well as intervals at 30, 40, and 50 yards. Hunters do like to shoot with scope that have dots to help measure the distances.

Crossbow  scopes

Crossbow scopes

(9) Broadheads make all the difference. You can have a good arrow, but if your broadhead is not good, then you will not get your target. The broadhead is the blade that will puncture the animal that you are aiming at and they need to fly straight and true. Many people like to shoot with replaceable-blade broadheads that weigh 100 grains. Some people prefer 125 grains and the mechanical broadheads, too. With experience, you will be able to decide which style and weight you like the best.

(10) Master the trigger. Each crossbow will feel slightly different – even those made by the same manufacturer. They all have their own little quirks, which is why it is helpful to really get to know the trigger. Because timing the shot is as important as the aim, you should work hard to understand the pressure required to release the arrow. Practice shooting with and without gloves so you know how the trigger feels in different types of weather.

Two Important Don’t When Using a Crossbow

(1) Don’t ignore your hand placement. No one wants to hurt their fingers and thumb when shooting their crossbow. But, it is all too easy to do. People who are new to shooting crossbows will often hold them like rifles, which puts their fingers and thumb in dangerous places because the digits get in the way of the bowstring. The arrow releases quickly and it can remove fingers and thumbs before you know it. Be sure you hold the crossbow properly, every, single time.

(2) Don’t shoot with your weak hand. When you shoot with your weak hand, you run the risk of injuring yourself. The balance of the crossbow makes it difficult to shoot accurately and safely from your weak side. Instead, move your body so you can get the shot using your strong hand.

(3) Don’t shoot beyond your ability. If you can place an arrow accurately at a distance of 20 yards, then shoot from your preferred distance. If you have difficulty hitting a target from 40 yards, then do not try to shoot an animal from that distance. You are wasting your time and most importantly, your arrows because you are more likely to miss if you shoot from a distance that gives you trouble during practice.

Shoot Outside Your Own MESR

Many years ago, I coined a phrase for bowhunters, Maximum Effective Shooting Range, or MESR. Your MESR is the maximum distance you can consistently place a hunting arrow into the bullseye. For some crossbow hunters that’s 20 yards; for others it is 60 yards. For most of us, it is somewhere in between.

You will learn your own MESR as you practice. At some point, you just won’t be plunking that arrow into the bullseye on a regular basis. When that happens, it’s time to back off a few yards until you are once again placing at least 90 percent of your shots into the center of the target. At the same time, you should try and push the envelope and stretch your MESR in small (say, 5 yard) increments. But once I get into the field and I know my own MESR is, say, 40 yards, I will not take a shot at a game animal any further than that.

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