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.
(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 Type||Suggested 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.
(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.
(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.
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.
Turkey hunting is a challenging season for crossbow hunters. All too often, archers will hit the target, but not kill the bird. This is cruel and hunters need to learn how to take out the target to be a humane hunter. Fortunately, turkey hunters have collected their tips so other crossbow hunters can effectively take out their targets.
Here are several crossbow hunting tips to help you accurately and effectively shoot a turkey:
The best shot to take is the one that will break the turkey’s spine. Once the bird is hit, it isn’t long before it dies. It can be difficult to shoot a turkey in this spot because they rarely stand still. The best time to shoot a turkey and get a spine shot, is to wait for the bird to walk away from you. It needs to be standing tall with its head up, not down toward the ground. It can be helpful to use a turkey call to get the turkey to look up, but the issue with the direction of a call can turn the turkey toward you, making the shot impossible to get. When you take this shot, it is also helpful to use a broadhead that cuts offers a wide cut so if you miss, you still get close enough to do deadly damage.
It is also helpful to know where the vitals are on the turkey. Turkey’s organs are located near the back and up by the wings. If you can hit a turkey here, you will get a quick kill that is humane. With a powerful, sharp broadhead, you will not only get the wings to break (which keeps the bird on the ground) and you will puncture either the heart or the lungs. Even though they cost more than other types of broadheads, the expandable broadhead will do the most damage in the quickest time. This hit is easiest to get when the turkey is upright with its back to you.
Turkey hunters know that it is not always possible to get the perfect shot at a turkey’s backside. They are living creatures that move frequently. Thankfully, there is another good spot to take out a turkey. If the bird is facing you, then you can shoot the bird a few inches below bottom of the neck. This shot will break the spine and take out some vitals, too. So you can imagine the size and shape of the vitals, think of a softball located near the wings. This is a good-size target to imagine because it is similar to a tight group that you might achieve during practice on a range. If you are shooting the front side of the turkey, be sure the head of the bird is upright with its head raised.
When the turkey is moving, you also have a good shot, especially if the bird is walking away from you. Wait for the turkey to completely turn away from you with his fan in the air. All you need to do is aim for the bird’s anus and fire. Some hunters find more success when they use a decoy to get the bird to walk away. Turkeys walk directly to the decoy, so position yourself appropriately so you can get the rear-end shot that will work. To ensure that the bird dies quickly, use a sharp broadhead that will pierce the target humanely.
On the flip side, when the bird is walking toward you, you also have a powerful shot. It is more likely that a turkey will be walking, so position yourself so the bird will not see you as it struts toward the decoy. Aim at the beard, right where it comes out from the feathers. This shot will get you a direct hit to the top of the vitals. Mechanical broadheads will puncture the bird and damage the internal organs when they open so you can guarantee the bird will die quickly rather than suffer.
The sides of the turkey can also be an effective place to shoot and kill. The side shot is not an easy one to take, especially if the bird is moving and the feathers are ruffled. If this is the case, let the bird finish strutting because you might not be able to get the aim on the vitals that you need. The wings and bristled feathers could deflect your shot and the turkey could get away with your bolt. If you do want to take the shot, think about the vitals that are located up near the wings. Wait until the bird stops moving and then fire. Or better yet, wait until the bird turns to you get a full frontal or backside shot that can be even more effective.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Buying a crossbow is one thing. Understanding how to use it is another. There are several factors that will determine the success you experience on a real hunt out in the field. One of the most misunderstood factors is kinetic energy. Kinetic energy relies on the grain of the arrows and the speed of the crossbow. They work together to determine the energy that the arrow emits when it leaves the crossbow and heads for its target. Once you have determined the grain of the arrows you plan to use and the speed of the crossbow, you can use a calculator to determine the kinetic energy, which is represented in total foot-pounds.
In order to determine the foot pounds of kinetic energy, it is best to use arrows that have the same grain measurement. When crossbow manufacturers are measuring their own crossbows, they usually use 400 grain arrows. Crossbows often have a feet per second rating of 200 to 400. Arrows will exit the crossbow at an arc that eventually causes the arrows to drop. The arc and drop will be affected by weather conditions, too. Most kinetic energy charts are drafted in the closed conditions of indoor ranges, so they are usually just estimates for what you will really get in the field.
Depending on the bow you use and the arrows you use, your kinetic energy could range from 30 foot pounds at 30 yards to almost 125 foot pounds at 30 yards. These numbers are dependent on the FPS of the crossbow. The higher the FPS, the higher the kinetic energy will be. As the arrow moves through space, the kinetic energy drops. So, the closer you can get to your target, the more kinetic energy your arrow will have.
The grain of the arrow will also affect the kinetic energy. The lighter arrows will have higher speeds, especially when they exit the crossbow. Keeping in mind that the kinetic energy drops as the arrow flies, the speed will decrease as the arrow gets closer to the target. As the grain increases by 25 grain, you can expect about 2 percentage points in loss of speed. For example, the exit speed of a 450 grain arrow is approximately 94%, but a 475 grain arrow has an exit speed of approximately 92%. If you want an arrow to exit the crossbow quickly and powerfully, it is wise to choose a light arrow.
When it comes to actually hunting for game, the required kinetic energy is much less than most people anticipate. For example, if you use your crossbow to hunt for deer, you only need between 25 and 40 foot pounds to take one down. The larger number is recommended, but the lesser number will work on a smaller deer. To hunt for large game like a grizzly bear, you need between 65 and 75 foot pounds of power. As expected, you should use a powerful crossbow and a heavier arrow to take care of large game.
Fortunately, since kinetic energy relies on physics, the numbers the formulas provide are accurate. In most cases, arrows’ kinetic energy drops every 10 yards. You can expect the number to fall about 4% as it crosses every 10 yard expanse. With weather, like wind and rain, the percentage will increase. Since the percentage increases once you shoot past 50 yards, it is in your best interest to get close enough to get a winning shot.
When it comes to feet per second, there is a big difference between crossbows. A crossbow with a 250 FPS rating will shoot much slower than one that is rated at 300 FPS. With a higher FPS, you get more kinetic energy at farther distances. In many cases, the kinetic energy at 30 yards is significantly higher in the higher rated crossbow than at 10 yards in the lower rated crossbow. Imagine what that looks like when you are out in the field.
When it comes to choosing a crossbow, be sure that the FPS rating is appropriate for actual hunting in the field. When it comes to kinetic energy, it is best to choose a crossbow that has at least 300 FPS, especially if you are going to hunt for medium to large game at 30 yards or more. If you plan to hunt for small to medium sized game, then a crossbow with a rating of 250 FPS should be substantial.
As deer hunting season is just around the corner, it is time to share a few tips to help make your crossbow hunting more successful. Hunting with crossbows has become more popular over the last few years and each year, many more rookies take up this style of hunting. Hunting is challenging with a gun, but it can be even more challenging with a crossbow. It can be difficult to fully understand how powerful and fast crossbows really are. That speed and power often proves to be difficult to manage, too. But, with a few tips, we can help make your crossbow hunting experience extremely successful and rather fun.
#1: Practice. Practice. Practice.
Before you head out into the woods for real, live shooting, get to the range. Practice firing the crossbow in a variety of situations. Of course, it is helpful to fire for accuracy. It can also be helpful to fire at a moving target. It can also be helpful to fire in difficult weather conditions, like wind and rain. You should also practice shooting from different physical positions. Shoot from behind a blind, from your knees, and even from an elevated position. Step out of the range and get practicing in the actual field, where you will be shooting real animals in a real environment. The more you practice, the better prepared you will be to actually take down a real deer.
#2: Get a Good Cocking Device & Use It
A good cocking device will make your crossbow experience rather enjoyable. It is common for a crossbow to have a 150 pounds of draw weight and that can get rather heavy for an hunter. When you use a cocking device, you actually increase your accuracy because the device will always draw the string back in the exact same way. When you draw back the string on your own, you most likely draw it from side-to-side, without even realizing it.
When you buy your crossbow, buy a good one. The cheap ones are usually built cheaply and the more expensive ones are better made. When it comes to shooting a well-tuned machine like a crossbow, a better one will shoot nicely. Quality crossbows will shoot with accuracy, they shoot with reliability, and they are less likely to have troubles in the middle of a hunt. There are outstanding crossbow packages available for sale and the more expensive options come with top notch accessories like sights, cocking devices, and bolts.
#4: Buy Quick Arrows
There are arrows and then there are bolts. When you shoot a crossbow, you want to get the bolts that are specially designed for crossbows. There are crossbows that will shoot bolts up to 300 FPS, which is incredibly fast. If your crossbow shoots at FPS speeds of at least 300, then you should certainly get arrows that can handle that speed and power. With that type of power from your crossbow, you need to have the best arrows. Otherwise, the arrows won’t get the job done. With increased FPS showing up on newer crossbow models, you can seriously expect that crossbows will continue to become more powerful and the arrows will become more durable. When you shop for your bolts, find the type that have nocks for crossbows. It is also important that they have fletches that are designed for crossbows. They should also be the appropriate length to fit crossbows, too. The best bolts are made of carbon.
#5: Add a Scope Sight to Your Crossbow
Most crossbow kits come with a sight, but not necessarily a scope. When you add a scope sight to a crossbow, you increase your accuracy because of the magnification. Most scope sights will increase to 5X, which means you can shoot from long yardage with more accuracy – even dead-on accuracy. It is easy to get used to shooting with a sighted scope because of the crosshairs or the red dot that shows you where to aim and fire.
#6: Relax and Take a Few Timeouts
While you are hunting, it is important to take time to rest. The awkwardness of prepping and shooting a crossbow makes it necessary for hunters to take occasional breaks. Your body will appreciate taking breaks. Many hunters will use a rest that they can bring out to the blind. If you can the forearm on a pad, a backpack, or even your hand, you will give your body some cushion against the power of the crossbow recoil. If you are unable to get a pad, make one out of a coat or hoodie.
#7: Understand Physics
When you are hunting with a crossbow, the arrow will travel in an arc. Once you get to know how deep the arc is when you shoot, you will be able to find your target with the scope sight and fire. The parabolic arc will work to your favor and you will learn how to hit your target.
#8: Take Good Care of Your Crossbow & Its Parts
Crossbows are machines that require care and maintenance. If you fail to take good care of the machine, it will continue to work wonders for you. It is important to have the pieces checked out annually by an expert. The string can be damaged by normal use and it is a good idea to have it replaced as needed. It is also helpful to learn how to change the string if anything happens while you are out in the wilderness hunting, far from an outfitter. It is also important to learn how to care for the cables and servings, too.
#9: Learn to Shoot Carefully
There are plenty of people who have been severely injured by putting their fingers on the wrong places. It is vitally important to keep your fingers away from the path of the bolt, or you could slice your fingers right off.
#10: Learn the Rules.
Every state has different rules and regulations for hunters and their types of weapons. Before you drag your crossbow on a deer hunting expedition, you should find out if you can even use a crossbow in your state. It is extremely important to know when you can shoot your crossbow and what animals are approved for hunting. No one wants to get in trouble and lose their ability to hunt legally.