The Complete Guide to Crossbow Hunting

If you’re brand new to crossbow hunting, this method of hunting might seem intimidating, but like many things, with practice, it gets easier. Whether you’ve been hunting for some time, are just now considering adding a crossbow to your arsenal, or are brand new to hunting in general, this complete guide to hunting with a crossbow is for you. 

Today, we will walk you through the key components you need to know about crossbow hunting, including the weapon’s design and exactly how to use it.

For a comparison to compound bows, check out this guide.

The basic anatomy of a crossbow

If you want to start hunting with a crossbow, it’s crucial first to understand the basic anatomy of the weapon itself. The following are the primary parts of a crossbow:

  • Stock — The stock is the central component of a crossbow that connects to almost every other part. The stock’s top reinforces the arrow sight and track. The rear of the crossbow is positioned against the hunter’s shoulder, and the trigger is situated on the bottom of the weapon.
  • Stirrup — A metal ring secured to the tip of the stock, which you can put your foot through to secure the crossbow in position before you cock it.
  • Riser — The crossbow has limbs affixed to each side of the riser, which is in the center of the device. The riser is connected to the stock perpendicularly and designed from cast or machined aluminum.
  • Limbs The limbs store the energy when you draw your crossbow and give the weapon the speed it requires to propel the arrow forward.
  • Cams— The only crossbows that feature cams are compound crossbows, as these help to transmit energy to the limbs.
  • String — The string is attached to each limb end and slides along the arrow track at the top of the stock to load the weapon. The string transmits kinetic energy to the arrow from the limbs when you activate the trigger.
  • Trigger — When you squeeze the trigger, this releases the string and propels the arrow forward. Crossbows sport safety components to avoid hazardous or premature launches.
  • Arrow track — The arrow track is a groove that the arrow slides down when you fire the crossbow. The arrow track guides the arrow, so the more precisely built this component is, the more accurate your aim will be.
  • Sight — The sight is at the top of the stock and helps you aim properly. Sights may be in the form of crosshairs or red dots.
  • Rail lube — A lubricant on the arrow track that helps stabilize the cross bow and reduce friction.
  • Draw weight — The pull that you need to move the limbs into an energy-filled position. The higher the draw weight is, the swifter the arrow will typically move. 
  • Power stroke — Measured in inches, the power stroke is the distance the string moves from its stationary to cocked stance. 
  • Cocking mechanism The device you use when you cock (or span) the crossbow. 

Selecting your crossbow and arrows

When you shop for your crossbow, you will have the option to purchase the bow and arrows together or separately as you prefer.

If you purchase a complete package, it should include the arrow tips, a few arrows, the scope sight, cocking mechanism, and quiver. The draw weight you select will depend on your intended prey. For whitetail deer, you will require anywhere from 75 to 125 pounds in draw weight. 

Be sure to review your state laws that regulate hunters in your area and any region you intend to hunt in. These laws may also specify the type of draw weight you are allowed to use. Certain crossbows feature draw weights exceeding 200 pounds, but your state may or may not permit such a high draw weight.

If you want a particularly speedy crossbow, you will need to consider a model with a longer power stroke. The length of the power stroke correlates with the arrow’s speed when you pull the trigger. Some crossbows with long power strokes can shoot as fast as 400 feet per second.

Your arrow options will either be carbon, aluminum, or a mix of the two. Aluminum arrows are less sturdy than carbon ones and are more likely to break sooner. If you are new to crossbow hunting, carbon arrows or the hybrid mix will be your optimal options.

Arrows can be anywhere from 16 to 22 inches in length, but you will need to check your crossbow manufacturer’s recommendations to ensure you pick the right arrows for your weapon. 

Read more in our top picks for the best crossbows

How to use your crossbow

When you first start practicing crossbow deer hunting, you will discover that most bows have comparable elements in terms of how you load and cock the weapon. Here’s what you need to do

Step #1

Start by positioning the foot stirrup on the ground so you can insert your foot inside the stirrup, which will steady the device when you cock the crossbow.

Step #2

Once the bow is firmly in position held down by your foot, grab the strings situated on both ends of the limbs. Pull the strings with even force until you access the cocking device and hear a click that tells you the strings are positioned correctly. Make sure the safety is set so you don’t fire by mistake.

Step #3

After cocking your crossbow and activating the safety mechanism, you can install the arrow along the track. The end of the arrow should touch the string. Before you release the arrow, make sure the path in front of the arrow is unimpeded. If there is anyone or anything in the way, a severe injury could result because of the high speed at which arrows travel.

Step #4

The crossbow limbs also move, so ensure that you have enough space from branches or trees before leasing the arrow. Once you are ready to fire, you can disengage the safety device. 

Parting thoughts on crossbow hunting

Wherever you go hunting with a crossbow, remember to respect the land’s natural resources to ensure that nothing is damaged or destroyed in the course of your hunt. Play by the rules of fair pursuit, rather than baiting your target with food or some other method.

 Make certain that you research your state’s laws regarding when you can hunt, where you can hunt, the weapon you can use, and what you can hunt. When crossbow deer hunting, take care to hunt solely during active hunting season.

These hunting ethics will not only ensure you are in compliance with local laws and regulations but help make your hunting experience more fulfilling and enjoyable.

FAQs About Crossbow Hunting

What is the legal age requirement for crossbow hunting in my state?

The legal age requirement for crossbow hunting varies from state to state, so it is best to check with your local Department of Natural Resources for specific regulations.

What is the maximum draw weight of a crossbow I can use while hunting?

Most states have a maximum draw weight of 150 pounds when using a crossbow for hunting purposes.

Are there any specific safety precautions that must be taken when using a crossbow for hunting?

Yes, there are several safety precautions that should be taken when using a crossbow for hunting, including wearing protective eye wear and never aiming or shooting at anything other than designated game animals or targets.

How should I store and maintain my crossbow to ensure it lasts as long as possible?

To ensure that your crossbow lasts as long as possible it should be stored in a dry location away from any direct sunlight and regularly maintained by cleaning and lubricating all moving parts according to manufacturer instructions after each use or hunt session.

Is there a minimum distance from which one must shoot when targeting game with a crossbow?

Generally speaking, there is no minimum distance one must shoot from when targeting game animals with a crossbow; however, some states may have laws regarding how close one can get before taking a shot in order to ensure humane treatment of the animal being targeted.

About the Author

Trey is a lifelong hunter and avid camper. He lives outside Denver, CO with his wife Kaci and their lab mix Ziggy. They spend as much time as possible outdoors - hunting, fishing, and camping.

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