What Should You Do When Cocking a Crossbow?

If you’re new to archery and bowhunting, you’ll be surprised to know how much of your hunting success comes down to the little things. There are many things to consider, but one big thing is loading your crossbow. Incorrectly cocking your crossbow can mean that you go home empty-handed. Learning the correct way to cock your crossbow is crucial for accuracy, consistency, and the best results. 

This guide will explore what you should do, how to cock your crossbow, and what to avoid when cocking your crossbow. 

The basics

Without practice, you won’t master any skill, and cocking your crossbow is no exception. Some devices, such as cocking devices, can make it easier for you, but the core function is the same whether you cock your crossbow manually or use a rope cocker/cocking device. The same core process will apply whether you’re using a compound, recurve, or reverse compound bows. 

Step 1: Turn safety off

Typically, the safety switch will be located on the side of your crossbow. Sometimes it’ll be found at the rear of the sight bridge. Remember that you should only do this where necessary. 

Step 2: Place your feet in the cocking stirrup

 If you’re manually cocking the crossbow, you’ll need to put the ball of your foot in the stirrup. In doing so, you’ll prevent slipping while cocking. 

Step 3: Pull the crossbow string back

Begin by bending over the stock, then manually pulling the string back. Using a cocking device is an option here; ensure that you draw the string back correctly along both sides of the barrel. If your crossbow is too large, you may need to bend over diagonally, so be mindful of getting an even draw. 

Step 4: Re-engage the safety 

 Unless you’re ready to fire or cocking your crossbow as a general rule of thumb, your safety should be on. Once you have your cocked crossbow, you should turn the safety on. Some models may automatically engage the safety; it’s crucial that you check your owner’s manual to see if it needs to be engaged manually before cocking it. Another tip – don’t remove your foot from the stirrup until you’re certain that safety is engaged. 

General cocking tips

Now that you know how to cock your crossbow, let’s move on to what you should be aware of. 

Manually cocking your crossbow requires using your arms, legs, hands, and lower back. You’ll need to lean to the side and cock the bow diagonally, making it hard to maintain the same centered trigger-latch position. If you need to cock a bigger recurve crossbow, you’ll be unable to bend over to do it. 

 It would help if you marked the string to maintain your center to keep a visual cue , which fosters consistent accuracy downrange. Using a cocking device will also make it easier to ensure consistent placement. You should always keep the crossbow pointed in a safe direction downrange while cocking. Even if you don’t have an arrow loaded, you should still do this in case of an accidental dry fire. 

Never switch off the safety unless you’re ready to fire. 

What to avoid

If you want to shoot straight, you’ll need to cock the crossbow evenly each time. When your crossbow is loaded, the serving should be centered so that equal lengths are on each side of the rail. Being off-center by even a few millimeters can mean that the point of impact for your bolts will be several inches off in either direction. Firing longer downrange shots will take you more off-target. 

The majority of people have a dominant arm, but you have to ensure that you don’t disrupt the balance by pulling the arm too fast. If you rely too heavily on your dominant arm, you can also cause your serving to fall off-center during cocking. One way to solve this issue is to rely on pen or marker points on each side of the crossbow while the string is at rest; these marks will serve as a visual guide when you pull back the string. 

You should avoid dry firing your crossbow just for cocking practice; if you are practicing cocking the crossbow, plan on taking a few practice shots. Dry firing can cause severe damage to your crossbow. If you don’t want to fire your crossbow, you should decock your crossbow with a cocking aid. A rope cocker can help you decock your crossbow without damaging it. You can also use a practice target to uncock your crossbow, but avoid using a broadhead bolt on a practice target.

Rope cocking aids 

It’s tough to cock a crossbow by hand, especially if you have a disability or mobility issues. Using a cocking device can prevent you from misaligning your bow (which can cause issues with accuracy and even long-term damage to your crossbow) and also make it easier for you to cock it without straining your legs, arms, or back. There are several rope cocking devices available, including rope cockers and cranks. Modern crossbows can have draw weights of 150+lbs, and it’s easier to misalign a bow with a higher draw weight. 

Rope cockers

Like a pulley, you use a rope cocker by placing your foot in the stirrup and then pulling the rope cocker until the string is cocked into place. You expend much less physical effort cocking a crossbow this way; it takes around half of the draw weight away from you, limiting the strain on your body. You also get excellent consistency with a rope cocker, and dry fires are virtually non-existent. One inconvenient drawback is that cocking ropes can be quite long and require lots of adjusting, so you don’t risk a shoulder injury when cocking your bow. A guideline will also prevent uneven cocking. 

Cranking devices

Some crossbow models integrate a crank device into the bow itself, but you can get it as a separate addition if not. Cocking a crossbow using a crank is very simple;  you just need to wind the handle until the string latches into place. Similar to the rope cocker, this will reduce the physical strain that comes with cocking a crossbow. But it does take longer to set up. If you’re short on time, you’ll be further slowed down by this option. 

Wrapping up

Cocking a crossbow is a crucial step to learn if you want to get into crossbow hunting. There are many pros and cons to each method, rope cocking vs. cranking devices, etc. But some crucial points are the same irrespective of the way you choose, such as ensuring an even draw and keeping safety in mind. You should also avoid dry firing  due to the risk of damaging your crossbow. If you keep these essential tips in mind, you’ll have a great time.

Be sure to check out our Complete Guide to Crossbow Hunting

Trey

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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