Useful Crossbow Basics for Hunters and Target Shooters

Anthony Cote
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Types of Crossbow

To shoot your crossbow accurately, you need to make sure that it is properly sighted. The goal is to get your crossbow precisely pointed at the target and consistently hitting the bulls-eye. There are three types of sights available for crossbows. They are:

  • Red dot sights
  • Reflex sights
  • Fiber optic sights

Since all sights serve the same purpose, good sights will make it simple to center your shot on the target and consistently hit the mark. The easiest one to use is the red dot sight. This sight has a red dot that is constantly centered in a circular metal frame. To use this sight, you simply need to place the red dot over the target and use it to shoot.

Another type of crossbow sight is the reflex sight. This sight has a big glass window that is made of four different lenses. The lenses are made from red fiber optics and when light is shined on them, they illuminate in red. The problem with this sight is that when the crossbow is not pointed at the target, the light from the fiber optics will not illuminate.

The last sight option is a fiber optic sight with reticles. This sight includes a vertical line, horizontal line and a circle made out of fiber optics. These sights can be focused for short and long distances. This sight is a good option for hunters who like to shoot across a broad range of distances.

Recurve Crossbows

Recurve crossbows have a curved design to their limbs. They are the least expensive crossbows to purchase. To operate a recurve, the archer pulls back the string against the limbs, then an advanced mechanism in the weapon cocks the string and the archer releases the string.

Poundage will vary from about 6 to 12 pounds with a cocking effort of 90 to 120 pounds. They are fast and accurate. Recurve limbs are inexpensive to replace when damaged. In fact, recurve limbs sport a 3-year warranty. When broken, they are easily fixed because the screw holes remain intact.

The trigger mechanism of recurve crossbows is simple. It’s a safety mechanism that will trigger a reaction when the safety is de-activated and released. The safety device might be a trigger on the trigger or a lever in front of the trigger. The design makes it difficult to trigger the trigger, by mistake. Most recurve crossbows draw about 19 inches when the string is cocked. The draw weight is less than that of compound crossbows.

Recurve crossbows shoot a light bolt up to 330 feet per second in a weight range of 200 to 250 pounds. These are easy to carry and maneuver in the woods.

Compound Crossbows

Crossbow shooting can be traced to the late medieval period. The crossbow was employed because the longbow was not maneuverable enough for city battles and it could not match the power and range of the crossbow. The sport of crossbow shooting took off in England, and in the 17th and 18th centuries the sport became well known in that country. In the 19th century, English immigrants introduced the sport to the United States. The sport picked up and by the early 20th century it was demonstrated at sports clubs and pubs throughout the United States.

There are two main types of crossbows – compound crossbows, and recurve crossbows.

The simplest ones are recurve crossbows. Unlike the compound bows, recurve crossbow is not equipped with any mechanism or special aids. The person using recurve bow has to pull back the arrow and load it manually, with his own force. This bow relies on the strength of a person to generate energy or power and release the arrow. The main characteristic of this type of crossbow is its minimal movement when shot. Recurve crossbows are easy to use and operate. It is also less expensive than other types of crossbows, and therefore, popular among beginners.

The compound bows are more effective and powerful than recurve crossbows. The combination of weight and energy is distributed along the limbs, which is much simpler than recurve bows.

Pistol Crossbows

What are They?

Pistol crossbows are a modern weapon which shares many of the characteristics of the more common crossbows. They are designed to look like handguns, but in reality, they perform more similarly to crossbows that are more familiar. They are quite simple to use, due to their light weight, grips, and incredible accuracy.

The first thing you need to know about pistol crossbows is this class of weapon isn't used in professional competitions, but their design is an improvement on the classic medieval crossbow. They are known for their simplicity and are used as recreational weapons for target shooting and hunting.

They can be used for hunting small game, but are more commonly used for target practice and recreational target shooting. Aesthetically, they are still grouped alongside the more traditional bow and arrow arrangement because they share many of the same characteristics. It's not uncommon for several crossbow and bow models to share the same parts. The biggest difference is the ammunition.

Pistol crossbows have a lower velocity, but their range is also lower. They are intended for fairly close range, but their extreme accuracy and physics will allow you to shoot accurately from 50 yards or less.

Understanding Crossbow Specifications

All crossbows have four basic components that determine their performance. The most common is the bow, also called the stock. The bow is mechanically placed on the stock. It is the movable part of the crossbow that propels the bolt or arrows.

The bow comes with a cocking device. The cocking device is used to pull or draw the bowstring. After each use. The cocking device should be set in its rearmost position so that it is easier for you to retrieve the arrows that you have already shot. The fastest, most efficient cocking devices will cost you more when compared to cheaper, simpler ones.

The string is attached to the ends of the bow. The string can be either parallel- or recurve-shaped. Some factory-stabilized crossbows also have cocking devices that pull the string back. Of course. You are free to keep the string in its original state. You can also buy cocking devices that pull the string both back and in a parallel position. If you intend to use that component of the crossbow, purchasing the necessary cocking device will cost you extra money.

The arrows are the projectiles. There are different types of arrows as well as various accessories that you can add for greater effects. The arrows are the part that you should frequently replace because it is often the first to get damaged during a hunt.

Draw Weight

If you want to shoot your crossbow quickly and accurately, make sure to get one with the proper draw weight. A lighter weight takes more arm strength to pull, while a heavier weight is more effortless. The draw weight is the amount of pounds a crossbow’s string requires to pull back in order to shoot. The higher the number, the greater the amount of strength required to pull back. Most people look for a draw weight of around 175 pounds.


Vs. Draw Weight

The let-off of a crossbow is the amount of energy required to overcome the trigger mechanism to fire the arrow. The fact of the matter is the key let-off (80%, 90% or whatever), is a subjective datapoint, that is identified by the manufacturer and is not registered or defined by any governing agency. Likewise, draw weight is often labeled as a number (i.e. 60 lbs or 350 lbs), but it’s usually just the amount of weight required to draw the bolt fully back against the pulley system, not the amount of energy required to overcome the trigger mechanism. The draw weight can be much less than the energy it takes to fire the arrow.

For example: a 60-lb. Crossbow with a 7-lb. draw weight, requires just 7-lbs. to draw the bolt back. But, according to some specifications, it is observed to actually take closer to 28-lbs. to overcome the trigger mechanism and fire the bolt.

Crossbow Width

A crossbow is measured by the distance between the string or bow when it's fully drawn and the width at the stock.

Proper and effective use of the crossbow depends on knowing the measurements.

Smaller crossbows are generally set on your shoulder.

Larger crossbows are generally mounted on your forearm.

Crossbow limb or string is measured from tip of the string to the end of the stock.

A crossbow is measured by the distance between the string or bow when it's fully drawn.

A crossbow with longer limbs is more powerful overall.

Smaller crossbows are stronger than larger crossbows when the limbs are of the same length.

A larger crossbow has greater recoil than a smaller crossbow.

An oversized crossbow will be too heavy for you to hold.

A compact crossbow will serve the purpose of hunting if its strength holds up in other aspects.

A larger crossbow is more suitable for a novice because you are less likely to pack some recoil.

A smaller crossbow is likely to break your line, but you might risk damaging your crossbow if it's too strong.

If you are a novice and will be hunting small animals, you don't need a massive crossbow.

Smaller bows are easier to draw and shoot, easier to carry, and are more accurate.

Power Stroke

The power stroke of a crossbow indicates your draw force or how hard you need to pull the string to get your arrow ready to go. Rip Cords and draw force increases are not considered here and do make a difference in power stroke.

The power stroke has several variables:


A hunting crossbow has a measured arrow velocity of between 260 to 340 feet per second (fps). This is significantly faster than an archery bow, whose arrow velocity is between 180 and 220fps.

The speed of a crossbow is a factor that determines the weapon’s effectiveness. The faster it shoots, the more energy it has. Crossbow arrows have a greater kinetic energy when compared to arrows from a bow. Whereas an arrow from a bow will lose roughly 50 percent of its energy upon impact, the energy from a crossbow can be up to 80 percent.

It is a myth that the arrow from a crossbow can pierce and go through a person’s body. The fact that the crossbow shoots faster than the bow is what gives it its reputation as a powerful weapon. However, this is only a half-truth. The projectile of both a bow and a crossbow still needs the ability to penetrate when employed in hunting.

Crossbows are employed in hunting where the enemy is so fast that it cannot be caught. The arrow used for crossbow needs powerful penetration so that it can deliver enough killing power to subdue this creature.

In target shooting, the issue at hand is the accuracy. Here, the right crossbow will depend on the shooter’s capacity to engage the target.


Bolts are for target shooting, crossbow hunting, and anything else. You will probably want to keep a few dozen bolts in stock, in case you lose or break any.

Arrows are more like a traditional arrow for a bow and are used for crossbow hunting. Arrows do not have fletching and are not as aerodynamic as bolts, but they are more precise because you can trim them to perfectly fit your crossbow.

You will want about 20 to 30 bolts or arrows in your inventory.

Crossbow Weight / Mass

This will be covered in more detail in Chapter 2, but a crossbow’s weight is often what separates a good bow from an average one. Weight is arguably the most important factor because it directly determines the amount of kinetic energy the bow will have. An 80-pound draw weight would be significantly more powerful than a 50-pound draw weight.

There are three main ways that manufacturers reduce the overall weight of a crossbow:

  • Hollowing out the limbs to make them more lightweight and reduce overall material;
  • Reducing the overall surface area of the limbs along with the width of the limbs (a thinner limb needs less material to make it);

Using lightweight but durable materials like composite carbon or aluminum in place of steel or wood.

Bear in mind that there’s no military standard that governs how much a crossbow must weigh, thus it’s impossible to say if a bow is heavier than advertised. This means that manufacturers could very easily claim a bow is 40 pounds when it’s really 50 pounds.

But a 20-pound difference is a significant one that could mean the difference between a successful hunt or an unsuccessful one.

Stocks and Cheek Pieces

The stock and cheek piece are 2 main parts that build up the crossbow. The stock is the longer part that contains all of the mechanisms and the metal pieces that make the crossbow work. The cheek piece, which is the smaller part, attaches to the stock. This is what allows the archer to aim more accurately and what makes the crossbow feel more comfortable while aiming.

The crossbow stock and cheek piece can be made of different materials. The most popular are:

Aluminum stock- The stock is the main part of a crossbow that houses the most important mechanisms. Having a sturdy, lighter weight stock is critical for most race crossbow parts.

Aluminum cheek piece- The cheek piece is the section of the crossbow that you directly rest your face on. The cheek piece is generally small and has a rubber cushion for more comfort.

It is crucial the person who is using the crossbow finds comfort in the cheek piece and stock. The stock and cheek piece will allow the archer to have perfect aim. The better the aim one gets, the better the shot. Comfort is a crucial factor when picking out the ideal crossbow stock and cheek piece.

It is also important to note that the stock and cheek piece are completely removable. They can be exchanged for other sections and can be modified. This allows for the sport of crossbow shooting to constantly evolve.


Do you know the misconception of crossbow scopes? Scopes on crossbows cannot make a non-silenced crossbow less noisy. When you release a crossbow, there is a loud noise. This noise is not related to poor level of quality of a scope. It happens when a string is pulled back and released. The more efficient the crossbow, the less likely it is to release the string with a loud bang.

Reducing Crossbow Noise

Another myth is that scope could reduce a noise level of a crossbow. Make a check on the noise level of your crossbow and see if you can reduce it by replacing a scope.

However, if you want your crossbow to become quieter, you can:

  • Pump more juice through it and make it shoot faster;
  • Use a slider allowing you to set optimum draw length;

Use larger caliber arrows, because they normally make less noise.

Cocking/ Decocking

To cock a crossbow manually, you need to aim the weapon at a target, put the string on the trigger, align the string, and then pull back the string. The cocking mechanism for crossbows is contained within the stock or handle and when it is fully compressed, it results to cocking the weapon.

Additionally, to make crossbows easier to cock, many companies design them with mechanical cocking systems. Use of the rope cocking device with mechanical cocking systems makes it easier to draw back the string of a crossbow as well as cocking it without the use of your arms. The string of your crossbow can be quite hard to draw back and such cocking devices allow you to draw back the string of the crossbow without a deal of effort.


There are three kinds of crossbow sights: mechanical, fixed and optical. Optical sights are the most accurate but are heavier than the other two types because it is an added feature separate from the crossbow. Mechanical sights are the most inexpensive and can be added to almost any crossbow. Fixed sights are exact and do not need any adjustment.

The easier and better your sights are, the more you can focus on shooting accurately and not on your sight. Remember, most crossbows shoot almost silently so it is easier to focus on accuracy without worrying much about your sight alignment.

If you plan to hunt in the fall, make sure that the sight you have is that of the latest design although most are designed for year-round usage.


For safety reasons, an understanding of safety mechanisms is a must, especially when serious targets and bulls�-eyes are where you plan to shoot. Let’s discuss the most common types of triggers:

A compound trigger mechanism comprises of two limbs that are joined vertically. Pulling one of these limbs downward, depending on the type of release being used, will lead to the flight of the arrow by either forcing it past a bowstring or firing it by a mechanism similar to a conventional handgun.

A crossbow trigger is usually a little larger than a standard pistol or rifle trigger would be in order to accommodate the tension that will be placed on it due to the weight of the crossbow. This is why a crossbow trigger is often considered a little on the heavy side and the force required to pull it may be greater than with a rifle.

A crossbow is almost always cocked by hand. It is very important that the cocking mechanism is held in place by a safety catch. If you become careless or forget to release the catch, there can be an accidental discharge.


Vs. Performance – The Trade Off

You will find that there are many different types of crossbow in the market. Different models have different prices. Thus, with a trade off of price, the bow will have better weights, features, and materials. To make sure that you get the best model for your crossbow hunting needs, it’s recommended to get the most expensive model than you can afford. It will be much better than the cheaper models.

Arrowing Weight

Another thing to consider is the weight of the bolt. It should be closely matched to the weight of the bow. Otherwise, you may not be able to shoot it accurately. You can find many bolts with different weights. Hand in hand with the weight, is the speed of the bolt. You want the best one you can get, so you can shoot it at longer ranges.


Arrows should be made from carbon. This will be better for hunting. The higher quality the arrow shaft, the more accurate it will be. Arrows should have a decent sized tip. Hollow tips are better than solid tips, as the bolt can fly through them with more accuracy.


There are several options of quivers to choose from. It is best to get a conventional one as they hold arrows well and keep the arrows from sticking to each other. Make sure to get a tight fitting one as loose arrows can fall off.

Maintenance and Storage

Place your crossbow in a cool, dry location out of direct sunlight.

Keep all the parts of the crossbow clean. Using a soft brush, brush away any dust particles that may have accumulated on the surface of the composite parts and metal parts. A natural bristle brush works well for this.

You should also use a non-abrasive cloth and apply a coating of light oil to the metal and composite parts of the crossbow to prevent them from rusting.

You need to understand the way the various parts of the crossbow work. The stock is the part of the bow that you should not touch. Do not get it wet or apply any type of oil to it.

The limbs are usually the main carbon parts of the crossbow, which will usually break if you try to do too much. If your limbs take a beating, then you might need to take them off and replace the string for them.

The string is usually the part that is the most susceptible to the elements. Take care of it, as it is one of the most important parts of your crossbow.

Keep your crossbow away from extreme heat and extreme cold. The sun is a great source of heat, and it is harder to control the temperature of your crossbow in a garage than it is in a basement.


Using crossbows for sport, hunting, and self-defense has increasingly gained popularity. In fact, they became so popular that a lot of new accessories were developed for them that make the use of crossbows easier and more convenient.

The crossbow's accessories enable the user to adjust it to the most comfortable draw. They increase the crossbow's accuracy. They reduce and eliminate the vibration. They relax more muscles and they increase your comfort while shooting.

Quivers and Rests

The most popular accessory among hunters is, of course, the quiver, although many prefer shooting without it. The quiver's purpose is to keep arrows and bolts dry and to protect the shooter from the arrows' fletching. It is also important to note that in a hunting environment, quivers have more negative points than positive ones. The quiver is designed to store arrows with broadheads, which is not always ideal for hunting. To be effective, hunt arrows should be as lightweight as possible, so the fletching helps stabilize the flight.

Another very useful accessory is the shooting rest. It is mainly used for target practice, especially for a beginner. Once it is adjusted to the user's needs, it can be also used in hunting. It makes it easier to achieve more accurate shots.