"Without a doubt the area of archery which is destined for the most
rapid growth over the next decade will be crossbow hunting."
An eye opening statement? Of course, but taking into account the
aging demographics of Americas bowhunters coupled with the many
new handicapped seasons for crossbow, it's not all that far fetched!
Many states are now considering just what to do with crossbows for
their general season. Based on the good experiences of Ohio and
Ontario where crossbows are legal for the entire bow season, don't
be too surprised if more states eventually follow their lead!
One of the concerns raised by the rapid growth in popularity of this
ancient weapon has been the lack of educational material available to
help novice crossbow hunters. Without the benefit of either
experienced shooters or quality information to guide them, many of these hunters are doomed to failure and frustration.
Like any other shooting skill, using your crossbow safely and accurately will require a combination of old and well learned knowledge as well
as new information specific to the weapon. With this in mind I would like to share some of my experiences and information to help you to be
a more successful crossbow shooter. Who knows, this article might be the difference between your first crossbow buck and a freezer full
Probably the first impression you ever had of a crossbow was that somehow a bow got into the gun cage during breeding time, and this
mutated misfit was the result. Here was a gun with a bow on the front, telescopic sights on top and a quiver full of little arrows on the
side! Probably shoots for miles, right? Reality and first impressions don't always mesh, and in the case of the crossbow we'll upgrade that
Like all archery equipment a crossbow can only give the arrow a percentage of the energy that your body can give to the crossbow limbs
when you cock them. This energy relates to the length of the strings travel and the draw weight of the limbs, and precludes firearm like
velocities and trajectories. You may be surprised to know that modern compound bows actually outperform crossbows because of their more
I guess that it's the crossbows stock that creates the big objection, after all a crossbow is just a bow on a gunstock right? Wrong again;
long ago someone thought "if I just strap a crossbow stock on my hand cannon, it'll be easier to aim". After all, crossbows have been around
for more than two thousand years longer than guns!
Okay, same range, trajectory and projectiles as vertical bows; maybe you don't need to have green saliva and fangs to use a crossbow.
(Someone please tell Pope & Young, I think they might disagree!)
Before I get too far into the "how to" stuff, maybe a word about the special safety concerns that crossbows present is in order.
Most crossbow safety is obvious and relates to the common sense rules that your Dad taught you. You know... "don't point at anything you
don't want to shoot", "always use the safety", "don't mess with razor sharp things", etc. Not rocket science!
How about this one. Always keep your body out of the path the string will travel when your bow is cocked. This includes all parts that you
don't want damaged or prematurely removed by the string as it speeds forward. Most crossbow shooters eventually will stick their thumb
too high and learn the practical side of this lesson, but generally they only do it once!
Now what do you suppose happens when you are cocking your crossbow and the stirrup slips off of your boot when it's just about latched?
Problems, that's what! Always make sure that your foot is firmly in the stirrup before cocking and you'll never be greeted by a speeding
crossbow as it heads for the stars.
When you fire your crossbow the limbs sweep forwards and outwards at blinding speed. Just imagine what happens should they hit a tree
trunk or similar immovable object on their travels? I'll guarantee you won't hit what you're aiming at, but that's really inconsequential
compared to the potential for damage to you and your crossbow as the limb suddenly stops and accelerates the buttstock sideways. You'll
have a 50/50 chance of being hit by that stock; if you're in a treestand the results could be like a bundgee jump without benefit of the
bundgee! Always make sure that your limbs can sweep forward unobstructed before shooting.
Now that I've finished the scary part of the lesson, let's talk about just how to make your crossbow shoot accurately.
Certainly the biggest mistake crossbow shooters make is not cocking their crossbow consistently in the same place, and as close to centre
as possible. Cocking your bow even 1/16" off centre will drastically change your crossbows point of impact!
If you are lucky enough to be shooting a model which allows you to brace your hands firmly on either side of the stock to "guide" the string,
this is generally good enough.
Some shooters will mark their string while at rest with two marks, one on either side of the crossbow stock, and then carefully jog the
string to one side or the other to centre it after it is cocked. This is especially helpful on "air deck" bows where little guidance is
available to keep your hands centred.
Recently string cocking aids have become popular, and besides reducing the felt weight to draw your crossbow, they can be used to ensure
accurate string alignment. The only problem here is that the string must be able to slip on it's brace point on the stock to equalize the limb
pressure, and a round file and wax may be necessary to radius and polish the brace area to ensure this if your crossbow isn't already
Okay, so now we're all crossbow wiz kids, our bows are shooting great, sights, scope mounts etc. are loctited and secure, and we're safely
shooting teeny-weeny groups with target points at a given range.
Put on broadheads and you'll be in for a shock! Broadhead accuracy with a crossbow can seem about as easy to find as an honest Politician!
Broadhead accuracy is relatively easy if you just follow a few simple rules in selecting your arrow and broadhead combination.
First, you don't till weeds with your arrows, so why expect to shoot a broadhead about the size of a hoe blade from your crossbow? Small 3
blade heads will definitely give better accuracy, the theory being that it's better to shoot a small hole where you want it than a big one
where you don't. Expanding blade mechanical heads may be easy to steer, but I've always been suspicious of their reliability and durability,
so I don't use them.
My personal favourite head is the Wasp 100 grain "Boss" broadhead. This little head flies virtually identical to a target point with proper
fletching, and has never failed when I've done my job right.
Just like a rifle bullet, and arrow should spin in flight to stabilize it and continually turn it back towards centre should the broadhead try
to redirect it. Full helical fletch often is a little too abrupt for crossbows and sometimes won't even fit into their track, so try using a
slight offset with straight clamps for best broadhead accuracy.
Feathers or plastic vanes?.. Your choice really. Many shooters find vanes to be more durable, but my personal experience is that feathers
show a real improvement in accuracy. In the end either will give acceptable accuracy at normal hunting ranges.
When asked about how to shoot accurately the late John Wayne stated "Windage and Elevation, that's the key". Well, I don't have time to
get into windage and it's usually not an issue, but I just happen to have some insight into elevation!
Trajectory is what makes or breaks any bowhunter, and todays emphasis on long range shooting in 3D competitions can get our heads
a-spinning with idea's of shooting into the next area code! The average distance at which animals are taken with crossbow is under 20
yards, and about 90% of all shots are under 25 yards. At these ranges my experience is that most hunters are more likely to second guess
themselves and overshoot than any other dumb mistake they could make (present company included).
Now there's a theory of crossbow hunting that I've developed over the last twenty some years called "Bill's theory of crossbow hunting",
and I'd like to share it with you.
Sighting your crossbow at twenty yards will result in a trajectory of about 1-2" high at fifteen yards, and 2-3" low at twenty five yards.
(assuming your bow shoots 240 FPS or more). Now if you mark or remember landmarks that are twenty five yards from your stand, and never
shoot outside of them, trajectory becomes a non issue; just aim for the centre of the deers chest and shoot. Mr. Deer will care not whether
you hit a tad high or low,.. the results will be the same for him. Thisno-brain approach has filled my freezer year after year.
Once you've really had time to hone your crossbow skills and learn distance estimation you'll be ready for occasional "hero" shots, but
remember that keeping your quarry standing around waiting for an arrow can be difficult at 40 yards, so keep those shots close!
Crossbow hunting can provide an exciting and enjoyable way to experience the great outdoors. It can give you an easier avenue into
bowhunting, enrich your experience as any established bowhunter by providing an option in equipment, or extend your bowhunting time should
physical disabilities make your present equipment less usable. Don't be afraid to try it, it'll put an exciting new twist into an old game.
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