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12 Crossbow Do's and 3 Don'ts

Crossbow hunting has continued to rise in popularity across the country. Ready to get involved? Here are 12 things you should do—as well as three you shouldn't.


When I first started shooting modern crossbows several years ago, I had no idea what to expect. Like many who had never played with them, these tools confused me. I had seen them on TV, but without ever handling one, I wasn’t sure about a lot of things. How do you load one? How do you pull the string back? What’s the trigger like? Do they kick, like a rifle? Are they noisy? Are they accurate? How far away can you accurately shoot one? Do they have enough power to kill a deer?

Was I in for a surprise! Modern crossbows are fast, accurate, and plenty powerful enough to cleanly take the largest big-game animals in North America. They are also a pleasure to shoot. To get the most out of your crossbow, you need to understand the basics of how to set one up for hunting and how to shoot it. Here are 12 tips to make you a crossbow-shooting machine, using a crossbow-and-arrow set-up designed specifically for hunting big game.

1) Buy the Best You Can Afford
There’s a big difference between an el cheapo, bargain-basement crossbow and a top-of-the-line model. Sure, the bargain model costs a lot less, but it will not be built as well, be as accurate or reliable, and sooner or later it will fail you when the moment of truth arrives. You can buy crossbow packages that include everything you need to get out shooting and hunting—crossbow, a few arrows and arrow points, a scope sight, cocking device and quiver—from anywhere between about $800 to $1,500.

As in all things in life, here you get what you pay for. Spend a few more dollars and get the best you can. You’ll never be sorry.

2) Use Enough Draw Weight
The principle specification that distinguishes a hunting crossbow from a target model is draw weight. Fortunately, most states have taken the guesswork out of determining what is sufficient by establishing a regulatory minimum. While those regulations vary considerably from state to state, the overall range runs from 75 to 125 pounds of draw weight.

With little exception, any crossbow in that range should be adequate to kill a whitetail deer at moderate ranges. That said, most of the better hunting crossbows are in the 150 to 175 pounds range, with a few topping out over 200 pounds. In general, bigger is better—or in this case, faster. Keep in mind that you can go too heavy, too, as at least one state—Ohio—has a maximum allowable draw weight of 200 pounds.

3) Shoot a Fast Enough Arrow
Both crossbow and compound bow makers continually strive to push the speed envelope. You make a crossbow faster by increasing the draw weight. That’s why the above point is so important. How fast is fast enough? I like my crossbows to shoot a hunting-weight arrow with an initial velocity of at least 300 feet per second (fps.) That will both give your arrow enough kinetic energy (K.E.) to cleanly take any big-game animal, and reduce arrow trajectory at longer ranges, which makes accurate shooting easier. Some crossbows are beginning to push the 400 fps envelope, so look for improvements in this number across the board in coming years.

4) Use a Scope Sight
Though some crossbows still come with open sights, you will be much better served using some sort of scope sight. These optical sighting devices make accurate shooting much easier. For magnification, you can choose from just about anything between zero power and 5X. Inside the scope is the reticle, defined as some configuration of horizontal and vertical crosshairs—though for crossbows, it also includes any object projected or suspended across the field of view. Choices begin with a simple, single red dot or crosshair. With them you sight in for a fixed distance, typically 20 yards, then have to compensate for longer shots by holding higher. Multi-reticle scopes are the most popular, particularly those with three to four dots or horizontal crosshairs. The top one is sighted in for 20 yards and the next two are fixed at intervals that will be dead-on at 30, 40 and 50 yards, respectively, on most bows.

5) Use Quality Arrows
Unless your arrows (or bolts) fly like laser beams, you’ll never be able to precisely hit your target. Cheap arrows manufactured to sloppy tolerances will fly like a knuckleball. That’s why you should use only the very best arrows, designed specifically for crossbow shooting, you can afford. Many crossbow companies sell arrows, but they’re made for them by arrow manufacturers like Gold Tip, Carbon Express and Easton. Make sure they have a nock designed for crossbows, not compound bows, are cut to the proper length and have the proper fletches. Both carbon and aluminum arrows work well, but by far the most rugged and high-tech are made from carbon.

6) Use Quality Broadheads
The business end of a hunting arrow is the broadhead. There are more makes, models and styles of hunting broadheads available than you can shake a stick at. Here again, the most expensive are generally those built to the tightest tolerances, with the sharpest blades, that fly straight and true, and have a long track record of success. Both replaceable-blade and mechanical broadhead designs will work well for crossbow shooters, with the mechanical design becoming more and more popular each year. The most common weight for a hunting broadhead is 100 grains, with 125 grains a distant second.

7) Take a Rest
A crossbow is somewhat heavy and clunky, making it almost impossible to accurately shoot without using some sort of rest. That can be everything from using standard rifle shooting positions like kneeling and sitting, to using a set of shooting sticks or monopod, to using a shooting rail in a tree stand or shooting house. I never, ever turn an arrow loose from my crossbows without taking a rest of some kind.

When using a rest, try padding the crossbow’s forearm with something soft—your hand, a rolled-up jacket, a day pack, something—which will help absorb recoil and make precise sighting easier than if you shoot off a hard surface.

8) Learn Arrow Trajectory
All arrows fired from a crossbow travel downrange in a large parabolic arc. Your crosshairs are set to hit dead-on at specific distances, but often you’ll be shooting at a deer or other animal between these distances. When you practice you’ll soon learn where you have to place your crosshairs relative to the animal to hit the “tweener” ranges.

9) Use a Rangefinder
With the click of a button, a modern laser rangefinder can instantaneously give you the exact distance from you to the target—a critical bit of information in accurate shooting when you are lobbing an arrow at the target. The best laser rangefinders are as reliable as the sunrise. My Nikon Archer’s Choice model even tells me exactly where to aim when shooting at steep uphill and downhill angles. Costing somewhere between $250 and $400, they’re a lifetime investment worth every penny.

10) Get a ‘Feel’ For the Trigger
Every crossbow has a trigger unique unto itself. You need to shoot your crossbow enough so that you know exactly when the trigger will send the arrow on its way. Shoot both with and without gloves so you know how both feel (it will be different).

11) Practice in the Field
The old axiom, “practice makes perfect,” certainly applies to shooting your crossbow. Once you get it set up and sighted in, spend some time shooting off a bench rest. Use these sessions to precisely set your sights and get a feel for the trigger. However, you then need to move away from the bench and practice taking shots that simulate actual hunting conditions. Shoot from the kneeling and sitting positions. Climb into your tree stand or ground blind and take shots at the same angles and distances you anticipate you’ll be taking during hunting season. Learn to use your shooting sticks or monopod quickly, quietly and efficiently.

12) Maintain String, Rail, Trigger
A crossbow is a machine, which means it will need regular maintenance if it is to keep on ticking like a fine Swiss watch. That means you should always check the string and cables for wear. This is very important on a crossbow because you have direct string-to-rail contact, which creates friction and abrasion, with every shot. At the first sign of fraying or abnormal wear, replace them. You can reduce the need for replacement with regular maintenance. Keep the string, cables and center serving clean and well maintained after each practice session, and especially after each trip to the field. Make sure you lubricate the center serving, and the rails should also be regularly lubed per the manufacturer’s instructions.

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26 Responses to 12 Crossbow Do's and 3 Don'ts

bill wrote:
February 17, 2015

Im new to crossbows.recently purchased a barnett brotherhood 160 lds draw 350 fps. When u say your barnett blew up are you talking limbs or string?

Patriot wrote:
February 17, 2015

Buy an Excalibur 335 micro- Simply Perfect

vaughn wrote:
January 28, 2015

To those of you shooting a barnett crossbow, GET RID of It!!!! I had the Barnett ghost 400 blow up in my face two separate times. Go with an EXCALIBUR any model.

David wrote:
January 22, 2015

Thinking about getting a crossbow. I'm new to bow hunting. I have one question about crossbows. Do you draw back the crossbow and load a bolt when you first get into the stand or do you wait till after you see a deer getting close

Paul Bangley wrote:
January 10, 2015

I shot my buck with the aluminum arrows that came with the package. I bought extra arrows (6) and broad heads (100 grams) to match the practice field points that came with the bow. It's important to shoot the same weight arrows and points in practice, that you'll be shooting in the field.

Andy wrote:
January 02, 2015

I just bought a Barnett Ghost 410. Looking forward to shooting and practicing for next deer season. My cousin shoots a compound and said carbon is better than aluminium. Is that hold true for crossbow bolts ? I am also not sure of broadheads. I hunt in a very heavy thick woods from a ground blind. I always prep my hunting area a couple of months before season. Next year will include clearing shooting lanes so I do hit a twig or any other obstacle. Please advise on broadheads. Thank you

Dave wrote:
January 01, 2015

A great starting point for those new to crossbows.

Bullwinkle1964 wrote:
December 24, 2014

Thanks for tips,,research ia always important. I got advice before i bought my son his first recurve bow. The store even gave my son free lessons, after sizing for arrows, he was hiitting bulls after ten trys. Good advice plus instructions on how to string up the bow without smacking yourself in the face. HAPPY HUNTING TO ALL....

Don wrote:
December 15, 2014

It's true that not every crossbow is made the same. I think anything for under $100 is going to be crap, but there are some cheap crossbows that shoot really well that can be purchased for $300 - $500; are they as good as the $1,000 bows? No. but that doesn't mean they shouldn't be looked at as a entry level bow. I think its important to try out bow hunting with little investment before purchasing a top of the line bow. If you're interested in crossbow hunting check out these bow reviews at

Lee Jeter wrote:
November 20, 2014

I have a tenpoint carbon elite xlt. and it is an amazing crossbow. Right on target at 50 yards. Lightweight and an amazing scope. Make sure you get the accudraw 50 crank system for accurate draw backs.

ANTHONY wrote:
October 14, 2014

Anthony wrote: I WANT TO MAKE A CORRECTION , I SHOT THE 7 POINT deer < OCT 9 2014 > NOT 2012 October 13, 2014 I have a Tenpoint XLT Turbo two , I harvested my 2nd deer with it Oct.9th 2012 this year a 7 point. I heart shot the deer (a pass through)at 15 yards and found the arrow 45 yrds up the hill , it would have kept on going if the hill didn't slope up ! I Love Acudraw Cranking system and till this day found none better !!

Anthony wrote:
October 13, 2014

I have a Tenpoint XLT Turbo two , I harvested my 2nd deer with it Oct.9th 2012 this year a 7 point. I heart shot the deer (a pass through)at 15 yards and found the arrow 45 yrds up the hill , it would have kept on going if the hill didn't slope up ! I Love Acudraw Cranking system and till this day found none better !!

tim wrote:
October 05, 2014

do it make a different shooting from a tree stand at 20 yd. scope set for 20 on the ground.shooting low in the treestand

GrizzWolf wrote:
September 09, 2014

If your projectile has fletching it is an 'arrow.' If there is absolutely zero fletching you have a 'bolt.' When pricing crossbows keep in mind that if you find a $900.00 crossbow on sale or clearance for $450.00 it is worth buying. Price is a very relative thing. A few years ago I was at a large store who deals in alot of liquidations. They had an entire pallet of $800.00 Horton crossbow packages for $150.00 each! And yet if you are not careful you will get ripped off buying crossbows online from some dealers who hack the price up 50-100[%] above msrp.

Tom Saroch wrote:
August 27, 2014

I have shot quite a few xbows. The parker Thunderhawk seems like a great bow for the price, lifetime warranty & great service

Hollywood 84 wrote:
August 09, 2014

Hey fellas another spectacular crossbow easy to shoot nice and compact 337fps 97 lbs K.E. barnett raptor fx great for tree stands n ground blinds it's not bad for the price close to 400 bucks n under for a 6.5lbs crossbow 150 lbs pull 337fps is fine by me good luck to all

Jeff wrote:
August 02, 2014

Great article .my first crossbow was the Barrett qaud 400 .i tagged out opening day ,1st shoot 22 yards / 2nd shoot 42 yards it was a blessed night. My budget was $450.00 for a crossbow.they are a little heavy but will do the job . Good luck this year guys

Tom Saroch wrote:
April 05, 2014

Just started about 6 month ago love it found shooting 22inch bolts more accurate than 20 @ longer distances

Nick wrote:
January 16, 2014

Prices have come down significantly since this article was written, thank goodness!

CTCrow wrote:
January 09, 2014

My crossbow shoots bolts.

Eli wrote:
December 07, 2013

I really appreciate all the info !

Drooo wrote:
June 30, 2013

I'd also add the method for drawing the string. You've got to make sure the string hooks of your cocker are as close to the stock or rail as you draw the string up and into the trigger assembly. FWIW.

Nick wrote:
June 11, 2013

Good article. Anyone looking for a crossbow to buy, i recommend the Stryker 380. It's fast, isn't too expensive and is lightweight (about 6.5lbs). If $750 is too much, I'd try the Stryker 350, the little brother to the 380. The scope that came with it has 4 dots and it shoots to 40 yards on the top dot. This bad boy shoots far and accurately.

Chuck wrote:
April 23, 2013

Great article. I can afford and have budgeted for whatever bow does the job. Thanks for the good advise.

South-Paw Slinger wrote:
March 02, 2013

You had better recheck Ohio's regulations again. They only have a minimum draw weight of 75lbs. now, and no maximum. They change this law 2-years ago if I'm not mistaken.

JH wrote:
February 26, 2013

Not every one can afford a 800 to 1500 dollar crossbow. I agree you should stay away from the really cheap crossbows in the under 200 dollar range. But the crossbows in the 300 to 500 dollar range are affordable, accurate, well made and have good trigger systems. The crossbows I have fired in this range include Excalibur, Horton and Parker. Other brands in this price range I would think would be good as well. I was so impressed with my friends lower priced Parker I just bought a Parker Bushwacker. I already own an Excalibur and nothing wrong with it but I wanted a more compact crossbow for hunting. The Parker and Horton and Excalibur crossbows I have shot were just as accurate and well built as the higher priced Ten Point I have shot.