Although many crossbows are technically “ready to hunt” right out of the box, getting in some solid practice sessions before heading into the field is critical to effective shooting and ethical hunting. Here’s how to get the most out of target practice.

Determine Your Maximum Effective Range

Just because your crossbow can hit foam at 100 yards does not mean you should shoot at deer anywhere close to that distance. Use your practice sessions to determine the maximum effective range at which you can comfortably and confidently take a shot at a living target — while remembering they can quickly move just enough to make a long-range shot to the vitals end up in the gut. Practice at distances beyond that so closer shots will seem even easier, but still limit yourself to that range when hunting. 

Use the Right Gear

Make sure any target you use is rated for crossbows. More powerful than vertical bows, crossbows can do some serious damage to — or even go through — targets that aren’t built to withstand bolts and their blazing speeds. This is especially important when you fire a few test shots with your broadheads — which is also key to ensure you’re dialed in not just with your practice points but with the heads you’ll be using in the field.

Practice Like You Hunt

Whether you’ll be elevated in a treestand or sitting in a ground blind and whether you’ll be using a tripod or shooting freehand, practice exactly how you’ll hunt. This will help you get comfortable with different shooting angles and positions so you’re not thrown off when preparing to pull the trigger on a big buck.

Get in Your Reps

Although crossbows don’t demand the same level of consistent long-term practice to become proficient as vertical bows, you should still practice until going through the motions becomes almost second nature before hunting. The stakes and pressure are much higher in a hunting scenario, so being comfortable with the process will help you avoid silly mistakes when buck fever hits.

Maintain Your Crossbow

Before every shooting session, inspect your crossbow for signs of wear and loose components. You will likely need to lube the rail, replace the string, and tighten parts at some point if you’re shooting enough.