Crossbow hunting offers unique challenges when hunting large game and is a great way to enjoy the outdoors. Hunting with a crossbow is perfect for bowhunters who have difficulty drawing their bow, or gun hunters who want to take on a new challenge.
Modern crossbows are light, easy to carry, and getting easier to cock without sacrificing the power you get in a compact package. They make an excellent hunting tool and come with lots of accessories to help you have a successful hunt. This guide will help you understand the basics of crossbow hunting and provide tips on getting started.
Crossbows provide a unique hunting experience. They are different from any other hunting tool, though they have some features of archery and provide the point-and-shoot ease of rifles, they are in a class of their own. Whether you're new to hunting or just new to crossbows, here are some tips to help you pick the right crossbow for you.
Comfort and ease of use are the number one rule for any hunting tool. You want to pick a crossbow that fits well in your hands and is easy to carry and maneuver in the field. For proper sizing, consider the length of your arm compared to the length of the crossbow, and consider the weight of the crossbow. A smaller framed person will want a shorter lighter crossbow, especially if you plan to shoot freehand.
The next item to consider is the draw weight. How hard is it to cock? In order for the crossbow to be your go-to hunting tool, make sure you can cock it with relative ease. Most crossbows start with a draw weight of 80 pounds. The heavier the draw weight the harder it will be to cock. Cocking devices take the brunt of the cocking pressure, which makes things easier on the user. And many crossbow manufacturers are making assistive cocking devices (manual and electric), which make cocking your crossbow easy no matter the draw weight.
To help you decide what draw weight is best for you, consider your activity and your strength:
If cocking your crossbow is a concern, you can add an assistive cocking device to your setup to make it easier, or buy a crossbow that has the cocking device built on.
Accuracy is inherent in the design of the crossbow. The rail system supports the bolt to ensure it flies as straight as possible. A good-quality crossbow will maintain its accuracy for many years. Once you get the scope zeroed in and the bow fine-tuned (compound crossbow cams adjusted), it's just a matter of keeping that accuracy maintained. If you're using a compound crossbow, you might have to adjust the cam timing occasionally to keep them turning at the same rate.
The difference between compound and recurve crossbows is both aesthetic and functional. The recurve has a simpler design with few moving parts, while the compound has several parts that must work together to function properly. In general, recurve crossbows tend to have lighter draw weights and shoot slower speeds than compound crossbows, but the simpler design makes them easier to service and maintain. However, the compound crossbow's sophistication gives it greater flexibility and finer tuning.
As with all hunting opportunities, you should only take shots that you are confident you can hit. But when it comes to choosing a shooting distance to practice, it could be hard to know where to start. We recommend calculating your effective range by using the equation:
This gives you a good rule of thumb to get you started, and you can work up to longer distances if and when you feel comfortable. Just remember crossbow hunting is a short-range sport and is most effective when your intended target is within 75 yards, so you don't want to push it out too far.
A rangefinder is the perfect tool to help you evaluate the terrain by using landmarks to gauge your distances, so you can pick a proper point of aim. It also helps to measure the distances for your targets during practice, so you can build muscle memory to find your point of aim at several distances. When shopping for a crossbow, review the "Peak Draw Weight" and "Max Velocity" listed to ensure the crossbow meets your desired range.
Your point of aim (POA) and point of impact (POI) will be very different when you're shooting from a ground blind than when you're shooting from a treestand.
When shooting broadside from a ground blind, we recommend aiming at the lower third behind the front leg of a deer to prevent them from jumping the string. When you fire your shot, the deer will most likely drop to get ready to run. Depending on your shot distance and the speed of your bolt, the deer could drop as much as 4 inches in the time it takes your bolt to hit its mark. Aiming in the lower third will put you in the range to make a heart shot, and as the deer drops, the final point of impact will keep your bolt in the double lung area. Conversely, if the deer jumps up rather than dropping, aiming in the lower third, you should have a heart shot or a clean miss.
When shooting from a treestand, your point of aim will be different. We recommend using the quartering away or broadside positions, angled closer to the spine to get the bolt path to burrow through several vital organs. When the deer is quartering away, aim mid-body near the abdomen. When the deer is broadside, aim for the mid-body just behind the front shoulder. Aiming mid-body will put your bolt path near the spine as the deer drops, which will allow you to connect more vitals through the downward trajectory.
Your choice of heads will differ with each activity and in some cases can be quickly swapped out. We recommend matching your head to your intended game. Large game requires a broadhead, while most small game can be taken with blunt heads. When you're just practicing, use a field tip or practice head. Another thing to consider is the toughness of the game hide. Tough hides will need a sharper head than soft hides.
Then there's the debate between fixed vs mechanical broadheads. Different hunters swear by each type so try them both to see which you prefer. As a general rule, the smaller the game the smaller the head you'll use. Taking a squirrel with a head rated for deer would be overkill. Larger animals need larger wound channels for effectiveness. Smaller animals are skewered more easily, so a smaller head with less power behind it works just fine.
Fixed broadheads usually have deeper penetration and produce a straight wound channel. Mechanical broadheads have a smaller entry than exit, often produce a jagged wound channel, and may get stuck in your target rather than passing through. What you'll find is that both provide sufficient killing power. There are pros and cons to each type of broadhead, and it often comes down to personal preference.
Many hunters spend the majority of the year preparing for deer season, but there are lots of other critters that are fun to hunt and taste good too. Deer season is short. Hunting small game gives you great opportunities to keep your skills up, get in a lot more hunting time, and experience a wider range of hunting techniques and challenges. It could also help improve your skills for those big game opportunities.
A crossbow is an excellent hunting tool that can take everything that's legal to hunt in your area. From small game, such as birds and rabbits, to large game such as deer and wild hogs, there is a crossbow that can take it. Not all crossbows can take all game, however. Each has its performance standards, and you'll need to match your crossbow to your activity.
It depends on your state and local regulations. Some states just require a hunting license, and others have bow hunting certificates as well. Check your local regulations to stay in compliance. Other than that, you'll need gear and supplies, such as; a hunting knife for field dressing, drinks and snacks to keep you fed and hydrated, extra bolts and broadheads in your quiver, and any other outdoor gear you might need for your trip.
Hunting with a crossbow is different than hunting with other equipment. The techniques of hunting with a crossbow fall somewhere between hunting with bows and hunting with guns. The shooting distances and targeting tactics are similar to traditional bow hunting, while the handling and firing are similar to hunting with a gun. You still need to understand your projectile's trajectory and flight time. Thankfully modern crossbow scopes help to compensate for trajectory change based on distance. This makes crossbow hunting more "point and shoot" like a gun. It's an easy transition to crossbow hunting from either direction.
Many bow hunters switch to crossbows as they age, for ease of handling. A crossbow can be cocked and ready for long periods of time while waiting for the target to appear, but a bow has to be drawn back just before firing. And with an assistive cocking device, the crossbow takes little effort to cock, as opposed to the pull of the bowstring which requires manual manipulation.
For rifle hunters, switching to crossbow hunting offers different challenges, but similar techniques. Especially if you come from a background in air rifle hunting. Hunters often use rifles to hunt at distances between 50-100+ yards, while crossbow hunting is done between 10-75 yards. They can use their stalking and positioning experience with new targeting techniques and take on the challenge of taking different game at different distances.
See our other Hunting guides for more hunting tips and ideas.
These Buying Guides will help you pick the right crossbow for your needs:
These blog posts give you some tips and tricks for using your crossbow effectively:
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