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Archer's Edge: The Complete Crossbow Manual

Understand the basics of crossbow ownership and operation from two experts.

July 06, 2020
4 out of 5 star rating 1 Reviews
Archer's Edge: The Complete Crossbow Manual

I have enjoyed sharing my knowledge, insights and research developments on the field of Archery with everyone these past few weeks. The focus this week, however, is on Crossbows and with my 10 day absence from being on a dream vacation to Alaska I am turning to the experts from TenPoint for the complete crossbow experience. These few short articles will walk you through the basics of Crossbow ownership and operation.

Consider More Than Arrow Speed When Buying a Crossbow By Bryan Zabitski

It seems like in today's adrenaline-hyped crossbow market, a great deal of emphasis is being placed on the speed of crossbows. Manufacturers are now using speed as the primary marketing tool to convince you to buy their crossbows because they shoot faster than others offered in the same price range. This need for speed does not necessarily guarantee that you are purchasing the best crossbow for hunting at a given price, and, if you are basing your decision solely on the advertised speed, you may be making a mistake.

Speed is the rate at which a projectile covers a given distance over a given period of time. Crossbow speeds are usually measured in feet-per-second (FPS). When a crossbow is said to shoot at 300 FPS, that means that, when the arrow leaves the flight rail, it would travel 300 feet in the span of one second if it could constantly maintain its momentum and trajectory. But it cannot. From the moment the arrow leaves the flight rail, drag forces begin to slow it down. Most advertised speeds for crossbows are measured at the muzzle, so the actual speed that the arrow is moving downrange is going to be less than the advertised speed. This loss of speed is amplified the further out you are shooting. Additionally, the lighter the arrow that you use, the faster the arrow will slow at further distances. Typically, advertised speeds use the lightest arrow recommended for use by the manufacturer to give you the absolute maximum speed that the crossbow will shoot. When comparing crossbow speeds, make sure that the speeds were determined using identical arrow weights.

Crossbow arrows come in many different weights, and these weights are measured in grains. This weight is the total finished arrow weight, which includes the insert, shaft, vanes, and nock, and can range from lightweight (350 to 400 grains) to standard weight (400 to 445 grains) to heavyweight (445 to 750 grains). The muzzle speed of an arrow shot out of the same crossbow will change, depending on the weight of the arrow that you shoot. If you shoot a lighter arrow, the speed will be faster than shooting a heavier one. Since most advertised bow speeds are determined by using the lightest arrow possible, unless you use this arrow, the speed at muzzle will be slower than advertised. For crossbow hunting purposes, you are better off to use a standard weight arrow (400 to 445 grains). So, if you are planning to use the bow for hunting, you will likely not be shooting at the crossbow's maximum speed. But, there are advantages to be gained by shooting a heavier, slower arrow.

Crossbows transfer the energy stored in the bow assembly to the arrow through the string and accelerate the arrow down the flight rail. The crossbow delivers the same amount of force to the arrow when it launches it each time. A lighter arrow is easier to move from rest, so the crossbow will shoot a lighter arrow faster than it will shoot a heavier one. But for hunting purposes, you want to shoot an arrow that has the greatest amount of penetrating power, or kinetic energy, while still shooting as fast and as accurately as possible.  Most hunters shoot an arrow in the standard weight range (400-445 grains) because they are willing to sacrifice a small amount of speed for a higher amount of kinetic energy. As compared to a lighter arrow, a heavier arrow will retain a greater amount of its energy at longer distances because of its greater tendency to want to stay in flight, and it will often shoot tighter groups. It also loses speed at a slower rate than a lighter arrow over a longer distance.

Most modern crossbows launch arrows with far more kinetic energy than is needed to actually make a successful harvest shot on an animal, even when shooting a light arrow. Heavier arrows offer the ballistic benefits discussed above, but there is an additional benefit. After the crossbow shoots an arrow, energy is left in the bow assembly which is absorbed and then dissipated out by parts of the crossbow. The noise that you hear after the shot is directly related to the amount of energy that is left over in the crossbow. The more energy that is left, the louder the noise will be. Remember that a heavier arrow requires more energy to be launched by the same crossbow than a lighter one does. When you shoot a heavier arrow, your crossbow will be quieter, since less energy is left over to be absorbed and dissipated by it. Beware of most crossbows that shoot at excessive speeds (> 400 FPS), as some will have more energy left in the bow assembly after the shot and will be louder shooting with little practical gain from a hunting perspective. This additional energy also puts the parts of the bow assembly (limbs, cams, axles, string, cables, and riser) through a greater amount of continuous stress, which makes a failure of one of these components more likely to occur more often. Hence, the faster the crossbow shoots, the stronger the materials need to be that make up the bow assembly to withstand the stress.

So, when buying a hunting crossbow, don't get caught in the speed trap. Simply purchasing based on speed alone does not give you the highest quality, longest-lasting, and most consistently performing crossbow for the price.

Until next time, shoot straight, be safe, and have fun!

Crossbow Shooting Basics By Jake Miller

Shooting a crossbow sounds easy enough to most people, and truthfully, it is. But it is not the cliché of shooting like a gun. Crossbows are far more intricate.

Yes, crossbows are fired by pulling a trigger like a gun, and they shoulder the same way because of a similar horizontal stock design, but how is this any different than pulling the trigger on a compound bow release? The major difference between a crossbow and a vertical bow is simply the direction of its riser and string (vertical vs. horizontal).

The first step to master when learning to shoot a crossbow is the cocking process. Some crossbows come with cocking devices, either as separate accessories or built directly into the butt stock. You should read your specific brands owner's manual to learn the exact process for safely cocking your crossbow. Once the string is seated all the way back by the trigger latch, you can load an arrow. Do this by holding the arrow at its front, nearest the point (whether field point or broad head) to ensure that you hand and fingers stay well clear of the path of the bowstring.

Now that you have a crossbow arrow loaded, this is where crossbows are easier to handle than vertical bows, which you have to hold back at draw length until you're ready to fire. The string latch will hold the string until you remove the crossbow from the safe position and pull the trigger. Much like guns and vertical bow releases, crossbow triggers have differing trigger pull requirements. Some are feather-light trigger pulls, while others require a couple more pounds of force. Regardless, your personal preference will tell you which trigger you like best. It is safest and most efficient to find a crossbow with a trigger that is smooth all the way through the trigger pull.

Like any other weapon that fires a projectile down range, you need to learn how to aim properly. Most crossbows come equipped with some sort of scope, with or without slight magnification, and often offer illumination settings. Just as crossbow speeds are comparable to vertical bow speeds, crossbow scopes are engineered for shooting at targets of comparable distances of that which vertical bow shooters would use sight pins for. The reticle itself might resemble a rifle scope, but are not designed for shooting at extreme distances.

With a safely loaded crossbow, arrow seated, safety in the safe position, and scope appropriately ready for shooting, raise the crossbow and secure the butt stock firmly against your shooting shoulder, while placing your other hand appropriately on the fore-grip. Remember to keep your hands and fingers well out of the bowstrings flight path to avoid injury. Certain crossbows are equipped with safety wings that help to prevent your fingers from unknowingly creeping into harm's way on the barrel.

With the crossbow firmly in place against your body and your forehand in place on the fore-grip, rest your cheek on the top of the butt stock to allow you to peer down the scope or sight picture with your appropriate dominant eye. Your dominant eye can be determined in a number of different ways. Typically, right-handed people display a right eye dominance, and vice versa, but you can research other methods to test this for yourself.

Peering down the scope, using the appropriate distance marker (usually a dot inside the reticle), bring the scope to rest on the area you wish to aim at (typically a dot on a target or the vitals on a game species). You want to be as calm and focused as possible during this step. Take a couple slow, deep breaths and focus your energy at holding steady on that point-of-aim down range.

Once acquired, reach up and move the safety into the fire position. Make any last minute adjustments to how you are aiming and take one final deep breath. Upon exhaling, concentrate completely on the spot you've chosen down range and, when you've let out around 50% of the air in your lungs, slowly begin to pull the trigger. This is why a crossbow with a smooth trigger pull all the way through the action is so important. You should ALWAYS pull the trigger slowly, never jerky. Those types of quick movements can have great effect on your overall accuracy.

While slowly pulling on the trigger, continue to exhale. This helps to keep you well-focused and in-tune with the shot you are about to make. Once the crossbow actually fires, there should still be a little bit of air left in your lungs. Continue to exhale, never moving or lifting your head off the butt stock. You should continue to peer down the scope even after the arrow has left the crossbow to ensure that you did not make any small movements during the crucial stages of the shot that could throw off your down range accuracy.

After a couple seconds have passed since the shot took place, you can move your head and look down range, either at your target or attempting to follow the game you shot as it runs off. You just completed correct crossbow shooting form. While many of these steps are similar to both vertical bow shooting and long gun (or rifle shooting), there are subtle differences that make all the difference. Practicing these steps is the key to executing them successfully in the field when in pursuit of game.

Bryan and Jake's articles have shown us that there is more than just picking a fast crossbow or getting the latest and greatest technology. While all of these factors play a part in the crossbow experience you really need to understand what you want to accomplish with the crossbow and then begin your research there. Understanding how to shoot the crossbow will also aid in determining the experience you want to have. No matter the pursuit enjoy the experience of finding the perfect crossbow for you.

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