General information about crossbows

General information about crossbows

Category: Crossbows
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One of the concerns raised by the rapid proliferation of this antiquated weapon is the lack of available instructional material to help novice crossbow hunters. Without the benefit of either experienced shooters or quality information to guide beginners, many of these hunters are doomed to error and frustration.

Like any other shooting instrument, safe and accurate crossbow use requires a combination of old and well-learned knowledge as well as new information regarding the weapon. With this information in mind, I would like to share my experiences and information with you to help you become a more successful crossbow shooter. Who knows, this article might help you with your first crossbow experience and many question marks!

Probably your first impression of a crossbow was that somehow a bow was assembled with a gun at some kind of "breeding" and this strange item came out of it. It was a rifle with a bow in the front, scopes on top and a quiver full of arrows on the side! Probably capable of shooting for miles, right? Reality and first impressions don't always match up, and when it comes to crossbows, we'd rather say "never"!

As with any archery equipment, a crossbow can only transfer a percentage of the energy that our body can give to the crossbow's limbs when cocking to the arrow. This energy depends on the path of the string and the draw of the limbs, leaving firearms behind in speed and trajectory. You might be surprised to learn that modern compound bows actually outperform crossbows, as they have a more efficient design!

I bet it's the shaft of the crossbow that creates this contradiction; after all, a crossbow is simply a bow on a rifle stock, right? Wrong again; a long time ago someone thought "if I just strap a crossbow on my handgun, aiming will be easier". After all, crossbows have been around more than 2000 years longer than rifles!

Good thing they have the same penetration, trajectory and projectiles as vertical bows; you probably don't even need to have green saliva and fangs to use a crossbow (Someone should tell Pope & Young that, they might object!).

Now, before we get too far into the practicalities, perhaps a word about the specific safety aspects relating to crossbows is in order.

Most of the safety rules with a crossbow are obvious and related to the common sense your father taught you. You know... "don't aim at anything you don't want to shoot at", "always watch the safety catch", "don't handle razor sharp things" etc. Not exactly rocket science!

Another thing. Always keep your body away from the way the string moves when the bow is cocked. This includes any parts you don't want to damage or have prematurely removed by the string as it snaps forward. Most crossbow shooters end up putting their thumb too high and then learn the practical side of this lesson, but usually it only happens to them once!

Now, what do you think will happen if you cock your crossbow and the bow slips off your boot just as you are engaging it? That's trouble! Always make sure your foot is firmly in the stirrup before cocking and you will never be greeted by a speeding crossbow and then see asterisks.

When you fire your crossbow, it whizzes forwards and outwards at an insane speed. Imagine what would happen if it hit a tree trunk or similar immovable object during its movement. I guarantee you won't hit what you were aiming at, but that's really insignificant compared to the potential damage to you and your crossbow as the limb suddenly stops and the buttstock accelerates sideways. You then have a 50-50 chance of being hit by the shaft; if you are sitting in a high seat the result could be like a bungee jump without the bungee cord! Always make sure your limbs are free to surge forward before shooting.

So now that we've finished the scary lesson, let's talk about how to shoot the crossbow accurately.

Certainly the biggest mistake crossbow shooters make is not cocking your crossbow consistently in the same place and as close to the center as possible. Cocking your crossbow just 1/16? away from the center will drastically change the point of impact of your crossbow!

If you are lucky enough to be shooting a model that allows you to cock your hands firmly on one side of the shaft to 'guide' the string, this is usually enough.

Some shooters mark their string at rest with two marks, one on each side of the crossbow shaft, and then gently jiggle the string to one side or the other to center it when cocked. This is especially helpful with "air deck bows" where there is a small guide to keep the hands centered.

Cocking aids have become increasingly popular in recent times. As well as reducing the perceived weight of drawing the crossbow, they can also be used to ensure accurate centering. The only problem here is that the string can slide to the standoff point on the shaft to compensate for limb pressure, and a round file and wax may be needed here to round and polish the standoff surface to ensure this if your crossbow has not already been adjusted.

Okay, so now we are all crossbow geniuses, our bows shoot great, the sights, range etc are adjusted and safe and we are safely shooting tiny little groups with aiming points in a given range.

Stick broadheads on it and you will be shocked! Accuracy with broadheads with a crossbow seems as easy as finding an honest politician. What now?

Broadhead accuracy is relatively easy to achieve if you just follow a few simple rules when choosing your arrow and broadhead combination.

Next: you're not plowing fields with your arrows, so why expect to shoot a broadhead the size of a rake knife from your crossbow? Small blade tips definitely deliver greater accuracy. The theory is that it's better to shoot a small hole where you want it than a big one where you don't want it. With mechanical blade tip extensions, it seems easier to steer, but I've always been suspicious of their reliability and consistency, so don't use them.

My personal favorite tip is the Wasp 100 grain "Boss" broadhead. This little tip flies almost exactly into a Target when properly fletched, and when I've done everything right, it has never missed its target.

Like a bullet, an arrow should spin in flight to stabilize it. The broadhead should try to deflect it and return it to the center again and again. A full spiral fletching is often a little too abrupt for crossbows and often doesn't fit their trajectory, so try a slight offset with straightness for the best broadhead accuracy.

Feathers or vanes? That's really up to you. Many shooters find that vanes are more durable, but my personal experience is that springs really improve accuracy. In the end, both achieve acceptable accuracy for normal hunting purposes.

When John Wayne was asked how to shoot accurately, he said "wind and elevation, those are the keys". Well, I don't have time to get into the wind and that's not normally a problem, but I did happen to have an insight into elevation!

Trajectory is what an archer lives or dies with, and today's emphasis on long range shots in 3D competitions can give us an insight into next level shooting! The average distance at which animals are shot with a crossbow is under 25 yards, and about 90% of all shots are under 25 yards. At these ranges, my experience is that most hunters misjudge and overshoot more often than they make any other stupid mistake (present company included).

Now there is a theory of crossbow shooting that I have developed over the last 20 years called "Bill's Theory of Crossbow Shooting". I would like to share it with you.

If you aim your crossbow at 20 yards, this will result in a trajectory of approximately 1-2" high at 15 yards, and 2" 3" low at 25 yards (assuming your crossbow hits 240 FPS or more). Now, if you mark or memorize areas of land 25 yards from your stand and never shoot outside those areas, the trajectory won't matter to you; just aim at the center of the deer's chest and shoot. The deer doesn't care if you hit it a little higher or lower, the result will be the same for it. I used this approach, without engaging my brain, year after year.

Once you really have time to hone your crossbow skills and judge distance, you'll be ready for the occasional "hero" shot, but remember, leaving your prey standing around waiting for an arrow to come can be difficult at 40 yards, so keep the distance short!

Hunting with a crossbow can be a cocking and enjoyable way to experience the great outdoors. It can ease you into archery, broaden your experience as an experienced archer by providing new alternative equipment, or extend your archery time should physical ailments make your current equipment less usable. Don't be afraid to give it a try. It puts a new spin on an old game.

William Troubridge


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