CROSSBOW TIPS, TRICKS, & GETTING STARTED GUIDE
SECTION 1: ASSEMBLY
WHAT TO EXPECT
Your new crossbow and accessories will surely require some light assembly and basic setup. Most manufacturers include complete instructions, and in most cases, only simple hand tools are needed. A typical crossbow package will arrive as you see in the photo at right. The bow-section always comes preassembled, but it often must be fitted to the stock using the supplied fasteners. Scopes, Red-Dot Sights, Laser Sights, and Fiber-Optic sights are sometimes pre-installed, but not always. Some manufacturers package these items separately, so you may need to mount your rings and/or your sighting device as well. Finally, you will need to mount your quiver bracket and any optional accessories (slings, cocking devices, monopods, etc.) onto the stock. Then you're ready to shoot! Typical assembly time is about 20 minutes.
For faster service....should you discover you are missing any parts or fasteners during assembly, please contact the crossbow manufacturer directly and request any missing parts be shipped directly to you.
SECTION 2: COCKING THE BOW
As crossbows evolved over the centuries, their designs naturally got more and more powerful. Eventually, the effort needed to cock these battle bows exceeded what human power could accomplish by simply pulling on the string. So some crossbow designs began to incorporate cocking devices, such as levers and cranks, which aided the shooter in drawing the bow.
As many crossbows now have draw weights that approach 200 lbs., designers have had to offer consumers some mechanical help. So before you purchase your high-power crossbow, you should think about how you plan to draw the bow and whether or not you'll need an optional cocking device.
There are 3 basic methods for drawing a modern crossbow: manual-pull, with a rope cocker, or with a crank device. Each method has it's pros and cons. So here are some points to consider....
The simplest and quickest way to cock your crossbow is to just put your foot in the stirrup then reach down and pull the string back manually. Of course, this is easier said than done with a 150+ lb. crossbow. To cock a crossbow by this method, you must be able to essentially "dead-lift" 150+ lbs. directly off the ground. This method is effective, but it definitely isn't for everyone.
To make cocking your crossbow a little easier, a rope cocking device uses a simple pulley system to give you a 50% mechanical advantage. Instead of pulling 150#, you'll only have to pull 75# with the rope-cocking device, but you'll have to pull it twice as far. Rope cockers typically have two handles (similar to those on a pull-start lawn-mower), two string clips, and a rope that connects it all together. Once you get the device in position, you simply pull the two handles upward to cock the bow. You still need to have your foot in the stirrup, and this method still requires a fair amount of strength, but it's dramatically easier than manually cocking the bow.
A crank cocking device is a small hand-actuated winch, usually mounted on the stock of the crossbow, which allows the user to cock the crossbow by winding a small crank handle. Some models are designed as an "add-on", while others are already integrated into the bow. Crank cocking devices typically take less than 10# of force to turn, so they enable virtually anyone to use a high-power crossbow with ease. This device is particularly popular among hunters and shooting enthusiasts with physical disabilities.
SECTION 3: DEVICE SPECIFIC ADVANTAGES & DISADVANTAGES
The obvious advantage to this method is simplicity. There are no extra devices to buy, install, or carry into the field - and you can cock the crossbow very quickly. Providing you possess the physical strength to continually cock your crossbow manually, you may find this method to be the best option. However, manually cocking a crossbow has one other significant drawback. In order to achieve good accuracy, you must make sure you draw the bow back perfectly straight - keeping the middle of the string centered in the trigger mechanism. If you pull one side harder than the other, the center of your string can be pulled right or left of the trigger mechanism, resulting in shots that spray and miss left and right on the target. Some crossbowmen will mark their string's center with a little white paint to make sure they're pulling the string back straight every time. So be advised that manual cocking of your crossbow can have adverse effects on your overall accuracy.
The rope cocker is simple and relatively inexpensive. Most rope cocking devices are available for around $35. The major advantage is that the rope cocker allows someone to cock a bow using only 1/2 the force normally needed, which makes a 150# crossbow manageable for most. They generally improve accuracy too, by helping to center the string at full draw. The only clear sacrifice it to time and convenience, as it takes a few moments to route the rope cocker into position, cock the bow, and stow it away when finished. Overall, this is an excellent choice for most crossbow hunters and it's a device we strongly recommend.
Crank devices give the user a major mechanical advantage, so that drawing back 150# feels like nearly nothing. They also tend to help center the string in the trigger, much like rope cocking devices - so they're very accurate. However, crank devices have a few distinct disadvantages. First, they're expensive. Most crank cockers cost well-over $100. They also add weight and bulk to the rear of the bow. Of course, some models are more sleek and tuck neatly in the stock, while others mount over the butt-plate and must come on and off after each use. So depending on the design, the crank devices can be inconvenient to use in the field. It's also worth noting that crank devices are comparatively quite slow. Like most winches, the crank cockers wind-up slowly. In the field, it may take several minutes to cock the bow and be ready to shoot.
SECTION 4: SIGHTING IN
Virtually all crossbows will come with an Optical or Red-Dot Scope. They vary by design and manufacturer, but you will likely have 1 of the 4 views when looking through your crossbow sighting device. Look through your scope and determine which style you have. Note: Red-Dot scopes turn on and off (battery powered). You will not see the red-dots until you power-on the scope. If yours does not come on, check the battery to be sure it's properly installed.
Triple Red Dot
PREPARING TO SIGHT IN YOUR CROSSBOW
For sighting-in, you'll be starting from scratch in most cases, but some crossbow manufacturers pre-sight their crossbows to make the process a little easier. Either way, some adjustments are surely going to be necessary to get your crossbow hitting right on the X
If you've never adjusted a scope before, the process is pretty simple. As you move the adjusters, the respective directional arrows tell you which way your point of impact will be adjusted. This can vary from scope to scope, but it's generally clockwise for UP and RIGHT, and counterclockwise for DOWN and LEFT. As you turn the adjusters you will hear a "click". Each "click" represents a change in M.O.A. (minutes of angle) toward your intended target. For most scope designs, a single "click" adjusts your impact point 1/4" @ 100 yards (or about 1/20th of an inch @ 20 yards). More on this later.
Before you begin shooting, this is a good time to get to know how your scope adjusts. All scopes have a windage (left/right) adjustment which is located on the side of the scope, and an elevation (up/down) adjustment located on the top of the scope. These adjusters for the top and side turrets are covered with screw-off dust caps. To access the actual adjustment mechanisms, you must unscrew and remove the caps.
SCOPE CAP TIP
Adjustment caps are easily cross-threaded. They are usually machined with very fine threads, so be careful when taking them on and off. They are also easily dropped and lost outside. We recommend you remove them while still indoors and put them in a safe place. You can replace them later when you finish sighting in your bow and return indoors. Once you remove the caps, you'll see the adjusters inside. The adjusters will have arrows indicating direction for adjustment and a slot for a screwdriver or coin (usually a penny works like a charm).
BEGINNING TECHNIQUE TIP
Shooting a crossbow accurately requires two key technique elements: a steady aim and good trigger technique. Don't start-off on the wrong foot by "jerking" the trigger (anticipating the shot). Train yourself not to think of aiming and shooting as separate tasks. If you aim first THEN quickly yank the trigger, your brain momentarily stops focusing on the task of aiming and starts focusing on the task of pulling the trigger - and in the interim you'll invariably drift a little off-target and/or flinch in anticipation of the shot. So your accuracy will always be mediocre at best.
Instead, train yourself to think of aiming and firing as ONE SINGLE TASK called a shot sequence. Find your target in the scope, click-off your safety and begin your shot sequence by slowly and gradually "squeezing" the trigger. It takes about 5 lbs. of pressure to activate a crossbow trigger, so when your shot sequence begins, apply just 1 lb. of pressure, then 2 lbs, then 3, then 4 and so on. Keep your crosshairs steady on the bullseye the whole time, and continue to focus on maintaining your aim while your finger squeezes harder and harder. Keep it up until "POP"- the trigger releases and the bow finally fires. A good shot sequence might take as much as 8-10 seconds. If you do it right, you should be almost surprised when the bow finally fires. You'll be dramatically more accurate with your new crossbow (especially at longer ranges) if you start off right and train yourself to NOT jerk the trigger and anticipate the shot.
Stand just 10 paces from your target and fire your first shot (use your top red-dot or top crosshairs). If your arrow (bolt) hits in or near the bullseye, you're in business (skip down). If you miss the target at such close-range, you may have improperly installed your scope. Please recheck your mount. If your scope is mounted properly, then you'll need to begin by making a MAJOR adjustment to the scope. For example, if you missed low, turn the elevation adjuster 2 complete turns (towards the UP position) and try again. Repeat this procedure until you're hitting within a few inches of the bullseye.
Before you can begin to zero-in your scope at distance, you must be able to shoot a tight and repeatable group. A single arrow doesn't really tell the story, particularly while you're learning. Move out to 20 yards, and fire three shots at the bullseye. As long as the arrows are hitting the target, don't worry about where they're landing - and don't compensate your aim on the 2nd and 3rd shots. Just aim for the bullseye each time. Use your best technique. The object is to get all three arrows to land close-together in the target (in a spot no larger than a tennis ball).
Once you're shooting tight groups, it's time to permanently sight-in your crossbow. Regardless of what type of sight you have, you'll need to decide on a "base" distance first. The base distance will be the distance at which your top aiming point (red-dot or reticle) is dead-on. For single-dot and single-reticle scopes, this distance can be any distance you wish. For triple-dot and multi-reticle scopes, the aiming points are staggered to give you approximately 10 yard increments, starting with a base distance of 20 yards. For the purposes of illustration, we'll assume a 20 yard base distance for every scope type.
Sighting in your bow will be a process of trial and error. You'll have to shoot, adjust, shoot again, adjust again, etc. So allow yourself some time to get this right. Begin by taking 3 shots into the target, then examine where the group lands.
FIRST VOLLEY AND ADJUSTMENTS
In this example (left), the group landed approximately 1" low and 3" to the right. At 20 yards, your 1/4" MOA click adjustments will adjust your point of impact by roughly 1/20th of an inch per click. So you'll need to adjust your scope 20 clicks UP (clockwise on the elevation adjuster) and 60 clicks left (counterclockwise on the windage adjuster). Then pull your arrows and shoot again.
SECOND VOLLEY AND ADJUSTMENTS
If you've done everything right, your new group will be closer to the bullseye (though likely not perfect just yet). In this example, the group was improved, but is still 1/2" low. So you will need to make an adjustment by going another 10 clicks up on your elevation adjuster. Then pull the arrows and shoot again.
TRIAL AND ERROR
You may have to repeat this trial and error process a number of times to get your arrows to land precisely in the bullseye. Once you've finished, your crossbow will be sighted-in at your base distance (in this case - 20 yards). Remember to replace the adjuster caps on your scope.
STANDARD SCOPE SETTINGS
SECTION 5: FIELD PERFORMANCE
What to expect from your new crossbow...
The first crossbows appeared in China as early as the 4th century BC, and were quickly adopted as weapons of war. By 209 BC, the Chinese army had over 50,000 crossbowmen. The crossbow’s principal advantage lay in the simplicity of its operation. One aimed and fired it much like a modern handgun, and it did not require the years of practice which were necessary in order to master other bows such as the English longbow.
Europeans encountered this weapon during the Crusades, and by the 11th or 12th century AD, the crossbow had become a significant military weapon in the West as well. Capable of penetrating steel armor at close range, the medieval crossbow was a feared weapon, and it was widely used as a military weapon until displaced by powder weapons in the 16th and 17th centuries.
LEGACY AND MISCONCEPTION
In modern day, the crossbow has largely evolved into a weapon for sport and recreation, but it's fearsome medieval heritage has unfortunately given rise to some misconceptions. The most common misconception is that a crossbow has long-range capabilities like a gun. IT DOESN'T! While the crossbow is often shouldered and fired much like a gun, that's where the similarities end. In spite of the cool advances in modern manufacturing and machining, the crossbow is still a primitive weapon. Today, the average crossbow generates roughly 80 ft-lbs of Kinetic Energy. By comparison, a run-of-the-mill .30-30 hunting rifle generates over 1200 ft-lbs of Kinetic Energy. So if you intend to use your crossbow for big-game hunting and you expect it's range and power to be like a modern powder weapon, you will surely be disappointed.
A FAIR COMPARISON
Regarding range and accuracy, the modern crossbow is actually more similar to the modern high-performance compound bow. Take a look at a popular 175# crossbow (Horton Legend HD) vs. a 70# top-of-the-line compound bow (Bowtech Allegiance).
||Arrow Mass: 420 Grains
Max Speed: 305fps ENERGY OUTPUT
KE = mv²/450240
KE = (420)(305²)/450240
KE = 39070500/450240
KE = 86.78 ft-lbs.
|Arrow Mass: 350 Grains
Max Speed: 335fps
KE = mv²/450240
KE = (350)(335²)/450240
KE = 39278750/450240
KE = 87.24 ft-lbs.
As you can see, the outputs of these two weapons are similar. Of course, not many compound bows are as fast as the Bowtech Allegiance, and some crossbows are even faster than the Horton Legend HD175. Yet the point remains the same, a crossbow's output is much closer to that of a modern compound bow than it is to any type of gun.
Crossbows generally come in much heavier draw weights (usually 150-185#) than compound bows. So it would be logical to assume that more power-in means more power-out. But wait! If you remember the work=force x distance formula from your High School Physics class, you know that how far is just as important as how hard. Crossbows have a comparatively short powerstroke (the distance the bow's string is drawn back). Most crossbows have only a 10-14" long powerstroke vs. a men's compound bow which typically has a 18-23" long powerstroke. So while the crossbow stores up more energy per-inch of powerstroke (because of the heavier draw weights), the compound bow makes up for it by drawing back a lighter weight, but over a longer distance.
EFFECTIVE HUNTING RANGE
Much like a high-power compound bow, a modern crossbow can easily launch an arrow (bolt) more than 1000 feet. Under the right circumstances, that projectile could still be lethal at the end of that range. Unfortunately, firing a crossbow up into the air isn't a very effective way to hunt, nor could anyone accurately predict where such an arrow would land. So maximum launch distance really has nothing to do with determining your weapon's "effective hunting range". An effective hunting range is the maximum distance that you can reliably use your weapon to accurately, humanely, and ethically harvest big-game. The answer isn't absolute (for any weapon), as shooter skill-level and hunting conditions must be factored-in as well.
YOUR SKILLS & ETHICAL STANDARDS
Ultimately, the final answer is up to YOU. A crossbow bolt is surely lethal at 50, 75, perhaps even 100+ yards, but only if you can control it. With a little practice, an average crossbow shooter will be able to place shots accurately out to 30 or 40 yards with little regard for loss of arrow trajectory, changes in ground elevation, or compensation for wind conditions. But if you expand that range to 75 or 100 yards, precision becomes much more difficult, and you'll need extraordinary skills to reliably control your shot-placement. So if you're new to crossbow shooting, you may find that your first season's effective hunting range is only 30 yards, but with repeated practice you may be able to expand that range to 40 or 50 yards (or more). The bottom line is....as a responsible bowhunter, it's up to YOU to decide when to shoot and when not to shoot. You must set your own ethical standards, based of the limitations of your skill and your equipment. It's up to YOU to make good choices in the field, and never risk missing or wounding an animal.
HARVESTING BIG GAME
Hunting with your crossbow comes with many of the same challenges and rewards as hunting with a compound bow. You'll still need to get in close, you'll still need to wait for a clear broadside or quartering-away shot, and you'll need to place your shots precisely behind the shoulder. And like every bowhunter, you'll hope for a clean pass-thru and a good blood-trail for a quick recovery. Your new crossbow will provide you with sufficient power to harvest any North American big-game species. And with good broadhead selection and perhaps a little luck, your new crossbow will surely put meat on the table. But your ultimate success or failure will pivot on your ability to use your weapon in conjunction with your wits.
INDUSTRY RATINGS FOR CROSSBOW SPEEDS
While you're shopping for your new crossbow, here are a few final things to consider. Some crossbows are advertised with rather impressive "test" speeds. But beware.....a crossbow's actual arrow velocity is all relative, particularly with regards to the arrow's total weight and testing methodology. Light arrows (bolts) go faster - heavier arrows go slower. That's the way it is with any bow (crossbow, compound, or traditional). Unfortunately, crossbow manufacturers do not necessarily follow the same testing standards when it comes to rating their crossbows for speed. Some manufacturers clearly state how their arrow speed data is obtained, others do not. In fact, there is no clear "industry standard" for providing an apples-to-apples comparison among the various crossbow manufacturers - like we see with compound bows and IBO Speeds. It's up to the individual crossbow manufacturer to rate their own bows by their own methods. And since SPEED SELLS, some crossbow manufacturers may try to gain an advantage by advertising ridiculously optimistic speeds - speeds which might be impossible to reproduce with a typical 420 grain bolt.
ARROW MASS vs. VELOCITY
If your new crossbow is capable of launching a 420 grain arrow @ an honest 305 fps, then it's possible to estimate the speed you'll get with a lighter or heavier arrow. If we assume the bow's total KE output remains constant, we can use our archer's KE formula (KE = mv²/450240) to find arrow velocity given a known arrow mass.
420 Grains @ 305 FPS
KE = mv²/450240
KE = (420)(305²)/450240
KE = 39070500/450240
KE = 86.78 ft-lbs.
50 Grains LIGHTER BOLT
SOLVE FOR V
86.78 = 370v²/450240
370v² = 39071827
v² = 105599.53
v = 324.96 FPS
20 FPS INCREASE
50 Grains HEAVIER BOLT
SOLVE FOR V
86.78 = 470v²/450240
470v² = 39071827
v² = 83131.546
v = 288.33 FPS
17 FPS DECREASE
For the record, heavier arrows (bolts) tend to make bows slightly more efficient, lighter arrows (bolts) tend to make bows slightly less efficient. So our original assumption that "KE output remains constant" isn't perfectly sound. However, we'll not attempt to split that hair here. For the purposes of this illustration, the difference would be negligible.
SELECTING A CROSSBOW BOLT
Obviously lighter bolts fly faster. But before you choose the lightest bolt you can find, there a few things you should consider. Most crossbow manufacturers specifically recommend a minimum grain weight bolt for use in their various crossbow models. We strongly recommend you follow these guidelines. Shooting underweight arrows (bolts) puts your bow's components under considerable stress. In addition, shooting underweight arrows may void your factory warranty and put you at risk of personal injury - should a limb, string, or other bow component fail. Remember that faster isn't always better. You may find you'll achieve better broadhead flight and overall control when shooting more moderate speeds. It's also worth noting that heavier bolts will make your crossbow quieter and will prolong the life of your string and cables.