I got into hunting with a crossbow by accident— literally. Several years ago, while getting my winter firewood supply, I tripped over a stump. Tumbling to the ground, I landed on my right shoulder and felt a sharp pain on impact. Long story short, a quick hospital visit revealed nothing was broken, but I was told my arm and shoulder would be sore to move and use for a while.
I was advised to give it a rest for a week or so. With the archery-deer opener just a week away, and after investing several weeks of pre-season scouting, hanging stands, and blinds, I wasn’t about to sacrifice my favorite hunting season. Fortunately, a friend of mine was leaving town on business for the entire month, and he suggested I give his crossbow a try. I gratefully accepted.
Getting used to the crossbow
During the next few days, I spent every opportunity getting familiar with the crossbow’s feel, mechanics, and capabilities. It quickly became apparent that crossbows have their limitations and are somewhat awkward and cumbersome to carry and shoot.
Despite those shortcomings, what impressed me most was that, unlike a vertical bow that can take years to master, once sighted-in, a crossbow takes little time to use proficiently and is an extremely accurate hunting tool. It was also fun to shoot, and I knew whether I was successful or not during the coming season, I was going to own one.
The opening day promised to dawn crisp and clear that year. As the October sun started to clear the treetops, illuminating the foliage in fall colors, I was sitting in a climbing treestand 15 feet above the forest floor overlooking a well-used deer run and cornfield.
Originally, I’d planned to hunt another location. Still, by luck, a few days earlier, I found a trail with fresh signs indicating deer were visiting the field regularly, using the trail as a primary travel route to and from their beds. It was a prime location and too hot to pass up.
Less than 40 minutes after getting positioned, two does, accompanied by a spike-horn buck, worked along the field edge and headed for the trail below me. The sun was fully up by then, and the trio seemed in a hurry as if late getting into the safety of the woods.
At a slow trot, they entered the tree line, and the lead doe continued moving. The second doe and buck stopped 25 yards away and looked back to make sure nothing was in pursuit, which provided a high percentage broadside shot. I raised the crossbow, put the 25-yard crosshair behind the buck’s near shoulder, and pulled the trigger.
At 350 fps, it doesn’t take a crossbow arrow (also called a bolt) long to travel 25 yards, and I heard rather than saw the arrow hit home. As the buck bolted, the doe took off for parts unknown, and a few minutes later, I descended to the ground. I found and followed the blood trail leading to my winter’s meat less than 30 yards down the trail.
Because they’ve proven so efficient and user-friendly, crossbows have become my weapon of choice whenever archery hunting for deer and other big game. When it came to purchasing my own the very next season, I had several questions that needed answers. I’ve since purchased multiple crossbows and now understand the process more clearly. Perhaps you’re interested in purchasing your first crossbow. If so, there are a few considerations to ensure you get the right model.
1. Choosing a style
Crossbows are available in three limb configurations. All work extremely well, and with all things considered, they release bolts at similar speeds and have similar range limitations. Deciding which one to purchase is best addressed in part by how the bow will be used. For target shooting, it makes little difference, but it can make a big difference if hunting is your main intent.
With fewer moving parts—basically, a bow mounted on a stock equipped with a trigger mechanism—recurve models are generally quieter and easier to maintain. Strings can be easily changed in the field, if necessary, and are less noisy and generally lighter in weight than compound models. To achieve desired arrow speeds, recurve crossbows have longer stocks and wider limbs.
For this reason, recurve crossbows may not be the best choice when hunting in tight quarters such as blinds or thick, brushy terrain. They also require more physical effort to cock all the way to the trigger mechanism because they don’t have let-off.
Compound crossbows work with a system of cams and cables. Basically, during the cocking process, these cams “turn over” (or let-off), simplifying the cocking process. When fired, the cams reengage to increase arrow speed. Because of the let-off, compound crossbows are easier to cock and are more compact, with shorter stocks and narrower limbs, yet they deliver the same arrow speeds as a recurve bow of equal draw weight.
Although somewhat noisier than recurve models because of the cam action, at today’s velocities and within the recommended range, the noise level is inconsequential. Being shorter and narrower, compound crossbows are a good choice for all-around hunting.
Reverse-draw crossbows are relatively new. The riser sits closer to the shooter, improving the crossbow’s balance and stability—both important factors in hunting situations. The reverse-draw technology also provides a longer power stroke for an increased speed-to-draw weight ratio. In other words, a 150-pound reverse-draw bow can release an arrow at the same speed as a 165-pound conventional crossbow.
Reverse-draw crossbows also have a much narrower axle-to-axle width, some less than 10 inches when drawn. This makes them excellent choices for tight hunting situations where wider bows may present problems.
2. Get one that fits
Not only should a crossbow fit your hunting style, but it should also feel comfortable when carried and shot. Like a firearm, crossbows are built on a rifle-like stock and should have a comfortable length of pull, which speeds sight and target acquisition, and promotes control and consistent accuracy.
If finding a crossbow that fits proves challenging, some models offer an adjustable forearm, cheek piece, and buttstock for personal comfort.
3. Shoot before buying a crossbow
Chances are good that most of us test-drive a vehicle before we buy. That should apply when shopping for a crossbow. Most retailers specializing in archery and other outdoor gear have an indoor or outdoor range where bows can be handled and shot before purchase.
Take advantage of it, because a great deal can be learned in a hurry about how well a crossbow fits, its weight and balance, arrow speed, noise level, and vibration, recoil, and cocking effort— all important factors.
Keep in mind that an ultra-lightweight crossbow with lots of recoil or vibration, or one that’s too heavy, can be burdensome and difficult to control and will affect accuracy.
Recommended article: Tips For Precision Crossbow Shooting
When considering speed, a crossbow shooting a bolt at 250 fps will do the job on deer-sized (or even larger) game efficiently, but a bolt traveling at 350 fps will not only hit harder, it will have a flatter trajectory, which makes judging distance less important. Plus, if you intend to hunt elk or moose, a hard-hitting crossbow will perform best.
Equally important is the trigger pull. Most top-brand crossbows are equipped with premium trigger mechanisms with the proper amount of creep and pressure required—about 3 pounds—to release the arrow safely. Keep in mind that a hair-trigger or one with no creep can be dangerous, while a trigger with too much creep or set too heavy is difficult to squeeze smoothly, which can cause accuracy to suffer.
Most retailers specializing in archery and other outdoor gear have an indoor or outdoor range where bows can be handled and shot before purchase.
4. Buy a package
Crossbows can be purchased bare-bones, but from lessons I learned early, it’s far better to invest in a package. Most crossbow packages come complete with the bow and a scope specifically designed for crossbows with multiple illuminated crosshairs for 20- to 60- yard shooting, depending upon the bow. They also often include a quiver, bolts matched in length and weight to the bow, and field points for practicing.
Buying a package is also more affordable, but more importantly, it takes all the guesswork out of buying accessories appropriate for a given bow. This ensures the first-time, inexperienced buyer is investing in a package that will function safely and properly.
5. Go shopping
Buying a crossbow isn’t that difficult. As you would a rifle or any tool, conduct some research on the makes and models available. Develop an interest in, say, two or three specific makes, then head to a crossbow dealer and test them out to find one that fits and shoots the way you want it to.
Be sure to check the following lines as we listed a few of the market’s top models.
The Viper S400
The shortest forward-draw hunting crossbow Ten Point has ever produced, the light-weight Viper S400 measures just 32-inches in length yet delivers speeds up to 400 FPS and is sold as a crossbow package. Featuring the new revolutionary ACUslide silent cocking and safe de-cocking system, this ultra-compact hunting crossbow measures an ultra-narrow 7.2-inches wide. It features a 3.5 pound, 2-stage, zero-creep S1 trigger that delivers our most crisp, consistent break ever. If you are looking for the ultimate hunting crossbow package, look no further than the Viper S400 The Carbon Nitro RDX,
The Carbon Nitro RDX
Also from TenPoint, is a reverse-draw crossbow. Measuring just 10 inches from axle to axle when cocked and 34 inches long, the Nitro RDX is one of the market’s most compact crossbows, and it has an adjustable cheek- and butt-plate.
With a draw weight of 165 pounds, the Nitro releases bolts at speeds up to 385 fps, and comes as a package with scope, quiver, cocking mechanism, and six carbon bolts. For more information, you can check it out here.
The Matrix Bulldog 400
The Matrix Bulldog 400 from Excalibur Crossbows is a recurve crossbow built on a bullpup ready reststock measuring 35 inches long, 30 inches wide (when cocked) and has an ambidextrous cheek piece. Weighing just 6.2 pounds, the Bulldog’s Powerload limbs have a 280-pound draw weight and a 13.5-inch power stroke that release bolts at speeds up to 400 fps.
The Matrix Bulldog 400 comes in a package that includes a scope, five-arrow quiver, four carbon bolts, four 150-grain field points, and rope-cocking aid. Check it out on Amazon.
Suggested prepping learning: