Crossbow Draw Weight: What is it and How Much do You Need?

A Guide to Crossbow Draw Weight

You love the sport. You love the peace you find in the outdoors, the stories you now have, and the meals you have provided your family. You’ve grown up using the compound bow and rifle but now you’re ready to pick up a crossbow. You’ve paced the display at Cabela’s for months and now its time to make the call. They come in all shapes and sizes. What draw weight do you need? Let’s take a look at what draw weight means, why it is important, and how to determine how much you will need on your hunt.

What is Crossbow Draw Weight

Essentially, bows and crossbows act as springs. You apply friction as you pull back the string. When the string is stretched completely, the power is stored within the bow’s limbs and released as you release the bowstring from your finger or by the quick release of the trigger. Regardless of the type or brand of your crossbow, the “draw weight” references the amount of force required to pull your bow string back. Generally speaking, a crossbow’s draw weight determines the power and speed of the arrow and should be chosen based on what kind of hunting you will be doing, what size game you are after, and your own physical capabilities. It is measured in pounds. They all come with one. However, the draw weight acts differently depending on which brand and style you choose.

Compound VS. Recurve Crossbow Draw Weight

Quite a bit more goes into a successful hunt than the brand of crossbow on your shoulder. Even so, there are undoubtedly benefits to understanding and studying which would be the best fit for you. There’s no right or wrong decision.

Compound crossbows are primarily designed to peak draw weight the entire duration of the draw and they are capable of firing arrows at a much higher velocity than the recurve crossbow. This helps to ensure that your arrows fly further, drop less, have more power, and probe deeper into your intended targets. The compound crossbows are made with shorter, more rigid limbs. They are smaller and quieter, making it much simpler to get in and out of your tree stand unnoticed.

The recurve crossbow is a tried and true favorite for many reasons. Two flexible limbs bend back as you stretch the string and are then released when you pull the trigger. They are simpler, yes, But, in contrast, they lack the kinetic energy that is mechanically engineered within the plethora of moving parts found on modern crossbows. The arrow energy fired from a recurve crossbow holds a much lower velocity. Though there are less moving parts on a recurve and therefore, less maintenance, the bow string on a recurve crossbow withstands more strain and will need to be replaced or repaired more frequently. They are larger and louder than a compound bow but they make up for it in price. Less moving parts = less money which is why it sometimes makes the perfect introduction into the crossbow hunting community.

Range of Different Draw Weights

If you’re shooting a crossbow with intent to kill; the draw weight on the crossbow you chose must meet the state guidelines. The draw weight must be powerful enough to put down game animals effectively and with as much respect as possible. In most states the minimum draw weight ranges between 75 pounds and 125 pounds. On the other hand, North Carolina allows for a draw weight of 150 pounds during deer season. Considering that crossbow draw weight determines the force behind your arrow as you shoot… the higher draw weight, the better. Higher draw weight equals more power, more speed, and deeper penetration. The humane kill.

Is Draw Weight Adjustable?

Unfortunately, most crossbows don’t offer adjustable draw weights. The limbs of a crossbow draw and the bolts that connect them to the risers are under quite a bit more pressure than those on a vertical bow. Therefore, loosening the bolts decrease the bow’s stability and strength and can cause severe damage to your weapon. You’ve paid to much to throw it all away with a mistake like that.

Nonetheless, there are a few instances in which you may need to consider increasing or decreasing the draw weight. For example: your muscles are able to pull back your crossbow repeatedly and for long periods of time without experiencing fatigue, your hunting requires you to shoot at further distances than your current draw weight permits, or your arrows consistently fall short of your intended targets. If this is the case, it’s time for a visit to your nearest archery shop. A bow technician will test the weight you need and then retighten the limbs and bolts properly. One full turn on the limb bolts will typically increase the weight by 2 pounds.

Choosing a Crossbow Draw Weight

As we covered above, the draw weight that you need is dependent on what type of shooting you’re doing, the hunting you plan to do, and your physical limitations. When choosing the crossbow that works best for you there are three options based on weight: low, medium, and higher draw weight. Crossbows that fall within the lower draw weights typically start around 80 pounds. Medium draw weights would be considered those within the 125-150 wheelhouse. High draw weight is anything consisting of 200 pounds or higher.

Use: Hunting

Before setting out on a hunt it is always best to double check your state’s guidelines and suggestions based on the game you intend to harvest. Crossbows induce precise bolt placement and lend to an efficient, accurate, and clean kill. If you can dream it, you can achieve it with the right draw weight.

Use: Target Practice or Recreation

There is a lot of freedom here. If you’re shooting your crossbow recreationally without any intention of use for game hunting you can choose the draw weight that is the most comfortable for you. If you love the thrill of the draw but have trouble cocking due to crippling arthritis…lower your draw weight and move your target closer. If you’re one that gradually increases draw weight in light of a challenge, more power to you. Your bow, your choice.

The only thing you need to consider when shooting recreationally is the strength of your target. Compound crossbows shoot faster and crossbow arrows carry more energy than vertical bows and arrows. It’s not safe to assume that just any archery target is safe enough to withstand your powerful crossbow. First, verify what speed your crossbow shoots. Without verifying the speed rating you risk sinking your arrows too deep and damaging both the arrows and your brand new target. You also need to consider how often you plan to shoot. As is the case for most outdoor sports equipment, you get what you pay for. If you need it to last you ought to consider paying a little more upfront. Does it need to be portable? What types of arrows will you be using? All things to consider before making your next target purchase.

Considerations for Physical Limitations

Crossbows don’t require the same physical strength or persistent training that compound bows do. Although, before spending significant money on a crossbow you should first be willing to acknowledge and address any limitations you may face. How much force can you handle? Would you be more comfortable with a low draw weight or are you able to handle the higher draw weights? If you need the assistance of a cocking device there are several crossbow manufacturers that offer a variety of user-friendly options. There are also hunting crossbows designed specifically for women and children offering a lighter mass weight, less draw weight, and a shorter length of pull.

Choosing a Draw Weight Based on Game

Varying draw weights are intended to accommodate the variety of hunting available. We have talked a little bit about the different sizes but we haven’t yet discussed the speeds that follow. For example, a 50 pound draw weight crossbow pistol produces arrow speeds of roughly 130 feet per second. A full-sized crossbow of 200 pounds or more will produce arrow speeds up to 330 feet per second or more. The difference in resistance created by a heavier draw weight can make or break your success on a hunt. Once again, it is always wise to check your state’s guidelines BEFORE heading into the woods. They have done the hard work for you and listed the appropriate draw weight based on each bracket of game you might be after(bear, elk, deer, etc.) Bowhunters score big game animals effectively using compound and recurve bows every day and we know that those bows harness significantly less power than even the least powerful crossbow. So, how much do you need?

Deer and Deer Size Animals

A medium draw weight of 75-125 pounds is enough power to take down a whitetail or mule deer when within a 40 yard radius. (If you need to shoot at a further distance, a more powerful crossbow is recommended.) Even with a poor shot a crossbow of this strength will puncture both muscle and tendon.

Elk

Elk are one of the largest species within the deer family. You will need a *minimum* draw weight of 150 pounds to secure the kill due to a higher fat density and thicker hide. Animals of this size aren’t known for their speed. Thus, your tactic on a hunt this size is not speed-but power. Regardless of how strong you are, crossbow hunters using a draw weight of this caliber almost always need the help of a cocking aid so keep this in mind when gathering your supplies.

Bear

Now, if you’re not into small game or progress to hunting a bigger animal such as the black bear, grizzly bears, moose, or cape buffalo, you need to go with a heavier draw weight such as a 200 pounds or more, with exceptions. Small bears such as the black bear are sometimes small enough in size that you can use a draw weight similar to that needed to claim an elk. This is even more likely if you’re up against a short range black bear.

The ideal shot for nearly every animal you encounter is a lung shot. Preferably both lungs. However, bears are tough and can run long distances with only one lung remaining. Once you loose the initial arrow it will take you 10-15 seconds to reload and re-fire. Clearly you can’t afford to quarter a grizzly bear heading strait for you at 40 yards. Choose you draw weight, draw length, and arrows very carefully.

Bighorn Sheep

Bighorn Sheep are slightly bigger and bulkier than deer but they are easier to take down than an elk. You need a crossbow peak draw weight that falls within the middle range. Somewhere around 150 pounds.

What About Hunting the Smaller Game?

The type of crossbow-bolt point chosen depends on your intended game. For smaller game, such as wild boar, squirrel, and birds, it is recommended that you utilize a smaller crossbow or a regular bow and a small game specific point. You will need a few arrows with a blunt tip on hand for animals on the lighter side. When hunting for rabbit or turkey it is be best to use a recurve crossbow with a minimum draw weight of 40 pounds.

Specific State Regulations

The average legal draw weight falls between 35-40 pounds. However, the limitations of each state are individualized and subject to change at any given time. Alaska, Arizona, Georgia, Kansas, Kentucky, Michigan, Mississippi, New York, Tennessee, Texas, South Carolina, Vermont, California, Missouri, Iowa, West Virginia, and Virginia do not have a standard minimum or maximum draw weight listed.

In contrast, there are a handful of states with very strict limits.

  • In Alaska and Oregon the minimum draw weight is 40-50 pounds.
  • Arkansas, Connecticut, Oklahoma, Utah, Washington, and Wyoming require a minimum of 40 pounds. Colorado, Delaware, New Jersey, New York, Indiana, Louisiana, Florida and parts of Hawaii state a minimum draw weight of 35 pounds.
  • It falls to 30 pounds in Maryland and Minnesota.

The only state that currently places a limit on maximum draw weight is Ohio. The limit is 200 pounds.

You can also check out our comprehensive list of U.S State Hunting Seasons and Crossbow Regulations here!

I hope you feel as though you now have a better understanding of crossbow draw weight and which weight is the best fit for you. If you take the time to factor in the type of crossbow you’re using, intended target, draw length, peak draw weight, and state laws you will be ready to siege warfare (legally) in no time. Good luck!

About Al Parsons

Al Parsons is originally from Alabama, but has had the pleasure of hunting all over the United States. Al is an expert on crossbow hunting, as well as traditional rifle hunting. His favorite time of year is the start of Archery Deer season in Alabama, so usually in October.