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Ultimate Beginners Guide to Crossbow Hunting

Y’all must know by now how much I love hunting. I wouldn’t have a site devoted to it if I didn’t, and while I’m new to this whole internet thing I’m definitely not new to the sport. I have years of experience, and I just can’t stop talking about it. I live and breathe hunting, and I want to pass that passion on to all of you! Although you’ll find articles on my site on a variety of topics intended for hunters of all sorts of experience levels, I wanted to take the time to compile an ultimate beginner’s guide to crossbow hunting. After reading this article, you should know everything you need to know to take your crossbow out into the woods and score yourself a satisfying kill. Consider this post a good primer and comprehensive introduction to crossbow hunting for beginners.

Choosing a Crossbow

​Obviously, one of the most important things about crossbow hunting is the crossbow! There are a wide variety of crossbows out there, but there’s no one “best” crossbow for everyone. I’ve reviewed several of my top picks elsewhere on the site, but the truth is that it’s possible that none of them may work for you. Crossbow hunting is a physical sport, and all of us have a unique build that calls for a unique weapon. Variations in gender, strength, height, and weight may all have an impact when it comes to choosing the bow that’s right for you.

Before getting into the specifics of what bow I recommend y’all start with, I’m gonna spend a little bit of time talking about how exactly a crossbow works.

​To keep it short and sweet, crossbows are essentially short bows held horizontally on a stock similar to that of a rifle. The mechanics of firing, however, are a little bit different. Using a crank or manual adjustment, the shooter pulls a string back and locks it into a nock point. You place a bolt in the bow, pull a trigger, and all the stored energy on the string is transferred into the arrow - propelling it forward.

For your first bow, I recommend going with a model with a good combination of value and power. You don’t need to go whole hog and spend thousands on a professional quality bow if you’re just starting out. Browse Amazon and find a bow with a reasonable price and a good selection of reviews. Something like the CenterPoint Sniper 370 ​is a great combination of good power and an affordable price. But don’t just take my word for it! The name of the game is research, y’all and I have a ton of reviews on this site for you to browse through.

I could go on and on about what makes a crossbow great, but in this article I’m going to leave y’all with a simple piece of advice: Choose what makes you most comfortable. It’s important to be in tune with your weapon, and as long as you’re going with a bow that has the specifications you need from a reputable company, you’re probably going to be just fine.​

American Crossbow Hunting - Rules and Regulations​

​While I can’t spend the time to compile regulations on each and every state, I thought it’d be a good idea to help y’all out with some quality information on American hunting regulations in some of the more popular hunting states. I’ve picked three of my personal favorite spots. I’ve traveled all around the country and these are my top picks for crossbow hunting. You’ll find a lot of deer and know the regulations around hunting them, so let’s get to it!

Oklahoma

One of the best locations hands down for deer hunting is Oklahoma, but there are some regulations you’ll have to pay attention to to make sure y’all are crossbow hunting legally.

Fortunately, crossbows are legal for use in any bow hunting season. This will give y’all a wide variety of dates to choose from for your next hunting expedition.

For details on updated specific dates for bow hunting season, check out the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation website.

Indiana​

My second favorite location for deer hunting is Indiana, and it’s only second on my list because it’s a little more restrictive than Oklahoma.

Crossbows are accepted during the entire hunting season. They must have a mechanical safety and at least 125 pounds of pull. You’ll also need a crossbow hunting license which allows you to take one deer. You can renew your license, but there’s a maximum of one antlered and one antlerless, or alternatively two antlerless deer per season.

If you’re hoping to kill a large quantity over several trips, Indiana might not be the best choice, but there’s no denying that the hunting’s good! Head on over to the Indiana Department of Natural Resources for more information.

Missouri

Coming in third place is Missouri, and the regulations for this state are short and sweet. It comes in third because, while a great hunting location in general, the dates are slightly more restrictive. Still, with the great amount of game available it’s more than likely you’ll harvest some quality deer.

Crossbows are permitted without restriction during firearms season. If you’re a disabled hunter, you can also use the weapon during bow hunting season.

Pretty simple, right? For details on the specific dates so y’all can plan your next trip, there’s some additional information over at the Missouri Department of Conservation.

Supplementary Gear - Must Haves

While having a quality crossbow is a big part of the process for preparing for a hunt, there’s a lot of extra equipment you’ll want to keep an eye out for in order to make sure you’re 100% ready to land some kills. In this section I’m gonna spend some time talking about supplementary gear so y’all know exactly what you need to get started with crossbow hunting.

Hunting can get expensive very quickly, so if you’d like to avoid sinking huge amounts of money into your starter gear, I’ll give y’all a quick and dirty rundown on what you absolutely need to get started with hunting.

Arrows

A crossbow isn’t much use if you don’t have arrows to shoot, is it? Arrows are what actually does the damage to your prey, so doing your best to make sure you have ammunition that’s rated correctly for your bow is really important. There’s a huge variety of arrows out there, and advanced users can often pick a “favorite”, but as a crossbow beginner you’re gonna want to stick with arrows that are recommended for your crossbow.

Just pick up your manual and buy the arrows the manufacturer describes. No one knows your bow better than the people who made it, so it makes sense that you’d follow their advice!

Scope

While a scope isn’t necessary by any means, it’s gonna make a big difference - especially for newbies. The next part of this ultimate beginner’s guide to crossbow hunting focuses on this important tool for improving accuracy.









There are two main types of scopes available, optic scopes and “red dot” scopes.



An optic scope is generally what y’all probably think of when you say the word “scope”. They generally have a decent amount of magnification as well as crosshairs to help you line up your shot. Optic scopes are definitely superior at long ranges due to the increased visibility for your target.



A red dot scope doesn’t provide any real magnification, but you’ll generally be able to see exactly where your arrow will hit. It has a disadvantage at longer ranges, but it’s nice to be able to see a visual indicator on your target to help line up a shot. These scopes are absolutely usable, but learning to use an optic scope will definitely serve you well as you get more and more experienced in crossbow hunting.



For a beginner, either scope is fine, but I will probably recommend looking into an optic scope. Perhaps it’s because the way I learned to hunt myself, but I never really felt like I was missing out by using optics. Red dot scopes weren’t available until after I’d been hunting a while (I guess I’m really showing my age!), and optic scopes continue to serve me well to this day. I won’t lead y’all astray, I promise!

Cocking Rope​

While also not necessarily a “must have”, a good cocking rope will go a long way towards making it easier to load your crossbow quickly and effectively. We’ll go into this in more detail further down in the guide, but essentially a large part of cocking your crossbow is pulling the string back cleanly and evenly. The cocking rope is a cheap option that can really assist with that.

This device is a simple tool with claws and a rope. You just hook up the rope to the string and pull backwards, and the added length of the rope provides you with more leverage and an easier pull.

Cocking a crossbow manually can lead to some shoulder issues over time - even if you’re pretty strong - so I’d highly recommend looking into this simple tool. For a few bucks you can make the process a lot more comfortable and avoid potential injury.

Conditional Gear

While the gear I’ve listed above is really all you technically need to get started with crossbow hunting, there’s some other gear worth mentioning that is useful in certain conditions.

Weather Gear

Like it or not, there’s certain areas and times of the year during hunting season that are pretty darn cold. Making sure you’re comfortable in inclement weather is a big part of ensuring success for your hunting trip. If you’re cold and shivering, you’re going to make mistakes and lose out on some good kills.

Get yourself a combination of an insulated hunting jacket and bib so that you can keep warm while spending hours out in the field. Morning is often the best time to hunt, and when the sun isn’t high in the sky the temperatures can plummet. For safety and success, don’t skimp on this gear.

Additionally, having some sort of sweat wicking clothing will make it easier to avoid getting drenched in sweat. It might not seem like it, but sweating while it’s cold can actually be dangerous. The extra moisture on your skin can make you pretty cold, pretty quickly!

Crossbow Crank​

If you’ve really got no upper body strength and a cocking rope won’t work for you, you can also look into a crossbow crank. These cranks have several disadvantages, the biggest of which is that they’re super noisy. Cocking the bow might be a lot easier with a crank, but if you scare a deer away while y’all are trying to load your weapon it’s not really worth much, is it? If it’s your only option it’s definitely better than nothing, however!​

Gear Recommendations

Though there’s no substitute for your own research, I’ve done my best to give some recommendations of beginner and more expensive gear in each of the categories above.

Arrows

Before I give recommendations here I’m gonna again stress the importance of using bolts recommended by your crossbow manufacturer. With that said, here are a couple options:

Beginner:

Last Punch Aluminum Metal Arrows

For a cheap price and a pack of six, these are a decent starting point for a beginner.

Advanced:

Barnett Outdoors Carbon Crossbow 20-Inch Arrows

Slightly more expensive, but made out of carbon fiber for higher accuracy.​

Scope

Beginner:

UTG 4X32 1" Crossbow Scope

A mid-range scope at an affordable price with good reviews.

Advanced:

Nikon 8461 Bolt XR Crossbowx 40mm

A more expensive scope from Nikon, a manufacturer known for the quality of their optics.

Cocking Rope

Because a cocking rope is so darn cheap, I can't give y'all "luxury" options. Go with the Barnett Crossbow Rope Cocking Device for a cheap option that has served hundreds of hunters well.​

Hunting Jacket

Beginner:

Yukon Gear Men's Reversible Insulated Jacket

A good beginner’s jacket that will serve you well in a wide variety of conditions. Add to that the low price and great reviews and I can comfortably recommend to y’all!

Advanced:

Sitka Fanatic Jacket

As a much more expensive option, it’s definitely an investment. However, you’ll get a huge amount of weather protection and insulation for the price.

Hunting Bib

Beginner:

Yukon Gear Men's Insulated Bib Overalls

The bib to accompany the Yukon Jacket listed above, it provides good insulation at a great price.

Advanced:

Sitka Fanatic Bib

The accompanying bib to the hunting jacket we discussed above, it has great reviews and awesome protection for conditions that fall below freezing temperatures.

Moisture Wicking

Moisture wicking can largely be accomplished by a good hunting shirt, so I'm just gonna go ahead and recommend the Predator Camo Men's Long Sleeve Performance Crew T-Shirt as a shirt for pretty much any condition. Just make sure to bundle up for harsher weather.

Cocking and Draw Weight

Now that I’ve discussed the kind of gear y’all need, let’s get a little more specific on how exactly you use it! This section will serve as a comprehensive discussion on the idea of draw weight and cocking your bow.

Draw Weight

​Now that I’ve discussed the kind of gear y’all need, let’s get a little more specific on how exactly you use it! This section will serve as a comprehensive discussion on the idea of draw weight and cocking your bow. They have a pretty good explanation for other bows over here at Ye Olde Archery Shoppe.

The draw weight y’all will need for your crossbow will vary depending on the type of prey you’re hunting as well as your strength. Draw weights typically range from 75 to 200 pounds, and each draw weight range is suited to a different task.​

​Generally, bows with a draw weight of under 150 pounds are only used for shooting small game. If y’all are after deer like me, you’re gonna need a crossbow with at least 150 pounds of draw weight - preferably a little more

If you’re concerned about being able to cock the crossbow with that amount of draw weight, consider looking into a cocking rope or a crank like we discussed above. While cranks are definitely not our favorite, the tool will essentially turn a 150 pound draw weight into something that feels a lot more like 10 - 15 pounds. If you’re lacking in upper body strength, it may be worth looking into.

Cocking

Now let’s get into the actual mechanics of one of the most important parts of crossbow hunting - especially as a beginner: properly cocking your crossbow. I also have a full guide dedicated to properly loading your crossbow once you're ready to learn more.

We mentioned a little bit about cocking rope and cranks above, but I’ll give y’all another brief overview since this is the designated “cocking” section.

Cocking rope is essentially a decently long rope with two little hooks. You attach the hooks to your string and use the additional leverage of the strings to make pulling back the rope a lot easier.

Cranks attach to the bow and are decent amount slower and noisier, but they massively reduce the strength required to draw back the string.

Basically, to cock a crossbow you’re gonna want to follow the steps below:

  1. ​Point your crossbow at the ground
  2. Place your foot in the foot claw
  3. Turn off the safety switch of your bow
  4. Pull the string back evenly and slowly, whether you’re doing so manually, with a cocking rope, or using a crank
  5. Re-engage the safety switch, and prepare to fire

While this list seems super simple - and to some extent, it is - you’re gonna want to spend a lot of time practicing. You see, cocking the rope even slightly to the left or right can make your shots wildly inaccurate. Y’all need to make sure you cock it perfectly straight every time for the perfect shot.

To make it easier, make a mark either on your string or your rope in the exact center so you have a visual guide each time you cock.

Understanding Arrow Trajectory

Alright, y’all, this section is going to get a little bit technical. I’m really into everything hunting, and an authoritative guide on crossbow hunting for beginners wouldn’t be complete without a small discussion on arrow trajectory. Don’t worry if this explanation leaves you a little confused - I’m gonna sum it up nice and simple for y’all at the end.

We all know that you’re not gonna do much damage to a deer with just a crossbow. You need an arrow, too! Learning how arrows fly and how your bow can influence that is some useful knowledge if you’re looking to really master your sport.

Basically, “trajectory” refers to the specific arcing path that an arrow follows after being shot from a crossbow, from its start at the bowstring to the target downrange. As soon as you shoot an arrow, it starts to be affected by gravity and dragged downward. Having a solid understanding of trajectory will help you line up your shots so you can land a good shot even at a long range.

The trajectory of an arrow is largely affected by the “velocity” of the shot, which is generally measured in feet per second.

Deer are normally harvested at a distance somewhere between 10 and 30 yards, so understanding the speed of your shot and the range you’re firing from will help you make sure you’re shooting correctly.

There is a great little table from Crossbowmen (a great site for all kinds of useful crossbow info!) that will give y’all a sense of the effect gravity will have on your shots depending on your velocity and range. The calculations were made with a standard 20 inch, 300 grain arrow in mind. If you have a different arrow setup the math is gonna be a little bit different.​ 

As you can see, if you fire at a long distance and your velocity is on the lower side, there can be a pretty significant drop from where you actually intended the shot to go. Taking the time to math out your arrow trajectory can make a big difference when it comes to lining up an accurate shot.

​Long story short, the speed of your arrow and the distance to your target play a big part in your overall accuracy. Learn the velocity of your arrow, and adjust your aim based on the increased distance.

Compensating for Trajectory

How exactly do you adjust your aim as a beginner? It’s pretty simple. There’s a lot of technical explanation I could go into but it’s not going to be necessarily applicable to your specific situation. The best way to account for trajectory is to adjust the height of your scope, and the best way to do that is by firing a lot of arrows at various ranges.

  1. Set up a target at 10, 20, and 30 yards and fire a bolt at the bullseye while looking through your scope.
  2. Do your best to shoot accurately, and take a note of how much higher or lower the bolt strikes the target.
  3. Make minor tweaks to the height of your scope until you find a good balance of accuracy for all three ranges.

Practicing Techniques

​For any hunter, and especially for y’all that are beginners, it’s important to regularly practice to hone your craft. A hunting trip is a whole lotta waiting for just a few moments of thrilling excitement. If you’re not able to handle your weapon with skill when it comes time to take your shot, you’re gonna be in for a series of unsuccessful trips.

Bench Shooting​

While you’ll definitely get better over time just from naturally hunting, you’re gonna progress a lot faster the more bolts you fire, and firing bolts is easiest with some targets.

To start with, you’re gonna want to practice firing from a bench. Using a bench allows you to steady your aim and take some good shots. In reality, you’re not going to have this tool to rely on, but as an absolute beginner it's an indispensible tool.

Set up some targets and do your best to fire quickly and accurately. Remember that section we just talked about on arrow trajectory? Now is the time to practice and adjust your scope for the various ranges you’ll run into.

There’s really not substitute for firing a bunch of bolts, so make sure you put in a few hours so you have a good handle on your crossbow before hunting season.

Specificity Training​

After y’all have gotten this basic practice, it’s time to start emulating the conditions you’ll actually run into on the field.

Get out into the field and take some shots both standing and kneeling, as you likely won’t have a perfectly controlled environment when you spot a deer.

Climb up into your treestand or ground blind and shoot at angles similar to those you anticipate dealing with during your hunting season.

While there’s no way to accurately address all the conditions y’all are going to run into on a real hunting trip, do your best to think of what kind of situations you’ll see. Preparing for the unexpected will serve you well. You’re not going to have great visibility and clear conditions every single time you line up a shot, so exposing yourself to awkward positions and angles will go a long way towards making sure you’ve got the skill when it counts.

Beginner Hunting Practice Videos​

​There’s a lot of videos online about proper crossbow practice, but this selection of two different videos has a good combination of safety instructions and advice on how to get some good shots in. If you’re more of a visual learner, take a look at these short clips for a better idea of how to begin your training.

Part 1

Part 2

​Common Beginner Mistakes and Solutions

No matter how careful and thorough y’all are with research and practice, you’re guaranteed to make some rookie mistakes when you’re just starting off with crossbow hunting. I’ve decided to compile a list of some common beginner mistakes and give a quick guide on how to solve them so you can troubleshoot and keep your hunting trip enjoyable and on track.​

Dress for the Weather!​

I’ve talked about this a little bit above, but it’s worth repeating here because of how important it is. Make sure you’re dressing warm and wearing moisture wicking clothing so you can keep dry and comfortable. The hunting season can get pretty darn cold depending on where you are, and forgetting weather appropriate gear is a rookie mistake.

Take a look at my gear section for some tips on my favorite clothing for hunting.

Take Your Trip Seriously​

When you’re out hunting with your buddies, it’s easy to get a little carried away with horsing around and joking. Keep in mind that you’re dealing with some serious weaponry and that it’s easy to make mistakes if you’re not alert and focused.

Hunting is supposed to be fun, but make sure you’re taking the proper safety precautions - especially as a beginner.

Treat Your Weapon with Respect​

This goes hand in hand with the tip above, but your crossbow can do some serious damage if you’re not careful. Take the time to practice safely loading and firing your bow so you don’t end up seriously injuring or killing yourself or your friends!

As a beginner, it’s important to realize that you’re new to a sport, and that this new sport can be pretty dangerous. Embrace the fact that you’re a newbie and take things slow and safe.

Don't Wait Too Long to Shoot​

Especially as a beginner, it’s tempting to make sure you have the absolute perfect shot before pulling the trigger. Unfortunately, deer are nothing like the targets I had y’all practicing on, so you’ve got to learn when your aim is “good enough”.

Don’t miss out on a great opportunity by second guessing yourself. Sure, your shot may miss, but it’s equally frustrating to have your prey run away!

Don't Neglect Your Practice

While hunting season is often just a few months depending on where y’all are headed, it’s gonna be really easy to get super rusty if you don’t spend some regular time practicing with your weapon.

Follow the tips I talked about in the practice section, and most importantly just shoot the darn thing! The more comfortable you are with firing your crossbow, the more it will feel like second nature when it comes time to head out into the field.

By keeping your skills up to date, you’re gonna have way more fun and success when you’re zeroing in on a kill.

Follow the Rules

As tempting as it may be to rush out to the nearest wooded areas and start taking some shots, there’s a decent amount of red tape around the sport of hunting that you’ll need to pay attention to make sure you’re hunting legally.

These regulations, while frustrating, are designed to protect the wildlife and environment and ensure that the hunting season is as safe and sustainable as possible.

Make sure you’re aware of the dates you can hunt, and the specific dates that you can use your crossbow.

Cabela’s has a good site for learning regulations for your specific state, so check them out and follow the links to the spot you're planning on hunting.

Manage Your Expectations

Y’all are gonna learn pretty quick that hunting is a sport with no guarantees. It’s really likely that you may return from your first few trips with nothing to show for your time. Unfortunately, the possibility you’ll turn up with nothing will continue to be present for your whole hunting career.

Learn to appreciate the peace and quiet. Hunting is relaxing, and it’s still worth your time even if you don’t score a kill.

Don't Neglect Maintenance

We'll devote a whole section to this practice below, and that's because maintenance is a big part of keeping your gear safe and protected for years to come.

Your weapon and hunting gear is a significant investment, and as you become more passionate about the sport it’s likely that y’all are gonna spend thousands of dollars over time. Taking the few minutes at the end of your hunt to take care of your weapons is really important for getting the most out of your hard earned cash.​

Arrive Early, Stay Late

The most successful hunters are the ones who put in a good amount of time in the field. Block off your entire day for a hunting trip if you want the best chance of scoring a kill.

Finding your mark takes a good amount of time and patience, and the longer you’re there the more likely you’ll be able to line up that perfect shot.

Maintenance and Care

​In the beginner mistakes section I mentioned how important maintenance is, and I’m gonna round out this guide by giving y’all an overview of how to to take care of your crossbow as well as some good products to consider to make maintenance a breeze.

Supplies You'll Need​

Do some preliminary research and go for a highly reviewed version of the following. In general, going with a well-known brand won’t lead you astray, so I’ll avoid littering this section with any real product recommendations.

  • Wax
  • Non-Vaseline Lubricant
  • A Soft Cloth
  • Lens Cleaner

​How to Wax the String of Your Crossbow

The string is arguably one of the most important parts of your bow - if not the most important. After all, your string is what transfers the power to your arrow and sends it flying towards your target! Taking steps to maintain your string is important to keeping your bow in tip top shape.

The frequency that you should apply wax to the string varies on the type of crossbow you have, so make sure you take a look at the included instructions so you know what to do for your specific weapon.

With that said, when you’re applying wax to the string you’re gonna want to follow these couple steps.

  • ​Apply wax to the length of the strings and cables, but make sure you don’t apply it to the part that’s right above the rail. Doing this can cause the trigger box to jam up, and we want to maintain our weapons, not damage them!
  • Rub the wax into the string with your finger. The heat generated by the rubbing will help melt the wax and bond it to the string, keeping it kicking and leaving it ready for your next trip.

​How to Lubricate the Rail

The rail is the part of the bow that the arrows slide through as they’re fired, so adding some lubricant will make sure your bolts fly freely.

  • ​Apply two small drops of lubricant to the middle of the rail, and then slide your finger across the entirety of the rail to spread it out. With a quality lubricant, a little goes a long way so don’t go to crazy, y’all!
  • Avoid vaseline based lubricants. They’re not intended for crossbows and can cause some real damage.

Lubricate the Mounting Box and Exposed Bolts

WIth the same process I described to y’all just now, add a little bit of lubricant to the mounting box and exposed bolts to make sure everything’s moving smoothly when it’s time to fire.

Clean Your Scope Lens

Your scope, like any piece of glass, can pick up smudges over time. Just use a lens cleaner and a soft cloth and wipe the glass to make sure the scope is well maintained and easy to see through when it really counts.

Pay Attention to Your Bow

All in all, make sure you’re paying attention to the condition of your bow. Monitor your arrows for any nicks or bends as this can greatly affect accuracy. Make sure your bowstring isn’t damaged, and take steps to replace or repair it if it is to avoid an inaccurate and potentially dangerous shot.

After each use, monitor your crossbow for any signs of damage. Minor nicks and scratches may not seem like much, but the last thing you want is for a bow to malfunction. With the amount of power built into these weapons, a broken bow is a recipe for disaster.

Get Out There and Give it a Try

Whew! That was a pretty long ride, wasn’t it? Congratulations, you’ve made it to the end! This guide was designed to serve as an authoritative guide for y’all to make sure you have everything you need to know about crossbow hunting for beginners.

You’re never going to know absolutely everything there is to know about hunting. I’ve been hunting a damn long time, and even I won’t claim to be a complete master. If you’ve read this guide, however, you have the information you know to get out there and harvest some quality gear.

Theory and guides are only worth so much. Grab your bow and head out to the range for some practice before your next trip!

References and Further Learning

If y’all are itching for some more crossbow information, take a look at any one of these quality sites. I used a lot of these (and my own knowledge) to build this guide, and there’s a wealth of information out there to continue your education.

About the Author shhf2

Hey y’all, my names Al Parsons and I love to hunt. I created huntingal.com to help everyone out finding the best hunting gear and becoming a better hunter.

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