How to Shoot A Crossbow for Beginners

The crossbow, based on the traditional bow, is a mechanical device that shoots projectiles called bolts. It’s capable of cleanly taking down the biggest North American game, and it can be deadly accurate.

The crossbow is used in many states for many different types of hunting.  While it is banned for use in some states, depending on what you hunt, the hunting crossbow is one of the most uniquely used hunting tools on today’s market.

While you won’t get many bowhunting tips in this article,  you will definitely learn the basics of how to shoot a crossbow once you’ve found the right crossbow for your hunting expeditions.

Step 1: Cock the Bow

Cocking the crossbow takes a little patience to learn. There two methods for cocking the bow: Manual and crank-operated.

To cock the bow manually, put your foot in the stirrup at the front of the bow and pull the crossbow string back evenly across both sides of the barrel until it is cocked.

This is something of a chore with modern hunting crossbows, which unlike common recurve bows or compound bows, have draw weights over 150 lbs.  If you don’t pull straight you can misalign the bow and your aim will be off.

A rope cocking tool can make the manual cocking process easier, helps center the string better, and is recommended by a lot of hunters. A rope cocker is essentially a simple pulley system.

To use a rope cocker, first get the cocker into position, insert your foot into the stirrup, grab the rope cocker’s pull handles, and pull the handles up until the crossbow string is cocked. Once it’s cocked, store the rope cocker until you need it again.

A crossbow crank will definitely be easier to use than manual cocking, but it will take longer. A lot longer, so if you’re in a hurry the crank isn’t the way to go.

A crossbow crank is nothing more than a winch. Some cranks are separate devices, and some are integrated into the bow. To crank cock a crossbow, engage the crank, and turn it until the string is cocked. Then put the crank back into place, or into its holder.

Step 2: Load the Bow

Once the crossbow is fully cocked, place an arrow in the barrel of the crossbow, aligning the cock vane of the arrow in the barrel channel. Nock the arrow securely into place.

Step 3: Aim

Hunting crossbows are equipped with a sight pin arrangement or mount scope through which to aim, such as an optical scope with a reticle. You need to sight in, and prepare to shoot.

But first… A word of warning: Make sure there are no obstructions that could get in the way of the limbs when they snap forward or injury is likely. Similarly, do not wrap your thumb around the crossbow forearm.

Step 4: Shoot

Once you have the target sighted, squeeze the trigger just as you would a rifle’s, keeping the target aligned in your sights. As you squeeze tighter you’ll hear the pop of the trigger release as the bow fires and the bolt hurtles toward the target.

Getting your scope set up properly with your crossbow will take some adjustments, much like the adjustments you make to your rifle. But once its sighted in and you’re hitting the bullseye, you’re ready for action!

Where to Shoot Deer with a Crossbow

When bowhunting you cannot pull off a nice clean shot by head shooting a deer since you don’t have the tremendous fire power of a rifle to penetrate the skull. So, you’ll have to go for the vitals.

Many beginner bulk hunters wonder where to shoot deer with a crossbow for an (almost) instant kill to minimize animal suffering. You should be aiming at the deer chest area, which is a rather generous place but with caveats.

We do recommend studying deer anatomy so that you can visualize the best shot placement when target shooting or when out in the field. As a crossbow hunter you’re aiming for the thorax, where all the important vital organs lie: the heart, the liver, and the lungs.

The best ethical shots are attained by piercing the lungs (good) or the heart (best) since these organs are fairly large and can lead to massive blood loss when hit. Skip the liver as a beginner since that one is very narrow and requires tons of practice.

One key to successful bow hunting is inflicting massive blood loss with one shot so that the deer dies within 100 yards. Otherwise you will have to track it down for hours, risk losing sight of it, or, even worse, the animal might die in excruciating pain.

Massive bleeding is achieved by:

  • Hitting the vitals
  • Using razor sharp broadheads (an absolute must!).

Related: Best Broadheads for Hunting: Expandable & Mechanical Broadhead Reviews

Another key to successful hunting when shooting deer with a crossbow is shot placement. Archery buck hunters’ arch enemy when it comes to shooting deer is a thing called the scapula (brachial plexus). This is a dense shoulder bone with a ridge that’s almost impenetrable by most arrows even with an ultra-sharp broadhead.

The scapula rotates as the deer moves its legs covering the vitals. So, it is important to shoot the deer when the scapula has rotated away from the vitals. The scapula is out of the way when the deer’s front leg is forward – you should shoot just above the leg – or when the deer puts its head down.

When it comes to the best shot placement when hunting deer with a crossbow, you should also  take into account the fact that the deer might “jump your string,” namely quickly squat when they hear the arrow whizzing at them.

This can happen in the blink of an eye and you would need a crossbow with 600 fps to hit a vital organ instead of just missing or hitting a shoulder. But some of the fastest crossbows currently on the market like the Scorpyd Aculeus 460FPS ACUdraw Crossbow (check it out here) don’t go past 460 fps.

So, it is best to aim at the lower third of the chest cavity to halfway up to have enough wiggling room for a clean shot. Just visualize and split the vitals area into 3 horizontal sections and go for the bottom third. Do practice a lot on 3D deer targets beforehand.

Related: For all the tidbits on the best shot placement check out our dedicated post: Where to Shoot a Deer – Aiming for the Best Kill Zone Shot Placement

Some experts recommend using heavier arrows, with at least 14% front of center (FOC) to make your bow and arrows quitter and prevent string jump, but that’s no longer a beginner’s cup of tea.

Image credits: Internet Archive Book Images on Flickr; Larry W. Brown on Flickr

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