The World’s 7 Best Crossbow-Hunting Tips

By Bob Humphrey

When you take care of your strings and cables, they’ll take care of you.

You don’t take your sport lightly. You provide quality care for your crossbow that rivals the love you show your car. Your desire to improve each time outrivals the desire that Michael Jordan had when he showed game in and game out during his illustrious NBA career.

To make sure you’re locked on in all aspects of your sport, we have seven first-class tips that will turn you into a seasoned pro in no time. And before you know it, you’ll be shooting with the accuracy of a Trident missile. 

1: Always Use a Cocking Device

Most crossbow hunters use a cocking device, but it’s largely a matter of convenience. Pulling back 150 pounds of draw weight is challenging, even to the stoutest bowman, and may be impossible for slighter archers. But ease of drawback isn’t the only reason to use a cocking device, nor is it the most important one.

A cocking device also increases (or more correctly, maintains) accuracy. You can never grab the bowstring with your hands and pull it back exactly the same way twice. A little more tension to one side or the other can move the center of the string to one side or the other of the rail. A cocking device ensures the string will return in exactly the same position every time.

2: Protect Your String

The string is one of the most important components of your crossbow, so protect it. You should already be checking it regularly for wear. Dirt creates friction and excessive wear, so make sure your cables and strings are clean after every practice session or hunting trip. It’s also a good idea to store and transport your bow in a case; this reduces dust and dirt accumulation.

Even normal use causes friction, but wear can be reduced by waxing your string and lubricating your rail, which you should do every 75 to 100 shots. Use oil on the rail, but don’t over-lubricate. Too much lube can saturate the serving, shortening its life. And don’t use petroleum jelly or wax on the serving. They’ll collect dirt and debris. Wax is fine on the rest of the string, though.

3: Replace Strings and Cables as Needed

Bowhunters know strings and cables will eventually need replacement. What many don’t know is when. The first answer is: more often than a compound bow. On a crossbow, you have direct string-to-rail contact plus additional friction and abrasion on every shot. If strings or cables are frayed or otherwise worn, replace them. Look especially at the center serving. It might separate, exposing the bowstring, which could cause breakage during a shot.

Crossbows aren’t only for deer. Turkeys, varmints, and other species can extend your hunting season by weeks—even months.

Whether worn or not, it’s recommended you replace the string, cables and draw cords every other year if your crossbow is frequently used, and every three or four years if used occasionally. If you change one, change both because both will stretch over time, decreasing performance. This includes the steel cables found on a few models. They’ll stretch more than synthetic cables do.

4: Check the Regs

Trying to interpret state hunting regulations can be daunting. If you add crossbows to the mix, you get something even a lawyer would have trouble understanding. First, find out if crossbows are permitted, then determine when and how. Some states limit them to specific seasons or parts of seasons.

Afterward, see if there are specific limitations on equipment. They might vary, depending on the season and species pursued. For example, some regulations require different minimum draw weights for different game. See what’s allowed for heads, too. Some states allow mechanical heads, others don’t. If there’s nothing listed specifically for crossbows, check under “general archery equipment.”

5: Create a Stable Shooting Platform

It’s not a gun, but you aim and fire a crossbow like one. That means, the less steady your bow, the less accurate your shot will be, offhand being the least-steady position. You can improve that immensely using some type of rest. If your stand has a shooting rail, you’re in good shape. If not, whether in a stand or on the ground, use sticks or a pod. Some bows come with detachable monopods. The better pods have telescoping legs and swivel heads. You can also use standard shooting sticks or standard pods, but make sure no part of the sticks interfere with the path of your string.

6: Use Proper Optics

You can mount just about any sighting system on a crossbow, but you’ll be doing yourself a huge favor by selecting one designed for a crossbow. Scopes are typically multi-reticle, with three dots or three horizontal crosshairs. They’re designed so you sight the top reticle for 20 yards, while the next two are fixed at intervals that will be “on” at 30 and 40 yards, respectively, on most bows. A three-dot will work fine on most crossbows.

For higher-speed bows, 315 fps and faster, you might be better off with a multi-reticle (crosshair) scope because the trajectory drop isn’t as great. Plus it gives you more precision, particularly at long ranges. Some new models have four crosshairs for super-high-speed bows, and at least one allows you to match the exact trajectory of your crossbow at velocities between 250 and 350 fps.

7. Shoot Year-Round

Whether it’s a crossbow, compound or rifle, many people put their weapon down at the end of deer season and don’t pick it up again until a few months (or weeks) before the new season begins. The more you shoot, the more familiar and comfortable you’ll be with your bow. Furthermore, you can extend your hunting season, sometimes significantly, by hunting other species using a crossbow. Most crossbow shooters are deer hunters, but crossbows are great for turkeys, too, and using them for varmints and predators makes for a more challenging hunt.

So there you go—seven crossbow shooting tips that extend beyond the basics. Good luck, be safe, and have fun.

Want More Tips? Try These

1. Start Early

If your crossbow needs service, get it to your dealer or manufacturer well before the start of the season. This will ensure it’s ready when needed. Assess your other equipment needs early, too. By opening day, many retailers are low on inventory, so they might not have what you need. Don’t wait until a few days before bow season begins to prepare to hunt.

2. Test and Service Your Equipment

The only way to be certain everything is in good working order is to test it. If your crossbow has been sitting around all year, don’t think it will perform as it did last year. Repair or replace worn or damaged parts. Clean the bow, lubricate it, wax your string, tighten all bolts, zero your sights, and shoot the bow enough times to be confident it’s in good, working order.

3. Review and Practice Your Shooting Technique

Proper shooting technique is critical to shooting a crossbow accurately. Practice enough to ensure your proficiency. If you expect to make a good shot with little or no practice, you’re inviting disappointment. Practice shooting at 5-yard intervals at distances of 15 to 35 yards. If you can access a 3-D course, shoot it several times before venturing into the woods. —Dave Robb

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