Complete Guide to Crossbows

Experts Provide Tips About How to Select the Right Bow, Accessories and Clothing 

By Wendy Wilson

You got to the archery aisle inside Cabela’s and stopped in your tracks … right about the same time, your jaw dropped virtually to the floor. (Talk about daunting: product after product after product.) Where do you start?

For those new to crossbows—or even those seasoned enthusiasts who have been hunting or target shooting for some time—there’s a lot to know about the various bows, their individual features and all the accessories that come with them.

But don’t worry. Take a deep breath. We’re here to help; just keep reading. You’ll learn what you need to know to pick the right gear for you.
Why a Crossbow?

Before wheeling your shopping cart down the aisle and loading it with a haphazard selection of bows, camo, scopes and slings, you should first think about why you’re getting into the sport in the first place, advises Jim Kempf, president of Scorpyd Crossbows, of Coralville, Iowa, makers of reverse-draw bows.

“You need to decide what your expectations are in a crossbow,” he says. “Are you going to use it for target shooting, hunting or both?”

Before you buy, do your research.

Most of the crossbows on the market designed as hunting crossbows are going to effectively harvest deer, elk, hogs … any North American big game, he says. “But some people don’t hunt. They just use [a crossbow] primarily for target shooting.”

Once you decide, look at the different features relevant to your level in the sport.

“Do you want something that’s quieter? The smoothest? The smallest?” queries Kempf. “Decide why you’re in the sport and what you want in a crossbow.”

At that point, you can then work with your crossbow dealer to find the bow that feels best in your hands.

“There’s nothing worse than having a crossbow that doesn’t feel comfortable to you when you’re shooting it,” Kempf says. “So you need to find something that fits you, and there are all different sizes and weights out there for people.”

Know Your Bow

Not all crossbows are alike. There are two basic types: recurve and compound.

“The major difference is that the compound crossbows use cams and cables, while the simpler recurve design consists of limbs and a bowstring,” explains Chuck Matasic, co-founder of Kodabow, in West Chester, Pennsylvania.

Rob Dykeman, sales and marketing manager for Excalibur Crossbows in Kitchener, Ontario, Canada, says that as crossbows are becoming legal weapons to use during archery season in many states and provinces, manufacturers have really increased their offerings with new designs.

“A typical dealer who sells crossbows will carry three or four brands, offering both recurve and compound bows in different price points,” he says. “There are more options than ever before when it comes to style, price point, different speeds and draw weights.”

To decide whether a recurve or compound crossbow is right for you, shoot them first, advises Barb Terry, customer relations, training and education head at TenPoint Crossbow Technologies, in Suffield, Ohio.

“Don’t buy any crossbow without shooting it enough times to be able to decide if it suits you,” she says. “Crossbows vary considerably from manufacturer to manufacturer, and you want to be certain that you can operate yours without difficulty and that it offers you the right fit, feel and balance. The best crossbow for you will feel right when you cock, load, aim and shoot it.”

Decide if you are going to hunt or target-shoot, and don’t be afraid to ask your local salesperson questions.

Features, Skill Set

 Experts recommend that to help narrow down your crossbow choices, you should also examine what types of features the weapon has, as well as what types of skills you have.

Regarding the crossbow itself, “You should look for one that’s light and well-balanced,” Dykeman says. “You should be able to easily cock the crossbow, because the easier it is to cock, the more you will want to shoot—and that’s a good thing.”

Matasic adds that trying out the crossbow—from cocking and loading the bow to pulling the trigger—will help enthusiasts determine what specific extras they’ll need. A rope cocker, for instance, takes more draw weight than a crank, so trying out the accessories, such as cockers, noise dampeners and slings helps, too.

“For example, we recently introduced a sling called the EL2 that solves the problem of how to carry a crossbow safely with an arrow loaded, but fully ready and positioned to shoot,” Matasic says. “As simple as this feature is, it’s amazing how it makes carrying a bow easy on a full-day hunt, even providing hands-free ability to work a turkey call.”

For beginner crossbow enthusiasts, Dykeman recommends a simplistic design with few moving parts and gimmicks. “It’s less that’ll go wrong,” he says. “Keep it simple!”

The full story is in the Crossbows Fall 2011 issue, on sale now!

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