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Crossbow hunting has become increasingly popular in recent years, thanks to a combination of compelling factors, chief among which is the rising number of states legalizing the practice.
Hunting with a crossbow is an exciting alternative to hunting with a gun, offering its own range of challenges. Whether you’re new to hunting or are a seasoned hunter looking to try a different approach, follow these tips to be as safe and successful as possible.
Why Use a Crossbow?
A crossbow offers certain advantageous traits and specifications to hunters that bows and firearms don’t possess. For example, modern crossbows offer rifle-like ergonomics (some even accept scopes and Picatinny rail accessories) but produce much less noise than even a suppressed firearm. You can also shoot a crossbow in the same positions as a firearm: standing, kneeling, and even prone.
Compared to a standard vertical bow, a crossbow can reach much higher draw weights while only requiring a small fraction of the strength. In addition, they are designed to maintain that full draw mechanically, letting you focus on aiming once readied.
Crossbows also make hunting and shooting more accessible, allowing shooters of reduced strength and stature, such as children, women, and people with specific disabilities, to hunt effectively without having to contend with recoil energy or the high strength requirements of a bow.
Crossbow Hunting Tips
Stay informed of the law
Knowing your local laws and regulations regarding hunting is the most critical piece of advice that every newcomer should follow. Laws regularly change, sometimes multiple times a year, and many states have statutes and provisions specifically regarding crossbow hunting.
Not only must you determine whether crossbow hunting is legal in your jurisdiction, but you must also learn and follow any other applicable limits and requirements, such as tag limits or minimum draw weights.
Practice often, practice regularly
Just because deer or turkey season isn’t on doesn’t mean that you should leave your crossbow in the safe; in fact, you should practice shooting your crossbow as often as possible, especially if you are a novice shooter.
If you are relatively inexperienced with a crossbow, practice and training allow you to develop fundamental skills that you’ll use on the field. Even after you gain skills and experience, you should keep practicing as often as possible to prevent your marksmanship from rusting.
Like with firearms, crossbow safety is essential.
If you already know about gun safety, you may find the rules of crossbow safety sound quite familiar:
- Keep your finger off the trigger until you’re ready to shoot.
- Always point a loaded crossbow in a safe direction.
- Be sure of your target and what is beyond it.
Certain safety rules are specific to crossbows, mainly due to their mechanisms and ballistic properties. Here are some of the most critical examples:
- Do not load a crossbow bolt until it’s safe to shoot, and do not leave a crossbow loaded for extended periods.
- Never shoot over a ridge.
- Never shoot straight up; the bolt will come back down.
- Do not dry-fire a crossbow; you risk damaging it and injuring yourself.
Use the right crossbow and bolts
When hunting, your primary concerns are safety, respecting nature, and respecting the animals you hunt. You must choose an appropriate combination of crossbow and ammunition so that a well-aimed shot will take the animal down quickly and humanely.
Do not bring field heads or training arrows to a hunt; you will likely need bolts equipped with hunting broadheads. Always use bolts of the appropriate length and weight for your crossbow. When in doubt, go heavier; shooting arrows that are too short or too light may damage or shatter them, potentially destroying your crossbow or injuring you.
Buy nice, don’t buy twice
Don’t be tempted to buy a cheap model; they are likely to be utterly unsuitable for hunting. Instead, save yourself the frustration by planning a budget, decide ahead of time how much you are willing to spend on a crossbow, and buy the best model you can buy within your price range.
If you have no experience or don’t know how to recognize good crossbow models, don’t hesitate to ask fellow crossbow hunters. Their knowledge and opinions should guide you towards a safe purchase.
Respect your equipment
As the military adage goes: “Take care of your gear, and your gear will take care of you.” What was true for our troops is also valid with hunters; regular maintenance of your crossbow, your ammunition, and the rest of your equipment is essential.
The strings on a crossbow are subject to the most wear and tear; therefore, you should regularly check them, replacing them as needed. In addition, make routine checks of the condition of your crossbow’s limbs, ensuring they do not develop cracks.
Check your bolts, especially if you use aluminum shafts, and throw out any bent bolts. No matter what materials your bolts use, don’t try to repair broken bolts; not only will they never fly as well as undamaged ones, but it’s also much safer and easier to buy new ones instead.
Technology is your friend
Today’s crossbows employ ultra-modern materials, such as carbon fiber and aluminum alloys. In addition, many have gun-like ergonomics, even featuring rifle-style pistol grips, stocks, and scopes.
Don’t hesitate to take advantage of convenience features such as cocking devices or shooting sticks, as they will help make shooting much easier and more comfortable.
Be an ethical hunter
Last but not least, one of the most critical crossbow hunting tips for beginners is maintaining good hunting ethics at all times.
Whether you hunt deer, turkey, or any other game, you should always aim as accurately as possible to perform clean, humane kills. Of course, mistakes can happen, but you must never intentionally wound or maim the animals you hunt.
Always respect property laws, and do not trespass. For example, if you want to hunt on private land, meet the landowner and ask for permission first.
Most importantly, do not kill animals for sport. An ethical hunter respects the animal they bring down by using as much of it as possible so that its death does not go to waste.
If your first hunting experience is with a crossbow, you will find that few things are as exciting as landing the perfect shot and bringing a buck or a turkey down. If you’re a seasoned hunter but haven’t tried crossbows before, you may find that the unique challenges and limitations of crossbow hunting bring a lot of that excitement back into your favorite hobby.