It is safe bet that the crossbow has advanced more in the last 20 years than in the past 2000. New limb materials, strings, sights, arrows and stock designs have made modern crossbows easier to use, more accurate and increasingly effective on game. Nonetheless, the crossbow remains a short-range hunting tool with a maximum range of 40 yards for deer-size game. What the modern crossbow does for the hunter is to allow one extremely precise shot to be delivered at close range. Hunters using compound bows can get off a faster second shot than a crossbowman, and experienced bow users will consistently bag more game. Crossbows are also noisier to shoot, more cumbersome to carry and will usually outweigh a bow. With these disadvantages, why consider a crossbow?
• They are historic hunting tools, and have taken all of the world’s game, including the African species.
• The crossbow’s high precision appeals to those who like to leave nothing to chance. Bench rest rifle shooters often fall in love with the crossbow’s ability to put shot after shot in nearly the same hole at 40 yards. (When targeting crossbows shoot only one arrow at the time to keep from ruining your shafts and points.)
•Those who, through age, injury or lack of arm strength, cannot draw a regular bow can still experience the thrill of archery hunting by using a crossbow. The combination of optical sights and the fact that the user does not have to strain to draw a bow enables many archers to extend their deer hunting by 10 or even 20 years by using a crossbow.
Types of Crossbows
Just as there are recurve and compound bows, there are recurve and compound crossbows. The recurve is simpler because it lacks the complicated stringing required for the round-wheel or asymmetric-wheel compound crossbows. The compound crossbows generally have shorter limbs, making them somewhat easier than recurves to handle in tight places. Some compound crossbows will shoot the same weight arrows faster than some recurves, although a compound crossbow holds the present speed record among production bows.
A few decades back almost all crossbows had steel limbs. Now almost all bows have fiberglass or composite limbs with designs ranging from one long-thin bow to thick barrel-stave shapes. To lesson weight and equalize stress, a number of makers are now offering crossbow limbs with split-limb composite constructions. Stocks are now available in laminated wood and composite plastic materials reinforced with metallic elements, which is the more common design. These molded stocks allow a great range in designs and may incorporate string or wind-up cockers in their stocks. The stock not only supports the firing elements, arrow rail and bow, but is also the crossbow’s most weighty component. Some crossbows have skeletal stocks to reduce weight. Generally, the heavier the crossbow, the easier it is to shoot accurately as weight adds stability during the microseconds that the arrow remains in the crossbow’s guide rail.
Crossbows are generally ranked by pull weights, which may range from 80 to 200 pounds. This much stress on the string can propel arrows up to 340 fps. For deer-size game a pull weight of 150 pounds is recommended. Bows of this weight will shoot an arrow completely through a deer with a broadside shot. In addition, most reasonably robust shooters can hand-cock a 150 lb. crossbow using the foot stirrup. Rope cocking aids, available from most makers, reduce the pull weight by 50%. Crank cocking aids(although slower and cumbersome to use) require only 10-15 pounds of pressure to cock a heavy-pull-weight crossbow.
Arrows and Points
Selecting properly splinned arrows of the correct length combined with an effective game-killing point is as important with a crossbow as with a bow. The manufacturer will always list a series of recommended arrows and point weights. Aluminum, carbon and composite arrows are now available with a variety of fixed and mechanical points. As a rule, faster arrows shoot better with mechanical broadheads compared to fixed blade broadheads. Aluminum arrows will often perform well with 125-grain fixed points while carbon shafts prefer 100 grain or lighter points. Always target your bow with your hunting arrows and points. Field points and broadheads often have very different flight characteristics, even if both have the same weight. Use a small rubber gasket to line up the blades of mechanical points with the fletching for best results.
Crossbows are commonly sold with iron, optical or red-dot sights. Optical sights would appear unnecessary for a 40-yard hunting tool, but are very useful for precisely compensating for the rapid drop of the crossbow arrow between 20 and 40 yards. Knowing the exact range to the target is extremely important, and a laser rangefinder is often a vital element in making a clean kill with a crossbow.
When purchasing any crossbow it is wise to buy needed accessories at the same time as accessories purchased five years from now may not fit this year’s crossbows.