Modern Pioneer - - Front Page - By Al Ray­chard

5 tips for buy­ing your first cross­bow

Igot into hunt­ing with a cross­bow by ac­ci­dent— lit­er­ally. Sev­eral years ago, while get­ting my win­ter fire­wood sup­ply, I tripped over a stump. Tum­bling to the ground, I landed on my right shoul­der and felt a sharp pain on im­pact.

Long story short, a quick hos­pi­tal visit re­vealed noth­ing was bro­ken, but I was told my arm and shoul­der would be sore to move and use for a while. I was ad­vised to give it a rest for a week or so. With the archery-deer opener just a week away, and af­ter in­vest­ing sev­eral weeks of pre-sea­son scout­ing, hang­ing stands and blinds, I wasn’t about to sac­ri­fice my fa­vorite hunt­ing sea­son. For­tu­nately, a friend of mine was leav­ing town on busi­ness for the en­tire month, and he sug­gested I give his cross­bow a try. I grate­fully ac­cepted.

Dur­ing the next few days, I spent ev­ery op­por­tu­nity get­ting fa­mil­iar with the cross­bow’s feel, me­chan­ics and ca­pa­bil­i­ties. It quickly be­came ap­par­ent that cross­bows have their lim­i­ta­tions, and are some­what awk­ward and cum­ber­some to carry and shoot. De­spite those short­com­ings, what im­pressed me most was that un­like a ver­ti­cal bow that can take years to mas­ter, once sighted-in, a cross­bow takes lit­tle time to use pro­fi­ciently and is an ex­tremely ac­cu­rate hunt­ing tool. It was also fun to shoot, and I knew whether I was suc­cess­ful or not dur­ing the com­ing sea­son, I was go­ing to own one.

Open­ing day promised to dawn crisp and clear that year, and as the Oc­to­ber sun started to clear the tree­tops, il­lu­mi­nat­ing the fo­liage in fall col­ors, I was sit­ting in a climb­ing tree­stand 15 feet above the for­est floor over­look­ing a well-used deer run

and corn­field. Orig­i­nally, I’d planned to hunt an­other lo­ca­tion, but by luck, a few days ear­lier I found a trail with fresh sign in­di­cat­ing deer were vis­it­ing the field reg­u­larly, us­ing the trail as a pri­mary travel route to and from their beds. It was a prime lo­ca­tion and too hot to pass up.

Less than 40 min­utes af­ter get­ting po­si­tioned, two does, ac­com­pa­nied by a spike-horn buck, were work­ing along the field edge and head­ing for the trail be­low me. The sun was fully up by then, and the trio seemed in a hurry, as if late get­ting into the safety of the woods. At a slow trot, they en­tered the tree line, and the lead doe con­tin­ued mov­ing. The sec­ond doe and buck stopped 25 yards away and looked back as if mak­ing sure noth­ing was in pur­suit, which pro­vided a high­per­cent­age broad­side shot. I raised the cross­bow, put the 25-yard crosshair be­hind the buck’s near shoul­der and pulled the trig­ger.

At 350 fps, it doesn’t take a cross­bow ar­row (also called a bolt) long to travel 25 yards, and I heard rather than saw the ar­row hit home. As the buck bolted, the doe took off for parts un­known, and a few min­utes later, I de­scended to the ground. I found and fol­lowed the blood trail lead­ing to my win­ter’s meat less than 30 yards down the trail.

Be­cause they’ve proven so ef­fi­cient and user-friendly, cross­bows have be­come my weapon of choice when­ever archery hunt­ing for deer and other big game. When it came to pur­chas­ing my own the very next sea­son, I had sev­eral ques­tions that needed an­swers. I’ve

“Chances are good that most of us test-drive a ve­hi­cle be­fore we buy. That should ap­ply when shop­ping for a cross­bow.”

since pur­chased mul­ti­ple cross­bows and now un­der­stand the process more clearly. Per­haps you’re in­ter­ested in pur­chas­ing your first cross­bow. If so, there are a few con­sid­er­a­tions to en­sure you get the right model.


Cross­bows are avail­able in three limb con­fig­u­ra­tions. All work ex­tremely well, and with all things con­sid­ered, they re­lease bolts at sim­i­lar speeds and have sim­i­lar range lim­i­ta­tions. De­cid­ing which one to pur­chase is best ad­dressed in part by how the bow will be used. For tar­get shoot­ing, it makes lit­tle dif­fer­ence, but it can make a big dif­fer­ence if hunt­ing is your main in­tent.

With fewer mov­ing parts—ba­si­cally a bow mounted on a stock equipped with a trig­ger mech­a­nism—re­curve models are gen­er­ally qui­eter and eas­ier to main­tain. Strings can be eas­ily changed in the field, if nec­es­sary, and are less noisy and gen­er­ally lighter in

weight than com­pound

models. To achieve de­sired ar­row speeds, re­curve cross­bows have longer stocks and wider limbs. For this rea­son, re­curve cross­bows may not be the best choice when hunt­ing in tight quar­ters such as blinds or thick, brushy ter­rain. They also re­quire more phys­i­cal ef­fort to cock all the way to the trig­ger mech­a­nism be­cause they don’t have let-off.

Com­pound cross­bows work with a sys­tem of cams and ca­bles. Ba­si­cally, dur­ing the cock­ing process, these cams “turn over” (or let-off), sim­pli­fy­ing the cock­ing process. When fired, the cams reen­gage to in­crease ar­row speed. Be­cause of let-off, com­pound cross­bows are eas­ier to cock and are more com­pact, with shorter stocks and nar­rower limbs, yet they de­liver the same ar­row speeds as a re­curve bow of equal draw weight. Al­though some­what nois­ier than re­curve models be­cause of the cam ac­tion, at to­day’s ve­loc­i­ties and within rec­om­mended range, the noise level is in­con­se­quen­tial. Be­ing shorter and nar­rower, com­pound cross­bows are a good choice for all-around hunt­ing.

Re­verse-draw cross­bows are rel­a­tively new. The riser sits closer to the shooter, im­prov­ing the cross­bow’s balance and sta­bil­ity—both im­por­tant fac­tors in hunt­ing sit­u­a­tions. The re­verse-draw tech­nol­ogy also pro­vides a longer power stroke for an in­creased speed-to-drawweight ra­tio. In other words, a 150-pound re­verse-draw bow can re­lease an ar­row at the same speed as a 165-pound con­ven­tional cross­bow. Re­verse-draw cross­bows also have a much nar­rower axle-to-axle width, some less than 10 inches when drawn. This makes them ex­cel­lent choices for tight hunt­ing sit­u­a­tions where wider bows may pre­sent prob­lems.


Not only should a cross­bow fit your hunt­ing style, but it should also feel com­fort­able when car­ried and shot. Like a firearm, cross­bows are built on a ri­fle-like stock and should have a com­fort­able length of pull, which speeds sight and tar­get ac­qui­si­tion, and pro­motes con­trol and con­sis­tent ac­cu­racy. If find­ing a cross­bow that fits proves chal­leng­ing, some models of­fer an ad­justable fore­arm, cheek piece and butt­stock for per­sonal com­fort.


Chances are good that most of us test-drive a ve­hi­cle be­fore we buy. That should ap­ply when shop­ping for a cross­bow. Most re­tail­ers spe­cial­iz­ing in archery and other out­door gear have an in­door or out­door range where bows can be han­dled and shot prior to pur­chase. Take ad­van­tage of it, be­cause a great deal can be learned in a hurry about how well a cross­bow fits, its weight and balance, ar­row speed, noise level and vi­bra­tion, re­coil and cock­ing ef­fort— all im­por­tant fac­tors.

“… a quick hos­pi­tal visit re­vealed noth­ing was bro­ken, but I was told my arm and shoul­der would be sore to move and use for a while.”

Keep in mind that an ul­tra-light­weight cross­bow with lots of re­coil or vi­bra­tion, or one that’s too heavy, can be bur­den­some and dif­fi­cult to con­trol and will af­fect ac­cu­racy. When con­sid­er­ing speed, a cross­bow shoot­ing a bolt at 250 fps will do the job on deer-sized (or even larger) game ef­fi­ciently, but a bolt trav­el­ing at 350 fps will not only hit harder, it will have a flat­ter tra­jec­tory, which makes judg­ing dis­tance less im­por­tant. Plus, if you in­tend to hunt elk or moose, a hard-hit­ting cross­bow will per­form best.

Equally im­por­tant is the trig­ger pull. Most top-brand cross­bows are equipped with pre­mium trig­ger mech­a­nisms with the proper amount of creep and pres­sure re­quired—about 3 pounds—to re­lease the ar­row safely. Keep in mind that a hair trig­ger or one with no creep can be dan­ger­ous; while a trig­ger with too much creep or set too heavy is dif­fi­cult to squeeze smoothly, which can cause ac­cu­racy to suf­fer.

“… the sec­ond doe and buck stopped 25 yards away and looked back as if mak­ing sure noth­ing was in pur­suit, which pro­vided a high-per­cent­age broad­side shot.”


Cross­bows can be pur­chased bare bones, but from lessons I learned early, it’s far bet­ter to in­vest in a pack­age. Most cross­bow pack­ages come com­plete with the bow and a scope specif­i­cally de­signed for cross­bows with mul­ti­ple il­lu­mi­nated crosshairs for 20- to 60yard shoot­ing, de­pend­ing upon the bow. They also of­ten in­clude a quiver, bolts matched in length and weight to the bow, and field points for prac­tic­ing.

Buy­ing a pack­age is also more af­ford­able, but more im­por­tantly, it takes all the guess­work out of buy­ing ac­ces­sories ap­pro­pri­ate for a given bow. This en­sures the first-time, in­ex­pe­ri­enced buyer is in­vest­ing in a pack­age that will func­tion safely and prop­erly.


Buy­ing a cross­bow isn’t that dif­fi­cult. As you would a ri­fle or any tool, con­duct some re­search on the makes and models avail­able. De­velop an in­ter­est in, say, two or three spe­cific makes, then head to a cross­bow dealer and test them out to find one that fits and shoots the way you want it to. Also, be sure to check out the side­bar, “Stand­out Cross­bows,” (pg. 35), which lists a few of the mar­ket’s top models.


(above) Re­verse-draw cross­bows are a good choice when hunt­ing from blinds and other tight quar­ters due to their nar­row axle-to-axle width. (be­low) Shoot­ing rails on el­e­vated stands of­fer a con­ve­nient place to rest a cross­bow while sit­ting and shoot­ing, and they help in­crease ac­cu­racy.


Tenpoint Car­bon Phan­tom RCX


When hunt­ing in tight quar­ters and dense cover, a com­pact cross­bow with a nar­row over­all limb width is of­ten the best choice.

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