If you are planning to use a crossbow, either at the target range or out in the field, there are several things you need to know, such as how to cock, load, fire and de-cock the bow.
Understanding how to properly complete each of these steps not only makes the crossbow safer in your hands, it can also prevent injury to yourself—or worse—to those around you. In the following article we will go over the various steps for loading and shooting a crossbow, with a detailed description of each step.
What You Need to Know Before Using It
Before we cover the exact steps for loading and shooting your new crossbow, let us first cover some of the most important things you need to know about this weapon: the Dos and Don’ts that can help keep you and everyone around you safe.
In terms of the major “Dos” when it comes to owning and using a crossbow, here is what you need to know.
- Read the manual. Every new crossbow comes with a user’s manual. This manual will explain the basics on how to use the weapon and the safety measures you should always follow.
- Use the Stirrup. The stirrup for a crossbow is provided for your safety, so your foot should always be firmly in the stirrup when cocking your crossbow.
- Use a cocking device. Using a cocking device can ensure fewer accidents when cocking your crossbow.
- Safety on. Always make sure your safety engages when you cock the crossbow; and always keep the trigger safety engaged until the moment you are ready to shoot.
- Inspect your arrows. You should always inspect your arrows carefully before firing them.
- Watch your fingers. Your fingers should always beneath and clear of the crossbow string when firing.
- Be careful during transport. Be very careful when transporting your crossbow, and always use a haul line when moving your crossbow up and down your tree stand.
Along with the above-named “Dos” there are also several “Don’ts” when it comes to crossbow ownership and usage. They include:
- No hand cocking. Do not attempt to cock your crossbow by hand; always use a cocking device.
- Don’t hang your rope cocking device around your neck. If you use a rope-based cocking device, do not hang it around your neck—this is a major safety hazard.
- Do not remove your foot from the stirrup prematurely. Never remove your foot from the cocking stirrup until you are sure the safety is engaged.
- Never point your crossbow until ready to use it. The crossbow should not be pointed at anything you don’t intend to kill. Additionally, you should never hold the crossbow by the trigger or even place your finger on it until ready to shoot.
- No dry fires. Never shoot your crossbow without an arrow in it.
- No carelessness. Never shoot the crossbow if there is anybody standing behind it, in front of it, or even to the side of it.
- Do not use damaged arrows. Always inspect your arrows before using them.
- Never remove safety harness. When in a tree stand, your safety harness should be attached at all times.
How to Load and Shoot a Crossbow (beginner’s guide)
Now that you understand some of the important Dos and Don’ts when it comes to owning and operating your new crossbow, let us now go through the various steps for loading and shooting your bow like a pro.
Inspect the Crossbow and Arrows
Before you actually prepare to cock and load your crossbow, it is wise to first inspect both your bow and arrows. Look over your crossbow carefully and thoroughly, making certain the limbs on the bow do not exhibit any signs of cracking or wearing. Check for loose bolts, wiggling the riser and limbs to make sure they don’t move. Look for cracks or twisting in the x-bow’s limbs. You should also carefully inspect your bowstring for signs of wear or separation of the serving, especially in the center where you nock the arrow.
Next, inspect your arrows. Look for any splintering or bending in the shafts, and make sure your field tips or broadheads are securely attached. If you’re about to climb into a tree stand, ensure the broadheads are firmly seated in your quiver.
Place Your Foot into the Cocking Stirrup
Once you have inspected your bow and arrows, it’s time to place your foot into the cocking stirrup. This is a necessary step, as it will ensure that the crossbow is planted firmly into the ground while you use your cocking device to retract the string. It is crucial to note at this point that there are several ways in which you could properly cock the crossbow, including using a variety of hand-cocking devices, but for this article we will focus on the cocking process using cocking ropes—as this is the most popular way to cock the bow.
Properly Orient Your Cocking Device
When loading a crossbow using cocking ropes, you will first need to orient those ropes to the bow. This will ensure that the bowstring gets pulled back properly and correctly. To accomplish this, be sure to put the middle of the cocking rope in the groove. This will tighten the cocking rope as you pull on the ropes.
Next, place the middle of the bowstring on the groove by the stock, which is located on top of the bow. It is imperative that you complete this step, as it is this placement that creates and ensures the proper tension to actually pull the bowstring back into place. All modern crossbows that employ the cocking rope method of cocking have this groove.
Once you have completed this step, you will next need to place the rolling cocking hooks onto the bowstring, on either side of the barrel. When done correctly, the hooks will be firmly attached to the string on either side, with the open side of the hooks facing away from you. Once you have found the perfect spot on which to place the hooks, you may want to mark that spot with a marker. This will help you cock the bow faster from this point forward.
Once the hooks are properly attached, pull the ropes slightly so that the handles are perfectly even with each other. In doing this you’ll ensure a more balanced pull-back, with the same amount of pressure on each side.
Cock the Crossbow
With the hooks firmly in place and the handles even, pull the ropes back in one forceful and fluid motion. Continue pulling on the rope until you hear 2 to 3 clicks. These sharp, hard-to-miss clicks are indicators that your string is properly cocked and in the ready position. At this juncture, it is crucial that you keep your finger OFF the trigger and that the safety feature on your crossbow is in the “on” position. Get in the habit of always doing this to avoid injury and accidents.
Load the Crossbow
Now that your crossbow is properly cocked, it is time to load up an arrow. Begin by placing one bolt into the barrel groove. Always place the odd colored fletching—the fletching that is a different color from the others—down in the barrel groove first. If you fail to remember this you may sustain major damage to your crossbow, because the bolt would not be placed or “nocked” against the bowstring properly.
Shooting Your Crossbow
Congratulations, you are now a pro at cocking and loading your new crossbow. Now it is time to properly shoot the bolt you have loaded. To begin, slide the bolt back into the barrel until it is firmly seated against the bow’s string. Most modern crossbows will come equipped with a clip of some kind that prevents the bolt from sliding or moving about.
With your finger off of the trigger, flick the safety feature of your crossbow to the “off” position. This should only be done right before you are ready to shoot the arrow, and your finger should remain off the trigger until the moment you shoot. This will prevent accidental misfires that can cause accidents and injury.
When you are ready to shoot the crossbow, take a good balanced stance and sight up your target using a scope or the pin sights on your bow. Place your finger on the trigger, and squeeze (do not pull or jerk) as you exhale. Never jerk the crossbow when squeezing the trigger as this will negatively impact your accuracy.
When it is safe to do so, examine the shot placement in the target at which you aimed, and make adjustments to your pin sights or scope as needed.
That’s all there is to it! You now know the proper steps to follow when cocking, loading and shooting your crossbow. After you are finished at the range, always be sure to maintain your bow properly. This includes placing bowstring wax onto your crossbow strings after every few shots you take. This will keep the string conditioned and in great working order.
image: CC 2.0 Dwight Stone/ Flickr