Crossbow archery is both a fun and challenging sport to pick up.
By Trent Jonas
Crossbow archery is a great way to combine some of the feel of firearm sports with the challenges of traditional archery. A crossbow has a stock and trigger like a rifle or shotgun but uses a string to fire an arrow (called a “bolt”) like a compound or recurve bow. Because of the time it takes to reload, you may only get one shot, so hunting with a crossbow—if your state allows it—can be a fun way to challenge your skills. If you're new to the sport, here are a few things you’ll need to get started.
Crossbows can be expensive—it is easy to pay $1,000 or more for a quality bow—so one consideration for beginners is finding a crossbow that will perform well without putting too big a dent in your wallet. If you’re serious about crossbow archery and are also considering using the bow for hunting, you’ll need an accurate bow that fires bolts at 200 feet per second (fps) or more. In fact, many states have FPS minimums for crossbow hunting. Even if you’re just interested in target shooting, a higher bolt velocity will result in more accurate targeting. When looking for a starter crossbow, something like the Barnett Assault 350 is good place to begin. It’s made by a reputable company in the space, delivers bolts at 350 fps, and is priced at under $500.
The most important thing to look for, initially, when buying bolts is finding those that are the correct size for your crossbow. Check the manual for the recommended bolt size—it will usually list the recommended length and weight for the shaft and for any heads you wish to use. Carbon fiber is the preferred shaft material these days, and Excalibur manufactures a variety of quality bolts.
Some bolts will ship with target or field points, others will not, so you may have to purchase them separately from the bolt. And if you intend to hunt larger game, you will need to pick up some broadheads. Check the recommended head weight for your crossbow and look for heads or points in the appropriate weight range. Cabela’s sells a variety of popular crossbow heads and points, like their Lazer Strike II three-blade broadheads.
Many states require you to keep your crossbow in a case while transporting it in a vehicle, so it’s a good idea to have one. Besides, a case is a great way to keep all your gear together in one place, as they typically have extra space for storing string or rail wax and bolts. The Excalibur Deluxe Crossbow Case is a pretty basic design with plenty of storage capacity, and it will fit most bows.
Keeping your crossbow string waxed will help to ensure accuracy and extend the life of the string. How often you wax your string will depend on how often you shoot your bow and the environment in which you store it. A good guideline is to wax your string according to your manufacturer’s specifications. If you’re unsure, wax after every 10 shots or so. Or if you can no longer feel wax on the string, it probably needs to be waxed. Ten Point String Wax and Conditioner is well regarded and made with crossbows in mind.
Whether you’re in the field or on the range, you’ll need a quiver to carry your bolts. Typical options include a quiver mounted on the crossbow itself, either to the side, with nocks facing back toward the trigger for easy access or perpendicular to the stock beneath the bow, itself. Such quivers are good for limited forays in the field, however, they cannot hold many bolts and sometimes feel less accessible than a back or hip quiver. A hip quiver, like the Easton Flipside, attaches to your belt for quick access, and can carry several more bolts than a crossbow-mounted quiver.
Another important consideration for maintaining your crossbow and ensuring performance is keeping the rail adequately lubricated. A product like Scorpion Venom Crossbow Rail Lube helps to extend the life of the server area of the bowstring and ensures that your bolts launch smoothly.