It wasn’t until last year that my young daughter started to show interest in hunting.
I have a love for bowhunting in general, but at age six, my daughter isn’t able to draw back a compound bow. I wasn’t sure what method I wanted to use to teach her to harvest her first Whitetail. Talking with one of my hunting mentors helped me make the decision. His advice was this: “When I introduced my boys to hunting, I got them a crossbow. I wanted them to fall in love with the overall experience of hunting. I wanted them to feel what it’s like to have a Whitetail within 50 yards. I wanted to teach them hunting.”
This piece of advice was all I needed. I dove headfirst into the world of crossbows. I went with the Barnett Whitetail 400XTR. Being a compound guy, there wasn’t a lot of difference, but it did make me think that this could be an overwhelming experience for someone new to hunting. So, I’ll break down some common terms and must-haves for setting up a crossbow.
There are several benefits to using a crossbow over a compound bow. For starters, you cock your crossbow before you head to your tree stand. This means that your bow is ready to shoot by simply taking the safety off and applying pressure to the trigger. With a compound bow, once an animal is within around 60 yards, you have to draw the bow back before you can take the shot. That amount of movement can get you busted and the deer will see you before you even get to take the shot.
Another advantage is the ability to use a scope. A crossbow is versatile. It can be used from the ground, a tree stand, or a ground blind, so it is perfect for any type of hunting. You sight in a crossbow just like you do a rifle. If done correctly, crossbows are deadly accurate. With a compound bow, you must make sure you hit your anchor point with your string the same way every time so that when you look through your peep sight and line up your pin, you know it is going to hit the target. I’m not trying to belittle compound bow hunting, because I still love to take my Mathews out to the woods. I’m just showing how, for certain people—especially kids and new hunters—a crossbow can be a great choice to get started.
There are three basic types of crossbows. There is the compound form that uses spilt risers and cams, just like a compound bow. This seems to be the most popular choice. They are moderately priced and decently fast. They are not the fastest bows, but they get the job done. This is the style of my Barnett Whitetail Hunter XTR.
The next type is the reverse draw. They have the smallest profile and are the fastest shooting bows. They are deadly accurate, but you will pay for all their benefits. They can be double the price of a compound.
The last is a recurve type. This type is the cheapest and slowest bow. They have limbs just like a recurve bow. They also have the broadest width of the crossbow types. All three types are still made, and I suggest that you check out all three before making a purchase. You may prefer one style over another.
When it comes to looking at crossbows, note that how they are described is in “FPS,” which stands for “feet per second.” This measure means how fast the bow shoots an arrow. The higher the FPS, the faster the bow. However, faster isn’t always better. My Whitetail Hunter XTR shoots 400 FPS, which is plenty fast enough to take down an animal.
You need to have your bolt (what’s fired out of the crossbow) matched to the crossbow so it is not too light. There are special bolts made for crossbows. Weight is a big deal in bolts when it comes to crossbows. If your bolt is too light, it can cause the bow to dry fire; this can cause catastrophic problems. I am shooting Barnett Headhunter bolts that were designed for this bow.
One other thing I want to mention is the use of a bipod or tripod. They can be perfect for keeping the bow on target while you’re on the ground or in a blind. I use a Swagger bipod because it attaches to the rail of my bow and is lightweight.
Now that we have talked about the types of crossbows, what they shoot, bipods, and FPS, let’s discuss how to set one up. When I was looking for a crossbow, I knew that the draw weight was a lot more than a compound. (Draw weight is how many pounds it takes to pull back the string to cock the bow.) Draw weights can range anywhere from 100 to 250 pounds; the average is around 175 pounds. That’s a lot of weight to draw back.
Knowing this, I was looking for a crossbow with a built-in cocking device (or “CCD” for short. I went with a Barnett crossbow because they offered a CCD for their bows. This feature allows me to attach two hooks (one on each side of the string) and crank it back to cock it. It requires very little effort.
Another option would be a draw rope. They also have hooks, and they help you pull back the string, but they aren’t as easy. It can be exhausting pulling them back several times a day, although it still beats trying to pull the bow back with just your bare hands.
Speaking of cocking a crossbow, once loaded the bow needs to be de-cocked if you don’t fire it. Some of the higher-end crossbows allow you to crank down the string just like you loaded it. I prefer to shoot mine into a block target to discharge it. This allows me to verify that my bow is still accurate after every hunt.
Looking at Scopes
When it comes to scopes, several different companies offer them. I recommend getting one that has illuminated reticles. This allows you to see your crosshairs in low-light situations.
We all know deer like to move the most during the first and last hours of light. Most crossbows come with a scope. Mine came with a Halo 4×32 scope. There are several types of crosshairs styles, as well. I prefer one that has yardage markers for different yardages in the scope. I carry a vortex rangefinder to get my accurate yardage, then I can quickly get my scope on target to make the shot.
Bolts and More
I also want to address bolts, fletchings and nocks. The bolt consists of a shaft and fletchings. Bolts are usually made from aluminum or carbon fiber, which allows them to be strong, but light. It is important to use the proper length of bolt and the proper fletchings for your bow. There are three fletchings on your bolt, and two of them will be the same color, with one a different shade. That’s designed so you know exactly how to load your bolt in the bow. Most of the time, the off-colored fletching goes down.
Most crossbows come with at least two bolts. I recommend getting at least six more. That allows you to have a few spares in case you break one and to carry at least three in your quiver. Most quivers attach to your bow.
The part of the bolt that clips onto the string is called the nock. I also suggest getting rid of the stock nocks and getting lighted or strobing nocks. This feature makes them easy to find after a shot, and especially after dark. There are several companies that offer these, like Nockturnal and Lumenok. Barrnett offers the Headhunter bolt with built-in strobing nocks, which is what I use.
The business end of the bolt is the broadhead. There are two main types of broadheads— fixed blade and mechanical. Each has advantages and disadvantages. I have used both styles with great results. The choice comes down to user preference. I am currently using a Rage chisel-tip broadhead. It has a cutting diameter of two inches. Mechanical broadheads like my Rage will shoot just like field points, but one of their weaknesses is the small chance that it may not open up and will not drive through bone. These are not as forgiving as a fixed blade, but a well-placed shot will always lead to a short recovery and an expired animal.
A fixed blade broadhead usually has about a one-inch cutting diameter. It won’t cut as big of a hole, but it will drive through bone, making them a little more forgiving. When selecting broadheads, there are a few things to consider. There is a difference between compound and crossbow broadheads, so make sure you get the right kind. Also, keep in mind the weight of the broadhead. I like to shoot 100-grain broadheads. They don’t have as much kinetic energy as 150-grain ones do, but they shoot a little flatter. Use the same grain as your field points so your bow shoots the same when it matters most.
Care and Maintenance
For care and maintenance, you’ll want to keep your string waxed, and also put a little wax on the part of the bow where the string makes contact. Never dry-fire your bow (shoot your bow with no arrow in it). This can cause catastrophic problems with your crossbow.
It is also a good idea to periodically look over your bow for cracks, deformities or any other kind of damage. Always try to store your crossbow in a temperature-controlled environment when not using it. Remember that even in the off-season, it’s a good idea to keep shooting your bow to stay proficient. Other than that, crossbows are fairly easy to take care of and they are a lot of fun.
If you are new to hunting, I suggest you pick up a crossbow in the off-season and practice in that time period. You can see that they are not as complicated as you might think, and there is a lot of room for user preference.
Crossbows are also the perfect bow for someone who cannot pull back a compound bow, and are a great way to introduce a kid to deer hunting. They can also be used for other game, like turkey.
That’s exactly what I am doing with my daughter this year. Hopefully next year, she can send one of those headhunter bolts through her first Whitetail.
Most of all, crossbows are a great way to get outdoors and have fun!