Getting Started with a Crossbow
Dr. John Woods 09.25.14
Deer hunting with archery gear was something I always wanted to try. I did, too, for several years until I lost my hand grip coming down a wet tree stand ladder and pulled my shoulder doing a lunge grab just before falling. After that, I could not pull my bow all the way back without considerable pain.
But now I’ve found the ideal alternative by going to a modern crossbow. This move has been particularly timely too, because the state now allows the use of crossbows during all archery hunting seasons without a special crossbow permit.
I spent nearly a year studying all the different types, brands, and features of crossbows. There are a lot of good products out there in all price ranges, but I finally settled on the Barnett Vengeance. It has the features I want. Pick what works for you, but buy a brand with a solid reputation.
My Barnett has a draw weight of 140 pounds and shoots its bolts at 365 fps. It weighs about 8 pounds without the detachable quiver, which adds only a bit carrying three shafts with broadheads.
The Vengeance is a reverse draw technology crossbow, which means the limbs are oriented backwards from what one usually finds on a crossbow. This technology makes the bow lighter on the front end, pulling the weight back to the buttstock and the shoulder for more controlled and accurate shooting.
I was also sold on the 23-inch width of the X-bow, which is easier to manipulate in a hunting stand. The Vengeance came with a 3×32 scope for precise shooting along with three 22-inch bolts with half moon nocks. They now come from the factory with 20-inch bolts. You can use either length.
This is just a precautionary warning to crossbow buyers ordering their X-bows from a big catalog outfit. As was mine, it may very well likely arrive unassembled. I have to admit I wasn’t expecting that. I am fairly mechanically inclined, but it took a while to assemble.
I might argue that it would be better to buy such a complicated piece of engineering from a local bow shop if they know what they are doing. The price point might be more, so weigh that decision in the process.
Using a 22-inch Barnett/Easton Headhunter Custom Carbon bolt in my X-bow, it is released at 365 feet per second. The foot pounds of energy with a 100-125 grain broadhead would be somewhere in the neighborhood of 118 foot pounds.
The hunting success of a bow comes from the dramatic impact of the razor sharp broadheads. However, the key is to limit the shooting ranges to practical distances when deer hunting. For a crossbow this is about thirty yards. Make sure you understand the realistic performance capabilities of the crossbow, bolts, and broadheads you use.
One of the tricky aspects of handling and shooting a crossbow is the process of cocking the device. Most standard X-bows come with a cocking rope with rollers and hooks that slip onto the bow string to “cock” the bow. The system uses leverage by putting the rope into a groove at the back of the riser on the stock behind the trigger. Be sure to add string wax to the bow string and the flight track before cocking.
Once connected, the rope handle grips are pulled up slowly and uniformly until the bow string locks in place into the safety mechanism and trigger, while the shooter’s foot is in the foot stirrup. Then set the safety. Never, ever dry fire a crossbow.
In a simplistic form, a crossbow shoots like a shoulder fired rifle, sort of. The trigger lock mechanism of course takes care of “holding” the string in a pulled back condition.
The bolt is placed into the flight track with the odd colored vane down. The broadhead should be aligned with the vanes, too. The arrow retainer spring will hold the bolt in place if adjusted properly. If the bolt flops around or falls out, tighten the retainer.
With my Vengeance the scope had to be adjusted by taking shots at an archery target starting at ten yards, then 20, and 30. With the three-target circles in the scope, you simply learn to hold low or high depending on your range estimate to the target. Shoot well and practice, because you still only get one shot at a time.
A crossbow can be a great alternative to a traditional archery bow. Pick one with features you like, set it up, and shoot it often. As with bows or firearms, practice does make a difference.