If you’re looking for an overview on crossbows, you’re in the right place. In this article, you’ll learn

  • The different parts of a crossbow
  • How to load and fire a crossbow
  • 5 beginner crossbows to choose from

Let’s jump in.

What is a Crossbow?

A crossbow is a combination of a bow and a mechanism. The design helps users shoot arrows more easily and accurately. There are a few key differences between regular bows and crossbows.

With a typical bow, the archer uses physical strength to pull the string then release the arrow. With a crossbow, the archer uses a mechanism that holds the arrow in place until the archer fires.

A bow is vertical while a crossbow is horizontal. You will also notice that a crossbow has a much smaller span than your traditional bow.

A crossbow allows you to shoot an arrow without using a lot of physical strength, which makes it perfect for people who struggle to pull an arrow on a bow.

Crossbows also tend to shoot more accurately than a bow. Unlike a traditional bow, a crossbow can have a telescope. Crossbows are also more steady when shooting since the archer uses both hands and a shoulder to aim.

It’s also quite easy to learn how to use a crossbow. They’re ideal for younger archers and anyone who would struggle to pull a bowstring. They’re also good for hunters who want better accuracy.

Safety first

As always, the first thing you should learn and practice with crossbows is safety. Whenever you are using a crossbow, make sure you’re pointing it in a safe direction. Use two hands as often as you can when handling a crossbow.

Crossbows have a safety feature, but keep in mind that the safety is mechanical. That means the feature can fail.

Whenever you’re transporting a crossbow, keep it in the uncocked position. At the range, keep your crossbow unloaded until you’re ready to fire.

Parts of a Crossbow

Let’s break down the components of a crossbow:

Stock – This is the body of the crossbow. The rear part of the stock is the buttstock, which rests against your shoulder. The front part of the stock is the foregrip, which is where you grip the device.

Rail – This is the top part of the crossbow. It’s where the bolt sits until you’re ready to fire. It’s also what the bowstring slides on. The rail is what you might call the barrel of the crossbow.

Bolt – Crossbow arrows are called bolts. They’re shorter than your average arrow because they’re made for crossbows specifically. Always use manufacturer-recommended bolts. Manufacturers design bolts specifically for their brand crossbow.

Limbs – These are what the string is attached to at either end. The limbs are flexible enough to bend as you pull the string, but firm enough to retract the string quickly. This provides the energy that launches the bolt.

Bowstring – This is the string that connects the limbs and pushes the bolt when firing.

Cocking Stirrup – A metal frame hooked onto the front of the crossbow. Point the gun down, touch the ground with it, and put your foot into the stirrup. This holds the crossbow in place when pulling the string up.

Latch Mechanism – When you pull the string to cock your crossbow, the latch mechanism holds the string. Once you pull the trigger, the latch mechanism releases the string, firing the bolt.

Sight Bridge – Where the sight attaches to the crossbow.

Safety – As with a gun, the safety prevents the crossbow from accidentally firing.

How to load and fire a crossbow

Now that you know the parts of a crossbow, let’s walk through a step-by-step guide on how to load and fire a crossbow.

1. Cock your crossbow

Place your crossbow nose down on the ground. Put your foot into the stirrup. Then reach down and grasp the string with both hands.

Hook the string with your index, middle, and ring fingers. Let your thumbs follow the rail as you pull the string upwards. Continue to pull until the string is latched into latch mechanism.

Instead of using your hands, you also have the option of using a set of cocking ropes. This device helps you cock your crossbow with little strain on your hands.

Once you hear a click, your crossbow is cocked. With some crossbows, you need to hear two clicks.

Make sure your safety is “on.”

2. Take stance

Your feet should be shoulder-width apart. Face your target. Keep your crossbow pointed in a safe direction until you’re going to fire.

3. Load the bolt

With one hand, hold the frame of the crossbow. With your other hand, retrieve one bolt from the quiver and place it into the barrel groove. Most archers use their dominant hand to load the bolt.

Make sure the bolt is securely against the string and facing the right way.

4. Prepare to shoot

With both hands on the crossbow, aim at your target. Keep your fingers below the rail or they could get clipped.

Place your firing hand on the grip, but don’t keep your finger on the trigger yet. Keep the buttstock pressed against your shoulder and place your cheek on the stock. Align your eye with the sight.

Then turn your safety “off.”

5. Shoot

Once you’re satisfied with your alignment, slowly pull the trigger with your index finger. After the device fires, you’re free to reload.

Common Mistakes with Crossbows

Let’s go over a few common mistakes. This way you can avoid them.

One common mistake is firing a bolt that’s not properly loaded, which is called a dry fire. For example, if you don’t push the bolt against the bowstring, it won’t fire correctly.

Having space between the bowstring and the bolt can damage the crossbow when you fire. Or it can injure someone.

Another common mistake is not clearing an object when firing. If you’re looking through a scope, keep in mind the railing is a few inches lower than your line of sight

If you’re shooting out of at treestand and you don’t clear the sides, the bolt is going to bounce off the surface right in front of it.

A similar, but different mistake is not giving your limbs space to expand. Remember, after you fire, your limbs are going to be wider. That means they can hit a surface directly to the right or left of the crossbow.

For example, your crossbow may be thin enough to barely fit between two trees. But after you fire, the limbs will fling out and slam against the trees.

5 Beginner Crossbows to Consider

There are a lot of great crossbows out there. We can’t possibly cover them all, but here are five great options you can look into. There may be state laws that affect the sale of a crossbow, so please research your state. But don’t worry, it won’t be as complicated as buying a gun.

1. Barnett Jackal Package

Barnett is a very popular crossbow manufacturer. They sell this crossbow with a package of items: bolts, a red dot sight, and a quiver. You’ll have to assemble the crossbow, but it’s very easy and only takes 15 minutes.

The Barnett Jackal is lightweight, but durable. It comes with a safety feature that prevents accidentally shooting when it’s not loaded. Altogether, it’s a decent quality bow at a decent price.

Barnett Jackal Crossbow Package (Quiver, 3 - 20-Inch Arrows and Premium Red Dot Sight)
  • Velocity: 315 FPS
  • Includes 3 arrows
  • Smooth 3. 5 lb. trigger pull
  • Complete crossbow package, includes quick-detach quiver, bolts, and premium red dot sight
  • Sleek, military-style stock; high energy wheels; synthetic string and cable system

2. Arrow Precision Inferno Fury

If you’re looking for a more affordable crossbow, check out the Arrow Precision Inferno Fury. It may not be the best choice for hunting large game, but it’s great for target practice. And it can still bring down a deer.

This crossbow is very easy to use and cheap. The package comes with a red dot scope.

Arrow Precision Inferno Fury Crossbow Kit (175-Pounds)
  • Package comes fully equipped with 4-16" bolts, Quick Detach Quiver, 3 Red Dot Sight, Padded Sling and Rope Cocker, Free Extra String
  • Anti-Dry Fire Trigger Mechanism, Thumb Guard for added protection
  • Extremely Lightweight and Compact with Fully Dipped Camo Pattern, Aluminum Rail and Barrel with Compression Fiberglass Limbs
  • Measures 34.5 inches long (without foot stirrup) and 26.5 inches wide with a 10.5 inch Power Stroke

3. CenterPoint Sniper 370

The CenterPoint Sniper 370 is silent and operates smoothly, making it a great crossbow for hunting. It comes with a pretty comprehensive kit, which includes three bolts, a scope, a quiver, a rope cocker, and a shoulder sling.

The CenterPoint Sniper 370 has a 185-pound draw weight, which means you can go after big game without a problem. And the bow is light and easy to use.

CenterPoint AXCS185BK Sniper 370 Crossbow Package, Black
  • HIGH PERFORMANCE 370 FPS - 18-inch axle-to-axle at full draw and 185-pound draw weight
  • FULLY ADJUSTABLE STOCK AND FOREGRIP - For a customized fit to shoulder with confidence
  • QUAD LIMBS WITH PRECISION-MACHINED CAMS SYSTEM - Delivers power and accuracy
  • MACHINED RAIL WITH SHOOT-THROUGH RISER
  • INTEGRATED STRING SUPRESSORS - For a quiet, vibration-free shot

 4. Wicked Ridge Invader G3

The Wicked Ridge Invader G3 is a sturdy crossbow that’s easy to handle. You will have to assemble the crossbow, but it’s simple and has clear step-by-step instructions. The package comes with three bolts, so you can start practicing right away.

The Invader G3 only weighs 6.6 pounds and is very compact, but can fire over 300 feet per second. It’s consistently accurate at 40 yards and is great for hunting small game.

Wicked Ridge by TenPoint Invader G3 Crossbow Package with 3x Multi-Line Scope, 3 Carbon Arrows, and Quiver
  • BEST OF THE BEST: Invader G3 is the safest, lightest, narrowest, and fastest Wicked Ridge Invader model to date
  • COMPLETE PACKAGE from Ten Point's Wicked Ridge pairs their revolutionary Invader G3 Crossbow with the GEAR YOU NEED FOR HUNTING SUCCESS, no extra accessories to track down, it's all in the box, READY TO ROCK
  • PACKAGE INCLUDES: Wicked Ridge G3 Crossbow, TenPoint 3X Multi-Line Scope, ACUdraw Cocking Mechanism, Wicked Ridge Instant-Detach 3-Arrow Quiver, and (3) Wicked Ridge 400-grain Carbon Arrows with 100-grain Practice Tips
  • ALL THE SPECS: LENGTH (with stirrup)-37.75 inches; AXLE-TO-AXLE WIDTH (uncocked/cocked)-22.6 inches/19 inches; POWER STROKE-13.5 inches; WEIGHT (without accessories)-6.6 lbs; DRAW WEIGHT-165 lbs; SPEED-330 FPS, 96 FP KE
  • ACUdraw COCKING MECHANISM: Integrated self-retracting rope cocking device that REDUCES DRAW WEIGHT by 50%

5. Barnett Ghost 375

The Barnett Ghost 375 is ideal for hunting big game. It has a 165-pound draw weight and shoots up to 385 feet per second. It comes with a scope and has anti-vibration equipment that significantly reduces noise.

Despite its incredible speed, the Ghost 375 has lightweight construction. If you’re considering which weapon to take hunting, make this crossbow a top choice.

BARNETT Ghost 375 Crossbow, Realtree Max 1 Camo
  • 385 feet per second (this is not an error). draw weight: 165 lbs Kinetic energy: 125 ft lbs. Realtree max-1 Camo
  • Overall weight 7.1 lbs | axle to axle 20.25" | dimensions 36.25"L x 22.5"W
  • Trigger Tech Technology with 3lb zero-creep release. All stainless steel components. Nock sensor and adf eliminate dry fires
  • Ships mostly assembled
  • Includes: 4x32 scope, rope cocking device, light weight quiver, two 20 inch Headhunter arrows, lube wax (we suggest you lube strings every 10 shots)
Practice makes perfect

The surest and easiest way to learn how to shoot a crossbow is to practice. Get your hands on a beginner’s crossbow, reread the instructions, and head to the range.

If you go enough, eventually using a crossbow will become second nature to you.

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