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You’ve decided to purchase a crossbow, but the sheer number available today can leave anyone feeling overwhelmed. Do you get a recurve or compound crossbow? Are crossbows that shoot faster (measured in feet per second – fps) more lethal than those that generate lower speeds? Do you need a scope? These are just some of the questions we’ll tackle, along with providing tips for selecting the crossbow that’s right for you.
The ABCs of Crossbows
Since their invention by the Chinese in 4 B. C., all crossbows have the same basic components. A bow is mounted horizontally to a stock, and an arrow (or bolt) is projected at speeds ranging from 200 to 420 fps. A recurve crossbow has limbs with the tips turned away from the shooter, while a compound has a string attached to pulleys (cams), one or both of which has one or more cables attached to the opposite limb.
There are advantages and disadvantages to both types of crossbows. Recurve crossbows are lighter, simpler to operate and allow for easier string changes, while compounds are more compact, deliver more energy per inch of power stroke, and have stiffer limbs, making them more energy efficient. Cocking a compound is usually easier because of its shorter length and built-in “let-off” of draw weight, similar to a regular compound bow. In contrast, recurves must have a higher draw weight to produce the same energy and velocity as their compound cousins.
Crossbows use shorter arrows than conventional bows, making them less stable. To compensate for this, bolts must have a minimum of five inches of fletching. Check with your bow’s manufacturer for recommendations on broadheads.
For a crossbow to shoot accurately, the string must be cocked straight. If the bowstring’s off by 1/8-inch, it will shoot six inches off at 30 yards. Those who choose to hand-cock should mark the string on both sides of the deck with a highlighter and make sure both lines are visible when the bow’s cocked. Better yet, use a cocking rope, which reduces the draw weight by 50 percent, or use a crank cocking device, which drops draw weight to just a few pounds and virtually eliminates the problem of being cocked off-center.
“Before purchasing a crossbow, recognize any physical limitations you may have, ” suggested Dave Robb, director of marketing for TenPoint Crossbow Technologies. “Some cocking aids are more user-friendly than others, so try out as many as you can before making a purchase. ”
The biggest misconception those who’ve never owned or shot a crossbow have is it can shoot much farther than a conventional bow, like a gun. With practice, crossbow hunters can accurately shoot out to 40 yards or less.
Most manufacturers also sell a scope for the crossbow, which I highly recommend. Shot placement is critical when shooting a crossbow, and those with illuminated dots and/or reticles make the job easier, especially in low light conditions.
Crossbows vary in price from a few hundred dollars to a few thousand. Before plopping down your hard-earned money, check your state’s regulations, to make sure crossbows are legal for the type of hunting you want to use them for.
You should also try out as many crossbows as you can prior to purchasing one.
“In the end run, how a bow feels matters most, ” added Robb. “If it doesn’t feel right against your shoulder or you’re having problems shooting it, you’re probably not going to shoot it accurately or be happy with your purchase. ”
Here are some other important things to consider.
- Crossbows that shoot faster aren’t inherently better.
“A lot of guys get caught up in the ‘need for speed, ’” said Jeff Becka, found of the Crossbow Nation Web hunting forum. “All crossbows produce enough speed to get the job done. ”
Just remember that, in general, the higher the fps, the more noise and recoil the crossbow will produce.
- Check Out the Crossbow’s Track Record.
“An experienced salesperson should be able to tell you what kind of a failure rate to expect with certain models, ” said Barb Terry, a customer relations representative with TenPoint. “Your salesperson should also have a good idea about the quality of each manufacturer’s products, customer service department and warranty claims department. ”
- Pay Attention to Trigger Pull. Robb notes that a trigger with no creep (released without any travel) is dangerous, while one with too much creep is difficult to squeeze steadily. Remember, trigger pull affects accuracy, so choose a crossbow with a quality trigger pull.
Regardless of the crossbow you choose, don’t hunt with it until you understand how it operates, including its limitations, and become proficient shooting it.
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