How to Shoot a Crossbow

Shooting a crossbow is a very different experience from shooting a recurve or compound bow. The setup of the crossbow in preparation for shooting differs quite a bit from the way an archer would set up for taking a shot with a compound or recurve bow. There are several methods for cocking the device, and archers sometimes use special accessories to make the shots easier and more accurate.

Using a Cocking Device

When it comes time to cock the bow, there are three methods for you to do so: With your hands (manually), a rope-cocking device, or a crank. When using just your hands to pull up on both sides of the string up in order to cock, it can lead to issues with shooting accuracy. When cocking your crossbow by hand, you will put extra tension on one or the other bow limbs. To avoid this issue, you can get a rope-cocking device that is made up of a thick rope and a plastic handle on each end of the rope.

The rope-cocking device goes around the back portion of the crossbow’s rail and the handles are brought together so they can be pulled simultaneously. You can then stand up, place your foot inside the crossbow’s foot stirrup located at the uppermost end of the bow, and pull up on each handle at the same time. The bowstring will begin to slide back into the draw position. The shot is ready when you hear a clicking sound suggesting the bowstring is locked into position.

Once you hear the clicking sound, your crossbow is cocked. What’s more, the contemporary crossbows of today have automatic safety locking mechanisms. The automatic feature requires that you move the bow to fire and move the safety forward each time you cock your bow. Archers often prefer using a cocking tool simply because it eliminates the need to deal with 50 percent of the deadweight one might otherwise have to deal with in the absence of such a convenient tool.

In lieu of cocking the crossbow by hand or with a rope cocking device, you can also make use of the crank cocking tool. Basically, the tool is a winch that you can mount to the crossbow’s stock. The winch helps you cock the bow by winding a small handle on the crank. There are different models of crank cocking devices, some of which are integrated into the crossbow in question while others serve as an add-on device. The use of this tool requires less than ten pounds of force in order to crank the handle, so this makes it easy for you to use the higher powered crossbows if you desire to do so. Additionally, if you are physically disabled, a crank cocking device can make it so you can still enjoy hunting with your crossbow.

Pros and Cons of Crossbow Cocking Options

If you decide to cock the crossbow manually, it means you do not have to bring or carry extra devices with you when you are crossbow hunting or target practicing. The downside to manually cocking the bow, of course, is that you will need to be able to handle the dead weight when you pull back and up on the bow string. What’s more, when you are cocking the bow in this manner, you have to do so by pulling back the string absolutely straight with the middle of the bowstring remaining aligned with the bow’s triggering unit. If you accidently put too much stress on one side of the bow or the other, it can through off the accuracy of your shot and cause the arrow to veer to the left or right.

When considering the pros and cons of rope cocking, it is clear that the elimination of some 75 pounds of dead weight in the drawing back of the bow string definitely serves as a perk. The con associated with this bow cocking technique include the fact that it takes a bit longer to get the bow ready for firing when using the rope cocking method. The same disadvantage can be identified in the use of the hand crank, and the cost of such a cocking device is a bit expensive as well.

Setting up the Bolt (Arrow)

You need to ensure you have the correct arrow spine and length for your crossbow before you load an arrow for firing. At the end of the arrow, there are three vanes (plastic pieces that are reminiscent of the feathers once used on wooden arrows). One vane has a plain color while the other two vanes have an unusual color. You want to line up the one vane that is different from the other two with the rail on your crossbow. The vane should fit right into the rail area of you crossbow. Loading the crossbow in this way will increase your accuracy and ensure the bow delivers a consistent shot.

Once the arrow is in the rail, you have to slide it all the way back so that the arrow nock is touching the bowstring. Visually inspect the arrow once more and ensure it is aligned with the crossbow rail correctly. The bolt should fit inside the rail snuggly.

Monopod/Bipod Usage

Monopod and bipods are accessories you can use to improve the stability and accuracy of your crossbow shots. A Monopod is about three feet high and consists of a metal pole that looks similar to a large dowsing rod. At the end of the rod are two small rods creating a letter “Y” formation. The monopod serves as a solid rest for the crossbow as you are firing. You can hold the straight up against and perpendicular the ground with one hand while you are sitting or crouching. A portion of the bottom of the crossbow, the foreguard, rests in the “Y-shaped portion” of the monopod. While steadying the monopod, with your hand, you can use the other hand to fire the crossbow.

Before taking your shot, you should adjust your sight. The stock of the compound bow presses snugly against the area between the shoulder and collarbone.

The crossbow is likely to have an extremely light trigger. To avoid a dry fire, you will want to make sure you develop your trigger control: This comes with time and practice. Once the crossbow is in position, you can view your target through your sight. When you have your target in your sights, all you have left to do is to pull the crossbow’s trigger.


Never treat your crossbow as if it were a toy. You must always take what you are doing seriously when you are holding a weapon. To that end, never point the end of your crossbow at any person or animal, whether it is loaded with an arrow or not.

Before firing your bow, always check for clearance. Make sure that your hands are free from any part of the moving arrow that might strike you as it passes from the bow into the air. Make sure there are no people or animals in your path. Make sure you are not standing too close to a tree or another object in the environment that might come in contact with the crossbow’s limbs.

Do not fire your crossbow when it is not loaded with an arrow. It can break your bow. Additionally, make certain the bolts you do load in the device are of the correct weight. The latter actions will definitely ensure the longevity of your equipment. Make sure that when you are done using the bow, you remove the arrow from the rail on the device as well.


Dustin Warncke’s “Crossbow Shooting 101 – Basics & Fundamentals.” Video. URL:, “12 Crossbow Do’s and 3 Don’ts.” Website. URL:

Hunter’s Friend, “Crossbow Getting Started Guide.” Website. URL:

How Stuff Works, “Safe Crossbow Shooting.” Website. URL:

Additional Resources:, “12 Tips for Expert Crossbow Shooting,” Website. URL:

“Field and Stream. ” A Beginner’s Guide to Hunting with a Crossbow.” Website. URL: