Home Crossbows Crossbow Hunting 101: 8 Main Differences Compared To Bow Hunting

Crossbow Hunting 101: 8 Main Differences Compared To Bow Hunting

TenPoint Shadow NXT
TenPoint Shadow NXT

From hunting rifles to shotguns and compound bows to best crossbows, hunting can be a thrill no matter your weapon of choice.  You may be new to the hunting community or you may be a hunter who has had several successful hunts. Either way, you know that you are ready for a new challenge with a new weapon!

Many in this position find themselves trying to decide between archery with a bow or crossbow. Unfortunately, with all the choices and styles it is very difficult to know which is the best for you. Fortunately, we are here to help. In this article, you will learn the eight major differences between bow hunting and crossbow hunting.


8 Differences Between Bow Hunting and Crossbow Hunting

1. Loading Your Weapon

reloading with rope cocking device


Loading a bow and arrow is quite different from loading a crossbow. Bows require nocking your arrow onto the string with the front of the arrow on the rest, then pulling your bow back to full draw. The difficulty of loading your bow is based on what the draw weight is.

Draw weight is how many pounds of pressure you need to pull. Using a release to aid with this adds strength and consistency to your shot. Additionally, loading an arrow is very quick and quiet. This is a fantastic benefit when you need to shoot consecutive times.


When loading a crossbow, you have three different methods of pulling the string back. The first is your bare hands and it can be very difficult at first. The second method is to use a cocking rope with handles that create a pulley system. The last is a crank device that attaches to your crossbow.

Each method has its pros and cons. The crank requires minimal effort but will take the longest, whereas barehanded is the fastest. It can also cause inconsistencies where the string might be a little to the right or left. Furthermore, high poundage can hurt your bare hands. If you would like to take a follow-up shot, cranks take time, make noise, and require a lot of movement in order to re-cock.

Learn more about how to cock your crossbow.


2. Taking the Shot

hunter aiming a crossbow


When you are ready to shoot at an animal there are several factors that come into play. If you have a bow and you know an animal is coming in, many will pull their bow back to full draw. Then you must wait for the animal to step into the open.

If the animal walks out in a spot you haven’t ranged, you either need to take an educated guess at the current yardage or you have to letup to re-range the animal. Unfortunately, this causes movement that may frighten the animal and destroy your shot.

Sometimes the animal will stop behind a bush whether it saw you or not. In this case, you will have to hold your bow at full draw longer than your body has the strength for. This results in a shaky shot or an abrupt letup.

crossbow aimed by hunter


With a crossbow, you already have your weapon at full draw requiring no constant effort on your part.  This allows you to re-range over and over until you are ready to shoot. We think this is one of the best advantages offered by a crossbow.

The shot sequence of lining it up and taking off the safety are just minimal movements. Of course, your arm will become fatigued if you have to hold your crossbow up for a long time. But you will not get as tired as when you hold a bow at full draw.

Another point to make is that with either a bow or a crossbow you need to be careful to keep your fingers and arms out of the way. The speed of the string on either weapon can really cause damage if it comes in contact with flesh during the shot sequence.

Learn more about shooting a crossbow.


3. Unloading the Weapon

decocking the crossbow

There will be many times you will assume an animal is coming in but you never even see it. Or, something changes its path. When this happens and you need to unload the weapon, a bow is a very simple process. You just have to remove the arrow.

With a crossbow, there are a few different ways to unload or de-cock. One method is using a cocking rope, and you can find tutorials with this method online. You can also utilize a bow defuser or purchase biodegradable bolts to shoot. Finally, you can bring a target block and replace the regular bolt with a field tipped bolt to shoot right into your target.


4. Traveling to Location

crossbow slinged at the back

Carrying or traveling with a weapon during your hunt is a frequent event and should be done safely.  You can place a bow into a case, buy a shoulder strap (which needs to be removed before you shoot), or simply carry it. It doesn’t have to be fancy. I made a belt sling to rest the lower cam in as I walk.

When traveling with a crossbow, you can use a shoulder strap or carry it in your hands. If you are going to be driving to a new location, you will want to unload instead of keeping it cocked at full draw. This is for your safety.

A friend of mine shared his experience of cocking his crossbow and then unloading the bolt when he was driving to a new location. He said the crossbow went off and sounded like a gunshot as it broke and pieces went flying everywhere. That’s why it is so important to remember to de-cock your crossbow when traveling.


5. Off-Season

setting up crossbow


For some styles of bows such as the recurve and the longbow, it is a good idea to de-string when it has been sitting unused for a length of time. If you have compound bows, it is a good idea to get a new string put onto your bow every few years. Over time it will stretch and begin to show wear.

The crossbow comes in different styles as well. When it comes to recurve, you want to de-string this for the off-season or anytime it will be sitting unused. As far as compound and reverse compound crossbows, you will want to check your strings and have them replaced whenever they begin to wear.

When you remove the string from your recurve and put them back on, they will need to be re-sighted since they might sit a bit different. Depending on how tight or lose the string is, it will change your sights and need adjusting. Just keep that in mind.


6. Yardage


One difficult part when it comes to hunting is knowing the distance between you and the animal so you can make a good and ethical shot. With a bow, you have sights with little colored pins inside the open circle. Each pin represents a different yardage and each pin can be dialed right to the correct distances.

With a crossbow, you have a scope. Some crossbows, especially the cheaper ones, have reticles in the scope that don’t always match up exactly to a specific yardage.  That’s why I can’t stress enough the importance of practicing and becoming very familiar with your own scope.


7. Setup

destringing a crossbow

Setting up your bow is not usually a thing you do on your own. Pro shops do a wonderful job setting up a compound bow. They can attach your sights and rests, peep sight, and draw length as well as draw weight. They can even fix a peep sight that is twisting among many other things!

You can purchase crossbows to put together yourself straight out of the box. They even include instructions on how to attach everything and pre-string the bow for you. This makes setting up a crossbow much easier and less time-consuming.


8. Legality

hunter killed deer with crossbow

Every state or province will have their own rules and regulations regarding weapon use during hunts.  Some states have legalized crossbows as part of their hunting season. Others only allow them on certain weeks during a hunt. In the state of Arizona, only those who have filed paperwork with a doctor’s exam are allowed to use a crossbow on the archery hunts.

However, anyone is free to use a “lesser weapon”.  This means that if you have a rifle tag you can choose to use a muzzleloader, crossbow or a bow. But for a bow hunt, you would not be able to use a crossbow, muzzleloader or rifle.  It is important to always know the laws in your area as part of your hunting preparation.

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Chris Waters was born and raised in a small town in west Arizona of around 5,000 people. At a very young age, he was introduced to hunting by his father. He has hunted everything from muzzleloader to archery, including deer, elk, antelope, ducks and more. He loves every minute of being outdoors. Chris would prefer to kill a smaller deer or elk with his family right next to him, than hire a guide and kill a Boone and Crocket animal. Every spring Chris and his wife Janell toss their two kids on their backs and hike the hills looking for deer and elk antlers. Chris also loves to fish and has been to Alaska where he was able to catch halibut and king salmon. Chris has a Bachelors of Science in Management from Western International University and he is an avid golfer with a few trophies on his shelf. On nice days he enjoys flying over his small town and the country he hunts in his powered paraglider. He is self published author. He is laid back and even with limited experience, he prefers to do all his own repairs, from fixing his own vehicles, to home projects allowing him to better his knowledge in everything he does.


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