Home Crossbows How to Safely Use, Sight & Shoot A Crossbow (3-Step Process)

How to Safely Use, Sight & Shoot A Crossbow (3-Step Process)

crossbow upclose

If you are new to crossbow hunting, or just need a refresher, it is important to understand and practice safe use of your crossbow.

Manufacturer Recommendations

No matter what crossbow you have or will be purchasing, you should learn all you can about it. Each manufacturer has items that are recommended for their crossbows. These can be scopes, bolt weights, broadheads, decocking methods or products, waxing strings, oil for the rail, and so forth. It is important to understand that the manufacturer’s goal is to keep you happy and help you succeed!


1. Cocking a Crossbow

foot on boot stirrup

There are three different methods for cocking a crossbow: using your bare hands, a cocking rope, or a crank. Not every method can be used on every style of crossbow. Therefore, you need to know what kind of cocking your product can handle.

Keep in mind that if more than one option is available, you will want to choose the most consistent method. For more details and a review of the 3 kinds of cocking, see my previous article “ways to cock a crossbow.

To cock barehanded or with a rope, make sure you place your boot securely in the boot stirrup before you pull the string into a cocked position. If your foot were to slip off, it could result in a dry fire or cause damage to you or your crossbow.


When Do You Cock the Crossbow?

There is no set answer for this, but there are guidelines you should follow to remain safe while hunting with your crossbow. Here are a few different scenarios to help you decide when to cock.

hunter with crossbow on treestand

If you are going to be hunting in a tree stand, you should cock your crossbow on the ground. Then, place it on safety and remove the crossbow bolt before you hoist it up. Make sure the path is clear so your cocked crossbow won’t encounter any obstacles as it is hoisted up.

If you plan on sitting in a blind, you can decide if cocking your crossbow inside the blind or outside of the blind is safer. Most hunters prefer to cock their crossbow in their blind. They feel safer maneuvering around with it de-cocked.

If you decide to hike to your spot or simply still hunt, then you want to cock your crossbow before you start seeing animals. I personally like to cock my crossbow by the truck so I am ready for any opportunity. You never know when there will be an animal just off the road!

It isn’t a safe idea to have your crossbow cocked while driving in a vehicle. My friend had his crossbow cocked as he traveled from one spot to another in his side-by-side. It ended up dry firing, basically blowing up, and pieces of his crossbow flew everywhere. Just remember to use common sense and always err on the side of safety.


2. How to Safely Shoot a Crossbow

hunter aiming crossbowWhen cocking a crossbow, it is best to have a shot routine to ensure you follow safety procedures. When buck fever hits, it is hard to think straight unless you have a simple routine to help keep you focused. We will assume the crossbow is cocked and loaded with the bolt securely engaged.

  • Keep fingers out off of the trigger until ready to fire
  • Pull the shooting arm elbow back to your ribs
  • Place the supporting hand under the stock with your fingers below the rail
  • Line up your shot
  • Take off the Safety
  • Squeeze the trigger

These are too many steps to remember in the heat of the moment, so pick the ones you don’t want to forget. My partner silently repeats this mantra – fingers, reticule, safety. These are the steps she doesn’t want to forget when she actually gets a shot off.  On the other hand, I say fingers, line-up, and squeeze. Why? Taking the crossbow off safety is muscle memory for me, and line-up includes the right reticule.


Pre Season and Target Shooting

routine shooting a crossbow

Before your hunt draws near, it is a good idea to get out and practice some rounds to ensure your crossbow is shooting accurately and safely. First, you need to visually inspect your bow, string, and each bolt to ensure there has been no damage done. Checking your bolts after every shot is another great way to stay safe.

When shooting into a target, it looks really cool to have a tight group of arrows. Unfortunately, it is very easy for an arrow to damage another inside the target. A smart way to fix this is to get a target with multiple spots and shoot one bolt at each.


3. De-cocking

OMP XB Impact Discharge Head
OMP XB Impact Discharge Head


When you are finished with your hunt or getting into your truck, it is a good idea to de-cock your crossbow. There are different methods you can find to do this, but the safest way is to shoot your crossbow. This can be done with a small target you pull out of your truck to shoot your field tip bolt into. Or, you can shoot an old field tip bolt into soft soil if that works for you.

There are also de-cocking bolts you can purchase to shoot more safely. These usually made of a thick foam that you would re-use. Others are biodegradable and do not need to be retrieved.  Make sure whatever de-cocking bolt you purchase is recommended for your crossbow.

Lastly, you can purchase a bow defuser that replaces your bolt. This addition is tightened to your crossbow. After firing, simply rotate the knob and your string will lower. We recommend this method as the quietest and easiest to use.


Tips for Safe Hunting

test shooting crossbow


Always inspect your crossbow and bolts, and practice a good shot routine. Whenever you hunt with a crossbow it is important to be very familiar with your shot routine to keep you safe. Do not become complacent! This can cause rushed shots and possibly a misstep in the shot routine.

Remember to keep your fingers below the rail and within the safety finger flange. Always use equipment that is recommended by the manufacturer. De-cock your crossbow safely by shooting it into a target or purchasing a de-cocking bolt. Finally, always err on the side of caution. It is better to be safe than sorry!

Previous articleHow To Cock A Crossbow, Explained! (Barehanded, Cocking Rope, Crank)
Next articleLooking Through Binoculars 101: How to Focus, Adjust, and More
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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