September 22, 2010
By Daniel James Hendricks
The world of whitetail hunting is aboil over its latest growth spurt. As hunter numbers continue to decline nationwide, documentation is confirming that the inclusion of crossbows into the archery season is not only enabling us to keep older bowhunters in the field longer, we are also recruiting new men, women and youngsters into the sport for the very first time.
There are several things that you should analyze before purchasing your first crossbow.
The first challenge is to determine which crossbow is right for you. Choosing a new crossbow is not unlike choosing a new truck in the sense that you have "Chevy guys" and you have "Ford guys." Both believe that they are driving the best, but in the final analysis, they are driving what best fits their own needs and desires. The best crossbow in the world will be the one that you believe best fits your personal preferences.
First, visit a major sporting goods outlet -- one that carries a large selection of crossbows -- and then begin by shouldering each one that catches your eye. Pick out two or three that feel comfortable. Ask the sales people questions about all of the characteristics that you feel are most important. If the option is available, be sure to spend some time on the shooting range to experience the crossbows in action. Visit some of the crossbow forums and ask questions of the regulars there about the bows you like. You will find out a lot about your favorites -- information that you would not discover at a store, even if you asked a knowledgeable crossbow clerk. Once you have determined what crossbow you're going to buy, make sure that the very first thing you do after opening the box is dig out the operation manual and read it from cover to cover at least once.
Crossbows have a much higher draw weight than vertical bows, but even so, the recoil of the bow is far less than that of a firearm. For those with physical limitations, cocking a crossbow will be a challenge, or perhaps even impossible. However, there are two solutions available. One is a cocking rope, which works like a pulley and reduces the draw weight by as much as 50 percent. The other is a crank-cocking device that attaches to the crossbow and functions like a winch.
The higher draw weight of a crossbow is necessary because it has a much shorter power stroke (the distance the string is actually pushing the arrow). The crossbow's shorter power stroke (often half that of a vertical bow) means that less kinetic energy is being stored in the arrow when the shot is made. Therefore, even with a heavier draw weight, the arrow flight and speed from a crossbow are equal to or less than that of a vertical bow; and regardless of the speed, a crossbow arrow will always drop faster than that of a vertical bow.
Another factor in the range of a crossbow-launched arrow is its size and weight. Most crossbow manufacturers suggest arrows that are over 400 grains. There is so much energy transferred in the launch that the shorter arrow must be heavier to withstand the force.
This is another area where you should refer to your operation manual. It will tell you exactly what you should be shooting out of your chosen bow, both in weight and size.
Follow those instructions to the letter. Shooting a lighter arrow than required could end up costing you a lot of money in a blown-up bow or even more in a serious or disabling injury. Crossbows are not toys and should always be treated with the same respect shown any other hunting implement.
Any shot over 40 yards with a crossbow is considered taboo by ethical crossbow hunters not because the arrow cannot be shot accurately beyond 40 yards, but instead because of the rapid loss of speed, which could turn a killing shot into a wounding shot. The crossbow not only has less kinetic energy in its arrow, but the high poundage of the draw weight makes it extremely loud -- a negative and very real characteristic without remedy. Normally, the heavier your crossbow's draw weight, the louder it will be. This presents a disadvantage over the vertical bow when it comes to a whitetail jumping the string. That is why most crossbow hunters try to keep their shots within 20 yards or less.
The arrow is fastest right off the arrow track, so the nearer your quarry, the less time the targeted whitetail has to react to your shot.
Most recurve crossbows, like Excalibur's for example, are quieter and lighter because of the absence of the pulleys found on compound models. However, the heavier draw weights can make a recurve crossbow very loud also. The best recommendation would be to keep your poundage low, thereby decreasing your noise and lessening the wear and tear on your bow. If you're buying a faster crossbow for the purpose of shooting farther and flatter, you will soon discover that not only does it give your quarry more time to get out of the way after being alerted by the loud discharge, but you will also have more maintenance problems and more breakdowns because of the additional wear and tear caused by the excess stress of a higher draw weight.
The heavier equipment will also place more physical strain on the shooter, especially if that shooter practices frequently for long periods of time. If you want to make 100-yard shots at whitetails, buy a firearm; crossbows are made for close range hunting.
The triggers and trigger-pull vary greatly from crossbow to crossbow, but most of the major crossbow manufacturers have greatly improved the modern crossbow trigger. Most triggers are crisp and smooth with a clean release. The quality of the trigger is a good indicator of what to expect from your crossbow, as it is an excellent barometer of the type of engineering that has gone into the finished product. While the performance of a trigger is less critical in a crossbow than it is in a firearm, it is still important when it comes to the shot. Therefore, when shopping for a crossbow, make sure that you are pleased and comfortable with the performance of the trigger.
Most manufacturers make some models of crossbows that can be adjusted as far as stock length and shape to better fit your own personal stature. Adjustable stock length is quite common and adjustable cheek rests are available on some models. TenPoint has several bows with adjustable draw weights, which greatly broadens the use of the crossbow.
These particular models are especially desirable if you are choosing a crossbow for a youngster who has a lot of growing to do. It is practical to choose a crossbow that will grow with the young hunter, serving them well through the adolescent years when their stature is experiencing growth spurts.
In the field, perhaps the biggest liability of a crossbow is its heavy weight. Although manufacturers are constantly striving to design lighter models, all crossbows are going to be much heavier than vertical bows. Not only is it more work to lug them around, but it also presents a problem when they are shouldered and the hunter is trying to make a steady shot. There are a number of shooting aides that assist hunters in holding their crossbows steady that should be considered. The KneePod is a favorite for crossbow hunters because it is simple, lightweight and very easy to use. Another favorite is the Steddy Eddy, which like any number of shooting sticks, is available at most hunting outlets.
Maintenance is quite simple, but very important in both the performance and longevity of crossbows. String wax extends the life of a string and serving; rail lube greases the runway for the arrow and again extends the life of a string; and odorless oil will help maintain free movement in all mechanical aspects of the bow. Paying close attention to the areas doctored by these products will keep a crossbow operating smoothly. With all maintenance questions, remember to consult your operation manual.
Perhaps the most important safety advice is to make sure that your fingers remain below the barrel of your crossbow. The power of the string has been credited with actually removing the tips of fingers and is a painful mistake that is rarely made more than once.
Crossbows are a challenging way to pursue the whitetail deer, but if you are going to use one, take time to make sure that you are using it correctly and safely.