Without proper setup, accessories, training, a new crossbow can be a dangerous weapon — to the hunter
“It is rarely the violin that fails to perform, but rather, it is usually the violinist.”
Perhaps nowhere could this statement be applied better than to modern crossbows and deer hunters.
Every year since crossbows were legalized and became widely used, I am awed by how many people borrow one or buy one online and start shooting it with no prior knowledge or training. As you can imagine; this rarely ends well, often leading to high repair bills and even bodily harm.
Every Monday early in archery season, there is a steady procession of folks walking through the front door of our bow shop with their heads hung low and crossbows in shambles. In most instances this “walk of shame” could have easily been avoided by proper training and thus familiarity with their weapon.
Why hunters feel confident operating a crossbow with no prior knowledge is beyond me. These same people wouldn’t climb onto a tractor seat or into the cockpit of an airplane without some operating instructions, yet they have no fear when it comes to a crossbow.
Modern crossbows are complicated machines, and they become even more complex each year as manufacturers compete to make the fastest, most-compact models ever.
The first step for anyone looking at a crossbow is to buy one from an archery pro shop, not from a big box store or online. Most of the time, the price will be the same, but a pro shop will set up your new crossbow properly and instruct you on its safe and proper use.
Furthermore, employees at a pro shop will match your new crossbow with the proper accessories, arrows and broadheads to guarantee the best shooting experience possible. If you have already bought one online or from a big box store, most pro shops will check your assembly, sight in your crossbow, and provide proper training for a reasonable fee. Get the training. Any time and money spent familiarizing yourself with your weapon will save a lot of money and grief down the road.
Most crossbows require a specific nock design, and failure to follow these requirements almost always leads to a train wreck. This is because newer designs such as extremely narrow and reversed limbs cause the string angle to be extremely narrow at the trigger housing.
Failure to shoot a nock that captures enough of the string or shooting a nock that is not oriented properly will allow the string to “jump over” the arrow. The string often lands in the center of the arrow shaft, fracturing the carbon shaft, which cuts the string like a razor blade would. This causes the bow to explode.
If you’ve never witnessed a crossbow come apart, let me assure you, it is very violent. Modern crossbows store huge amounts of energy, and it’s nothing nice when they explosively decompress. As a rule, it is best to stick with the manufacturer’s recommended arrow at all times to prevent this from happening.
Another common mistake I’ve witnessed is untrained individuals failing to properly assemble their crossbow. Not routing the cables correctly, not tightening the prod sufficiently or improper installation of cable slides can all cause excessive cable wear or total failure.
Restringing a crossbow costs nearly $200 in many cases, so this can quickly become expensive. Many crossbow owners fail to realize that the service interval for restringing their crossbow is often 100 to 200 shots. Although they are extremely fun to shoot, it is best to treat them like a “hot” caliber rifle, strictly checking your sights, because paying to have your crossbow restrung can add up quickly.
It is also extremely important to make sure there is clearance for the limbs of your crossbow. People often fail to consider the expansion of the limbs when the arrow is released. When hunting from a box stand or tight space, it is best to check for limb clearance while the bow is un-cocked. Remember, the limbs will return to this dimension as the arrow is released.
Perhaps the worst mistake of all is failure to ensure proper hand clearance. Each year, quite a few crossbow shooters amputate thumbs or fingers because they fail to do so. While crossbows can be repaired, this is often permanent. With training this could have easily been avoided.
Make sure you are totally familiar with your crossbow’s operation, and if you do loan it to anyone, make sure they receive proper training before they use the bow. This is one case where prior training will definitely prevent total disaster.
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