Transitioning From Rifle Hunting To Crossbow Hunting

Crossbow hunting is growing at a rapid pace. A lot of that is a result of gun hunters crossing over to shooting with a crossbow. While similar in many ways, crossbow hunting is quite a bit different than hunting with a gun, do you know the differences?

Crossbow hunting is growing at a rapid pace. Some hunters pick up a crossbow because they can’t pull back their vertical bow anymore. But many hunters using crossbows have never used archery equipment. Generally, they are gun hunters looking to get more time in the woods by using crossbows during archery seasons. As more states open their archery seasons to all crossbow hunters, more hunters are taking advantage of the opportunity. If you’re making the transition from gun hunting to crossbow hunting, there are a few things you need to know.  

First of all, a crossbow isn’t a gun. Yes, most crossbows have similar scopes, trigger mechanisms, and they basically look like a rifle with a bow hooked up to it. But when it comes to ballistics, a crossbow really isn’t any different than a conventional bow. A gun kills with both hemorrhage and shock. Killing game with archery equipment, including crossbows, is all about creating a wound channel. There really isn’t any shock. 

Most rifles, shotguns, and muzzle-loaders fire a projectile at 2,000 to 4,000 feet per second. Your average crossbow fires an arrow at 300 to 350 feet per second.  As a crossbow hunter you have to be concerned with the trajectory of an arrow, possible issues with deflections, and even wind.  Sure, arrow deflections are cause for concern for firearms hunters as well, but the threat is magnified with an arrow.  All of the challenges that come with vertical bows can be found with crossbows. 

The only real difference is the crossbow is already held at full draw. Knowing the anatomy of a deer(or other quarry) is also imperative.  The shocking power of a rifle will often overcome minor shooting errors.  A shoulder shot delivered by a rifle is generally lethal and is often times preferred.  On the other hand, going for the shoulder with archery equipment isn’t recommended.  The goal is to do maximum damage to the lungs and heart.  Waiting for the right the shot to present itself is vital.  

One of the most challenging parts of transitioning from a firearms hunter to a crossbow hunter is judging distances.  There really isn’t much difference in a 100 yard shot and a 50 yard shot when hunting with a rifle.  In comparison, a crossbow zeroed in at 20 yards will shoot about 20 inches low at 40 yards.  A laser range finder can help you make the transition smoothly.  One other note about distances, the benefit of having a scope makes it possible to shoot crossbows effectively at 80 or more yards. 

That is great for target shooting.  In my opinion, shooting at game with a crossbow at those distances isn’t a good idea.  It can take almost a second for an arrow fired at 300 feet per second to reach a target at 80 yards.  A lot can happen in that second. 

Most vertical archers are comfortable hunting at 40 to 45 yards.  I believe the same maximum range can and should be applied to crossbow hunting as well. Hunting with a crossbow is a great way to extend your hunting season and in some cases, serve as an introduction to archery.  The learning curve is much smoother than conventional archery and many of the same skills needed for rifle hunting can be applied to the crossbow.  However, the crossbow is an archery weapon and it comes with the disadvantages of a vertical bow built in.  Of course, those disadvantages are what makes archery so enjoyable.

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