Crossbow hunting is no different than other forms of hunting in that it has its quirks and peculiarities, and you’ll learn them the longer you play the game. For those of you who are just starting the journey, we wanted to put a few tips in your pocket to help shorten the learning curve. Even if this isn’t your first crossbow rodeo, there are likely a few suggestions that will also help you achieve success this year.
Create an Obstruction-Free Zone
Many first-time crossbow hunters make the transition from rifle hunting. Because the general platform of a crossbow is so much like that of a long gun, the natural tendency is to treat the former the same as the latter. Of course, that should not be the case. Unlike a rifle, which has only a small muzzle stuck “way out there” that must have a clear line to the target, a crossbow has a much larger operational footprint. Yes, the arrow must have a clear downrange path, but that’s not all you need to worry about. The horizontal span of a crossbow’s limbs must also be taken into consideration. As an arrow is released, those limbs will jump forward and extend horizontally. If one of them happens to hit a tree limb or other obstruction in the process, you’ll miss the shot, make a horrific racket and possibly damage your crossbow.
This is one of the key advantages of the latest short-axle-width crossbows, such as the Stealth NXT or the Nitro X from TenPoint Crossbow Technologies. They’re super-maneuverable in tight quarters, and the narrow limb widths minimize the chance of impacting branches upon release.
As when hunting with a vertical bow, it is important to provide an obstruction-free shooting zone when hunting with any crossbow. This means removing any limbs, twigs and branches that could interfere with your crossbow’s vertical or horizontal range of motion, or potentially impact your limbs when making the shot.
Similarly, be sure to clear your shooting lanes between your stand and likely travel routes or stopping points deer may take. Even with their wicked speed, crossbow arrows can easily deflect off the smallest twigs and branches.
Range Your Shooting Lanes
Speaking of shooting lanes, it’s essential for the crossbow hunter to know distances. A crossbow arrow, as with any arrow, has significant drop even at close distances. Quality crossbow scopes with drop compensation reticles make short work of getting you on target at known distances, but the key is knowing those distances.
Using a rangefinder, mark the distance from your stand out through your shooting lanes. Make note of the trees, rocks, logs or any suitable objects that correspond with your scope’s drop reticles at 20, 30 and 40 yards. Some hunters use bits of toilet paper or biodegradable ribbons to mark these distances. This way, no matter where a deer stops in your shooting lane, you’ll know exactly how to aim for a quick, ethical kill.
Support the Weight
There are several lightweight crossbows on the market today, but even the lightest among them tend to be a bit heavier than most of us can comfortably hold in a freehand position for more than a few seconds. Aside from this difficulty, it’s even more challenging to hold them steady enough for a good freehand shot.
We always recommend resting a crossbow to achieve a sure and stable shot. That is not always possible, depending on the situation and environment, which is why we like to keep a bipod or monopod handy—especially when hunting from a ground blind or a conventional treestand. An adjustable rest like the SteddyEddy crossbow monopod system is an ideal solution since it can be shortened to use while sitting or lengthened for standing shots. A system such as this takes the crossbow’s weight off your arms and transfers it to your treestand platform, the ground or to your waist or hip to eliminate the “tired arm wobble.”
Keep It Quiet
Although crossbow supports such as bipods and monopods are a huge help in making a steady aim, nothing beats a solid, horizontal rest like you find on many ladder and platform stands. The problem is that one wrong slip and that crossbow can make a terrific clang against those aluminum tubes.
To keep things quiet, wrap your treestand rails with thin foam and secure with electrical tape. This will help keep those alarming scrapes and clangs to a minimum and prevent scratching the finish on your crossbow when you take a rest.
Clearance is Everything
We’ve discussed the importance of clearing twigs and limbs from your treestand shooting zone so they won’t interfere with movement or your crossbow limbs. Well, the same concept applies if you hunt from an “environmental” ground blind (that’s what I call making a blind from available brush) or an enclosed pop-up-style blind.
Pop-up blinds have probably interfered with more crossbow shots than any other hunting stand setup. We’ve had several friends muff their shots because their limbs whacked against the blind upon release or, worse yet, they sent an arrow through the wall of their blind.
Don’t laugh. In the heat of the moment, it’s not a difficult thing to do.
The key to preventing this is to remember that the arrow’s flight path (or bore axis) is significantly lower than the scope’s axis. Just because you can visually line up on a deer through your blind’s window doesn’t mean your arrow is high enough to clear the opening. We’ve had plenty of trouble with this due to folding stools and chairs being too short to provide a clear sitting shot through a blind window when hunting sloping terrain. A good cure for this is a height-adjustable seat such as the ALPS Stealth Hunter.
Whatever you do, shoulder your crossbow while in your blind to check that your arrow will clear the windows. Do this for different angles and ranges so you can be sure that wherever a deer presents a shot, you’ll be able to take it unhindered.
Minimize Your Setup
Clutter is the bane of any hunting stand. The more you have around you, the more likely it will make a noise, interfere with your shot or cause a distraction. Two items that are inherently necessary to a functional hunting crossbow outfit are also items that can get you into trouble on a stand—the quiver and the sling.
It’s good practice to take your quiver off your bow and set it aside where it won’t be in your way or make noise. Keeping your quiver on your crossbow while in the stand is not necessary, and it can only get in the way.
The same is true for your sling. Although slings are ideal for carrying your crossbow into the field and they can be used for support when taking a shot, they can trip you up on the stand. Furthermore, the sling swivels can squeak if not lubricated or if they have a bit of surface rust. Better to simply remove the sling from your crossbow until it’s time to move on. Of course, if you rely on a sling for your shooting or hunting style, then keep it on your crossbow. Just be sure to lubricate the sling swivels as needed.
Recocking a crossbow after the shot is where a lot of new crossbow hunters experience a bit of fumbling. That’s understandable since they are still getting used to the crossbow’s operation. It’s no different than many first-time muzzleloader hunters who haven’t yet developed an efficient reload process.
When hunting from a ground blind, have your cocking device ready to deploy as soon as you make your shot. You don’t want to be fishing it out of your daypack or untangling draw cords. This is why we prefer integrated cocking devices, something along the lines of TenPoint’s AccuDraw series cocking devices that are built into the stock.
One important point we want to make here is that treestand safety and best practices suggest never to cock your crossbow using a push-pull system while you are in a treestand. Bending over and trying to perform this operation from up high can be dangerous. Better to lower the crossbow with your gear rope, get on the ground to recock, then get back in your stand. If your crossbow uses a cranking-style cocking device, then you can safely recock while remaining seated in your stand.
Don’t “Go the Distance”
A final cautionary note for those of you who are just getting into crossbow hunting—regardless of the type of stand you intend to hunt from—keep in mind that crossbows have no more effective lethal range than do vertical bows. Yes, they shoot fast, but their arrows’ are typically a lighter weight, which means they shed a significant amount of energy beyond the 40- to 50-yard mark. In other words, even though you have a lightning-fast crossbow that can shoot quarters at 60 yards from a stable rest, don’t be tempted to play gun hunter with your crossbow. Ethical crossbow hunters limit their shots to around 40 yards.
Crossbow hunting is an exciting sport for both archery veterans and for those used to hunting only with a rifle. The learning curve is shallow and the opportunity to hunt earlier in the season is priceless. By following these stand set-up tips, you’ll be sure to maximize your chances of success this season.
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