How to Shoot A Crossbow – Cocking, Loading, Firing, Decocking

You’ve got your crossbow, and you want to learn how to shoot it. It might seem simple, but in fact there are certain things you need to know about shooting a crossbow. Let’s go over some dos and don’ts about shooting a x-bow, then we’ll discuss the various ways you can cock, load, and then shoot your crossbow.

Important Dos About Shooting a Crossbow

  • Do read the owner’s manual for your crossbow
  • Do place your foot firmly in the stirrup when cocking your crossbow
  • Do use a cocking device of some sort
  • Do make sure your safety engages when you cock the crossbow
  • Do inspect your arrows carefully before shooting them
  • Do keep your fingers beneath and clear of the string when shooting
  • Do keep the trigger safety engaged until you are ready to shoot
  • Do use a haul line to move your crossbow up and down the tree stand

Essential Don’ts When You Shoot a Crossbow

  • Don’t try to cock your crossbow by hand
  • Don’t hang your rope cocking device around your neck
  • Don’t remove your foot from the stirrup until you are sure the safety is engaged
  • Don’t point the crossbow at anything you do not intend to kill or destroy
  • Don’t hold your crossbow by the trigger
  • Don’t even think about putting your finger on the trigger until you’re ready to fire
  • Don’t dry fire your crossbow (shoot it when there’s no arrow seated)
  • Don’t shoot your crossbow if there is anybody standing behind it, in front of it, or even to the side of it
  • Don’t use a damaged arrow
  • Don’t attach your haul line to the trigger, string, or limbs
  • Don’t remove your safety harness when in a tree stand
  • Don’t climb onto a tree stand or platform with the crossbow hanging by its shoulder sling

Preparing to Cock Your Crossbow

With that out of the way, let’s talk about what you should do before you cock your crossbow. Inspect your crossbow carefully, making sure the limbs don’t show any signs of cracking. Check for loose bolts, wiggling the riser and limbs to make sure they don’t move. Look for cracks or twisting in the x-bow’s limbs. You should also carefully inspect your bowstring for signs of wear or separation of the serving, especially in the center where you nock the arrow.

Next, inspect your arrows. Look for any splintering or bending in the shafts, and make sure your field tips or broadheads are securely attached. If you’re about to climb into a tree stand, ensure the broadheads are firmly seated in your quiver.

Cocking Your Crossbow With a Rope-Cocking Device

The most inexpensive cocking aid for a x-bow is the rope-cocking device. This is, essentially, a rope with a handle at either end and two pulleys with hooks in the middle. It reduces the actual draw weight you have to pull back by approximately 50 percent. That means that a 160-pound draw weight will only require 80 pounds of strength to pull back and cock.

Some crossbows come with an integrated rope cocking device. These work the same as the rope you purchase separately, except that you may not need to place the center of the rope around a notch or groove near the Picatinny rail for your scope.

To cock your crossbow using a rope-cocking device, first point the bow at the ground and insert your foot firmly into the stirrup of the crossbow. Place the safety switch in the Fire position, or the string won’t latch.

Next, place the center of the rope around the notch or groove at the back of your crossbow before the buttstock, usually just beneath the Picatinny rail for your scope. One of the handles and one of the pulleys should be on either side of the crossbow’s stock. Move the pulleys down the rope towards the string, and hook them over the string. Make sure each pulley is attached at an equal distance from the rail. Failure to do this will result in an uneven string, which is inaccurate and dangerous.

With the pulleys attached to the crossbow string, pull back firmly on the handles. The string will come up the length of the stock, so keep pulling until the string locks into place. Pull back with a smooth and constant movement; yanking the string could cause damage to the crossbow and injury to yourself.

Finally, make sure the safety is engaged in the On position.

If none of this makes sense, go ahead and watch the video below for a demonstration. Special thanks to Kullcraven Bushcraft & Survival for this excellent example of cocking (and uncocking) a crossbow using a rope cocking device.

Using a Hand Crank Aid to Cock Your Crossbow

Next, let’s talk about the hand crank cocking device. These tend to be more expensive, but some of the top premier x-bows come with them. This is basically a gearbox that you attach a handle to. A rope extends from either side of the cranking device, and attaches to your bowstring. It dramatically reduces the amount of effort required to cock the crossbow. In many cases, it will only require less than 10 pounds of cranking strength to fully cock your x-bow using a hand crank cocking device.

First, point the bow towards the ground and place your foot firmly into the crossbow’s stirrup. Make sure the safety is in the Fire position, and then attach the crank to the cranking device. Follow your owner’s manual for the specifics of this.

Next, release the spool (following the owner’s manual instructions), and pull the rope with its hooks out until you reach the string. Latch the hooks around the string, and make sure each hook is an equal distance from the flight deck.

Many hand cranking devices have a lever or “paw” that you have to flip to engage the crank handle. Engage it, and then start cranking. It won’t take much effort, so just keep turning the handle until you hear two clicks indicating that the string has engaged fully into the trigger, safety, and anti-dry-fire mechanisms.

Now, make sure your safety has engaged into the On position. Remove the hooks from the string, releasing the “paw” or lever if necessary to get some slack. Reengage the lever, and crank the string until it’s engaged in the buttstock of your crossbow.

If you want to see this in action, view the video below. This is for a Barnett Ghost 350, but the process is relatively similar for all hand cranking devices. Special thanks to Michael Stoner for the excellent demonstration.

Loading an Arrow on Your Crossbow

Whether you use a hand cranking or rope cocking device, your next step is to load an arrow. Remove your foot from the stirrup, and life the crossbow into a horizontal position. Make sure you aren’t pointing your x-bow in the direction of anybody or anything you don’t intend to shoot. Also ensure that your fingers are nowhere near the string or trigger.

Take an arrow from your quiver, and give it one final inspection. Slide it along the flight rail until the nock goes under your anti-dry-fire mechanism and rests firmly against the crossbow’s string.

Shooting Your Crossbow

Now, hold your crossbow like you would a rifle. Take careful aim at your target through the scope or sight pins, and relax yourself. Still keeping your finger away from the trigger, make sure you are ready to shoot your target and then slide the safety to the Fire position.

Keep your eye on your target, and place just your fingertip on the trigger. Pull back, gently but firmly, on the trigger until it breaks. Some shooters will take a deep breath and slowly let it out as they pull the trigger. Once the trigger breaks, your crossbow string will release and your arrow will fly down the rail and towards your target.

Decocking Your Crossbow

Should you need to decock your crossbow, there are two generally accepted safe ways to do so. The safest method is using a decocking arrow. This is a strong arrow with a blunt end instead of a field point or broadhead. Point it towards the ground, away from any rocky terrain, and fire the decocking arrow into the ground.

The other method to decock a crossbow is using a rope cocking aid. This method is easier demonstrated than explained, so check out the video below for directions. Yes, this is the same video from the demonstration on using a rope cocking device, but I’ve set the video to begin at the decocking process.

Performing Maintenance on Your Crossbow After You’re Done Shooting It

There are a few steps you want to take to keep your crossbow in top working order. You should perform these steps after each time you have your crossbow cocked, whether you fired it or not.

  1. Wax the String and Cables: If you don’t have string wax with your crossbow, make sure to purchase a tube. Apply the wax to the length of the string/cables, with the exception of the center section just above the flight rail. Once applied, rub it in using your fingers.
  2. Lubricate the Rail: Next, apply two drops of rail lube to the middle of the rail. Once again, if this didn’t come with your crossbow, make sure to purchase some. Spread the lube rail across the entire length of the flight deck with your fingers. Never use a petroleum jelly-based lubricant. Make sure you purchase actually rail lube.
  3. Lubricate the Trigger Box and Other Metal Components: Apply a drop or two of lubricant to the trigger box, along with any visible mounting bolts (like the ones connecting the riser to the stock). If your x-bow is a compound model, also apply lubricant to the wheels/axles. This prevents corrosion and ensures that everything moves smoothly.
  4. Clean Your Scope Lens: Preferably, use lens cleaning wipes for this. You might not need to clean the scope lens after every use, but you should do so whenever you notice that your view is getting obstructed or if you accidentally place your finger on the lens.
  5. Get Rid of Dirt: Dirt can really gum up your rail or any other connection point in your crossbow. Use a can of compressed air and spend two or three minutes spraying down your rail, trigger box, and any other nook, groove, or connection point.
  6. Re-Tighten the Bolts: Periodically, you’ll need to check and re-tighten the bolts attaching the stirrup, the limbs to the stock, the quiver mount, and anything else you attached to your crossbow. Be sure you always have the right screwdriver or hex key with you whenever you’re shooting your crossbow. After every 50 to 100 arrows fired, re-tighten all of the bolts.

Enjoy Your Crossbow

That’s about it, folks. That’s everything you need to know about cocking, shooting, and maintaining your crossbow. If you follow the advice here, your x-bow should last for many years.