Cocking a Crossbow, the Right (and Wrong) Way

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Success on a hunt often comes down to the little things. A small variance like how you cock a crossbow can make the difference between bagging game and going home empty-handed.

Learning to cock a crossbow the correct way is important. An improperly cocked crossbow can cause significant accuracy problems when you fire a bolt. Developing a proper cocking technique will help you achieve consistent and accurate bolt flight. If a bolt is released with uneven energy, it will end up off-target downrange.

In this guide, you will learn the correct way to cock a crossbow, what mistakes to avoid while cocking, and how to use common cocking devices to make it easier to get the job done.

Basic Steps of Cocking a Crossbow

It takes practice and repetition to master any skill. Learning how to cock a crossbow is no exception to this rule. The same basic process applies to recurve, compound, and reverse compound crossbows alike. Cocking devices can make it easier to ready your crossbow and improve accuracy, but similar basic steps must be followed whether you do it manually or use a cocking device.

Step 1: Move the safety to the “fire” position

The safety is usually located on the side of your crossbow or can be found on the rear of the sight bridge.

Step 2: Place the ball of either foot in the cocking stirrup

When you’re manually cocking a crossbow, putting the ball of your foot in the stirrup will help prevent slippage while cocking.

Step 3: Pull the string back

Bend over the stock and manually draw the string back. Using a cocking device is also an option. Draw the string evenly along both sides of the barrel to the latching and safety mechanism until it is cocked in place.

Step 4: Engage the safety again

Once your crossbow is cocked, switch the safety off the fire position. Some models will engage the safety automatically. It’s very important to check your crossbow manual to see if you need to engage it manually before cocking your crossbow.

Crossbow Cocking Tips

Here are a few points to be aware of while cocking your crossbow:

Manually pulling back the string requires putting your hands, arms, legs and lower back into the pull. If you cock a longer recurve crossbow, however, you can’t simply bend over the stock to do it. You will need to lean to the side because the stock is too long for you reach the string.

If you cock manually or use a cocking device, you must take care to maintain the string in the same evenly centered trigger-latch position each time you cock. Mark the string with a marker on each side of the rail for a visual cue of a centered string.

This will foster consistent accuracy downrange. Using a cocking device rather than doing it by hand will make it easier to ensure consistent string placement.

Always keep the crossbow’s front end pointed in a safe direction downrange while cocking. You should follow this safety measure even if you do not have an arrow loaded, in case of an accidental dry fire.

Never switch off the safety unless an arrow is mounted in a shooting position on the crossbow and you are ready to shoot.

DON’T Do This While Cocking a Crossbow

Shooting straight every time requires you to cock the crossbow straight every time. When a crossbow is cocked and loaded, the serving must be centered so that equal lengths are on either side of the rail. Having it off center even by a fraction of an inch can mean that the impact point for your bolts will end up being off by several inches in one direction or another. Longer downrange shots will take your bolt more off-target.

Relying too much on your dominant arm can cause your serving to become off-center while cocking. Most people have a dominant arm, with more strength than the other, which can lead to that arm pulling the string faster, disrupting the balance. One solution to this problem is to mark the serving with a pen or marker on each side of the rail while the string is at rest. These marks will act as a visual guide as you pull back the string and help keep it equal on each side.

Never dry fire your crossbow just to practice cocking. If you’re going to cock the crossbow, plan on taking a practice shot. Dry firing nearly always causes severe damage to the crossbow. If you don’t want to fire a bolt, you need to learn to how to uncock the crossbow without damaging your bow. A rope cocking aid can help you uncock a crossbow without shooting it. It will absorb the force of the string when it is released, instead of having that energy redirected into the crossbow itself.

Cocking a Crossbow with Cocking Aids

Cocking a crossbow by hand can be tough if you deal with disabilities or other strength and mobility issues. Modern crossbows can feature draw weights exceeding 150 lbs., and it’s easy to misalign the bow while trying to pull back the string by hand.

Using cocking devices can make it easier to get your crossbow primed and ready for action. It centers the string better and requires less strain on your arms, legs, and back. Two popular cocking aids include rope cockers and cranking devices.

Rope Cockers

Rope Cockers operate like pulleys. Once you get the cocker into position and place your foot inside the stirrup, you pull the rope cocker pull handles upward until the string is cocked in place.

Using a rope cocker requires much less physical effort than cocking a crossbow by hand. It removes as much as 50 percent of the draw weight, which limits the strain on your muscles and joints. You get great cocking consistency with rope cockers and they also render dry fires virtually impossible.

One drawback with some rope cockers is that the rope is long. You may need to adjust the rope’s length to match your cocking stroke so that you don’t cock the bow crooked or risk a shoulder injury trying to pull the string back. Placing a guideline in the center of the rope will also help prevent crooked cocking.

Cranking Devices

A cranking device is essentially a winch. Some crossbow models integrate a cranking device into the bow itself. You can also get it as a separate device. To cock a crossbow using a crank, simply wind the handle until the string latches in place.

Much like a rope cocker does, a cranking device reduces the draw weight and physical strain that comes with manually cocking a crossbow. This lets you pull the string more evenly and ensure the serving is centered.

One drawback to using a cranking device is that it takes longer to set it up and pull the string back. If you are pressed for time, cocking a crossbow with a cranking device will slow you down enough to where you may want to consider a different option.

Conclusion – Why I Love Rope Cockers

Cocking a crossbow the right way comes down to learning correct habits and using the right cocking aids when necessary. This is why I love the simplicity and repeatability you get with a rope cocking aid. When you master cocking a crossbow with rope, you can count on enjoying optimal downrange performance and accuracy every time you fire your bolt.

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