Crossbows are a popular weapon of choice for hunters. Their ease of use and familiar transition from rifles reduces the learning curve on handling and using a crossbow. Still, a crossbow is a highly dangerous weapon that demands your utmost respect at all times.
In the hands of a beginner bowhunter, a crossbow can cause serious injuries or even prove fatal if it isn’t used in a safe and responsible manner. Reading your user’s manual from cover to cover before shooting a crossbow for the first time should be your top priority. Pay close attention to the information contained in the manual. Some of it is general information applicable to all crossbows while some are specific to your particular model. Your user’s manual offers useful tips designed to educate you on the parts of your crossbow, safe handling, and usage of the crossbow.
Before you go out for target practice or on the hunt, here’s a rundown of essential crossbow safety tips that every hunter should commit to memory. These crossbow safety tips pertain to three specific and relevant areas – Maintenance, Target Practice, and Hunting.
- Inspect Your Crossbow and Gear: Before and after you use your crossbow, you need to inspect the limbs, cams, string, cables and other essential components from top to bottom. Look for signs of wear and tear that could cause serious damage like the limbs to splinter or the string the snap.
- Protect Your Eyes: Always wear safety glasses when doing anything related to your crossbow. You need to protect your eyes when assembling, cocking, loading or shooting your crossbow. Your eyes are a part of your body vulnerable to serious injury if something goes wrong.
- Watch for Worn Strings: Always check the string and cables for wear and tear before you use your crossbow. If you find broken strands, get the damaged string or cables changed out before you shoot. Applying string wax on a regular basis will help keep strings in good working condition. Wax helps preserve the string and keep it from fraying. That’s important because a frayed string is prone to snap and potentially inflict damage on your crossbow.
- Avoid Extended Limb Loading: Leaving your crossbow cocked for indefinite periods is not a good idea. It creates tons of additional stress on the limbs, your string, and your cables. If the string and cables wear out under the continuous stress, it will cause your limbs to deflect too far forward when you shoot a crossbow bolt. This can inflict damage on your axles and cams and necessitate major repairs.
- Keep Bolts and Broadheads Safely Stored: Your crossbow bolts should always be secured in your quiver when not in use. Do not leave the sharp tips exposed or it will heighten the risk of incurring a serious injury. When your crossbow is not being used, store your broadheads in broadhead box in a secure spot out of reach from children and pets. This will prevent them from getting into the bolts and broadheads and hurting themselves.
Safe Target Practice
- Treat Like a Firearm: It doesn’t matter if you have a bolt nocked in your crossbow or not. Always treat it like a loaded gun. This means you should use the same muzzle discipline you would develop with a rifle, pistol, or shotgun. Never point a loaded crossbow anywhere other than your intended target. An accidental shot in the wrong direction could end up having tragic consequences.
- Know Your Surroundings: Make a mental note of your surroundings at all times. Keep other people behind you, so they don’t accidentally end up in the line of fire when you shoot. Always be aware of what is downrange from you. Take note of where private property is located and never trespass into hunting restricted areas.
- Keep Your Fingers and Thumbs Clear: Your thumb and fingers should never sit above the rail or inside the cables of a cocked or loaded crossbow. It is a recipe for inflicting a severe injury on yourself. When you pull the trigger, the string will hit your thumb or fingers with tremendous force. It won’t be a pretty picture for those digits if they are in the way. An impact from a crossbow can result in a severe gash or even an amputation. There’s no sense being careless and risking a life-altering injury.
- Use the Correct Bolt Length, Weight, and Nocks: It’s always important to follow all of the manufacturer’s recommendations for your crossbow to the letter. That means you should use bolts that are the correct length and weight for your model. Never shoot a bolt that’s shorter or lighter than the manufacturer’s recommendations. If a bolt is too light or too short, it can slip off the string and create a potential dry fire situation. Using the right nocks is important for the same reason since they keep the bolt secure before it is released.
- Never Dry Fire a Crossbow: Shooting your crossbow without a bolt is called a dry fire. That’s a really bad idea. Potential energy is stored when the string is drawn back. Shooting without a bolt means that stored energy has nowhere to go. The kinetic energy generated when the string is released redirects back into the bow. This can lead to the string snapping, the limbs cracking or splintering, and even the crossbow flying apart in some cases.
- Newbies Take Some Lessons: Read through your user’s manual. Spend some time with an experienced hunter. Take time to learn how to properly use a crossbow. From cocking to shooting to unloading, you can learn the safest ways to do things by observing someone who has already walked that ground before you.
Safe Crossbow Hunting
- Never Walk, Stalk, or Drive Loaded: Transporting a loaded crossbow is not a good a time saver. It is an accident waiting to happen. Never walk long distances, stalk prey over long distances, or drive to a hunting spot with a bolt loaded into the crossbow. It could accidentally discharge and inflict damage on you, other people with you, your vehicle, or the crossbow itself. Wait until you see your prey in a position where it is safe to shoot before loading a bolt.
- Hoist Cocked but Unloaded: If you hunt from a tree stand, always cock your crossbow before climbing the treestand. Never lean over in a stand to cock it or you could end up falling. Use a haul line that is tied to the butt end to lift it up the trunk. This will keep the crossbow facing the ground. Never try to scale the trunk while carrying your crossbow. Do not load a bolt before you hoist it, so you can avoid an accidental discharge or a dry fire if it slips off the string.
- Use a Cocking Device: Putting your foot in the stirrup and pulling the string back by hand can be strenuous. You can make it easier on yourself with a good crossbow cocking device. There are two options, a rope cocking device, and a crank cocking device. They reduce the draw weight and make it quicker and more efficient to cock your crossbow.
- Always Wear a Full Body Safety Harness: If you choose to hunt from a tree stand, always secure yourself in the stand with a full body harness with a safety rope. This will protect you from accidentally falling out while loading your crossbow. Such a fall typically proves fatal, given how far off the ground tree stands are usually located.
- Maintain a Clear Shooting Lane: Check your shooting lanes before you shoot a bolt. You want to keep obstacles out of the way of your limbs or your arrow’s potential trajectory. These items could clip your bolt or your crossbow and cause damage. It’s always important to see where your bolt is going, so nothing else is harmed by your shot.
- Allow for Full Limb Clearance: Clear all branches or other obstacles out of the path of your limbs. Contact with these items could send debris flying through the air that could strike and injure you or someone else. It could also crack or splinter your bow limbs.
- Always be Certain of Your Target and Surroundings: Be 100 percent certain of your target before you shoot. You should pay attention to where other hunters are located. Be aware of other people’s property in the vicinity. You should always have a good idea of what’s downrange of the direction where you plan to fire your bolt.
- Use the Trigger Safety: Never move your safety into the FIRE position until you’re ready to pull the trigger. Likewise, do not put your finger on the trigger until you’re ready to shoot.
- Practice Safe Unloading: When you’re done hunting, do not try to decock your crossbow by hand. The safest way to decock it is to shoot a field tip bolt into the ground or into a designated target. Never dry fire your crossbow in order to decock it.