Every year more and more states are legalizing crossbow hunting during archery season for deer. This means that we have a better opportunity to put meat in the freezer every year.
Hunting with a crossbow may seem intimidating, but it is far from it. Once you get used to the process, hunting deer with a crossbow is a nice middle ground between vertical bow hunting and hunting with a rifle.
In this article we will cover the best way to get started with a crossbow and how it will benefit you when hunting deer.
Chapter 1: Why Deer Hunt with a Crossbow?
I am guessing that you are either used to using a vertical bow or a rifle for deer hunting if you are reading this article. However, most states limit your use of these weapons for deer hunting.
This limit affects your ability to put meat in the freezer. Here are the reasons you need to be deer hunting with a crossbow:
1.1 - Weight Distribution
The most important reason I have for using a crossbow for deer hunting is weight distribution.
A rifle puts most of the weight at the point of the rifle making it hard to get a solid bead on a target. A vertical bow does the same thing, but also requires you to strain your dominant shoulder pulling and holding the bow string.
A top crossbow eliminates both of these issues. The primary advantage is that you can secure a crossbow at your shoulder and then support the weight with both hands.
The weight is more evenly balanced so you will have less trouble holding crosshairs on a target.
In addition, a crossbow weighs less than a rifle making it a more stable weapon. This means you will typically be more accurate with a crossbow versus a rifle or vertical bow.
1.2 - Scopes
One of the biggest advantages of using a crossbow for deer hunting is a scope. Vertical bows must use either pin sights or crosshair sights. Both are non-magnification sights that require you to use your own eyesight for targeting an animal.
A scope offers magnification that allows you to target the kill zone of a deer more effectively.
While I used open sights for most of my hunting experience, I am now sold on the benefits of a scope.
1.3 - Limited Movement
A deer’s eyesight is primarily based on movement. They have issues seeing colors, but even the slightest movement can spook a deer. The placement of eyes on a deer allow them to see almost 360 degrees.
The action of standing up and drawing the string of a vertical bow is enough to spook a deer. However, a drawn crossbow can be pulled up and aimed with minimal movement
I actually have made every crossbow kill I have made with a seated shot. This makes the crossbow a much more effective killing weapon.
1.4 - Accuracy
Crossbows give you an added arrow speed in most cases. This means that you have a longer range and more accuracy.
The crossbow will more accurately kill any deer. The added arrow speed also means more killing power. The arrow will penetrate deeper to create a more lethal wound.
1.5 - Maneuverability
A crossbow is smaller and lighter than a vertical bow. This means it will be easier to move in and out of brush.
It also means that you can traverse brush with less resistance. It makes the hunting process easier in every way.
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2.1 - Recurve Crossbows
This is the crossbow I started on and actually the one I use to this day. Recurve crossbows are light and efficient, but they do make some noise when fired.
I have added some noise dampeners to reduce the noise. However, they are lighter than compound crossbows.
2.2 - Compound Crossbows
This is the most popular type of crossbow. They have flywheels in place to reduce resistance and increase arrow speed.
Typically, compound crossbows are going to shoot bolts at a higher arrow speed with more killing power.
They have a smoother release, so string noise is not a huge issue. They also allow you to draw back the string easier to lock it in place.
2.3 - Reverse Crossbows
This is a design of which most people are completely unaware. It has crossbow arms facing out away from the shooter attached around the trigger location.
Reverse crossbows are more expensive, but they provide more power and more overall balance. This means a more accurate shot and a more powerful kill shot.
Chapter 3: Bolts and Tips for a Good Kill
You have several options when it comes to bolt and tips for crossbow hunting deer.
You always want to start with field points for practice. These have a smaller profile and are easier to remove from a target. When it comes to bolts you have a few options:
3.1 - Wooden Bolts
These bolts are flexible and strong but are more likely to break when faced with impact. They will do the job, but my preference is to go with a different material type.
3.2 - Aluminum Bolts
These bolts are strong and lightweight, but they have the tendency to permanently bend when they hit a hard target. This could happen when a bolt hits bone in a deer. Once bent, these bolts are completely useless. However, they offer a weight that equates to severe killing power.
3.3 - Fiberglass Bolts
These bolts are lighter offering more accuracy due to higher arrow speed. They can also take a beating and keep going. Fiberglass arrows will flex with impact making them much more durable than other types of bolts.
3.4 - Fixed Tips
Fixed tip points are the most common type for vertical bow hunters. I tried these tips with my crossbow bolts and found that I was missing my target by as much as two feet.
The torque and wind resistance made my bolts fly erratically. I could not use fixed tips on my crossbow bolts.
3.5 - Mechanical Tips
I switched to mechanical tips and was on point. These are broadheads that only deploy once a target is hit. This allows the points to fly straight just like a field head.
The ones I use are drawn in to the shaft with flares sticking out to catch the hide of the deer. This will then create a gash about three inches across so the animal dies quickly.
Chapter 4: Get Ready for the Hunt - Practice Before That
Practicing with a crossbow for deer hunting is very different from normal target practice or target practice with a vertical bow.
There are several changes that need to be made if you are used to target practice in any other way.
If you spend just a little time practicing with your crossbow, you can be sure you will be ready when a deer comes along.
When I purchased my first crossbow, I knew very little about the differences. Between the broadheads, the targets, and the maintenance of the crossbow, I was not prepared. Here are the most important points for crossbow practice for deer hunting.
4.1 - Do Not Over Practice
When practicing with a vertical bow, it is vital that you practice on a regular basis. This is intended to strengthen your draw arm for a longer draw, and to strengthen your other arm for more stability.
When I hunted with my vertical bow, I was practicing three times a week for months. Then I practiced five times a week the month before bow season. However, this is completely different with a crossbow.
It requires no draw strength, and stability is much easier because of your stock, balanced weight, and using both arms for stability.
In addition, bowstrings on crossbows will not last nearly as long as a vertical bow. You should practice just enough to sight in your scope and make some consistent shots.
4.2 - Care for Your Bowstring
As stated above, crossbow bowstrings are not going to last nearly as long as vertical bowstrings. This is especially true for recurve crossbow strings.
It is estimated that a recurve crossbow string will last around 100 shots before it starts to fray.
- One way to care for your bowstring is to never fire your crossbow without a bolt present. This means you will need an unloading bolt to release the string when you are done deer hunting at the end of the day.
- Also, you should wax your entire bowstring and anywhere it comes in contact with the frame after every five shots. You can get bowstring wax online or at any archery shop.
- Finally, you may want to bring a backup bowstring just in case it starts to fray while you are hunting or practicing.
4.3 - Use a Crossbow Target
Before you purchase a target for practice, check the rating on it. Crossbows put out more power than most vertical bows.
You will notice that most targets will be rated for either a vertical bow or a crossbow.
This is because crossbow target practice on a vertical bow target could result in your bolts getting buried up to the fletching, or they could pass completely through the target.
It can ruin your bolts, they could get lost, and it is not a safe way to practice. In addition, for crossbow deer hunting you want a target that is designed for both field tips and broadheads.
The wrong target will cause your broadheads to get stuck or possibly break.
Broadheads are not cheap, so take the time to purchase a target rated for both types of tips.
4.4 - Practice with Broadheads
While you should initially sight in your crossbow scope and get some practice rounds with field tips.
Field tips are ideal for most practice as they are easy to remove and there is no chance of cutting yourself. However, many broadheads will fly differently than field tips.
This is because of both weight and wind resistance. If you can, practice with field tips with the same weight as the broadheads you will use.
Then a few weeks before deer season you should switch to broadheads and practice again.
You may need to adjust your scope, or you may find that the broadheads you choose are not accurate at all.
As I stated above, I had this experience myself. My first season with my crossbow I switched to practice with my fixed blade broadheads.
I was missing the bullseye by quite a bit at 30 yards. I ended up purchasing mechanical broadheads and was much more accurate.
4.5 - Practice from Your Stand
Most people skip this step. However, practicing from your stand is important for several reasons.
One is that you will be shooting down on your target from a tree stand. This changes the distance and angle of your shot, so you will need to make adjustments for this type of shot.
You also may be shooting through a small window from either a treestand or a ground blind.
In a tree stand you may have other trees or branches obstructing part of your view.
In a ground blind you literally have windows through which you are shooting. This is much different than target practice at an open range.
In addition, you want to shoot from different body positions. For example, practice from a seated position, from your knees, or at an extreme angle.
The last crossbow shot that I used to kill a deer was from a seated position in a tree stand, and the angle of my shot was about 160 degrees off from my normal shooting angle.
Chapter 5: Setting Up a Stand for Crossbow Hunting
Shooting from a treestand is not as straight as on the ground. It's actually create an "angle" shot.
These are some advice helping you to have more comfortable and precise aiming with your crossbow.
5.1 - Types of Crossbow Stands
There are three primary types of stands for crossbow deer hunting. The most popular is a tree stand.
You can buy a manufactured permanent stand or a manufactured climbing stand. The primary advantage is that deer rarely look up. Most of their food sources and predators are at eye level, so they have no reason to look up unless you give them one.
Therefore, you are less likely to spook a deer with any movement that you make. In addition, deer are less likely to smell you when you are sitting in a tree instead of on the ground. You can also build your own tree stand if you like.
Many people use a manufactured ground blind instead. These are basically camouflaged tents with several windows for shooting.
The primary benefit is that you are protected from wind and rain.
In addition, you do not have to expend time and energy climbing up and down a tree. You can also build your own ground blind with natural materials, but they do not work nearly as well.
5.2 - Stand Placement
The tree you use for a tree stand or the spot you choose for a ground blind should be carefully selected. Primarily, you want to be looking for deer sign.
A game trail is a great sign that deer have been coming through the area.
If you are specifically looking for that big buck, look for rubs on trees and scrapes on the ground.
If you will take a doe, tracks and scat are good signs to consider.
These days many hunters also use game cameras for months prior to hunting. These can show you exactly where the big bucks will be hanging out.
5.3 - Shooting Lanes
It is vital that you set up your stand in a way that gives you plenty of shooting lanes. While you can make predictions about where a deer will walk, you really never know until it happens.
The last thing you want is a bush or tree to be blocking your shot. I like to pick a location for a tree stand or ground blind that gives me at least three primary shooting lanes.
Basically, I only want my view to the rear to be blocked if anything. You may have to cut out some branches in advance to ensure you have these shooting lanes.
Keep in mind that you only need to see about 50 yards in each direction to consider it a shooting lane. It is nice to see further, but you will not usually be taking shots over 50 yards.
5.4 - Allowing for Movement
While a crossbow isn’t as large and bulky as a vertical bow, it is still wider than a rifle. This means that you need to account for rotating your crossbow to get the best shot possible.
If you set up your tree stand with a branch to your right, the arms of your crossbow will not allow you to move very far in that direction.
If you sit in your ground blind too close to the walls, you will hit the sides of the window when trying to take your shot.
5.5 - Comfort
It may not seem like it, but comfort in your stand is very important. If you are not comfortable, you will not stay in your stand as long.
In addition, you may be distracted when the deer comes along. Be sure you either have a good pad on your tree stand or a quality seat in your ground blind.
Besides that, having a place to put all of your gear can be very important in a tree stand. Many tree stands have small platforms with limited space for gear.
If you have a pack or individual items between your feet, it will be tough to adjust for a shot. Installing a hook on your tree or tree stand is a good idea to be sure you have a place that is out of the way for your gear.
Finally, tree stands with safety bars are not only safer, but they often allow you to take a rest for difficult shots. In a ground blind, you can take a bipod or stick rest to help with stability.
Chapter 6: Must-have Gears for Crossbow Deer Hunting
As stated above, there are a few accessories that you can take with you when crossbow hunting to ensure you are accurate and successful. Here they are:
6.1 - Rangefinders
Distance to your target is still very important with crossbow deer hunting if you want to be accurate. You will have cross hashes on your scope to represent different distances.
In addition, a rangefinder can give you an accurate estimate of how far out a deer is located.
Be aware that using a rangefinder takes up time that you could be using to aim. I prefer to step off distances in advance and mark them with something hunter orange.
6.2 - Tree Hooks
This is absolutely vital for crossbow deer hunting from a tree stand. You can hang your crossbow or a pack to keep them out of the way.
6.3 - Pull Up Cord
It is typically a bad idea to climb a ladder to your tree stand with your loaded crossbow on your back.
A better idea is to attach a pull up cord, climb the stand, get situated, and then pull up your crossbow.
It is safer, and there is less chance of dropping the crossbow and damaging it or scaring off the deer.
6.4 - Bipods and Stick Rests
These tools are designed to plant in the ground and give you a rest for a more stable shot from a ground blind.
Be sure to test your crossbow with these tools as you will need to find an ideal spot on the frame to rest your crossbow.
6.5 - Silencers
One issue with crossbows is that they can be louder than a vertical bow when firing. This is especially true for recurve crossbows.
As the bowstring snaps forward, the deer can hear the noise and duck under your arrow. This is called jumping the string.
There are several types of silencers you can buy to attach to your bowstring to reduce the noise.
7.1 - Take Several Bolts
This may seem obvious, but if you do not have a quiver it may be a difficult choice. However, it is not uncommon for a deer to stay put even after you fire and miss.
This gives you another shot, if you have another bolt.
7.2 - Take a Draw Device
Most crossbows are very difficult to draw with your bare hands, especially in a tree stand. Take something with you that makes this easier...
7.3 - Don’t Move
While hunting with a crossbow requires less movement than hunting with a vertical bow, do not get overconfident.
Keep your movement as limited as possible to reduce the chances of spooking the deer.
7.4 - Keep your Scope Zoomed
If your scope has several settings for the zoom, keep it on the highest setting. I have never had a deer so close to me that this became an issue. You can always adjust if you absolutely need to.
The Bottom Line:
I appreciate your reading our definitive guidebook to deer hunting with a crossbow. What do you think about this guide? Did I miss something?
Please leave your comments below. I'd love to hear from you.