Crossbow hunting is a fun and relaxing sport. However, because bow hunting lacks the noise and drama of rifle hunting, it is all too easy to forget the inherent dangers. Despite their elegant and quiet operation, crossbows are extremely powerful weapons that can easily become deadly if the proper precautions aren’t taken. Although entire books could be devoted to the nuanced safety details of hunting, there are a few crossbow safety tips that can prevent your next hunting trip from devolving into a nightmare.
Don’t Overlook The Uncocked Width of Your Bow
Modern crossbows are remarkable feats of engineering. In just a few decades they have become faster, lighter, and more powerful. Beyond these advances, they have also become significantly more compact. One of the dimensions that is often used as a key selling point is the width of the bow when cocked.
A narrow bow has numerous advantages. They’re easier to carry, easier to maneuver in tight blinds, and easier to balance. However, these weapons are only narrow when cocked. Once the crossbow is either unloaded or fired, the natural width of the limbs returns. This poses a couple of significant risks.
As a basic level, you must be conscious of the width of your bow when maneuvering it through a dense area. Accidentally knocking your hunting partner or getting caught on a low-hanging limb could pose a danger to you and your bow. More significant is the risk of the limbs striking something while you’re firing your weapon. If you are hunting or practicing in particularly close quarters, always leave sufficient room for your bow to return to its resting state. The limbs move quickly while the bow is firing, and having them strike a person or object can be a potentially dangerous mistake.
Don’t Lose Track of Your Foregrip Hand
There are a lot of steps to consider every time you fire your bow. You have to load the weapon, line up the shot, account for wind, and many more factors. If you are hunting, you are likely fueled by the thrill of the chase, and it is easy to get caught up in the moment. With every element running through your mind, it is easy to fire your bow without making sure your hand is clear of the path.
Although many modern crossbows have a safety barrier on the foregrip to prevent your hand from straying into the flightpath, they are not a guarantee of safety. Hunting requires a variety of positions and grips, and it is very common to rest your bow on a log or even to use your hand as an impromptu mount. This poses a problem, as it becomes extremely easy to lose track of your location and strike your hand with limbs, bolt, or string. At best this will be a painful lesson that likely ends your hunting day. At worst it may result in a permanent injury.
Don’t Carry a Cocked Crossbow with a Loaded Bolt
Modern crossbows are chocked full of safety features, making archery of all kinds safer than ever. One key feature is an “anti-dry fire” mechanism, which makes a bow impossible to fire unless a bolt is loaded. This feature serves two purposes. First, it protects the bow itself. Firing without an arrow puts a lot of unrestrained stress on the crossbow and can damage or weaken the frame and mechanism. Further, dry firing poses a risk to the operator because it can cause the weapon to jolt or break.
Once a bolt is loaded, this firing safety is eliminated, making the crossbow exceptionally easy to fire. Thus, it is perfectly acceptable to pre-cock your crossbow before you head into the woods. However, never carry your crossbow any meaningful distance with a loaded arrow. Save this step until you’re ready to fire. Your friends, bow, and feet will thank you.
Use a Rope to Pull Your Bow into the Treestand.
If you hunt from a treestand, it may be tempting to simply sling your crossbow over your back to carry it into the stand. While this seems like an obvious choice, it can actually lead to some dangerous situations. If your crossbow is un-cocked, carrying it up to a treestand on your person can cause the bow to get snagged on obstacles, causing you to lose your balance or footing. Further, if you were unfortunate enough to take a tumble, it is hardly a soft object to fall on.
If your crossbow is cocked, however, the danger is significantly more prevalent. A cocked crossbow contains a tremendous amount of pent up energy. If this were accidentally released while climbing, the results could be fatal. Given these risks, it is better to simply play it safe and pull the bow up using a hoist rope.
Properly Index and Seat The Nock
Arrows can be bought with a wide variety of nock-styles, and it is not always clear when they are seated properly. Further, many nocks require a specific orientation, and won’t seat fully unless the arrow itself is indexed correctly. Failing to properly seat your arrow’s nock can become a problem very quickly. The best case scenario is for the arrow to simply receive less power from the bow than you intended. This delay in firing can cause you to undershoot your target, wasting a shot.
The consequences can be much more significant, however. A poorly seated nock can cause the string to become dislodged from the bolt and fly down the glide path past the arrow. This is actually a much worse situation than a simple dry-fire, because the string may hit another part of the arrow. This can break the bolt, bend cams or limbs, or even eject strings. If you don’t want trouble to come nockin’, make sure it’s properly seated.
Use a Quiver for Broadhead Arrows
There are more varieties of arrowheads available than ever before. One of the most popular styles is the broadhead, which is a sharpened version of the traditional wide-V style. These are popular because their extremely sharp leading edges result in great penetration into animals, making for a cleaner kill. However, the sharpness of these tips is nothing to be toyed with. It is all too easy to receive a significant cut or worse from a mishandled broadhead arrow. To prevent this, always use extreme caution when loading or unloading a broadhead. Further, always keep them in a protected quiver when not in use.
Crossbow safety tips don’t need to be complicated. Yet, so many of the dangers are tragically easy to overlook. Done properly, crossbows are a safe and fun hobby. However, even a moment of absent mindedness can quickly ruin a hunting day or worse. Even though they are easy to use, crossbows are still dangerous weapons that demand respect.
Thankfully, crossbow safety is a lot like arrows: you just need a few basic tips. Eventually these processes will become second nature, simply another line in your mental checklist. Until then, use caution, be safe, and most importantly, have fun.