Crossbow Guide -

Interested in learning about Crossbows? Read this beginner complete guide

Want to learn more about crossbows? This article will introduce you to crossbows, what they are and what the different parts are. You will also learn how to cock a crossbow, as well as aiming and shooting. There are also links to different crossbow buying guides.

If you have started thinking about using and getting a crossbow, it can be a minefield. If you are completely new to using crossbows then initial it can be a little daunting. I have written this guide to hopefully make it a little more clearer and also help answer some of the most common questions when it comes to owning one.

When I first looked into them, I was very confused with all of the different parts. This has all been answered, as well as how to cock a crossbow manually or with a tool. It can also be somewhat confusing on which one to get, you will find a number of buying guides that will help you find the best crossbows for you and for your needs.

Let’s get started!

What is a Crossbow?

A crossbow is similar to a bow in that it is a ranged weapon, however instead of held like a bow it is mounted on a hand held frame very much like that of a gun. It shoots projectiles known as bolts, which are very similar to arrows, although much smaller.

what is a crossbow - A complete guide -

They was developed in medieval times but was actually first invented in China. They came from the need to get more of their soldiers to be able to shoot projectiles, without having to learn archery. Using a bow and arrow did require a lot of skill and strength, therefore many archers were trained up from a very young age.

This ended to some degree when the crossbow was invented as it was very easy to use and didn’t require any specific training. They were also very cheap to make and didn’t require too much strength to fire.

The Use Of Crossbows Nowadays

With the invention of crossbows, they were widely used in warfare and distance shooting. They are now used mostly for crossbow hunting and target shooting, they are still used in some military groups but not in actual combat. They are now used more in terms of accessory, for example attaching string to the bolts and using them to shoot rope to form a zip line. This is very useful when it comes to travelling through difficult terrain.

Interestingly crossbows are also used a lot within the fishing industry, they allow research teams to “tag” sea creatures from a distance. Doing this helps them to monitor the sea life, and keep track of specific creatures.

Crossbow Hunting

One of the most common uses of crossbows in this day and age is hunting. Many hunters like using them due to the bolts being reusable, unlike bullets. Firearms tend to take the foundations of hunting away, not as traditional as a bow and arrow but a crossbow helps bring the thrill back to hunting.

The main benefit of using them is because you can take down bigger game such as elk and moose. If you was to use a bow such as a recurve bow or compound bow, you would need to have a high draw weight.

The Different Types Of Crossbows

Just like with bows, there are also different types of crossbows. Each has their own pros and cons, understanding the types is useful to know which is most suitable for you and your needs.

Recurve Crossbow

Pros and cons to using a recurve crossbow |

The recurve crossbow is very similar to the bow, in that the limbs curve away from the archer. The design is often simple and incredibly easy to use. Compared to the compound crossbow, the recurve does tend to be larger and also heavier. Generally the noise levels are fairly low and the strings are easy to change.


  • ​Simple To Use
  • ​Quiet
  • ​Easy To Maintain


  • Larger & Heavier 
  • Less Accurate
  • Not As Powerful as a Compound Crossbow


Compound Crossbow

Pros and cons to Compound CrossbowsLike the compound bow, the crossbow is taking on more modern tech. They are designed to be able to cock the bolt easier, have additional safety features. They tend to be chosen by hunters because they are lighter, smaller and offer much more power.


  • ​Smaller
  • ​Lightweight
  • ​More Powerful
  • ​Easier To Cock


  • More Expensive 
  • Louder Than Recurve Crossbow

Parts Of A Crossbow

The parts of a crossbow might vary depending on if you have a recurve or a compound crossbow. It’s worth understanding the different parts though.


The riser is often made from aluminum as it needs to be strong but then at the same time needs to be lightweight. It is what the limbs of the crossbow are attached to. Different manufactures have their own design but they look very similar. They need to be able to allow the arrow/bolt to fully pass


The limbs attach to the riser and are flexible, they will blend when the crossbow is cocked. They are usually made from fiberglass or in many cases carbon fibers as this material is strong but is also lighter.


Cams are used in compound crossbows, they are used to help increase the amount of energy used in shooting the arrow. Resulting in the arrow being shot further and faster.


The cable is what connects the two cams together. They are often made from synthetic fibers that are very high strength.


You will struggle to shoot a crossbow with the string. It is fastened from one limb to the other. They are made from high strength fibers.


The barrel is also known as the flight rail and is what connects the riser to the trigger mechanism. It is used to help support the arrow, which is known as the flight groove or arrow groove. The foregrip is found on the underside of the barrel. Like the riser it is normally made from aluminum but might also have plastic which has been strengthened with fiberglass.

Fore grip

The foregrip is the area that you would use to hold the crossbow in order to keep it steady and prevent it from shaking.


The sight is what you will use to look through and aim. These can be upgraded so overtime you can get a better sight for your needs. They will usually have a pin to focus on or use a scope.


The trigger like on a gun is what releases the arrow/bolt and fires the crossbow. If the safety is on then the trigger will not fire, if you have an arrow cocked but you are not shooting then you need to keep the safety on.

How To Shoot A Crossbow

Shooting a Crossbow in 4 steps |

Looking to find out how to actually shoot a crossbow, below are 4 steps to show you. It is actually incredibly easy to shoot, the challenging thing that puts some people off is actually Cocking the crossbow.

1 - Cock the Crossbow

Cocking the crossbow does take a little learning, with practice you will soon find it easy enough. There are two ways to cock a crossbow, manually and using a cocking tool.

If you want to do it manually you need to place a foot in on the front of the bow on the stirrup. You then pull the string back until its cocked. You do need to make sure it is pulled back evenly. This can be tough as the draw weight is 150lbs, and if not done even will impact on the shot as the aim will be off.

A tool known as a rope cocker can make it much easier, it works as a pulley system. You simply place the tool into position, foot in the stirrup and pull on the cockers pull handles. This will then cock the crossbow and your ready to go.

The downside to these tools is that they take longer to cock the crossbow, if you are in a hurry then you will need to know how to manually do it. Some crossbows have a built in crank system, which engages and when turned cocks the crossbow.

2 - Loading the Bolt

Now that it is cocked you need to load it with your arrow/bolt. To nock the arrow to make sure its in place, you need to put it on the barrel of the crossbow.

3 - Aim

Generally you would use either a pin sight or a mount scope that is used to aim. Look through the sight at your target, depending on the method you use would determine how to aim. The pin target you would need to position the pin at your target, scopes will normally have a crosshair to look through.

4 - Shoot

Now you have found your target and your aim is on, hit the trigger and making sure your target is still in sight and watch the arrow shoot. You will soon hear the release and feel the bolt fly through the air.

Be warned you may feel some recoil, keep the crossbow in line with your target to avoid impacting the aim of your shot.

Common Questions

Interested in crossbows, below are the most common questions I have received. Hopefully these will answer your questions, if you have any additional please do email me

Are crossbows safe, can they fire by mistake?

All crossbows will come with a safety catch, this does prevent firing when you don’t mean to. This safety will keep the trigger from being able to be pressed. As soon as you remove the safety then it can be fired, so pay extra attention as to where you aim the crossbow.

How much does crossbows cost?

The price does vary depending on the crossbow and the brand. For a decent one you will be looking to spend between $500 and $2500. You can get them for less than $500, however the quality also decreases and you may not get as much value for your money.

Bows are designed for different sizes, are their crossbows suitable for children or people of small frames?

Unlike bows, crossbows are normally suitable for all sizes. The difference is the actual draw weight, as long as a child can crank the crossbow then they would be able to use it. Some may need to use a tool BUT more often than not a child will be able to draw and cock a crossbow just fine.

How does the arrow compare between a bow and a crossbow?

The arrow is actually called a bolt and not an arrow. They are often thicker than normal arrows as well as being shorter. They are normally around 4-6 inches shorter than compound bow arrows.

Can I get a scope?

Some crossbows do automatically come with a scope, if yours don’t then you could purchase one to add it. These do normally cost around $80-$100.


Adam has been enjoying the sport of archery since 2010, intially getting the bug for it whilst on holiday and trying it out in an activity center. Since his very first eperiance of holding a bow and arrow, he fell in love with it and can now be found at the range or in the great outdoors as often as possible.

His main go to bow type is a recurve but he loves shooting from compounds as well. Adam created The Archery Guide as a way to help others get into this great activity and to share his knowledge/experiences.