Using and maintaining a crossbow safely may seem like common sense, but it’s easy to overlook details that can cause issues or even disasters. Having a mental checklist of things to watch for and do each time you cock your bow, put an arrow on the rail and shoot should be as routine as operating your vehicle or shooting a firearm.
Hunting and shooting any tool of the trade comes with inherent danger, which is why most outfitters have hunters sign waivers to participate in archery adventures. Most of us have taken some version of a hunter’s safety course, and we should carry the common-sense rules pounded into us for life. Unfortunately, crossbows are sometimes confused with toys and can be used without proper care and attention.
Crossbow safety is no laughing matter, and the energy stored in limbs and string is nothing to mess with. Crossbows can take your fingers off in the blink of an eye or shoot an arrow through the door of a modern vehicle. They are powerful, purposeful tools that demand respect.
Below are 10 safety tips to always remember.
1. Never walk or stalk with a cocked and loaded bow
Don’t believe everything you see on television. Crossbows are cool tools and are often featured in movies and TV shows, but the way Hollywood uses or portrays a crossbow is not reality. Only put a bolt on the rail when you are prepared to shoot.
2. Never leave your crossbow cocked for extended periods
Crossbow limbs store an incredible amount of energy and are designed to be cocked and under pressure for short periods of time. Never leave the limbs cocked overnight, and always discharge the bow at the end of the day. Make a habit of discharging your bow every time you take a break. Look at it as giving your bow a break. It will add life to your bow, as leaving a bow cocked for extended periods can cause cracks or breaks in the limbs.
3. Always make sure to properly seat your arrow to prevent dry-fires
Before shooting a crossbow, always make sure the nock of the bolt is in contact with the string when cocked. If there is a gap between the nock and string, the insane pressure and release of energy will blow your bolt apart, or the string will jump right over it. If the bolt doesn’t blow up, the limbs on your bow might. Many manufacturers have anti-dry-fire safeties to prevent such accidents, but it is always best to be aware of how any bow works.
4. Lessons for first-time users are critical
Never assume someone who is new to crossbows understands how they work. Regular shooters have a routine of checks to ensure the bow will operate safely so the shooter, and anyone around them, is safe. Crossbows are not toys and should only be introduced to someone new to them with proper handling and use instructions. It can be exciting to learn how to use crossbows but always balance it with safety. Hunter, shooter and archery education means long and successful enjoyment of the sport.
5. Keep your fingers out of the path of the string
The string of a crossbow moves so fast when fired it will sever anything in its path, especially fingers or thumbs. Most crossbows come with safety features designed into the stock or forearm, making it difficult to put your fingers and thumbs near the rail. However, every year people lose digits. When teaching someone new about crossbows, always have them handle the bow first, showing you how they would shoot it. If fingers get in the way during their demonstration, you can point it out before the bow is ever cocked and fired.
6. Uncock your bow safely
What is the safest way to uncock your crossbow? Shoot it! Trying to safely uncock a bow by letting the string down while pulling the trigger is a recipe for disaster. One wrong move and your crossbow will blow up, and you will likely end up with shrapnel throughout your body. Not good! Carry a bag target in the field or use a bolt or bolt designed to uncock your bow, but don’t flirt with disaster by trying to let your string down.
7. Inspections prevent exceptions
Regularly inspect your bow for maintenance issues like loose screws, frayed strings, movement in the limb pockets or cams, and wear on the rail. Handling, travel, regular use and changes in temperature can cause screws to loosen and cause your crossbow to be unsafe. Carrying a set of Allen keys and regularly checking screws will allow you to quickly become familiar with how your bow should look and feel in good working order. When something goes awry, you should be able to spot it right away.
8. Limb clearance prevents explosions
Being aware of your surroundings and ensuring that you have proper limb clearance when your bow is fired means the bow won’t get damaged and the bolt will go where you are aiming it. Before cocking your bow, take one of your bolts and use it as a measure for the width of your bow to the outside of the limbs or cams, making a mark or mental note as reference on the bolt.. You can then use the bolt as reference for the clearance you’ll need in a blind or stand, or when hunting in cover. A limb releasing its pressure when fired can explode when it contacts another object. If unsure, uncock your bow and see what clearance is needed to safely utilize the bow where it can’t meet anything.
9. Always use the correct nock for your bow
There is a reason crossbow manufacturers list the type of nock that should be used in their bows. The nock has to stay in contact with the string when fired, and it’s designed to do so under different physics with different bows. With the wrong nock, the string can jump over the back of the arrow, causing a dry-fire and damaging the bow and even injuring the shooter.
10. Worn strings are deadly things
The string on any crossbow only has so many shots in it before it fails in some way. Regular maintenance and waxing will prolong life, but if it starts to fray or show wear, it has to be replaced. If you aren’t certain how to change the string or your bow requires a bow press, take it to a professional to have it done properly. There are no shortcuts when dealing with strings that need to be replaced.
Crossbows are fun and efficient tools for shooting and hunting. Take the time to learn how to use them safely and responsibly. Owner’s manuals can be a wealth of information and should be able to answer any question you have. If not, don’t be afraid to call the manufacturer and ask. There are no stupid questions, just regret.
Safety is never an accident.