Gun to Crossbow: Tips on Making the Switch

Posted on by Tracy Breen in Deer Hunting

More gun hunters are turning into crossbow hunters. Hunting with a crossbow is much different from hunting with a rifle. They both have a trigger and use a scope, but that is where the similarities end. A crossbow doesn’t shoot bullets; it shoots arrows. A crossbow can’t kill a deer at 200 yards; a rifle can. Although technology advancements have resulted in crossbows that are faster than before, at the end of the day a crossbow is still a crossbow.

For those of you making the switch from a gun to a crossbow, there are a few things you should consider before heading to the woods this fall with a crossbow.

Crossbow Tips

A Crossbow's Effective Kill Range

First, the effective kill range of most crossbows is forty or fifty yards. In capable hands, a crossbow can split a hair at 80 yards and beyond, but in a hunting situation it is best to shoot forty yards and in.

When hanging a treestand, it is best to have shooting lanes that are close and set up to create a shot opportunity that is within a reasonable distance. Doug Benefield from Illinois Connection Outfitters in Pike County, Illinois says one mistake he sees some hunters make when they are hunting with him is they treat a crossbow like a gun. “When I set a guy up for crossbow hunting, I tell him not to take shots beyond 40 yards. A deer can still jump the string of a crossbow. Many hunters think they can take extra far shots and be okay. That is not really the case. A crossbow is extremely lethal at short distances. Once you get beyond 40 yards or so, things can change in a hurry, Benefield explained.

Proper Shot Placement

Another thing to consider if you are new to crossbows is shot placement. Hunters can take a variety of shots that are fine when hunting with a gun, but will be questionable if you are hunting with a crossbow. Straight on shots, straight away shots, and deer that are quartering towards the hunter are all shots gun hunters can take and successfully put meat in the freezer. The reason these shots can work when gun hunting is because a bullet can do an enormous amount of internal damage, even if it misses the mark slightly.

This is not the case when hunting with a crossbow. Sharp quartering shots and questionable angled shots when taken with a crossbow often result in a long blood trail before recovering the animal or not recovering the animal at all. “I use a crossbow to harvest a few does from my properties each year. Like when I am bowhunting, I prefer taking 20-or 30-yard shots at does that are broadside. When taking broadside shots, we quickly recover the animal,” Benefield added.

Practice Differently than a Gun

The easiest way to ensure the shots you take result in a quick humane kill is to practice regularly with a crossbow. Joel Maxfield from Mathews, makers of the Mission line of crossbow, says hunters should shoot their crossbow as often as they would a vertical bow.

“A typical gun hunter only has to practice a few times before gun season and he is good to go. That isn’t the case when hunting with a crossbow. Buck fever can cause a hunter to jerk a trigger, pull too much or lift their head from the scope, resulting in poor shot placement or a complete miss. I suggest crossbow hunters practice often and practice at yardages that are beyond what they would take in the field, so they can become extremely accurate at a 30-yard shot on a whitetail. The more a person shoots in the backyard, the more familiar with the weapon they will be in the field at the moment of truth,” Maxfield noted.

Crossbow Practice from a Treestand

When practicing, it is best to practice from the treestand or blind you will be hunting from. “Crossbows are harder to maneuver than a gun, so practicing from a treestand or blind is a great way to prepare yourself for the woods. Putting a stand in the backyard, shooting, and learning how to hold it steady while in a tree is going to make being ready in the woods on opening day much easier,” Maxfield added.

A Solid Resting Point is a Must

A crossbow is not gun, so even moving a tiny bit when pulling the trigger can greatly impact the downrange impact point of the arrow. Being super steady is necessary when shooting a crossbow. There are two ways to make sure you are steady as a rock when shooting. Use a treestand that offers a large generous rail where you can rest the crossbow when shooting or use a tripod or monopod of some type if you are hunting from the ground.

As ground blinds and tower blinds become more popular, so do tripods. Most quality crossbows come with a tripod or monopod attachment. Once attached to one of these, a crossbow is rock solid. Whether you are old and shake a little bit or you are taking a youngster hunting, you will be as steady as a sniper if you use a tripod or monopod. When hunting from a Redneck tower blind the horizontal windows have a nice rest so you can easily keep the crossbow steady during the shot. You can also use a Blind Window Gun Rest to steady your shot.

Shooting a Cross Bow from a Blind

As we age, climbing into a tree becomes a chore. As a result, more hunters are choosing to hunt from the ground. Hunting from the ground can be very exciting. Most hunters who hunt with a crossbow from the ground choose to use a pop-up blind, bale blind or a box blind of some type. Keep in mind many crossbows are damaged each year when hunters shoot their crossbow too close to the blind wall. When the crossbow fires, the limbs of the crossbow smash into the blind wall which can ruin the limbs, put a hole in the wall of the blind, or cause the hunter to miss the animal they were shooting at. When hunting from a blind, back up and make sure there is plenty of clearance between the wall and the crossbow before shooting.

On a side note Redneck Blind's Buck Palace 6x6 360 Crossover Blind and the Trophy Tower 5X5 Crossover Blind have windows width designed wide enough specifically for crossbow and gun hunters. They allow crossbow hunters maximum room and maneuverability out of the windows to get that perfect angle for any shot.

Effectively Judging Distance

When hunting with a crossbow, you need to be able to effectively judge distances or use a high quality rangefinder. Just like when hunting with a vertical bow, if you misjudge the distance to a deer by 5 or 10 yards, it could mean the difference between a lung shot and a gut shot. Practice estimating yardages in the backyard and use a range finder as much as possible while in the woods. I use my rangefinder when I climb into my blind and make sure I know what trees on the edge of my shooting lanes are 20 yards, 30 yards and 40 yards.

Making the switch from a gun to a crossbow can be a fun and rewarding experience, but realize that hunting with a crossbow isn’t like hunting with a gun. It requires more patience and effort, but the payoff is often worth the extra effort.

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