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12 Ways to Be Safe Crossbow HuntingWords by Jeff Johnston
You’ll have peace of mind about crossbow hunting after reading this article.
By Jeff Johnston
I pulled PSE’s RDX 400 crossbow from its case and sat it on the table. People looked at it as if it were a snake. I put my boot in the stirrup, attached the hooks to the string, and pulled up until I heard a click.
A few in the crowd gasped. After I had the crossbow fully cocked but unloaded, I placed it back on the table. The young Boy Scouts collectively took a step back. Some squinted their eyes and cowered as if the “snake” were rattling.
“Who’s first?” I asked.
Only one crazy Scout eventually stepped forward.
While crossbows are perfectly safe tools for hunting if used properly, there is something innately frightening about 300- to 400-foot-pounds potential energy that’s held merely by a string and the thin sear of a trigger. While we face many more potentially dangerous stores of energy on a daily basis — just think about the potential danger in an automobile that’s facing you at a stoplight — a cocked crossbow can look a little like a human-sized mousetrap. But with a little familiarity and a few basic safety tips, there’s little to fear.
1. Fingers Down
You’ll hear those two word if you are shooting with an experienced crossbow hunter. The cocked crossbow string could lop off an errant fingertip in its path. That’s a nasty thought, but it’s something to be aware of. Manufacturers make all sorts of guards to help prevent fingers from popping above the flight deck. But the user needs to think “Fingers down” each time he readies himself to pull the trigger.
2. Safe Direction
Like a gun, a crossbow’s projectile is meant to kill. And it will do so if it’s pointed in an unsafe direction as it’s purposefully or accidentally fired. Information about recalls in our “Quick Hits” section reminds us that failure is possible with any mechanical device. As in all hunting and shooting sports, use basic common sense and the gunner’s safety rules as well. Check out the 3 Top Safety Rules at right.
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3. Check Screws before Shooting
Make sure all screws are tightened. Crossbows produce vibrations when shot, and those vibrations can loosen screws over time. Besides making excess noise, eventually loose screws will lead to parts falling off. And when parts fall off, the crossbow can become dangerous to the shooter and bystanders. Before shooting, wiggle the major components (the riser, string, scope, frame, stock and the fire-control assembly) to make sure all is tight. Thump the bow and listen for vibrations. Tighten any loose screws before shooting.
4. Lube It Up
Lube the barrel, string and every place the string and arrow contact the barrel. This isn’t about immediate safety, but rather about long-term use. Also make sure the cable slide, if the bow has one, is properly in place. There are a lot of spots where the string touches metal. If the string wears and parts, that’s a lot of energy that has to go somewhere. Avoid that. Most bows come with a stick of lube. If yours doesn’t, get a hold of some and use it. You’ll thank me years from now.
5. Don’t Cock in a Tree Stand
Always try to cock the crossbow on firm ground rather than in a tree stand. This means cocking the bow first (do not load it yet), then pulling it up to your stand with a rope.
Avoid placing your fingers “in the triangle of danger,” that is, the place where the string flies back when it’s released, when hauling it in. After you are seated with your safety harness on, only then should you load the arrow onto the cocked bow.
Some crossbows, like the new Ravins or TenPoints, have a crank-cocking option, which can be perfectly safe in a tree stand.
6. Load Your Crossbow Like This…
Expose your fingers to the least amount of danger possible while loading and shooting the crossbow. To load, grip the arrow with the thumb and forefinger toward the end of the arrow just behind the broadhead and place it on the barrel nearest the stirrup so that the thumb and forefinger never enter the triangle formed by the cams and cocking mechanism.
Keep the bow pointed in a safe direction so that if the bow does go off with you holding the arrow, the arrow will merely slide through your fingers rather than your fingers being seriously injured by the string. And if you read No. 2, it will fly off in a safe direction.
7. Limbs Splay
It’s one thing to hold a cocked crossbow and line up a shot. But it’s another when those limbs open up to their resting position. Understand that if you are next to a tree, those limbs fly out and will push you over if you’re not stable. That’s another great reason to wear a tree-stand safety vest in a tree stand!
Similarly, if you are in a ground blind, your limbs may smack the side and throw the arrow somewhere you aren’t expecting it to go.
8. Broadheads, Strings Don’t Mix
Use caution when loading and unloading arrows with broadheads on them. Your broadheads can sever the string in a heartbeat. Be aware that loading is often done at dawn and dusk before and after the hunt, so you won’t be able to see well. These factors mean that shooters must very careful, aware of the danger and methodical while loading and unloading arrows to and from the quiver, as one slip can ruin your hunt, or much worse.
9. Choose The Best Way to De-Cock
A safe way to let down the limbs after a hunt is to shoot the arrow into something like a target or ant hill. But to do this, you’ll need a practice arrow that’s fitted with a field point. When I crossbow hunt, I keep a practice arrow and a Block target in the back of my truck. When I reach the truck, I swap my hunting arrow for the practice arrow, place the target 10 yards away and shoot into it. But there are other means of de-cocking. PSE makes a special bolt with a heavy, blunt tip that can be safely shot into the ground. TenPoint makes a bolt you shoot into the air. Still other crossbows allow the shooter to de-cock the crossbow by letting the string down with a winch-style cocker or with one handle of the rope cocker. De-cocking the crossbow with just your hands is not advised, because most crossbows feature an anti-dry-fire device that mandates an arrow be loaded so that the string can be lowered. This means that the string must be held as the trigger is pulled — with an arrow loaded — to let the string down. I’ve done it, so take it from me that it’s much easier to simply shoot the bow.
10. Broken Arrows, Broken Hearts
Never use damaged arrows. Before shooting, inspect all your arrows for cracks or damage. Then, flex carbon arrows back and forth vigorously while looking and listening for cracks. Crossbows exert tremendous pressure on each arrow as it’s shot, and damaged arrows will frequently break during the shot. The broken arrow can flip back and harm you, and the bow can be destroyed in the process.
11. Avoid Stalking
You can stalk with a crossbow, but it’s not the best hunting tool for that kind of hunting. If you are moving through the woods, over mountains or belly-crawling through a field, it’s best not to load an arrow until the moment before you shoot. That can be awkward, and spook the animals — a lot like coming to full draw with a vertical bow can signal danger to the game. When moving with a crossbow, take a moment to makes sure no twigs, leaves or grit made its way into the rail, cams or arrow nock.
12. Finally, Read the Directions!
Before assembling a crossbow — most of them come in the box partially assembled — take the time to actually read the owner’s manual. Sure, I’m a man, and therefore I despise reading directions, but shooters must understand their crossbow’s assembly procedures, because some of them are specific only to that model.
In general, you must make sure the riser is attached to the frame correctly and double check to make sure the cables ride in the proper place under the string — most fit in a cavity within the frame and use a plastic cable slide to reduce friction and wear. But some of them do not. It is extremely important that the cables and slide are installed properly to avoid string wear.
Most crossbow companies pride themselves on their customer service, and know that they must be responsive to customers’ questions in case of future safety challenges.