Skip to main content

Crossbow Deer Hunting 101

Crossbow Deer Hunting 101

Just about everyone who owns a crossbow uses it to hunt for deer. Ready to get started?

By Aaron Carter

You might be wondering how to get into this exciting sport of crossbow hunting.

We've made it easy for you to take the next steps.


crossbow hunting
Unlike vertical bows, with a crossbow you can be hunting in a matter of days or weeks not months. (Photo by Aaron Carter)


Licenses

As with most laws, license requirements vary greatly from state to state. You may need to take a hunter education course too, depending on your age.

To ensure compliance, check out the website or regulations pamphlet of the game agency where you want to hunt.

If you're still unsure what's needed or just to double-check, call the game department and speak with its personnel; a conservation officer there will be able to provide an answer. If you don't know how to get in touch with your state game agency, go to fws.gov/offices/statelinks.html




To illustrate how states differ, let's look at Virginia and Nebraska.

To hunt whitetail deer with a crossbow in Virginia, you'll need three licenses: basic hunting, big-game hunting and archery. If hunting on state or national forest land, you'll need those permits, too. Completion of a hunter education program is required. You could be exempt under certain circumstances, like if you are over 65 or hunting on your own land. 

In Nebraska, though, you'll need to have successfully passed the Hunter and Bowhunter Education courses, and you'll need to purchase a hunting license, deer permit and habitat stamp. 


Don't assume that the guy helping you in the sporting goods section will provide you with everything you'll need. Understand that if you're shorted a license or tag, you will be held responsible, not the employee.

Although some states sell licenses or tags over-the-counter, others have draws and require ample preference points (earned from unsuccessful draws) to secure a coveted whitetail tag. 

Start researching the state requirements now. If you wait until the last moment, you might miss out. Some deer seasons, like those in California, are probably under way right now! And what's really cool about crossbows is that you can be out in the woods in just weeks.

Trending G&F Stories on Crossbows

Practice

It should go without saying that you must practice with your crossbow before heading afield after whitetail deer. Remember, a broadhead-equipped arrow kills via hemorrhaging — not via shock like a gun — so it's imperative that you can accurately place your shot every time you make one.

There is little margin for error in archery. Just like shooting with a vertical bow, the crossbow arrow, sometimes called a bolt, drops a considerable amount over distance — it's not a high-velocity bullet from a rifle.

Frequent practice allows you to quickly choose the proper aiming point to use for every distance within your maximum effective range, which is only determined (and extended) through practice. Shooting beyond your maximum range — the distance where you can consistently hit a small area of the target — is unsportsmanlike and reduces the chances of the animal being killed quickly and humanely.

Practice from an elevated position or the ground blind — wherever you'll be hunting. Moreover, through repetition you enhance trigger control and safety (not placing fingers in the string's flight path, for example), and, in general, you build familiarity with your weapon. 

Lastly, practice with the simple field tips but take at least a shot or two with your hunting broadheads to confirm you'll hit your mark when it counts.

Finding Land

If you don't have your own land to hunt, it can still pay dividends to simply ask a landowner if you can hunt private land. Offer to exchange work or provide assistance for permission. I've secured access by trapping and removing problematic beavers, for example. 

You could find your hunting heaven through joining a hunting club or leasing your own land. As for public land, opportunities exist in most states.

Game department websites are a great source for locating wildlife management areas (WMAs), also called game management areas in some states.

You can also locate walk-in areas, state and national forests, and military bases. Limited hunter quota hunts on national wildlife refuges and state parks are typically offered through reservation or draws and are often only open to crossbow and vertical-bow hunters.

Some of my best and most memorable hunts have occurred on these relatively unpressured public properties. 

Hunting land can be found but it requires legwork in order to be successful.

crossbow deer hunting
Ahhhh. Finally you've got the license, land, gear and practice under your belt. Now, where are those deer? (Photo by John Geiger)

Before Pulling the Trigger

Now that you have access, a license, permits and practice under your belt, you might think that you're ready to go hunting. Not yet. You need a game plan. You need to be able answer the following questions:

  • Once you kill, recover and tag a deer, do you know how to dress it (remove the entrails) to prevent spoilage?
  • How are you going to move it? Do you have a game cart or ATV, or can you drive a vehicle to it? Will you have to drag it? 
  • Are you going to butcher it or have a local processor package up your meat? 

None of this is rocket science, but you should be able to answer these questions before you go. 

As with most pursuits, there's a learning curve to hunting whitetails with a crossbow. Hopefully, this info helps ease the process and gets you in the field faster and better prepared.

Read more articles about Crossbows

GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.

Recommended Articles

See More Recommendations

Popular Videos

New for 2021: Excalibur Crossbow, BowTech Bows, TightSpot Quiver, Ripcord Rests, Black Gold Sights

New for 2021: Excalibur Crossbow, BowTech Bows, TightSpot Quiver, Ripcord Rests, Black Gold Sights

New for 2021 are several hunter-defined products, such as the Excalibur TwinStrike Crossbow, BowTech Solution and Solution SS Bows, TightSpot Pivot 2.5 Quiver, Ripcord Cage and Code Red X arrowrests, and Black Gold Pro FX and Pro Hunter HD sights.

A Bolt Action from Benelli?

A Bolt Action from Benelli?

We know what you're thinking: Isn't Benelli a shotgun company? Of course it is, but decades of shotgun manufacturing actually put Benelli in a unique position to redefine what a hunting rifle should be. Episode 1 reviews some company history to explain how this all came about.

New for 2021: Bear Redemption EKO, Legit RTH Compound Bows

New for 2021: Bear Redemption EKO, Legit RTH Compound Bows

Bear Archery's newest bows - Redemption EKO and Legit RTH - are light, adjustable and fast.

New for 2021: Hoyt RX-5, RX-5 Ultra, Ventum 30 and Ventum 33

New for 2021: Hoyt RX-5, RX-5 Ultra, Ventum 30 and Ventum 33

ATA 2021 NeDuring this video from the Archery Trade Association's New Product Premiere showcase, Bowhunter's TV Mike Carney visited with Evan Williams, pro staff manager for Hoyt Archery, to learn about the new RX-5, RX-5 Ultra, Ventum and Ventum 33 bows.w Product - Hoyt

See More Popular Videos

Trending Articles

Refined, durable and well-appointed to provide shooters and hunters with O/U shotguns loaded for performance at affordable prices.New for 2021: Mossberg Reserve Series Over/Under Shotguns SHOT Show

New for 2021: Mossberg Reserve Series Over/Under Shotguns

Game and Fish Staff - January 19, 2021

Refined, durable and well-appointed to provide shooters and hunters with O/U shotguns loaded...

Smart technology offers crossbow hunters instantaneous decision making capabilities.Field Tested: TenPoint's Vapor RS470 XERO Proves Itself on Ohio Hunt Crossbows

Field Tested: TenPoint's Vapor RS470 XERO Proves Itself on Ohio Hunt

Dr. Todd A. Kuhn - November 18, 2020

Smart technology offers crossbow hunters instantaneous decision making capabilities.

Expansion of Woodland Series targets continues fun, realistic way to practice.New for 2021, Rinehart's 1/3-Scale Moose Archery Targets ATA Show

New for 2021, Rinehart's 1/3-Scale Moose Archery Targets

Game and Fish Staff - January 07, 2021

Expansion of Woodland Series targets continues fun, realistic way to practice.

A new long-range hunting contender enters the fray.First Look: Winchester's New 6.8 Western Cartridge SHOT Show

First Look: Winchester's New 6.8 Western Cartridge

Drew Warden - January 19, 2021

A new long-range hunting contender enters the fray.

See More Trending Articles

More Whitetail

Finding rutting bucks on public land is a matter of identifying small parcels overlooked by the crowd.Picking Pockets for Western Whitetails Whitetail

Picking Pockets for Western Whitetails

Bob Robb - December 01, 2020

Finding rutting bucks on public land is a matter of identifying small parcels overlooked by...

Active-duty Navy chief hosts newbie friend on memorable archery hunt in Maryland.No Limits: Inspiring Amputee Shares Buck Fever with First-Timer Whitetail

No Limits: Inspiring Amputee Shares Buck Fever with First-Timer

Aaron Ritter - December 15, 2020

Active-duty Navy chief hosts newbie friend on memorable archery hunt in Maryland.

Use the correct whitetail vocalization, properly applied, to draw big bucks in.Calling All Deer: Right Call at Right Time is Key to Luring Bucks Hunting How-To

Calling All Deer: Right Call at Right Time is Key to Luring Bucks

Terry Madewell - November 30, 2020

Use the correct whitetail vocalization, properly applied, to draw big bucks in.

Convince a mature buck that an interloper has invaded his turf. Then use it against him.5 Intruder Tactics to Trick Whitetail Bucks During Rut Whitetail

5 Intruder Tactics to Trick Whitetail Bucks During Rut

Josh Honeycutt - November 18, 2020

Convince a mature buck that an interloper has invaded his turf. Then use it against him.

See More Whitetail

Magazine Cover

GET THE MAGAZINE Subscribe & Save

Digital Now Included!

SUBSCRIBE NOW

Give a Gift   |   Subscriber Services

PREVIEW THIS MONTH'S ISSUE Arrow

Buy Digital Single Issues

Don't miss an issue.
Buy single digital issue for your phone or tablet.

Buy Single Digital Issue on the Game & Fish App

Other Magazines

Special Interest Magazines

See All Special Interest Magazines

GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.

Phone Icon

Get Digital Access.

All Game & Fish subscribers now have digital access to their magazine content. This means you have the option to read your magazine on most popular phones and tablets.

To get started, click the link below to visit mymagnow.com and learn how to access your digital magazine.

Get Digital Access

Not a Subscriber?
Subscribe Now