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The Crossbow: An Alternative Weapon for the Modern Day

A crossbow, resembling something between a rifle and a bow, uses a fast string to launch projectiles—just as a bow does—but also has a stock and trigger like a rifle. Although we don’t know exactly when the crossbow was invented, they were discovered in Chinese graves dating back as early as 2500 B.C. The crossbow was also used by the Greeks in 5th century B.C.  The Greeks realized that there was a definite advantage to the crossbow over a traditional bow and this discovery revolutionized their success on the battlefield. The crossbow became the weapon of choice because of its versatility and accuracy.

Although the first crossbow doesn’t look anything like what they do now, early crossbows were constructed in much the same manner; primarily, they were bows mounted across wooden tillers or stocks. When the crossbow was fired, an arrow or bolt moved down a channel in the tiller/stock. Later, devices were built in to make it easier to draw the string back. One common device was called a stirrup and it was built on the front of the crossbow. This allowed the archer to brace the crossbow with a foot and draw the string with both hands. Some men used hooks attached to their belts.

The design of the modern crossbow has many improvements over the earlier design. Earlier crossbows were simple pieces of wood with ends that were connected by a bowstring. Modern bows have more effective shapes and are constructed out of better materials. As a result, they are much more accurate and far more powerful.

Crossbows versus Traditional Bows

Ordinary bows require a great deal of physical strength and training, where crossbows do not. With a traditional bow, the archer must draw, aim, and shoot in rapid succession. The longer it takes to aim, the more tired the archer’s arm becomes, which lessens his accuracy. If one uses a crossbow instead, he can draw the string, cock the crossbow, and then leave it cocked until the archer is ready to fire.

Another benefit to the crossbow takes the archer’s stature into consideration. If an archer is short in stature, it may be difficult for him to use a long bow and the crossbow then becomes a better option. If the archer doesn’t have a lot of upper body strength, drawing back a traditional bow can be difficult. Unlike a traditional bow, the archer’s size and upper body strength doesn’t come into play quite as much with regards to the crossbow. With a crossbow, an archer can use his thigh and buttock muscles (the body’s strongest muscle groups) to cock the crossbow. There are also tools available, like levers or cranks, available to him to increase his ability in this area. So basically, a crossbowman is able to use a more powerful weapon than a traditional archer with the same amount of physical strength.

How a Crossbow Works

Modern crossbows are usually made from very strong, lightweight materials like various woods, plastics, and even bone. They also have accessories such as adjustable stocks, scopes, and other attachments to make the use of the crossbow more efficient. Yet, they are still basically a bow and arrow that is operated by spring action. What happens when you draw a bow is that you pull one end of a spring and it stores elastic potential energy until you let go of it. Its potential energy becomes energy movement, which allows the spring to snap back to its original shape. The movement and energy of the spring action propels the arrow from the bow at a high rate of speed.

The amount of energy a bow can hold is called the draw weight. It is the amount of physical force required to draw the bow. A bow’s draw weight increases as the distance you pull the string back increases. The overall strength of a bow depends on how hard it is for an archer to pull the string back as well as how far back it can be pulled. Manufacturers call this bow energy, which is measured in foot-pounds, and arrow velocity, which is measured in feet per second.

There are several factors that affect a bow’s length and draw weight, and that will change the velocity an arrow will travel including its size, shape, and composition. As a result a simple short bow will not be as powerful as a simple long bow. Larger crossbows that a crossbowman aims from the shoulder are more powerful than smaller, handheld crossbows. Because some crossbows can have an arrow speed of 292 feet per second or more, it is absolutely critical that you know how to safely handle your crossbow.

Handling Your Crossbow Safely

The crossbow is a lethal weapon and it is important to follow assembly instructions provided with your crossbow. The crossbow is a weapon designed primarily for hunting large game, so it is fast, powerful, and it produces high energy. Therefore, care must be taken to handle a crossbow safely. Here are some safety tips:

  1. Before using your crossbow, examine it for worn cables and strings, missing strings, and loose or damaged parts. Never use your crossbow unless it is in top condition.
  2. The forehand grip on a crossbow is positioned to keep your thumb and fingers from getting injured. Never hold the forehand grip in a position where your thumb extends above the flight deck in the way of the strings. Always keep your fingers on the forehand grip above the flight deck so they don’t interfere with the string. Never have your hands or fingers positioned on the forehand grip where they are in front of the cable or string.
  3. Don’t cock your bow until you are ready to use it.
  4. Use the proper arrow for the model of crossbow you possess.
  5. Grip firmly when you cock your crossbow, otherwise the string can slip and cause serious injury.
  6. Never point at anything you don’t intend to shoot.
  7. When pointing at a target, make sure people are standing well behind you.
  8. Never release the trigger safety until you are aiming at your target. Crossbows have an automatic safety that engages as soon as you cock the bow. Some have a separate manual safety that you can engage yourself. Either way, the safety will keep you from firing the bow accidentally. However, once you release the safety, be sure your target is in sight.
  9. Never walk or hike with an arrow loaded in your crossbow.
  10. It is not safe to manually unload a crossbow. So if you don’t take a shot, carry old arrows with a field tip and fire it into a bale of hay or some other inert object to discharge the arrow.
  11. Never dry fire your crossbow or use it with bolts lighter than those it’s made to use. Choose bolts that correspond to the size and weight of the bolt your model of crossbow fires. Using a light bolt with a very strong crossbow can cause the bolt to fly erratically and can damage the bow and cause injuries to you or others.

Today crossbows are popular weapons amongst recreationists and big games hunters alike. They recreationally, can be a great deal of fun for both amateurs and pros.  But before using a crossbow, be sure to research the laws in your state, because laws governing crossbow use vary widely from state to state. Some laws allow only disabled hunters to use crossbows, while others allow anyone to use a crossbow. So know the laws, understand that this is a lethal weapon, and if you decide to buy a crossbow, learn how to handle it safely to avoid unnecessary injuries.

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22 comments

  1. Great article on the cross-bow. Ergo – Robin Hood!

  2. If a Chinaman was able to make one 2500 years ago where are the instruction plans for my making my own, without having to re-invent the whole shabang?

    • cryptotaxidermist

      find book- the crossbow by sir ralph payne galway,, not a instruction book on building your own but good drawings from which to do so ,,i built one using a auotmotive leaf sping for bow.a interesting project and source of pride but,, useless by comparison to modern built crossbows , i recomend buying one if you want tot rely on it for anything beyond a conversation piece, check out excaliber crossbow company , buy only a recurve bow not a compound type, ive had both ,and sold compound type to pay for new excaliber recurve type much better, hunting weapon accuracy is astounding and deadly , aformentioned book is full of meadevil weapons you could build but you could never buy, like a crossbow. also for archery , long, and short bows check out three rivers archery for thier recurve bows, good luck and practice, practice ,practice, before hunting .

    • Dayum, you’re a kkk racist, kkkcmike. Btw, 2500 B.C. is 4500 years ago, not 2500 years ago…learn to read, ffs.

  3. The disadvantages to the crossbow:
    – Slow rate of fire compared to a bow;
    – Decocking is a delicate and potentially dangerous process;
    – Difficult to repair under field conditions;
    – It is very three-dimensional, whereas a bow or a rifle are more two-dimensional.

    That said, I have two bows and a crossbow. The crossbow is a big help, as I have bone chips in my drawing elbow. Also, i won’t shoot my bows at anything beyond 35 yards, preferring 25 yards in, while I can confidently shoot to 100 yards with the crossbow (5-shots/5-inch group, from a sandbag rest). So if it is a one-shot proposition, I will definitely use the crossbow.

  4. Crossbow…I totally agree that a good quality made crossbow would be a valuable tool in a survival time..
    But I disagree that it is easier to shoot or more accurate than a traditional or compound bow. I teach some
    Paralyzed Veterans in central Florida the basics of Archery & I haven’t found one yet that couldn’t handle a
    longbow or compound. First of all, it’s not poundage that makes you accurate nor does it require physical
    strength. A 10# child’s bow will easily dispatch a deer or smaller animal if it has a sharp broadhead on it’s
    end. I would not recommend something that small, but I would rather have something with a lot less of a
    chance of breaking down or needing a special tool to cock it and unless you have a bench-rest, you won’t
    be any more accurate than the regular bow…Thanks…Morris Duty

    • NOT TRUE. A CROSSBOW WILL OUT SHOOT A BOW ANY DAY. MORE ACCURATE, MORE POWERFUL, YOU CAN USE A SCOPE, YOU CAN SHOOT IN WHILE LAYING DOWN, ETC. THE CROSSBOW IS BY FAR BETTER FOR DEFENSE THAN JUST A BOW!

      • prophecykeepers

        Sorry… that is just total nonsense. I am a former world class longbow competitor.

        At the National championships, crossbow competitors shot at 1/2 the distance that longbow competitors did.. and the crossbows were not nearly as accurate as longbows — even at 1/2 distance.

        Anciently, both Europeans and Indians shot longbows from ambush laying down on their backs.

    • If I’m not mistaken, most Western Indian bows were only about 30# draw weight. As you say, good enough for deer killing at appropriate ranges. I’m of the opinion, that they kicked azz on spanish crossbow conquistadors and Pioneers with single shot muskets. The revolver was the game changer. Until the Texas Rangers Walker Dragoon .44, they had fire superiority in any hostile situation.

  5. I must argue the decocking issue. There is a decocker out there now. Check out youtube and see for yourselves. Its quick an easy and most imporatntly a lot safer than firing a bolt hoping not to hit a rock and ricochet or using all of you might to hold a draw string and rip your arms of.
    Here’s the link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UgMeGC4sKpA

  6. Great article Mike, but to make a small and somewhat irrelevant correction, potential elastic energy transitions to potential kinetic energy (the energy of motion) when the bowstring is released. Kinetic energy is energy of motion not movement. The kinetic energy of an object is the energy it possesses because of its motion.Kinetic energy is an expression of the fact that a moving object can do work on anything it hits; it quantifies the amount of work the object could do as a result of its motion. The total mechanical energy of an object is the sum of its kinetic energy and potential energy. Just some physics…thanks Mike!

  7. try http://www.Alcheminc.com they sell parts for making a historical style crossbow and have plans that you can download.

    John

  8. Actually you would be better off buying manufcatured ones now and all the parts you might need to maintain them, like bolts, points, the bow, strings, and screws.. those old handmade ones werent that great………..
    The new single fiberglass bows are so much more powerful than a hand drawn bow (not compounds) that you will not be disappointed. As you get compound versions the force goes way up and special bolts must be bought to handle the incredible launch pressures that would break wooden arrows, whereas, with a singl aluminum, steel, or fiberglass bow you could make your own. And a properly waxed string will last 10-20 years. There are some very simple ones at walmart that are cheap and will darn sure do the job for you. You will not be disappointed. When you get into the sport the big names have every conceivable option and are very nice, but if you are looking for usability you dont have to pay all that much.
    Hmmmmm ???? almost a s good a as a rifle………. quiet…… no ballistics investigive ability, Hmmmmm????
    But if you get into it with someone with a rifle it isnt going to go well………………………
    The Col

    • Bottom line, a string weapon or spear will be a better option for game harvesting if things go south and we are back into Primitive mode. If there be bands of Hostiles about looking to pillage, I’d rather keep my whereabouts private. I’ll save my firearms for when I’m backed into a corner or for Escape and Evasion!

  9. Added one to my “quiver” of weapons (no pun intended, well, sorta) a few weeks ago; picking up an up-grade tomorrow. Seems to be an excellent device for it’s intended use, w/ limitations & benefits both.

  10. prophecykeepers

    If it is “not safe” to unload a crossbow, it is just as “not safe” to load one!

    The process is the same, in reverse.

    It should read “it is not to safe to manually de-cock a crossbow!”

    I was a world class archer in the 1970s. I could shoot as well with a longbow then as the average slob hunter today can with a rifle at 100 yards… 9 inch groups… sometimes as tight as 4 inch groups. Olympic archers today do even better!

    In monthly matches in the late 60s, we routinely beat the local Suffolk County, NY police shooting at the same targets at the same distances… 30 yards. We shot 2 inch groups, and they could barley hit the paper… they were horrible pistol marksmen!

    Crossbows are not nearly as accurate as longbows… unless they have 6 foot limbs.

    The legendary Crossbowman George Gurick was a friend of mine.

    Don’t get a crossbow unless it has a HUGE draw weight… the biggest you can find.

    • Nice! Impressive accomplishments! I’m Interested in why you suggest the high power? I shot one plain old single leaf steel bow and it was plenty powerful out to 50 yds, which in my experience is where I finally see most deer in the woods…. only in Colorado where I live do I scope out farther than that. Plus that little one was easy to cock and decock. I would think one of those big ones would put a bolt completely through an elk at 50 yards.
      The Col

  11. Redeeminggrace

    As a hunter with both Bow, Rifle, Pistol, Shotgun and Black Powder weapons I have great respect for all of them. I have owned and shot both the crossbow as well as a PSE Mach Flight 4 in the 1980’s. I have owned many different rifles and pistols and shotguns, all gone now. I am disabled and I only shoot a recurve take down bow that can consistently put arrow after arrow on a pie plate 30+ yards away. For me, thats all I need. Thank you for a great article. Great opinions. God bless…

  12. The article refers several times to crossbow bolts (projectiles) as “arrows”. This might be worth correcting – it could mislead some people into the mistaken assumption that archery arrows are interchangeable, which they are not, as arrows are too long for crossbow use. The smaller bolts referred to in safety point 11 are probably the small ones used for pistol size crossbows.

    They’re classic for a reason – they’re mostly silent and not to be trifled with.

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  14. please send the cost of crossbow and ditels

  15. Great Post and comments. the cross bow is the only weapon outlawed by a pope, because of its effectivness against armored knights and short learning curve. Plans for a repeating crossbow from an old Popular Mechanics magazine.The Chinese had a wall mounted anti siege repeating crossbow .Hop this helps and thanks for your post.

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