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There are few things more frustrating than returning home from a hunt empty handed. Hours in the woods are always well spent, but never even seeing a deer can get, well, boring. One thing that is worse than seeing nothing is having the perfect shot and either missing or merely wounding game. If you’re using a new type of weapon, it can make this even harder, but don’t worry, there are steps you can take that will increase your chances of success when opportunity presents itself.
Here are 5 tips you should follow before going on your first crossbow hunt.
#1. Choose a Quality Crossbow
When choosing your crossbow, there are a few things to consider that might make a big difference when the shot counts. Price alone does not tell the whole story, but be wary
of bargain basement prices and unheard of brands. The materials in a quality crossbow can be rather expensive, but that investment pays off in longevity.
Another consideration is draw weight, which is the amount of tension on the crossbows string when it is cocked. Higher numbers equate to faster bolts, as well as the ability to send heavier projectiles downrange. Most state hunting regulations stipulate a minimum draw weight for hunting. These rules exist to ensure that animals are killed rather than maimed. Hunting with a crossbow that has less than the regulated draw weight is not just illegal, it’s unethical.
#2. Use the Right Bolts
Most crossbow manufacturers also make bolts, so it is smart to use those bolts in your weapon. The owner’s manual that came with your crossbow should include ranges for the proper bolt lengths and weights for the crossbow you purchased. Only use bolts within that range.
When hunting big game with your crossbow, it is good practice to use bolts on the heavy side of the manufacturer’s specified range. While lighter bolts will be a bit faster, heavier ones will impart more energy onto the target at impact. That extra energy means a well placed shot will be more likely to produce a quick kill.
#3, Use Broadheads
Most crossbow bolts come from the manufacturer with field point heads installed. While these heads are fine for target practice, field points should not be used on big game. The same type of bladed broadheads that bow hunters use are available for crossbow bolts. Also like bowhunters, the crossbow hunter can choose between fixed-blade and mechanical broadheads.
Mechanical broadheads have blades that are recessed in flight and extend upon impact. They fly much like field points, but they produce much more damage, increasing the chances of a quick and humane kill. The majority of broadheads available are mechanical. Fixed broadheads are more sturdy and can be reused if shot at a broadhead target.
#4. Practice with the Broadhead You Hunt With
Even if the weights of the field points that came with your bolts match those of the broadheads you intend to use for hunting, you should still practice with the broadheads. The aerodynamics of the field point and mechanical broadheads might seem similar, but their differences are enough to throw off the shot. Many broadheads will come with a practice head, but these don’t always faithfully mimic the real thing.
When practicing, do your best to replicate the shots you might take in the field. Using only the broadheads you will use from the blind, take shots in 10 yard increments. Begin at 20 yards and move out to 50 yards, but no farther. Shots from beyond 50 yards rarely produce kills; you’re more likely to wound the animal. Extended-range target practice is fun, but use your field points for that. Be aware that your practice will likely damage the broadheads you use, which may force you to purchase a second pack. It will be worth the cost when you bag your quarry.
#5, Scout and Prepare your Hunting Area
When selecting your hunting location, choose a spot with clear lanes out to the kill range of your crossbow. As mentioned, this range is typically about 50 yards. Bring a rangefinder with you as you scout to get the distances to permanent landmarks in your lanes (trees, rocks, etc.). That way you won’t be guessing in the moment of truth.
Aside from that, look for natural ground blinds. This is extremely important especially when you’re hunting hogs, deers, elk and other extremely vigilant prey. If you use natural blinds, dress them out with brush around you to give it a more natural look. Make sure that your spot doesn’t look out of place.
Also, consider the difference in bolt flight if you will be hunting from a tree stand versus a ground blind. Bolts and arrows drop differently when fired from different elevations. Match your practice to your hunting area to the best of your ability.
Be Prepared For Your Crossbow Hunt
Success in hunting comes down to preparation. If hunters that fill their freezers are lucky, it is luck that they created themselves. It starts in the sporting goods store, making wise choices on quality equipment. It continues on the range, practicing making shots that count. And it culminates in a well-prepared and diligently scouted hunting location. Preparation and practice give you the best chance of making a kill as you transition from the range to the woods.