How to Load a Crossbow and Shoot it Properly

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Load and Shoot a Crossbow

Crossbow shooting isn’t rocket science, but it does require training, patience, and safety awareness.

This step-by-step tutorial will walk you through everything you need to know to learn how to load and shoot a crossbow proficiently.

Our Tips

1. Run Through a Pre-shot Checklist

Everyone from Army generals and pilots to exterminators and cab drivers use checklists, so why shouldn’t someone handling a potentially deadly weapon use one, too? Your pre-shot checklist should begin long before taking any shots. Use the following tips as a pre-shot checklist:

  • Is your bow in good shape from limb to limb and from stock to stirrup? This includes wax and lubrication levels, tightness of the entire device, signs of wear, and a proven history of being a reliable bow.
  • Are your arrows free of cracks or bends, and have your arrowheads been sharpened? Make sure your arrows and arrowheads are compatible with your bow.
  • Are you carrying extra parts in case something breaks?
  • Where is your first aid kit and what does it contain?
  • Who knows where and how to find you in the event of an emergency?
  • Do you have enough supplies and a practical plan for the outing?
  • Is everyone in the hunting party properly trained and dressed for crossbow hunting? Apart from knowing how to use a crossbow and be stealthy, each person should have all the equipment they need to avoid ruining the hunt for others (by not bringing scent eliminator, for example).
  • Do you have an evacuation plan and do you have a reliable way to transport game to your cabin or safe house?

There is no harm in paying more attention that you think is necessary to small details because sometimes small details can become big problems.

2. Check All Limbs, Bolts, Strings and Cables Thoroughly

Your crossbow and arrows should all be in pristine condition before you even begin to consider letting an arrow fly. Countless things can go wrong (and they have) due to easily-fixable situations like frayed strings, loose bolts, un-waxed strings, un-lubricated barrels, and cracked limbs. Keeping your crossbow in good condition and providing it with regular maintenance will make you a more successful hunter and greatly eliminate the threat of missed shots or hunting accidents.

3. Cock The Bow

You can keep a crossbow cocked for approximately four hours at a time, depending on the bow’s manufacturer and the bow-related materials you are using. Release the tension at least every four hours and then cock the bow again.

If you cock your bow manually then make sure that the draw weight is equal on both sides, and ensure the bow is fully cocked and locked into place.

Many hunters use a crank cocking device or a cocking rope to make drawing the bow to the proper level faster and easier. When cocking your bow, place your foot firmly into the stirrup and keep the bow pointed directly at the ground until you hear the familiar “click” of the bow locking into place.

4. Activate The Safety

Some crossbows come equipped with an automatic safety. Other models have a safety mechanism that must be activated manually. Either way, it’s vital that you keep the crossbow’s safety on until the moment you are ready to pull the trigger and release the arrow.

5. Load an Arrow into The Barrel

Your arrow’s shaft should fit perfectly into the flight groove. The arrow head should rest comfortably between the riser, and the back end of your arrow should be in contact with the already-cocked strings. One of the feathers, or fletchings, on your arrow should go into the flight groove. Many arrows have color-coded fletchings to help you determine which fletching goes into the flight groove.

If you forget to load an arrow, you will dry fire the crossbow, which can damage it.

6. Determine Your Range

Few things are more embarrassing than having a once-in-a-lifetime shot and missing it due to the fact that you didn’t correctly assess the distance between you and the target. Use field markers near your shooting lanes, or invest in an electronic range finder in order to know your distance with the simple click of a button.

7. Aim

The exact spot where you need to aim differs slightly from animal to animal. As a general rule, you want to reach the chest cavity to give yourself the best chance of making a kill shot. Try to aim for right behind the shoulder of the animal and just below the upper shoulder joint. Remain steady as you aim, and don’t let anything distract you from pulling the trigger – as long as you know that you’re about to take a good shot.

8. Pull The Trigger

This might seem like an obvious thing to do, but trigger tension and personal anxiety have caused many potentially good shots to go to waste. Pull the trigger firmly and without hesitation – as long as you know exactly where you’re aiming and there is no risk of collateral damage to you or other people in the vicinity.

9. Follow Through

The shot doesn’t end when you pull the trigger. You should keep a steady hand, and be prepared to attempt a second shot if the situation calls for it. Additionally, you need to keep a close eye on your target to determine if and where the target was struck. If your target makes a run for it then do your best to determine where the animal is headed and look for signs like hastily-made trails, broken limbs, blood and pieces of internal organs.

10. Evaluate the Results

Evaluating the results doesn’t only mean running after whatever it is that you shot (or attempted to shoot). It also entails checking your bow and all of its parts for damage. Make sure no part of the bow broke away and acted as a projectile, possibly injuring you or someone in the area.


Loading and shooting a crossbow aren’t skills that you can master in one day. Practice as much as you can, watch tutorial videos online, and talk to fellow crossbow hunters to draw from their extensive knowledge.

Make sure you have all the tools you need, such as a cocking device or cocking rope.

This 10-point step-by-step guide should provide you with a solid foundation for understanding the mechanics of safely loading and shooting a crossbow. By following the method outlined in these 10 steps you can become a more accurate archer and can then pass your knowledge on to others.

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Sammy Garrard

I am the Founder and Chief Editor of and a prepper with over 15 years of experience. I’m excited to my knowledge and the things I learn while travelling in British Columbia, Canada where I live and around the world. Feel free to follow me on Twitter!

1 thought on “How to Load a Crossbow and Shoot it Properly”

  1. Excellent summary and a checklist that covers it all. Thank you for being concise and clear – just like you should be, when you want to load and shoot a crossbow!


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