Crossbow Terminology and Definitions

The world of crossbows is vast and may get you confused quickly. A crossbow terminology is then important to beginners to not get too lost in this massive world of information.

You may also be interested in how to use a crossbow or how to choose a crossbow which are two articles I would recommend to you especially if you are new to the subject.

Let's get back to the main subject and have a look at the most common words used among crossbow terminology.

  • Arbalist- Another term for crossbow user.
  • Arrow- A projectile having a straight thin shaft of different sizes with a pointed head at one end and often flight-stabilizing vanes and insert nocks at the other.  Arrows are meant to be shot from a bow, compound bow, recurve bow.
  • Arrow Retention Spring- This spring is designed to hold the arrow/bolt down on the barrel or flight rail. This part is crucial to ensure correct arrow flight and to keep the arrow in the right position when aiming down at a target from a tree stand in a bow hunting situation.
  • Back of a bow – Part of the bow facing the target.
  • Barrel or Track - Grooved portion or the flight rail of the crossbow between the latch and latch where the bolt rides. Can be made of machined aluminum or composite. This part of the crossbow needs to be free from any debris, chips or burrs and should be kept lubed with some sort of string wax or flight rail lube.
  • Bastard String- String to brace a crossbow for installation of the bowstring; synonym for a bracing string. Also known as a crossbow stringer to install the bowstring. Basically an over-length string or cable that fits onto the prod to get the tension part way, and making it easier to slip the string proper onto the nocks.
  • Belly of the Bow – Part of the bow facing the shooter. (recurve style)
  • Bolt- Short heavy projectile for crossbows looking like arrows concerning its parts and the materials it’s made of.
  • Bowstring- String used on all archery weapons to transfer energy from bow to projectile. Made of different materials for a different purpose.
  • Brace Height- Distance between braced bowstring and belly side of a riser, measured from the bowstring's center.
  • Broadheads & Points- Field points are necessary for anything else than hunting. While broadheads are necessary for hunting. Points vary in sizes and weight. Broadheads vary in sizes, weight and in shapes (3 blades, 4 blades, etc...)
  • Butt- The Rearmost portion of crossbow stock. Also called recoil pad.
  • Cams and pulleys- When the string is drawn back, the string causes the pulleys to turn. This causes the pulleys to pull the cables, which in turn causes the limbs to bend and thus store energy. When cams are used, the design allows more arrow velocity in a given draw distance or power stroke as opposed to a recurve crossbow of the same weight pull.
  • Center Shot- Bow or crossbow lath designed so that the arrow/bolt passes through its center; center-shot crossbows often have two separate limbs.
  • Cock- To draw bowstring from braced position to latched position.
  • Cocking device – A device to assist in cocking the string. Two main types, harness cocking devices or mechanical (hand crank) devices.
  • Cocking Lugsor Stirrup- Metal protuberances on crossbow for anchoring bending lever, cranequin or goat's foot.
  • Cocking Peg- Peg required to set some crossbow trigger mechanisms prior to cocking.
  • Cocking Ring- Metal ring bound to the front of the lath to anchor bending lever.
  • Cockscombing- Method of serving sometimes used on loops of crossbow bowstrings.
  • Composite- Combination of materials used to construct latch including horn, wood, sinew, and baleen.
  • Compound- Modern lath construction using cables and eccentric pulleys.
  • Compound Crossbow Limbs- Compound crossbow limbs are made of composite materials and are capable of taking high tensile and compressive forces. Compound limbs are usually much stiffer and are more energy efficient compared to others crossbows.
  • Cords And Pulley- Cocking aid consisting of a cord with ends attached to crossbow butt and user's belt running through a pulley attached to bowstring; provides a mechanical advantage of 2:1.
  • Crossbow- Archery weapon consisting of a riser mounted to a rigid stock.
  • Crossbow Case- Inside is usually made with foam padding to protect limbs and cams. You can find them in a soft material design, semi-rigid or with a hard shell. Price range is big between the material used and the quality. 
  • Crossbow Targets- Crossbow targets are built with a specially designed high-density core to stop the excessive speed of a crossbow bolt. They usually have features target faces specifically designed for the crossbow shooter at any range. 
  • Draw Length:  Either the draw length rating on the bow, or the archer’s actual draw length.  A calculation of the distance that the archer must pull the bow to full draw
  • Dry Fire- To release cocked bowstring without the projectile.
  • End Loop- Loops at either end of a bowstring.
  • Foregrip- Part of the crossbow where the aiming hand is
  • Foregrip Hand- Handbow is the trigger hand and the foregrip hand is helping the shooter aiming his target.
  • GlassingSpotting game at a distance from a vantage point or position.
  • Goat's Foot- Two-piece hinged cocking lever designed to pull bowstring from behind latch (curved shape of lever vaguely resembles goats leg); provides a mechanical advantage of about 5:1, varying with lever length.
  • Grouping- (bolt groupings) Group your arrows in the same area with maximum 2-3 inches in-between them. It shows the precision of the shooter but also usually used for tuning.
  • Handbow- Term used to distinguish hand-held bow from a crossbow.
  • IBO speed- IBO speed represents the speed a bow can shoot as per the manufacturer's testing. Its calculated foot per second (FPS). Below 300 fps a bow would be considered slow as opposed to a fast bow with over 340 fps which would be considered a screamer to speak in the industry’s language.
  • Kinetic energy- Literally the speed of the bolt and its momentum. When you watch an arrow flight at slow motion you can see how it’s flexing. Also known as foot per pounds (FT-Lbs.).  There is a minimum amount of kinetic energy to hunt specific species. 
  • Latch- Mechanism for holding crossbow bowstring in a cocked position, and for releasing bowstring when the trigger is pulled.
  • Lath Or Prod- Bow portion of a crossbow storing energy for propelling projectiles.
  • Let Off: Let-off is the percentage of the bow’s draw weight that is subtracted after reaching full draw. For example, a crossbow having a let-off of 80% will require the shooter to only hold back 20% of the actual draw weight: 70-pound draw weight – 80% let-off = 14 lb full draw holding weight.
  • Limb- Portion of the latch to right or left of center shot. The limbs store all the energy of the crossbow.
  • Momentum- The momentum of the arrow or the bolt is related to its weight. It has an impact on penetration toward the target.
  • Nock- a Forked protective cap on the rear of the bolt; usually necessary with trackless crossbows to keep the bolt in contact with the string. Notches at each end of bow or lath to accept string are also called nocks.
  • Nose- Forward end of a crossbow; sometimes used to refer to assembly attaching lath to stock.
  • Nut- Cylindrical latch usually made of ivory or antler.
  • Power Stroke- Distance between braced and cocked string positions as measured along the track. Because of its shorter power stroke, crossbows need sometimes more than twice the draw weight of compound bows for the same arrow speed.
  • Quarrel- Bolt with a four-sided head; often used as a synonym for a bolt.
  • Quiver- Container for carrying arrows or bolts. Many different sizes and forms for every archery discipline
  • Recurve Crossbows Limbs- Recurve crossbows are a bow that has tips curving away from the archer. The recurve crossbow's bent limbs have a longer draw length than an equivalent straight-limbed crossbow, giving more acceleration to the bolt or arrow.
  • Reverse Compound Crossbow Limbs- As opposed to normal compound crossbow limbs, the riser is facing the shooter and the limbs are going away from the shooter, so the cams are in front of the crossbow and then more exposed.  
  • Riser- Thick, non-bending center section of bow or lath.
  • Safety- Mechanical device, usually in the form of a button or lever, used to prevent crossbow from shooting unintentionally.
  • Serving- Wrapping of thread used to protect the center and loops of bowstrings.
  • Set Trigger- Trigger which may be set to release under very light pressure; 'hair trigger'.
  • Sled- Guide attached to the center of crossbow bowstring to lessen string wear and ensure exact centering of the string when cocking.
  • Sight Bridge – Part that holds the sight.
  • Spanner- General term for any device used to cock crossbows.
  • Spanning- Physical act of cocking a crossbow.
  • StalkingThe process of spotting and then carefully approaching games.
  • Still huntingA method of moving slowly through the woods and pastures or along trails, hillsides, and mountain slopes from cover to cover
  • String Loop- Loop-bound to the center of some crossbow bowstrings to engage the latch.
  • Stirrup- Device for holding the crossbow with feet while cocking; usually 'D' or 'T' shaped, sometimes made from webbing or rope.
  • Stock- Portion of the crossbow to which all other components are attached and by which it is held. Usually put against the shooter's shoulder.
  • Trackless- Crossbow with a bolt rest in front instead of a full-length groove; forked nocks usually necessary to maintain contact between bolt and string.
  • Trigger- a mechanism that when pulled it releases the string and propels the projectile toward the target.

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Thank you for reading!

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