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How to use a Crossbow - How to Sight in a Crossbow

Posted by Patrick V on

Thinking of buying one, already bought one or a gift from a relative? No matter where it comes from, you should pay attention to the following lines. In this article, How to use a crossbow, I will bring you mostly step by step from touching the crossbow to shooting it safely. If you still hesitate on what to buy, have a look on our blog post about How to choose a Crossbow. 

Notes: Buying online (probably means that you will have to assemble the crossbow yourself when you received it) or receiving from a relative his old crossbow because he got a new one, you should read and understand the owner's manual of your crossbow ( simply to assemble it appropriately if you bought online). By doing so, you will understand the specifics for a proper use of your crossbow.

If you buy from the pro-shop, they will explain to you the specifics of your crossbow. But, I still recommend you to read the manual before shooting your crossbow. Never bad to know more than less.

If you already bought one and you are looking for how to sight-in a crossbow. I explain how to do it further into this article.


How to use a crossbow basic guideline

barnett ghost 375 crossbow package

I take into consideration that you will also buy bolts (fletched bolts) and bolt heads if you didn't buy a crossbow package. Otherwise, please do so. (some practice points and some hunting broadheads. If you intend to use broadheads for practicing and hunting make sure that you sharpen the blades before every hunt). 

Assuming that you bought a package, let's stick to the crossbow basic guideline on how to use a crossbow.

The first step after assembling everything or leaving the pro-shop after purchasing would be of course have some fun! You can go at practice range or in your backyard as long as you can reach enough yards away from your target (20 yards recommended - 18m). Of course, if you are at home, you will need a target. Specific targets are necessary for crossbows. You should have a look at our blog post on what is an archery target. A dense foam layered target is usually what you are looking for with crossbows. It is possible to do it yourself also.

Tip: Make sure you have a backstop, something behind your target that will stop your arrow if it gets through your initial target.

Shoot then some bolts to see if you can group your bolts in the same area with maximum 2-3 inches in-between them. After few good grouping shots, you will be ready to sighting-in your crossbow if necessary. It may vary in time between, more or less 10 to 30 minutes depending on your level to do a proper sighting-in.

But before sighting-in your crossbow for a better result, you should look the following lines about how to shoot a crossbow. Why I suggested you shoot some bolts and read the following lines about how to shoot before getting in sighting-in tuning is simply because you have to be able to shoot tight arrow groups first, otherwise, the result will only show that you have bad aiming and bad technique. Let's start with the serving.


Centering the string serving

How to use a Crossbow - How to Sight in a Crossbow

If you have noticed some inconsistency right away. Make sure that your serving is centered as shown above before going further. This part is a small detail but can affect much more than you think the straightness of your bolts. The serving is the wrapping of thread used to protect the center and loops of bowstrings. When brought the bowstring to the latch you must notice if it's placed in its center like shown above. This way you increase your consistency of shots. You can put markers with a pen on the serving to help you centered the serving faster into cocked position. If the string is off center, you can simply pull the string back behind the latch and replace it until it is centered.


Shooting the crossbow

Whatever you do before shooting, if you are not ready to shoot, safety should be on. Mainly to avoid any preventable injuries that could occur with the safety off. There are few simple actions to do before shooting.  To be more consistent though, you should always try to keep the same gestures. Let’s start with the simplest step.

Holding the crossbow

  • Put your handbow close to the trigger without putting your finger on it. You should keep it parallel to the trigger for safety reasons. Then, put your other hand on the foregrip. Fingers must stay under the barrel as shown below.
  • How to use a Crossbow - How to Sight in a CrossbowThis basic position is what we would call having a good grip and a good holding position. No fingers should be in the way of the arrow or the string.
Cocking and uncocking the crossbow
  • How to use a Crossbow - How to Sight in a CrossbowEither you go manually or with a rope cocking device, you will have to put a foot into the cocking stirrup; lean over the stock and install the rope cocking device or simply grab the string with your hands as shown above.
  • Then, start to pull the string until you reach the latch of your crossbow. Your crossbow is now cocked. There are two main shapes of cocking stirrup, an "L" shape and the closed ones. 
How to use a Crossbow - How to Sight in a Crossbow                      How to use a Crossbow - How to Sight in a Crossbow
  • Concerning most mechanical cocking devices, they also need you to put your foot in the cocking stirrup for greater stability. But it is possible without it and still, makes it much easier to cock the crossbow. 
  • To uncock a crossbow is simply shooting a bolt. If you can't-do it right away and have to move, put it back on safety (preferably switch your bolt with a practice bolt if you have one) and when you think it's safe to shoot it. DO NOT DRY FIRE. Dry firing may cause permanent damage to your crossbow and at that price, you don’t want it to happen. It returns the energy into limbs instead of toward the projectile and can cause irreversible damages.
  • When your crossbow is cocked, always aim downrange in front of you and in a safe direction.
Aiming with sight
  • Next step is aiming with your sight. If you didn’t sighting-in your crossbow you will have to do it eventually. You can refer yourself to our section on how to sighting-in a crossbow.
  • Bring the stock to your shoulder and look through the scope; you should see a dot or a reticle or many of them. The upper one is the main one; all others are for different distances. Put that dot or reticle in target center and have a glance at the safety. REPEAT that sequence few times to get used to your new model.
  • When you are ready to shoot, place a bolt on your cocked crossbow and put it back until the nock reached the string. Then take safety off, aim your target, take a deep breath and press the trigger gently. Keep aiming your target as long as the arrow stays on the barrel. Sometimes the arrow takes time to leave. It's called the follow-through of your arrow.


    Different position for shooting

    Standing shooting:
    • Most common way of shooting any bows, crossbows included. We already saw how to hold the crossbow. Now let’s talk about the stance, the way will place your body to increase ground stability. Few possible choices according to stances. It will really be a personal preference. The two main stance positions are the open feet stance and the square feet stance. Try both of them and take the one you feel the more comfortable with. Any other position is good as long as they suit you.

    How to use a Crossbow - How to Sight in a Crossbow

    Crouching shooting:
    • Crossbows allow the shooter to crouch which is not ideal for others bows. They will cant the bow which makes it harder to control for beginners. Crouching creates a better stability when aiming because you can use your knee as a tripod. Also, fewer muscles are needed so less possibility to move. Crouching shooting is a really good technique used for turkey hunting. It increases also your camouflage skills.
    Elevated stands shooting: (tree stands for example) 
    • First, you should secure all your bolts into your quiver and make sure that the broadheads are covered for safety precaution.
    • Cock your crossbow on the ground for the first time. Other times after shooting a bolt, you may cock it in your tree stand only if you have cocking device. It is really not suggested to lean over the stock of your crossbow and cocked it in an elevated tree stand. In that case, you will have to lower the crossbow, get down and cock it from the ground.
    • After cocking your crossbow, attach it to a line so you can pull it up there.
    • Get into position, pull your crossbow up and load your crossbow. Since you are going to aim down, make sure that your bolt is properly maintained by the arrow retention spring. You are then ready to shoot! Happy hunting.
    Now that your form is probably getting better every shot you are taking, let's see how sighting-in your crossbow can make a huge difference in your grouping result.


    How to sight a crossbow (sighting in a crossbow)

    After shooting few bolts and getting better groupings, you still stay off center. You should sighting-in your crossbow. In other words, make sure that all the features allow you to shoot straight. Here is what you should do for correcting the situation.

    Let’s presume you have everything you needed and are ready to get started. You will then place your target or yourself at 20 yards (18 meters).

    Tip: Remember to have a backstop, something behind your target that will stop your arrow if it gets through your initial target.

    For better result, I suggest you put your crossbow on a fixed tripod or anything that can support the crossbow like a bench to minimize movements (for greater stability). You will then look into the scope and place the upper dot or reticle dead center in bull eyes of your target. Once you will set this one, the remaining dots or reticles will be automatically aligned at their respective distances. There are charts explaining the effect of distance on the arrow drop but the manufacturers simply resume it for you with others dots or reticles.


     How to Sight in a Crossbow                      How to Sight in a Crossbow

          Multiple Red dots Scope                                           Multiple Reticles Scope

    For the scope with only one dot or one reticle, distance doesn’t really matter for the sighting-in. But let’s say that 20 yards, is less long to walk to see result then 60 yards.

    Now that your setup is in place, cock the crossbow manually or with a cocking device and re-aim the upper dot or reticle dead center of your target. Press the trigger quickly without really touching the crossbow to keep testing the accuracy. Repeat the same steps until you shot 3 arrows.

    Analyze your results by taking measurements from your arrows to the center of your target. If it is in bull eyes, don’t change a thing. If it is otherwise here is how you will fix your problem.

     How to Sight in a Crossbow

    Barnett Crossbow Scope 4x32 w/Scope Rings

    On your scope, you have elevation and windage adjustment knob which are meant to allow correcting your bolt trajectory upward or downward and left or right.  Some knobs are protected by caps, so you will have to take them off but be careful to not lose them.

     How to Sight in a Crossbow

    Elevation adjustment knob:  This knob is meant for up or down point of impact adjustments.

    Windage adjustment knob:  This knob is meant for the left to the right point of impact adjustments.

    Notes: It is possible to have two windage knobs which make it easier to adjust because both sides determine their specific direction (left for left and right for right).


    Adjusting the knobs

    Most scopes are usually based on a 100 yards for adjustments. To make changes you have to turn them clockwise or counterclockwise. One click is 1/4 of modification on 100 yards so you if you bring it to 20 yards, you must divide by 5. A click will be then 1/20 of modification on 20 yards, not 1/4 anymore. So at 20 yards, 1 click = 1/20 of modification, you would then need 20 clicks to move a full inch your arrow impact on the target.

    Tip: If your scope uses another method of calculation it will be mentioned in the owner’s manual.

     How to Sight in a Crossbow


    For example, you obtain that grouping, it would be one inch down and two left. So to adjust the grouping you will have to turn the elevation clockwise (go Up) 20 times/clicks and windage clockwise (go Right) 40 times/clicks to make it dead center. Remember, you will have some scope to take off the protective caps and please don’t lose them.

     How to Sight in a Crossbow

    In the case it still off center like on this picture. Bring it back (counter clockwise) about 10 clicks each. Repeat the process of adjusting the right knobs until you reached the desired precision. 

    Sighting-in and tuning your crossbow should be something you do here and there to keep your accuracy as sharp as your broadheads are.

    If sighting-in is a difficult process for you, you might have to consider a crossbow shooting stick or a bipod to help your steadiness. Those tools are made to stabilize you aiming to facilitate the calibration.

    After sighting-in, you are more than ready to shoot like a pro. Next step is simply to go get some fun with your crossbow!


    In Summary

    You saw how to shoot step by step your crossbow and how to stay safe while manipulating your weapon. It also showed you how to sight for sighting-in adjustment and by the same time do a basic tuning of your crossbow.

    Hope that you found value in this post! Feel free to share and comment!

    Thank you for reading!

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