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Hunting large game, such as deer, with a hand-held crossbow is difficult. Unlike larger crossbows that often feature draw weights exceeding 150 pounds, relatively few pistol crossbows require more than 80 pounds of force to cock. While these draw weights are legal for hunting large game in many states, such low-powered crossbows should only be used to take very close shots to ensure clean, humane kills. Additionally, because of their short length, hand-held crossbows are more difficult to aim than full-size models are, so extra caution is warranted.
In addition to a high-quality pistol crossbow, you will need bolts with broad head tips. Because pistol crossbows are so small, cocking ropes rarely work for them. Even though you will be hunting at very close range, invest in a scope sight, which will help you shoot as accurately as possible. As when hunting with any other weapon, you must have all required licenses and suitable clothing for the weather, including a hunter’s orange safety vest.
Using the Crossbow
To fire a crossbow, you must first cock the string. Most pistol crossbows with draw weights that are heavy enough to work for hunting feature a foot strap to help you cock them. Few hand-held crossbows work well with a cocking rope. Place your foot in the strap and pull back on the string with both hands until it clicks into place. Be sure to apply even pressure with each hand while cocking the string to keep it centered. Once the string is cocked, engage the safety mechanism. At this point, you may place a bolt in the firing groove and slide the string into the arrow’s nock. The weapon is now ready to be fired, once you disengage the safety and squeeze the trigger. The only way to safely de-cock the weapon is by firing a bolt.
Hunting Tactics and Techniques
The limited range of crossbows – particularly hand-held models – restricts the ways you can use them for hunting. For example, unlike rifle- or conventional-bow-wielding hunters, who may be able to stalk deer successfully enough to close to within 40 yards or so of their quarry, few hunters have the ninjalike ability to sneak close enough to deer to allow an accurate shot with a pistol-style crossbow. Accordingly, the best way to hunt with a pistol crossbow is by waiting silently on the ground or in a tree stand, and allowing unsuspecting deer to approach you. Remaining stationary also allows you to rest the crossbow on a stable support while aiming and shooting. This provides greater accuracy than aiming and firing the weapon with a single hand. You can place a jacket or towel on a sturdy tree branch to create a suitable rest.
While compound bows may be lethal for large game at distances of 30 or 40 yards, the bolts fired by crossbows are smaller than traditional arrows are, meaning they deliver less kinetic energy upon impact. Ideally, you should limit your shots with hand-held crossbows to less than 20 yards. Additionally, because most pistol crossbows are front-heavy, it is difficult to maintain suitable accuracy at ranges in excess of about 25 yards.
Aiming and Firing
Once the deer comes into range, wait for him to present his side toward you. Aim for a spot directly behind his shoulder, about halfway between the top and bottom of his body. By targeting this area, you are more likely to pierce the deer’s lungs or heart, which should cause him to die very quickly. Take a deep breath, exhale half of the air and squeeze the trigger smoothly to fire the bolt. Keep your eyes on the deer so you can follow him if he bounds away after being hit.