How far can you shoot a deer with a crossbow?
We get a lot of people who ask us what is the maximum effective range of a crossbow for deer hunting? Many of them have heard people tell them that they can shoot deer at 100 yards. A guy at the archery range told them that a crossbow is just like a rifle. Many of those people have never shot a crossbow or they have very little experience with them.
Yes, crossbows have a stock and most have a scope that is similar to a rifle scope. But a crossbow is by far more similar to a modern vertical bow than to a rifle. Crossbows shoot arrows. Crossbows of yesteryear shot bolts. Those bolts were usually less than 10 inches long and were made very crudely. Crossbow arrows are built just like a compound bow arrow, just shorter and typically a little beefier to make up for the shorter length. Crossbows have limbs and strings. Most have cams, cables, and wheels… excluding the recurve crossbows like Excaliburs.
Crossbows shoot arrows at speeds very similar to that of a compound crossbow; typically between 300 and 400 feet per second. That is a far cry from the 2000+ feet per second typically seen with a deer rifle. With slower speeds come more arrow drop. The point of impact of a 30-06 is within an inch or two from 10 yards to 100 yards. With a crossbow the difference would be measured in feet, not inches.
A few years ago, we sold a Horton crossbow to a local archer who had become very frustrated with missing deer with his compound bow. He had been told that crossbows were very accurate and that his woes would be easily cured by switching to a crossbow. A few weeks later he came back to our store and told me there was something wrong with his crossbow. It was spraying arrows all over the place and he could not get a consistent group. We took the crossbow out to our range and started shooting it off the bench. The crossbow shot very tight groups at 30 yards consistently. So I called him up and had him shoot in front of us. He was attempting to shoot the crossbow freehand and his body was shaky as he pulled the trigger. It was clear the crossbow wasn’t shooting all over the place, the shooter was.
If you’re only comfortable shooting at close range with your compound bow, a crossbow isn’t going to miraculously open up your range to 60 and 70 yards. Yes, shooting sticks or a shooting rail on your treestand will definitely help and can extend your range a bit. But it still takes practice and working on your technique to shoot a crossbow effectively, especially at longer ranges.
If you’re switching over from a rifle to a crossbow, you will also need to start close and work your way out. When I first started bowhunting a good friend told me to shoot as many antlerless deer as possible. If you’ve never killed a deer with an arrow, you need to practice doing so on antlerless deer so when a trophy buck appears you’re prepared. You’ll know how much movement you can get away with, how to wait for an opening, where to shoot, how to track, and much more. There is definitely an art to it.
Remember, an arrow loses energy as it travels too. A heavier arrow will come out of the crossbow at a slower rate but will retain it’s energy downrange better. Some people may be able to hit targets at long distances, but the arrow may not have enough punch left in it to deliver a lethal hit. It can also take about a second for a crossbow arrow to travel downrange 100 yards. You may have the crosshair on the vitals when you take the shot but where will that animal be when the arrow arrives?
Most experienced crossbow hunters consider anything in the 50 yard range to be a long shot on a game animal. Novice shooters should plan to shoot inside 30 yards. Keep in mind that if you’re hunting in the woods, you may only have shooting lanes at 20 or 30 yards anyway. Branches and underbrush will naturally limit your range. Part of the fun of bowhunting is getting close to the animal. With some time on the range with your crossbow you’ll find out that long distances are certainly possible on targets but when it comes to hunting, it’s best to get close and deliver a good, ethical kill.