One of the most important crossbow accessories is the bolt. The bolt is a smaller version of an arrow used for bowhunting. Bolts are often heavier than a regular arrow and a bit fatter but for the most part they are a short arrow. Since the bolt does the dirty work, it is important to have the bolt finely tuned. It must fly true, have a razor-sharp broadhead on the end and be fletched correctly. If not, it will fly erratically and potentially ruin hunts.

Bolts often fly at speeds exceeding 350 FPS. Bolts are extremely short and unstable in flight compared to a regular arrow shaft. To make sure your bolts fly perfectly every time, you may choose to fletch your own bolts. A bolt you fletch yourself will likely be more consistent than a bolt you pick up at the sporting goods store.

If you plan to fletch your own bolts, remember every crossbow manufacturer has a recommended bolt weight that you should use. If your bolts are heavier than what they recommend, that’s fine; in fact, heavier bolts often fly better than light ones. On the other hand, if you ignore their recommendation and use a lighter bolt and break a limb or encounter some type of problem with the crossbow, your warranty could be void. Don’t use a lighter bolt to achieve greater speeds unless you are willing to risk voiding the crossbow warranty.

When choosing a bolt, get the straightest bolt you can afford. The straighter they are, the better they fly. Look for bolts with a consistent spine. You get what you pay for and the more and consistent and straight your bolts are, the better they will fly.

Regardless of the type of bolts you choose, make sure you use the type of nock the manufacturer recommends. Some crossbows are designed to be used with a moon nock while others are designed to be used with a flat nock. In some cases, either style will work but make sure you know what style works best for your crossbow when purchasing bolts. Many companies recommend a moon nock because it ensures a good string to nock connection, greatly reducing the chance of the string going under the bolt and partially dry firing when shooting.

If you buy or fletch your own bolts, make sure the fletching is a straight fletch and not offset. If your cock feather is slightly offset, the bolt might not sit properly on the crossbow, resulting in poor bolt flight. If you are fletching your own bolts, the Pine Ridge Nitro vanes work well for bolts and are used by many bowhunters. The high-profile vane quickly stabilize the bolt in flight and the high profile vanes are designed for today’s high speed bows so they work well when used on bolts. If you haven’t fletched arrows or bolts, realized that the first few times you do it you might make a mess with the glue. Pine Ridge Archery arrow glue is a great option.

Gluing inserts in properly is very important. If your insert isn’t glued in properly, it probably won’t be squared so the bolt won’t fly properly. If you want to add front of center weight to the bolt so it flies down range, you need to buy a heavier insert. Some companies like PDP Archery offers inserts that you can add weight to. You can screw weights into the back of the insert so there is extra weight in the front of the bolt. Whether you decide to build your own bolts or purchase them ready to shoot, choosing the right broadhead is important. Since many hunters want a shaft with more weight in the front of the shaft, extra heavy broadheads are becoming very popular. Many companies are making broadheads that are 145 grains or more, especially for crossbow hunters. Other companies are making extra short, small-cutting diameter broadheads that fly well out of super-fast crossbows. Mechanical broadheads are very popular with crossbow hunters because they don’t have to worry about their bolts planing like they would if they used large cut-on-contact fixed-blade broadheads. Another thing that makes a huge difference in how bolts fly is how well the broadhead is seated inside the insert. If the broadhead isn’t aligned properly and has a little bit of play inside the insert, the flight of the bolt will be affected. Every broadhead needs to be tuned to the bolt it is on. If you unscrew it once and screw it back in later, it will need to be tuned again. Broadheads don’t always fit into inserts perfectly. The goal is having the tip of the broadhead centered in relationship to the center of the shaft. When the broadhead isn’t aligned perfectly in the insert, the shaft wobbles which affects the flight of the bolt. To properly align a broadhead, use an arrow spinner.

Arrow spinners are inexpensive and if broadheads aren’t seated properly, they will wobble while being spun. The same is true for the bolt itself; if it isn’t made properly, if it isn’t straight or is a dud, you will probably see it wobble on the spinner. Pine Ridge Archery makes a great arrow spinner. It even breaks down so it can be put inside your case and taken hunting.

To spin test each bolt, put it on the spinner and put the point of the broadhead against a piece of cardboard and spin the bolt. If it is wobbling, you will see a circular motion created by the tip of the broadhead against the cardboard as it is rolled. If the broadhead is properly aligned, the point will stay in one spot as the broadhead spins. To fix the problem, rotate the bolt to the high side of the circle and mark the top of the broadhead with a marker. Rotate the bolt 180 degrees opposite of the mark and press the tip of the broadhead against a hard surface. This will push the broadhead around inside the insert until it is dead center in relationship to the center of the shaft. Now when you spin the bolt, it should spin perfectly.

You may want to paper tune your bolts to make sure they are flying properly. If they don’t create a perfect hole when they pass through the paper, maybe one of the fletchings or nocks are not properly aligned. Adjusting a nock slightly if it wasn’t aligned properly can fix the problem. Last, weigh each completed arrow before heading to the woods. Not every shaft is going to weight the same and not every broadhead will weigh the same. If one bolt weighs 20 grams more than the others, find out why. Sometimes one broadhead might weigh more or a bolt may weigh more. Try mixing and matching broadheads and bolts until you end up with a quiver full of bolts that weigh within ten grains of each other. This will ensure that they all fly about the same.

Keep in mind that many states have speed restrictions for crossbows. If you have a fast crossbow and live in a state that has a 350 FPS restriction on crossbows you might need an extra heavy bolt to ensure that you meet the speed limit.

Fletching, tuning and weighing your own bolts can be hard work but after all is said and done, I think keeping a group the size of a pie plate at sixty yards is worth the extra work.
About the author: Tracy Breen is a full time outdoor writer, consultant and game dinner speaker who often discusses how he overcomes cerebral palsy. He currently works with a variety of companies including Pine Ridge Archery, Mathews Archery, Wilderness Athlete, Grim Reaper, Full Flight Technology and Schaffer Performance Archery. Learn more about him at:

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