A question that often comes up amongst crossbow hunters is how far can a person accurately and ethically shoot at an animal in the woods when hunting with a crossbow? Many hunters who have picked up a crossbow for the first time within the last few years have a tendency to believe they are more like a rifle than a bow. As a result, many folks take shots that they probably shouldn’t. “A crossbow is a weapon that shoots an arrow. As a result, it is somewhat limited in its ability to take extremely long shots. Today’s crossbows are extremely deadly weapons in the right hands but just like with a rifle or a conventional bow, it always depends on who the trigger man is,” Jim Kempf from Scorpyd Crossbows said.

Whether I have a crossbow or conventional bow in my hand, I won’t take a shot in the woods past 40 yards. I feel like 40 yards is my max in a hunting situation. I have friends that can hit a quart jar at 100 yards with a bow and a crossbow. Does that mean they should take a shot in the woods at 100 yards? The answer is probably not. “Some of today’s crossbows are so accurate that they can keep a tight group at 100 yards. When a crossbow is perfectly tuned, it is amazing how accurate they can be. We have many customers who regularly practice at 80 yards and beyond. Most of them would never take that shot on a life animal though,” Kempf added.

How far is far enough for you? How should you determine what yardage should be your max? The answer is simple. If you spend much time in the backyard shooting, you can easily determine your maximum hunting distance. “I always tell people whatever distance they want to be able to hunt at they should be able to take that shot in the backyard plus twenty or so yards beyond it and keep it in a two inch circle. Many hunters consider the pie plate test the standard. If they can hit a pie plate at X distance, they can take that shot in the field. There are many variables in the woods that are out of our control. As a result, we should hold ourselves to the highest standard when practicing so if something doesn’t go just right in the field, we still make a good shot,” Kempf noted.

One of the biggest reasons for not shooting at extreme distances is because deer move and an arrow isn’t a bullet. “At 50 or more yards, if a deer takes one step forward or backward when the trigger is pulled, chances are the bolt will hit the animal in the guts or the shoulder. At 100 yards, one step will likely mean a complete miss. These mistakes can be made at 30 yards,” Kempf explained.

According to Kempf, if a hunter wants to take a shot at 40 yards and beyond with a crossbow, they should be a great shot and the hunting situation better be a perfect one. “When taking extreme shots, the animal should be completely relaxed and feeding or doing something that keeps it preoccupied so the hunter is fairly certain the animal isn’t going to jump the string or take a step. It all comes down to a hunters’ ability to read an animal’s behavior,” Kempf said.

Let’s face it: if you can extend your range 10 or 15 yards beyond your current comfort level, you might be able to put more meat in the freezer. Kempf says there are plenty of things hunters can do to increase their level of accuracy. “Hunters must realize that a high quality crossbow has more than enough kinetic energy to get the job done at ranges way beyond what people are capable of. There are no worries of running out of kinetic energy. It all boils down to skill and the level to which a person is willing to tune their crossbow.” According to Kempf, one of the easiest ways to increase your accuracy is by building your own bolts. A gun hunter who wants to shrink his groups loads his own ammunition. A crossbow hunter should do the same thing. Fletching your own arrows, weighing each arrow before it enters your quiver and testing several broadheads before choosing one can drastically shrink a group of bolts at long ranges. We have found that very few fixed blade heads fly well out of crossbows that shoot 400 feet per second or faster. As a result, using a mechanical can drastically shrink a group. Having a bolt that is the correct spine for the weight of the crossbow is also important. Don’t just buy a 6 pack of bolts at the store; buy a high end bolt and put all the components together yourself.”

Not every broadhead in a pack weighs the same, not every vane flies the same, and not every nock will shoot the same. Determine what works best for your setup and weigh each bolt to make sure every bolt that enters your quiver weighs the same as the others. “What everyone is looking for is accuracy. To get accuracy, each arrow must be a twin of the one next to it. A bolt isn’t very forgiving when traveling 400 feet per second if the vanes aren’t glued on correctly. If a broadhead likes to plane a little, your group will open up. When each arrow is exactly the same, the groups will shrink drastically.”

Know your weapon. “Many people only shoot their crossbow a few times a year which is a mistake,” says Kempf. “You need to get to know the trigger on the crossbow, feel comfortable with it on a shooting stick and on a rail in a treestand to know how far you can ethically shoot. If a person only shoots a few times a year, they really shouldn’t shoot much beyond 40 yards or so. If they put the time into practicing and fine tuning their arrows, shooting beyond that is very doable but I don’t think anyone would shoot at an animal at 100 yards even though the weapons are capable of that distance.”

Would you like to take a 40-yard shot in the field or further? Practice at 60 or 70 yards, fletch your own bolts and practice until you are blue in the face. The next time a buck steps out a 45 yards, you will have the confidence to get the shot done. If you don’t practice and buy bolts off the shelf, 30 yards is always a safe bet.


If you are looking for ways to increase the amount of kinetic energy you deliver downrange, check out the Nitro Vane from Pine Ridge Archery. Bob Donahoe recently tested the vane with his Velocitip System and had this to say about the vane, “The Nitro Vane is the only vane tested to retain greater than 91% of its kinetic energy at twenty yards. The Nitro Vane retained a higher percentage of kinetic energy and provided the greatest kinetic energy in absolute terms – maximum foot-pounds delivered to the target. The ability to retain energy downrange is beneficial to any bowhunter or crossbow hunter,” said Donahoe. To learn more about the Nitro Vane, visit

About the author: Tracy Breen is a full time outdoor writer, consultant and game dinner speaker who often discuss how he overcomes cerebral palsy. Learn more about him at


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