Crossbows have been around for a long time, and as a result, there have been improvements and innovations over time. One fundamental characteristic of crossbows that contributed to their popularity is the fact that they were a “point-and-shoot” weapon that virtually anyone could pick up and become relatively accurate with, unlike the bow and arrow. Another factor that made them sought after is their range, which allowed archers to engage targets at exceedingly far distances without having to worry about their biceps splitting open under the draw weight of a conventional bow. This being said, how far can crossbows shoot? Let’s have a look at the effective range of crossbow units, how far crossbows shoot accurately, and how fast modern crossbows are.
What Is the Practical/Ethical Range of a Crossbow?
How far can crossbows shoot? Quite far! It’s no secret that modern crossbows, particularly compound crossbows, are extremely powerful. There are examples of compound bows and crossbows reaching up to 470 FPS with absolutely no problem, but does this mean that you can hunt game from larger distances? Ethically, no, and just because something is theoretically possible, doesn’t mean that it should be attempted.
What is the ethical range to engage a target with a crossbow then? Most hunters agree that the maximum distance at which a bow hunter should engage large game is around 50 yards away, regardless of the type of crossbow/bow and arrow you’re using. There are a few reasons for this, all of which relate to the age-old relationship between speed, distance, and time.
Distance equates to speed over a certain amount of time. In context, the faster an arrow travels the more distance it can cover in a shorter time period, but it’s not that simple. Momentum and inertia deteriorate over time, and to put that in context, the further an arrow travels the less energy it has to propel it in the direction of its target.
With less and less energy to propel it through the immediate atmosphere, the less stable the arrow is on its flight path as it begins to dip downward thanks to gravity, and it even becomes susceptible to other atmospheric forces like wind and rain. This being said, as your arrow travels further your margin of error increases exponentially.
Why Is 50 Yards Considered the Practical/Ethical Range?
As we mentioned previously, arrows become less and less stable along their flight path the further they need to travel, due to them losing momentum and how trajectory works. What makes the 50-yard mark so special though? Well, 50 yards has been proven to be the maximum effective distance at which most hunters are capable of taking an ethical shot.
Maximum Effective Range
The definition of ethical in this context is that you’d be able to engage your target and hit vital organs, ensuring minimal suffering to the animal, and a fuss-free harvest once you’ve gotten the job done. The 50-yard mark also ensures that you’d be able to identify, avoid, and/or compensate for obstructions should any arise while you’re lining your shot up.
When you’ve been doing something for long enough it’s easy to become overconfident. This is completely normal, after all, because as your skill increases, so does your confidence, but you should consider that overconfidence could result in your game suffering unnecessarily/and or you completely missing your shot.
Loss of Elevation
The 50-yard mark isn’t just a benchmark for hunters of varying skill levels either. This distance serves to compensate for arrows too, as most of them tend to dip after 50 yards, with the drop in elevation increasing exponentially the further the arrow has to travel. To illustrate this, consider that an arrow might drop an inch over 50 yards, but the same arrow shot over 90 to 100 yards could drop 10 inches.
This means that you could miss vital organs or miss your shot completely. Could you simply compensate for the drop in elevation by arching your shot? Sure, this takes arguably more skill and effort compared to simply moving closer to your target or waiting for your target to move to a more opportune position for you to take your shot.
Loss of Power
Maybe you’re thinking “I could arch that shot, I’m a great archer!” to which we say, sure. You could compensate for the elevation if you wanted to, but how would you compensate for the loss of power? Even if you were to arch the shot and hit your target if you were to (hypothetically) take a shot over the 100-yard mark, your arrow/bolt would not penetrate adequately.
As we mentioned previously, the further your arrow has to travel the less power it has in impact. You could count on the momentum by using an arrow with a higher grain count, but the kinetic energy produced by your bow still counts for literally 100% of the force required for the arrow to travel, and at 50 yards an arrow can easily lose between 15 to 20% of its energy, making it, ineffective.
How far can crossbows shoot though? Most crossbows these days can fire a bolt/arrow up to 500 yards, which is really far considering that you’re essentially firing a pointy stick using a string. This takes loads of energy, and usually, when large amounts of energy are produced, it tends to generate a lot of heat and sound as a by-product.
In the context of a bow, the sound is a result of the bowstring being released. This sound can be loud, and it travels quickly, even faster than the arrow/bolt you’re firing. This isn’t great in a hunting scenario, and the further you are away from your game, the more time it has to react to the sound, which can result in you missing your target completely.
This being said, the closer you are to your target, the less time it has to react to the sound of the bowstring, which is one of the many reasons why the 50-yard mark is objectively the furthest distance you could successfully hunt without your game “jumping the bow”. At the end of the day, even though the effective range of crossbow units might be further, this distance makes the most sense practically.
The Wind Factor
Wind is something that’s always around us, but most of us rarely consider it unless it’s being a nuisance. Wind can play a huge role in whether you hit your target or not, and it can be rather deceptive, especially over large distances. Just like an arrow losing its elevation over large distances, a slight gust of wind can affect the trajectory of an arrow greatly.
Now, if you’re shooting from within a range of 50 yards and you’re aware of a strong wind blowing it’s pretty easy for you to compensate for it by increasing power and/or adjusting your angle of approach. However, if you were shooting uphill or downhill well over 50 yards away from your target, it’s nearly impossible for you to tell the speed and direction of the wind in that area.
Can You Increase Your Crossbow Range With a Scope?
How far can crossbows shoot with a scope attached? Like any projectile weapon, adding a scope isn’t going to magically increase the effective range of your weapon. Why? Well, the scope doesn’t add any more power to the bow, it simply allows you to fire your bolt/arrow more accurately. There’s a huge difference between hitting your mark and the amount of stopping power behind your projectile. This being said, a scope can help you utilize your bow more effectively over long distances.
The crossbow range might be limited, but if you’re a skilled hunter, you might be able to hit a target using elevation and power to compensate for your arrow/bolt dipping and/or being affected by prevailing winds. Most hunters use a three-dot scope, in which each dot represents a different distance away from the bow and by extension, you.
There are usually three dots lined up vertically, each one representing 10-yard intervals away from the archer. Hunting scopes usually start with the topmost dot representing 20 yards, the middle representing 30 yards, and the bottommost one representing 40 yards. This is in line with the recommended effective hunting range, and therefore hunting scope will not exceed these distance indicators.
However, there are other scopes on the market. Scopes used for field archery events can assist an archer with firing their arrow/bolt much further than this, and while they could theoretically be used for hunting it’s generally frowned upon. Could they work in a real-life hunting scenario?
For most archers, it is highly unlikely, as you would need an extraordinary amount of skill and experience to hunt effectively from ranges indicated by the aforementioned scopes.
Why Should You Hunt Within a Practical and Ethical Range?
Let’s face it, when you’ve been squatting inside a blind for hours and you finally see the game you’ve been after, it can be tempting to take the shot even though it’s outside of the recommended range. After all, you’re there to shoot something, and you’re a pretty good shot, right? So why shouldn’t you?
Here are a few things you should consider if you find yourself in this situation.
Prevent Unnecessary Suffering
The goal of any hunting exploit is to ensure that your game is killed as quickly and easily as humanly possible without any unnecessary suffering to the animal in question. Firing off a shot from further away increases the probability of you missing all vital organs with an arrow that might not have enough power to penetrate the hide and/or bones protecting said organs if it does land.
This can result in a few things. The animal could end up bleeding out from the wound, choking, or running off only to die later, with your arrow/bolt still lodged in it. Hunting from a closer range increases the probability of you hitting your game as intended and increases the likelihood of lethal penetration to those spots.
Protect Your Arrows/Bolts
Arrows are typically designed to be found easily if you take a shot and miss, but the further you fire your arrow the more likely the chance of you losing it out in the wild. Keep in mind that when hunting you’re not on a range with well-maintained grass or flooring, your arrow could get lodged in some foliage or buried in dirt pretty easily.
You could end up breaking your arrows/bolts too. Remember that the further your arrow/bolt travels, the more errors in trajectory will be compounded, and if you hit something other than your intended target, it could end up breaking your projectile. This being said, the shorter the distance, the more control you have over the potential margin for error.
Hunting while using any projectile weapon can be exhausting. Between carrying it around, setting it up, making adjustments, loading your bolt/arrow, lining up your shot, and firing, it can leave you completely spent both mentally and physically. This being said, if you’re going to take a shot, you should be reasonably certain that you’ll hit your target, not hoping for it.
This is why you should ensure that you are within a practical and ethical range when taking your shot whenever possible. Missing a shot that you’d had to painstakingly set up because you’re a little impatient can be even more frustrating than having to wait for your game to get into the opportune position, so be patient and ensure that you’re within a decent range before letting your bolt/arrow fly.
Now that you know what the practical range of an ethical crossbow is, what factors you should consider when thinking about taking a long shot, why shooting outside of an effective range is a bad idea, and how shooting inside an effective range can benefit you, it’s time for you to get out there and put your new-found knowledge to the test. Remember to always wear the appropriate personal protective gear when hunting and to ensure that you are following state guidelines at all times.
Frequently Asked Questions
How Fast Do Crossbows Shoot?
How fast do crossbows shoot? Well, considering that most crossbows and compound bows are equally matched, you can safely assume that the average crossbow is capable of firing a bolt/arrow at 300 FPS. This being said, there are modern examples of bows being able to reach well over 400 FPS.
How Far Can a Crossbow Shoot Accurately?
How far can a crossbow shoot accurately? Most archers know that a crossbow or even a compound bow and arrow unit can fire an arrow/bolt thousands of feet. However, when it comes to accuracy, most archers are capable of firing their bow accurately within around 200 yards.
Are Crossbows More Powerful Than Bows?
This is a difficult question to answer. Compound bow and arrow units and compound crossbow units have more or less the same power output. This is because they’re essentially the same weapon, with the only difference being the firing mechanism and the type of projectile they fire.