Hunting with A Crossbow: What Is the Ideal Shooting Range?

Carly Brasseux // September 28

If you are looking to hunt with a crossbow, do you know your ideal shooting range? As sleek, compact, and staggeringly powerful as modern crossbows have become, it is important to remember that they still cannot match the effective range of some firearms. 

Truly effective and ethical crossbow hunting range depends on several different factors, but crossbow arrows do not — in fact, cannot — follow the same long-range trajectory as a bullet. However skilled you are, however powerful your crossbow may be, a crossbow simply does not fire arrows at nearly the same velocity as a rifle fires a bullet.

That isn’t to say that a talented archer with the right crossbow can’t hit a target at impressive distances of 100+ yards. But when it comes to effective deer hunting range, the general rule of thumb for a good shot with a 300+ fps crossbow is about 50 yards or less.

The real trick is to figure out your own personal effective range. To do that, you’ll need a little knowledge and a lot of practice.

The Physics Behind Crossbow Arrow Drop

Without going too far into the numbers, the reason a rifle offers such a significantly greater deer hunting range than a crossbow is the speed at which bullets travel. Although arrows are larger and heavier, the power of a projectile has much more to do with its velocity than its mass.

This is because of this equation:

Kinetic Energy = Mass x Velocity^2

On average, a modern crossbow shoots a 400-grain arrow at around 350 fps, causing that arrow to strike with about 100 ft-lbs. of force at 20 yards.

Conversely, a modern rifle shoots a 100-grain bullet at around 3,000 fps! That puts the kinetic energy of that bullet at around 2,000 ft-lbs. of force at 100+ yards.

Deer Hunting with A Crossbow

At that speed, bullets launch from barrel to buck almost instantaneously, across a nearly flat trajectory. Crossbow arrows, on the other hand, require full seconds to travel the same distance. Though gravity affects both projectiles equally, the extra time-to-target means a noticeable dip in the arrow’s flight path.

To compensate for this arrow drop, a crossbow hunter would have to aim well above their prey if they hoped to connect with it over a long distance — let alone cause lethal damage when it arrived. That’s why it’s best for crossbow hunters to get closer before taking their shot, so there won’t be any noticeable arrow drop.

Practice Makes Permanent

Once you understand the practical range of your crossbow, the next step is to dial in your personal effective shooting distance by practicing at 5- or 10-yard increments all the way up to and beyond that distance.

After all, no amount of math can replace genuine experience when it comes to increasing accuracy, range, and overall skill. One way or another, you’re going to have to put in the work. That’s the only real way to figure out what works for you, your gear, and your target. Maybe your crossbow is lighter and easier to maneuver closer to your target. Maybe your stature allows you to see over obstacles that would otherwise impede those without the advantage of height.

By training yourself to shoot both closer and farther than your ideal hunting distance, your instincts will improve and your reactions in the heat of the moment will be calm and collected. Not only will you know what you’re doing, but after reading this article, you’ll know why you’re doing it.

Understanding Crossbow Range

Crossbow range refers to the maximum distance that a crossbow bolt can travel accurately and effectively. It is determined by several factors, including the power of the crossbow, the weight and design of the bolt, and the skill of the shooter.

Factors Affecting Crossbow Range

The power of the crossbow is the most significant factor affecting range. A more powerful crossbow will be able to shoot bolts farther than a weaker one. The weight and design of the bolt also play a role, as heavier bolts will travel farther but may be less accurate. The skill of the shooter is also important, as a skilled shooter can shoot accurately at longer distances.

Maximum Effective Range

The maximum effective range of a crossbow is typically around 50-60 yards for most hunters and shooters. However, some high-end crossbows can shoot accurately up to 100 yards or more. It is important to note that shooting at longer distances requires more skill and practice, and may not be legal in all areas.

Hunting Range

For hunting purposes, the effective range of a crossbow is typically much shorter than the maximum range. Most hunters prefer to shoot at distances of 20-40 yards, as this provides a good balance between accuracy and power. Shooting at longer distances may result in a less humane kill or a missed shot.

Target Shooting Range

For target shooting, the range of a crossbow can vary widely depending on the skill level of the shooter and the type of target being used. Some competitive shooters can shoot accurately at distances of 80-100 yards or more, while others may prefer to shoot at shorter distances for practice and accuracy.

Factors to Consider

When considering crossbow range, it is important to take into account the power of the crossbow, the weight and design of the bolt, and the skill level of the shooter. It is also important to consider the purpose of the shooting, whether it is for hunting or target shooting, and to follow all local laws and regulations regarding crossbow use and range.

Commonly asked questions about hunting with a crossbow:

How far will a 400 fps crossbow shoot?

A crossbow with a velocity of 400 feet per second (fps) is considered quite fast and powerful. Generally, crossbows with such speeds are capable of achieving effective ranges of around 50 to 80 yards (approximately 45 to 73 meters). However, it's essential to note that accuracy and effective range can also be influenced by factors like bolt weight, wind conditions, shooter skill, and the specific design and capabilities of the crossbow itself.

Is a crossbow good for hunting?

Yes, crossbows are excellent tools for hunting. They offer high accuracy and power, making them effective for various game animals. Crossbows also provide a longer effective range compared to traditional bows, allowing hunters to take shots from greater distances.

Is it hard to hunt deer with a crossbow?

Hunting deer with a crossbow is not inherently difficult. Crossbows are designed to be user-friendly, with features like scopes and cocking devices to aid accuracy and ease of use. However, hunting any animal requires practice, knowledge of hunting techniques, and an understanding of the behavior of your target species.

Is hunting with a crossbow easy?

Hunting with a crossbow can be relatively easy, especially for individuals who have prior experience with firearms or archery. Crossbows offer a more stable shooting platform compared to vertical bows, making them easier to aim and shoot accurately. However, proficiency still requires practice and familiarity with the specific crossbow you're using.

What is the average distance to shoot a deer with a crossbow?

The average distance to shoot a deer with a crossbow can vary depending on several factors, including the skill of the hunter and the specific capabilities of the crossbow. However, most skilled crossbow hunters aim for distances within 40 to 50 yards (approximately 36 to 46 meters) to ensure accurate and ethical shots. It's important to note that individual proficiency and shooting conditions can influence this distance.

If you are hunting with a crossbow, now you know your ideal shooting range.

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About the Author

Carly Brasseux

Carly Brasseux is a determined and passionate freelance outdoor writer, published author, business owner and social media/marketing consultant based in Texas. In a world where women are the fastest growing segment of the hunting population, she is a major proponent of those women wanting to learn more about the outdoors and hunting. Her handle, Miss Pursuit, is an expression of her enthusiasm for all things outdoors, from educating women through her experiences learning to hunt over the last decade, to getting out with her kids to explore the wild. Her expertise in social media and marketing, as well as her vast network of people in the outdoor industry, have given her the influence to make an impact for years to come. Member of the Mule Deer Foundation, Backcountry Hunters & Anglers, Stewards of the Wild and the Texas Wildlife Association.