Shooting a crossbow sounds easy enough to most people, and truthfully, it is. But it is not the cliché of “shooting like a gun”. Crossbows are far more intricate.
Yes, crossbows are fired by pulling a trigger like a gun, and they shoulder the same way because of a similar horizontal stock design, but how is this any different than pulling the trigger on a compound bow release? The major difference between a crossbow and a vertical bow is simply the direction of its riser and string (vertical vs. horizontal).
The first step to master when learning to shoot a crossbow is the cocking process. Some crossbows come with cocking devices, either as separate accessories or built directly into the butt stock. You should read your specific brands owner’s manual to learn the exact process for safely cocking your crossbow. Once the string is seated all the way back by the trigger latch, you can load an arrow. Do this by holding the arrow at its front, nearest the point (whether field point or broad head) to ensure that you hand and fingers stay well clear of the path of the bowstring.
Now that you have a crossbow arrow loaded, this is where crossbows are easier to handle than vertical bows, which you have to hold back at draw length until you’re ready to fire. The string latch will hold the string until you remove the crossbow from the safe position and pull the trigger. Much like guns and vertical bow releases, crossbow triggers have differing trigger pull requirements. Some are feather-light trigger pulls, while others require a couple more pounds of force. Regardless, your personal preference will tell you which trigger you like best. It is safest and most efficient to find a crossbow with a trigger that is smooth all the way through the trigger pull.
Like any other weapon that fires a projectile down range, you need to learn how to aim properly. Most crossbows come equipped with some sort of scope, with or without slight magnification, and often offer illumination settings. Just as crossbow speeds are comparable to vertical bow speeds, crossbow scopes are engineered for shooting at targets of comparable distances of that which vertical bow shooters would use sight pins for. The reticle itself might resemble a rifle scope, but are not designed for shooting at extreme distances.
With a safely loaded crossbow, arrow seated, safety in the “safe” position, and scope appropriately ready for shooting, raise the crossbow and secure the butt stock firmly against your shooting shoulder, while placing your other hand appropriately on the fore-grip. Remember to keep your hands and fingers well out of the bowstrings flight path to avoid injury. Certain crossbows are equipped with safety wings that help to prevent your fingers from unknowingly creeping into harm’s way on the barrel.
With the crossbow firmly in place against your body and your forehand in place on the fore-grip, rest your cheek on the top of the butt stock to allow you to peer down the scope or sight picture with your appropriate dominant eye. Your dominant eye can be determined in a number of different ways. Typically, right-handed people display a right eye dominance, and vice versa, but you can research other methods to test this for yourself.
Peering down the scope, using the appropriate distance marker (usually a dot inside the reticle), bring the scope to rest on the area you wish to aim at (typically a dot on a target or the vitals on a game species). You want to be as calm and focused as possible during this step. Take a couple slow, deep breaths and focus your energy at holding steady on that point-of-aim down range.
Once acquired, reach up and move the safety into the “fire” position. Make any last minute adjustments to how you are aiming and take one final deep breath. Upon exhaling, concentrate completely on the spot you’ve chosen down range and, when you’ve let out around 50% of the air in your lungs, slowly begin to pull the trigger. This is why a crossbow with a smooth trigger pull all the way through the action is so important. You should ALWAYS pull the trigger slowly, never jerky. Those types of quick movements can have great effect on your overall accuracy.
While slowly pulling on the trigger, continue to exhale. This helps to keep you well-focused and in-tune with the shot you are about to make. Once the crossbow actually fires, there should still be a little bit of air left in your lungs. Continue to exhale, never moving or lifting your head off the butt stock. You should continue to peer down the scope even after the arrow has left the crossbow to ensure that you did not make any small movements during the crucial stages of the shot that could throw off your down range accuracy.
After a couple seconds have passed since the shot took place, you can move your head and look down range, either at your target or attempting to follow the game you shot as it runs off. You just completed correct crossbow shooting form. While many of these steps are similar to both vertical bow shooting and long gun or rifle shooting, there are subtle differences that make all the difference. Practicing these steps is the key to executing them successfully in the field when in pursuit of game.