One of the most important features on a firearm is the trigger. I would rather have a really good trigger on a gun that’s not super accurate than a great-shooting gun with a horrible trigger. This holds true for me when I’m transitioning to a vertical bow with a release or a crossbow. What I look for in the trigger is not necessarily the poundage but the overall feel and movement. I like a clean trigger pull with very little movement. I like as little movement as possible – no creep! The weight is not that important. Whether it’s four pounds or six pounds does not mean that much to me. Anything in the medium weight range is fine. It’s the lack of movement in the trigger that gives me the best opportunity to execute a consistent, perfect shot.
Executing the Shot
I approach the execution of a shot on the crossbow in the exact same manner I do in my pistol shooting. I’m not really from the school of “surprise release.” This may be very important for vertical bow shooters who are using back-tension or thumb-style release aids. But with my experience utilizing firearms, I approach the shot sequence differently. I want to know when the shot breaks. That enables me to call the shot much more accurately. In my mind, if I don’t know when the shot is going to go off, how do I know I’m paying full attention the moment it happens?
I start the process by taking a few deep breaths and concentrating on my general aiming at the target. I inhale as I increase pressure on the trigger. If it’s a four-pound trigger, I try to take up about two pounds of weight. As a real bull’s-eye shooter would say, I “stand on the trigger” just a little. I then hold on my aiming spot and then I finalize by focusing all my energy on the spot I want to hit. Once I’m satisfied with my aiming, I slowly exhale and apply the remainder of the pressure on the trigger, keeping full attention on the crosshair, dot or whatever aiming aid I’m using.
Whether I’m shooting a vertical bow or crossbow, I try to keep all my focus and attention on the target. When I was younger, I could see the target and my pins in relatively clear focus pretty much at the same time. As I age, my focus needs to be either on the target or on the sight. I can only see one clearly at a time. I prefer to see the target very clearly, especially in a hunting situation. I feel that making a shot in the field, whether it’s a turkey, deer or a bull elk, calls for having all your attention on the animal. You pick that small spot and stay in sync with the target. If the animal takes a step, and you’re focused on it, you will still hit where you’re looking.
If you allow your attention to drift back toward the sight, you will increase the chances for a bad shot. If I’m shooting at a stationary target in the backyard, or at the range, I can allow my focus to drift back to the sight with a lot fewer consequences. It’s pretty much the same technique I use while shooting a handgun – especially on moving targets. If I keep my attention on the target and have a pretty good idea when the gun is going off, I’m a lot more accurate. When my focus drifts back toward my sight (it’s a red dot sight on my pistol), I find my shots land on the front leading edge or rear edge of the target, because I lose connection with the target. The term I like to use is being “hooked up” with the target. Hopefully, in a hunting situation, the animal is not moving, but sometimes they are walking or taking a step, and to me it’s the same technique I use in competition. So, that’s how I shoot my crossbow.
Just as with a vertical bow, follow-through is extremely important when shooting a crossbow. I tell myself to follow through with my eyes. I keep focus on the target and watch the arrow hit the target. That’s another reason why I keep my focus on the target, especially in a hunting situation. I want to know exactly where I hit that animal. If the target fuzzes out, then I can’t be really clear on the exact point of impact. A close target sometimes makes it more difficult, given the speed of the crossbows in use today. The arrow travels to the animal and hits before you know it. And if you’re not focused on the target, you cannot call the shot in an exacting manner. You might say, “Well, I saw the pin on the right spot when the shot went off, but I’m not exactly sure where it hit.” Focusing on the target will help with that deficiency.
As I stated earlier, I follow through with my eyes. I try to watch the arrow hit the target. I try to hold the bow on the target until I see impact. That, to me, is the correct way to follow through. For some of you, this will be a different technique than you’re used to. You must practice, with many repetitions, time and time again in the backyard or at the range. Repetitions, or should I say correct repetitions, of your shooting skills and fundamentals are critical to success.
Fundamentally, shooting a crossbow is easier than shooting a vertical bow. The opportunity to rest your elbow on your knee, lean against a tree or use some other sort of rest is a great aid in enhancing your marksmanship. But shooting a crossbow is still not as easy as shooting a firearm. The only real similarities are the stock, trigger and ability to support it while shooting. Other than that, it’s more like shooting vertical bow or even an air gun because of the relatively long amount of time it takes for the projectile to leave the weapon. For that reason, follow-through is even more critical with a crossbow than with a firearm.
In the firearms world, we use the term “lock time.” This is the time it takes the projectile to leave the weapon once the trigger is pulled. When shooting a rifle with a bullet that travels 3,000 feet per second, the lock time is very short. With a crossbow at 330 feet per second, there’s plenty of time for you to mess up the shot before the arrow is gone. Therefore, following through properly is extremely important! Practice hard, and practice often.