Skip to main content

Crossbow Hunting for More Than Just Whitetails

Even though many people only think of deer, crossbows are a fun and effective tool for many other forms of hunting.

Crossbow Hunting for More Than Just Whitetails
Whether you opt for shooting sticks or a bipod, a solid rest is critical when small-game hunting from the ground.

Whether they shoot horizontal or vertical bows, I think it's fair to say the vast majority of bowhunters spend their time afield waiting on an elevated platform for a whitetail to wander within range.

It’s a popular and effective tactic, but if you choose it as your only method, you may be missing out on a world of opportunity.

Whether you’re waiting for whitetail season to open, bemoaning its passing or merely looking for a change of pace, consider a few less-common crossbow-hunting options.

Bushytails

Let’s start where many of us began our hunting careers, at least most of us older folks: small game. Squirrel hunting was once far more popular and a great way to teach youngsters things such as patience, stealth and woodsmanship. You have a couple of options, including slipping slowly and silently along or sitting stationary on the ground — the latter is often the better choice, especially when hunting with a crossbow.


Obviously, your opportunities are more limited, as upward shots should not be considered. Without the loud report of a gun, though, you may get more opportunities to collect some “limb bacon.”


Woodland Wings

Upland birds are another option. It isn’t uncommon for a woodcock hunter to spy a timberdoodle holding tight before bursting into flight, especially when hunting with dogs. Where I live, it’s standard practice to ride the logging roads looking for ruffed grouse as they pick gravel on the roadside. In that situation, a crossbow makes a suitable substitute for headshots with a .22 rifle or a .410 shotgun.

In northern and mountain states, spruce grouse are sometimes referred to as “fool hens” for their proclivity to allow hunters to approach within close proximity. Should you find yourself even farther north, ptarmigan can also be downright foolhardy at times.

Tooth & Tail

Varmints represent another undervalued category in the crossbow world. Anyone can pick off prairie dogs with a rifle from a prone and distant position; try doing it up close and with a crossbow. A ground blind or a ghillie suit might come in handy.

The same generally applies to predator hunting. Long shots are the norm, but some folks occasionally try to lure foxes, bobcats and coyotes within shotgun range, which is also close enough for a crossbow.


Bills & Beaks

Yet another option is waterfowl. Archery tackle is legal for hunting waterfowl according to federal regulations, but you should check state regulations, as many states permit conventional archery tackle but not crossbows.

If crossbows are legal where you hunt, forget hitting flying fowl. Limit yourself to ground or, if you don’t mind losing bolts, water shots. Small-game heads are best for ducks, but you have more options with geese, including conventional mechanical broadheads or even the guillotine-style broadheads used for turkeys. Just make sure your bolts are long enough to clear the stirrup or any other up-front paraphernalia, and practice with the actual broadheads you’ll be using, as bolt flight could be quite erratic with higher-poundage rigs.

Speaking of turkey hunting, crossbows are well suited to the sport. You’ve got to get them close regardless of what weapon you choose, but unlike conventional archery tackle, you don’t have to draw a crossbow once you do.


Gear Up

Regardless of which path you choose, there are some additional considerations.

One is equipment. While you can use your regular deer-hunting crossbow, a smaller, less-powerful one is a better option for small game. That’s especially true if you’re introducing youth or small-framed adults to hunting. It will make for a better starter crossbow for them and a dedicated small-game crossbow for you and your kids after they’ve grown up.

You may also want to consider a recurve crossbow, as they offer more options in terms of lighter draw weights and lower kinetic energy. Having a dedicated small-game crossbow won’t break the bank either, as you can find several models under $200.

As for projectiles, most any small-game blunt head will suffice. For predators, go back to your conventional broadheads. The same goes for turkeys, with the aforementioned guillotine broadheads as another option.

As misses and even hits often result in your bolt hitting the ground, you may want to go with cheaper projectiles. Save the expensive carbon bolts for big game and use aluminum or less-expensive carbon ones for small game. Don’t forget to practice with them to ensure your crossbow is properly sighted in and that they are properly spined for your crossbow’s poundage.

Heavier bolts are also a better choice. Most shots at small game are at close range, so you’re less concerned with trajectory and drop. They’ll hold up better to striking hard ground or trees and are more likely to meet or exceed spine-strength requirements for your lighter-poundage rig.

Top Tactics

Another important consideration is safety. Lying in wait to ambush passing game is standard practice when crossbow hunting, but spot-and-stalk or run-and-gun hunting require more attention to detail.

In the former case, you will likely have your crossbow cocked and loaded. Keep your finger out of the trigger guard and make sure the safety is engaged at all times. Move slowly and carefully, paying special attention when passing through thick brush.

In the latter case, when moving quickly from one location to another, you will be much safer not loading a bolt until you come to a stop. If circumstances permit, it’s also better if you can wait until you stop to cock your crossbow.

The world of crossbow hunting continues to expand. Some hunters are content to stick with deer and other big-game species, but a growing number are looking for new and different reasons to carry their crossbows afield. Whatever you pursue, be sure to check the regs and, as always, hunt safely.

GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.

Recommended Articles

See More Recommendations

Popular Videos

Springtime Turkey Hunt

Springtime Turkey Hunt

Kevin Steele and the boys are bowhunting turkeys with the help of some well-placed decoys.

First Look: Mathews Vertix Bow

First Look: Mathews Vertix Bow

"Petersen's Bowhunting" editor Christian Berg and Mathews design engineer Mark Hayes talk the smooth, quiet and fast shooting qualities of the new flagship Vertix bow from the Wisconsin bowmaker.

Ravin R29X Crossbow – New for 2020

Ravin R29X Crossbow – New for 2020

The new Ravin R29X Crossbow includes everything you need for blistering speed (450 FPS!) and deadly downrange accuracy (3-inch group at 100 yards).

See More Popular Videos

Trending Articles

Bill Winke explains the benefits of both shooting techniques. Shooting Your Bow With One Eye Versus Two How-To

Shooting Your Bow With One Eye Versus Two

Bill Winke

Bill Winke explains the benefits of both shooting techniques.

These are the archery shots you should and shouldn't take on whitetails. Where to Shoot a Deer: Bowhunting Shot Placement How-To

Where to Shoot a Deer: Bowhunting Shot Placement

Christian Berg

These are the archery shots you should and shouldn't take on whitetails.

Binoculars and rangefinders at the 2020 ATA Show! New Optics for 2020 ATA Show

New Optics for 2020

Brian K. Strickland - January 10, 2020

Binoculars and rangefinders at the 2020 ATA Show!

From portability and comfort to stealth and shooting opportunities, today's tree saddles are hard to beat.Why You Should Try Tree Saddle Hunting Treestands & Blinds

Why You Should Try Tree Saddle Hunting

Andy May

From portability and comfort to stealth and shooting opportunities, today's tree saddles are...

See More Trending Articles

More Other Game

I realize the whole topic of crossbows and crossbow hunting can be a bit controversial amongStrange Brew: Helicopter Hog Hunting With A Crossbow Other Game

Strange Brew: Helicopter Hog Hunting With A Crossbow

Christian Berg - February 28, 2012

I realize the whole topic of crossbows and crossbow hunting can be a bit controversial among

Crossbows are a fun and effective tool for many other forms of hunting. Crossbow Hunting for More Than Just Whitetails Other Game

Crossbow Hunting for More Than Just Whitetails

Bob Humphrey

Crossbows are a fun and effective tool for many other forms of hunting.

Most would define the narrow opening in the thick river bottom below me as a whitetail funnel.3 Secrets for Bowhunting Coyotes Other Game

3 Secrets for Bowhunting Coyotes

Mark Kayser - February 09, 2016

Most would define the narrow opening in the thick river bottom below me as a whitetail funnel.



If the swamps of Central Florida are hog-hunting heaven, William Hog Heaven: Bowhunting Florida Hogs Other Game

Hog Heaven: Bowhunting Florida Hogs

Christian Berg - June 07, 2012

If the swamps of Central Florida are hog-hunting heaven, William "Hoppy" Kempfer is a...

See More Other Game

Magazine Cover

GET THE MAGAZINE Subscribe & Save

Digital Now Included!

SUBSCRIBE NOW

Give a Gift   |   Subscriber Services

PREVIEW THIS MONTH'S ISSUE Arrow

Buy Digital Single Issues

Don't miss an issue.
Buy single digital issue for your phone or tablet.

Buy Single Digital Issue on the Petersen's Bowhunting App

Other Magazines

Special Interest Magazines

See All Special Interest Magazines

GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.

Phone Icon

Get Digital Access.

All Petersen's Bowhunting subscribers now have digital access to their magazine content. This means you have the option to read your magazine on most popular phones and tablets.

To get started, click the link below to visit mymagnow.com and learn how to access your digital magazine.

Get Digital Access

Not a Subscriber?
Subscribe Now