What is the maximum range for a crossbow? That's a tough question to answer. Modern crossbows typically generate speeds anywhere from 280-350 feet per second, with some models topping 400 fps. Despite the speed advantage today's crossbows hold over the average compound bow, I still believe the maximum effective range for crossbow hunters is about the same as it is for vertical bowhunters.
It really comes down to the hunter; his or her practice, techniques, patience and shooting skill.
The trajectory of a crossbow is very similar to that of a compound bow that shoots roughly 300 fps. A crossbow bolt weighs around 450 grains. So, you can see how it is similar to a vertical bow shooting a 400-grain arrow at roughly the same speeds. These are very close figures and, as you know, there is always a variance with every piece of equipment. My TenPoint crossbow, sighted in at 20 yards, will shoot three to four inches low at 30 yards and 10 inches low at 40 yards.
Here are a few tips for becoming familiar with your crossbow's trajectory: Practice at all the yardages you think you could potentially encounter on your hunt, then stretch it out another 20-30 yards. Shoot your broadheads, and make sure they hit the same point of impact as your fieldpoints. Just because your broadheads are the same weight as your fieldpoints doesn't mean they'll hit the same spot. Once you get your zero with fieldpoints, you need to put your broadheads on your bolts and make your final sight adjustments.
Another thing I recommend is simulating real-world shooting scenarios during your practice sessions. If you are going to be hunting from a treestand, shoot from an elevated position as much as possible. If you will be doing spot-and-stalk hunting, find some hills and practice shooting at awkward uphill and downhill angles. I also recommend attending local 3-D shoots with your crossbow. You may get a few strange looks from the vertical bow guys, but so what! It's the best way to prepare for the hunting season or for that once-in-a-lifetime outfitted hunt you saved your hard-earned money for. The change in target distances, target sizes, target species and the realistic scenarios are a great way to tune up your shooting.
When it comes to determining your maximum effective range in a hunting scenario, there are many factors involved beyond the technical capabilities of your weapon. I'm very comfortable, when utilizing shooting sticks, shooting six-inch targets at 60 yards with my crossbow. But that is a stationary target under controlled conditions. When you are considering similar shots at animals, you have to factor in not only your equipment and marksmanship abilities, but also the unpredictable nature of your target, which can move at any moment.
I can speak from experience here. During a recent trip to New Zealand, I had my eyes opened up while hunting red stag and fallow deer with my crossbow. Prior to that trip, my crossbow-hunting experience had been, for the most part, focused on whitetails from a treestand and a few bears on bait. This hunt in New Zealand was spot-and-stalk, on free-range animals, in big country. The distances were long, and there wasn't a lot of cover in some situations. I learned a great deal from the trip and had to learn new techniques in areas that I had previously taken for granted.
I practiced every other day for six weeks before I left on my trip. I was very confident with my shooting skills, my zero and the overall performance of my equipment. I was shooting two- and three-inch groups with broadheads at 60 yards. But what I quickly discovered is that making similar shots through the wind, across steep terrain, at an animal that doesn't want to stand still for very long, is an entirely different matter! This was not something new to me, given the fact I have been a vertical bowhunter since age 12. But despite my decades of bowhunting experience and years as a professional shooter, I realized that I had still assumed that my crossbow, with a little bit flatter trajectory than a vertical bow, would allow me to pay less attention to all the basics of shooting. I was wrong!
KEEP IT QUIET
Another thing I neglected on this particular outing was the importance of quieting my crossbow to the best of my ability. I have string silencers and a string stop on my vertical bow, and the bow is super quiet. I didn't take the time to put any of those things on my crossbow. I quickly learned while hunting the fallow deer, which have super keen senses, that these animals were able to jump the string at 30 and 40 yards.
In one case, I had a young fallow deer at about 42 yards, and I decided I would shoot it for camp meat. The little buck had no idea I was there. I was set up with my shooting sticks, in an elevated position, when I took the shot. He jumped it and the arrow just grazed his backside. That was when I realized I didn't do everything I could have done to make my equipment quieter. By quieting my equipment, I would have given myself a further maximum range. By not doing so, I shortened my maximum range and efficiency. I quickly realized my comfort zone was going to be a maximum of 30 yards, especially on older, mature fallow bucks or red stags.
So, as I said earlier, there are a lot of things to consider when you're talking about your maximum effective range and your equipment's maximum effective range. First and foremost is the animal you are hunting and how alert that animal is, followed by the conditions you are hunting in. I believe crossbow hunters have essentially the same maximum range as vertical bowhunters, as long as you have practiced enough to be shooting tight groups and do everything you can to make sure your equipment is quiet. By crossbow standards (crossbows are notoriously loud compared to compound bows), my Ten Point is very quiet right out of the box. But I know now, after my experience in New Zealand, that adding string silencers and some BowJax will pay big dividends.
Like I said, I'm a rookie when it comes to spot-and-stalk hunting with my crossbow, and I quickly learned I have a lot to learn!