Cross Your I’s and Dot Your T’s for Crossbow Season

The special late crossbow season in Iowa is now entering its third year of existence. While I don’t have any concrete numbers on the popularity of or what the actual number of participants have been. I can tell you that I have witnessed more buzz around the state with crossbows.

Before the special season was created a few years back in order to hunt whitetails with a crossbow you had to be a senior citizen or have a physical disability. With the popularity of the crossbow rising the DNR and Natural Resource Commission felt it necessary to commission a new crossbow season for all to partake in. A lot of people welcomed this while others believe that there is no place for a no restriction crossbow season in Iowa.

While I believe crossbows will one day be lumped into the early archery season I won’t go down that road with this article. This article will focus on tips and tactics for those of us that pursue whitetails with crossbows in the late archery season here in Iowa. If you are new to crossbow hunting and looking at getting started this will be a good tutorial on some things to focus on. The goal is the same, to tag a deer, but you have to be more mindful of a few things when using a crossbow.

Practice Real Hunting Situations
It is one thing to shoot at stationary paper targets that are straight in front of you, but it is a completely different thing to shoot at a real deer during hunting seasons. Unfortunately we can only do that during the season itself. So in order to give yourself the best and most lifelike practice you should practice on 3D targets outside that are affixed at different yardages and angles.

I practice from elevation, on the ground, with my hunting clothes on, and from 10 to 40 yards, focusing more on the odd yardage distances (15 yards, 23 yards, 37 yards, etc.) Anyone can put there 10,20, 30, or 40 yard pin on a deer and make the shot, but it gets a bit more difficult when the yardage is in between those distances. Bottom line practice the hard shots, so the easy shots are that much easier.

Less Movement Is Key
Any type of hunting requires you to be stealth and move as little as possible, especially during the moment of truth, but crossbow hunting requires you to be even less animated with your movements. The odd shaped outline of the bow itself is a dead giveaway to a deer when being raised to a shooting positon.

Your goal should be to minimize this motion with proper setup beforehand. If you can be in a semi ready shooting position at all times you are ahead of the game. What would be ideal is if your bow is shouldered at all times or at least in the general vicinity so a slight move can get it to your shoulder. If you wanted to you could rest the stock on top of your shoulder and then let it fall into position when ready to take aim. Then you merely have to put your cheek down, hand on the stock, and slide your bow to the target.

However, unless you are Hercules none of this can be done if you don’t have a rest to place your bow on. There is no way I can hold a crossbow in midair for a very long time. Having some sort of shooting rest is arguably the best piece of advice I can provide. We will discuss this in more detail later on. Piggybacking off of using a rest is you should try and steer away from hanging your crossbow from a limb or peg you have screwed into the tree. The bulkiness of the bow will be very difficult to get into position without being busted. Sure you can do it but I always error on the side of caution and have my bow in the ready positon as I mentioned or resting on my lap.

Accuracy Starts With The Trigger
If you have bad trigger pull mechanics, meaning you slap, jerk, or squeeze too hard, your accuracy will always be average at best, no matter if you are shooting a gun, bow, or anything with a trigger. Slapping, jerking, trigger shock, and having a hard squeeze will result in the entire crossbow going off target, which directly affects your bolt flight.

If you want to improve your accuracy dramatically and quickly, focus on your trigger pull mechanics. Have someone watch you or video tape yourself. The end result should be a nice gentle squeeze of the trigger. Repetition and consistency are key, you want to be using the same finger and the same part of the finger every pull. Most people use the pad of their pointer finger as a reference. This is a good choice as it tends to be the most comfortable option. If nothing else find what works best for you and repeat it over and over again.

Limb Removal for Limb Clearance
Always make sure your stand location has enough space to ensure the crossbow limbs don’t come into contact with a nearby limb or branch. The end result will be an errant shot and countless hours of time and effort wasted. Not to mention you could possibly ruin your bow if you hit a sturdy branch upon pulling the trigger.

It is a simple task and doesn’t take much time at all to clear any unwanted limbs. If your treestand location doesn’t provide enough clearance and proper shooting technique then find another location. If you hunt from a blind you should be okay, just make sure you are far enough back from the blind itself that the limbs don’t hit the walls when fired, sounds silly but it has happened to a few people I know.

Brace Your Bow
As mentioned above bracing or supporting your crossbow is important in overall accuracy. Crossbows are a bit cumbersome and awkward to hold freehand. So it is wise to rest the stock against something to take away that wavering and shaking that will inevitably happen when holding it freehand. If you hunt from a treestand your best bet will be to use ladder stands. A lot of models have a shooting rest option for crossbow and gun hunters. If you prefer hang on, climber, or blinds there are add on accessories on the market that can give you support via a shooting stick that anchors into the ground or stand floor. If need be you could go old school and simply put your elbow on your thigh. Doing this will give you just enough stability to make a clean shot. Be aware though that you need to make sure you can get to this positon without a deer busting you. Just pay attention and you should be fine.

If you are not using a tree stand or blind and basically hunting in the open or spot and stalking then you have to use your intuition and creativity to find a rest. Stumps, ant hills, leaning into trees, etc. can be all the support you need. So if you are in a pinch find whatever you can around you.

Hold Steady
Sometimes there are no other alternatives and you have to shoot without the support of a rest and that is okay. Clean and ethical shots can and are made while shooting without a rest. However, in order to be proficient you need to practice and build the muscles that are required to hold a crossbow up for long periods of time. The best way to do that? No you don’t necessarily have to work out (not a bad idea though for those of us who are out of shape…that includes me). What I do is simply practice raising my crossbow over and over again. Each time I will shoulder it, take aim, and hold that aim for as long as I can keep my reticle on target and not wavering all over the place. You would be surprised how quickly you can condition your muscles to hold steady.

Know Your Weapon
Any sportsman worth his or her weight in salt knows that for your weapon of choice to be its most effective you have to know the ins and outs of it. Sure you can pick up a bow and shoot a few rounds with it and hit a few bull’s eyes ever so often. Anyone can do that, but to make your bow a tack driver you need to know how it works, how to sight it in, how to tune it, what bolts fly the best, what are the parts that make it tick, and if something needs fixed.

You should also know what your crossbow’s MESR is, or more specifically don’t shoot outside of the combination of you and your crossbow’s Maximum Effective Shooting Range. If you are not comfortable with a yardage then don’t take the shot. Basically all you are doing if you take risky shots is throwing the dice and hoping your number comes up. Doing so is just not ethical. If you miss or wound an animal within your MESR you can at least rest easy knowing something went awry and you flat out screwed up. Taking a shot you have never taken before is admitting that you know the outcome will most likely be a failure. That is just not what ethical hunting is all about.

Making sure you are a safe hunter is very important. Following proper steps and precautions can save you from injury or worse death. There is no excuse for being an unsafe hunter. I get it accidents do happen no matter how safe you are. Even then you can still take precautions that will cut down the percentages of accidents. A few of those precautions when you are crossbow hunting are:
• Never transport a loaded crossbow.
• Never climb a tree with a loaded crossbow.
• Use a cocking device.
• Use a bow hoist when applicable.
• Check your crossbow for wear and tear and provide proper maintenance when needed.
• Always have your crossbow in the SAFE position until ready to fire. Check frequently.
• A cocked crossbow loaded or not should be treated the same as a loaded gun.
• Don’t alter the components of the crossbow other than what the manufacturer says is okay.

Crossbow hunting in the grand scheme of things in no different than hunting with a compound. You are still trying to ambush an unsuspecting deer from a tree or blind. The only difference is your weapon of choice, and with that come some things you have to keep in mind. Hopefully the above tips will allow for a more pleasurable and successful season for all of those that wish to continue hunting with a crossbow or start this year.