crossbow-FAQ - 9/6/96
Crossbow history, definitions, construction.
NOTE: See also the files: archery-books-msg, C-A-handbook-art, arrows-msg,
crossbows-msg, arrow-making-FAQ, arch-hist-FAQ, clout-shoot-FAQ.
This file is a collection of various messages having a common theme that
I have collected from my reading of the various computer networks. Some
messages date back to 1989, some may be as recent as yesterday.
This file is part of a collection of files called Stefan's Florilegium.
These files are available on the Internet at: http://www.florilegium.org
I have done a limited amount of editing. Messages having to do with
seperate topics were sometimes split into different files and sometimes
extraneous information was removed. For instance, the message IDs were
removed to save space and remove clutter.
The comments made in these messages are not necessarily my viewpoints. I
make no claims as to the accuracy of the information given by the
Please respect the time and efforts of those who have written these
messages. The copyright status of these messages is unclear at this
time. If information is published from these messages, please give
credit to the orignator(s).
Mark S. Harris AKA: THLord Stefan li Rous
Subject: FAQ: Crossbows
Summary: This posting contains the alt.archery FAQ section containing
information on crossbow history, organizations, books, magazines,
Last-modified: 3 September 1996
This is a section of the FAQ for alt.archery. It is maintained by me at
the following e-mail address: firstname.lastname@example.org
Comments, flames, etc. on the FAQ are welcome and should be directed to
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CROSSBOW FAQ INFORMATION
Note: Some of the terminology preferences used in this list are the
author's and not common modern useage. Crossbow terminology is
not altogether standardized and one should not be too pedantic
ARBALIST - Latin language term for crossbow, derived from arcuballista
(also spelled ARBALEST).
ARMBRUST - German language term for crossbow which is often preferred in
ARROW - Synonym for bolt which is preferred by some modern crossbow
BACK - Side of bow or lath facing target.
BALLISTA - Roman seige engine similar to oversized crossbow.
BARREL - Section of the stock between the latch and lath; sometimes
used as synonym for track.
- Crossbow having a tubular barrel rather than a track; used to
shoot balls, usually of lead; synonym for slurbow.
- String to brace a crossbow for installation of bowstring;
synonym for bracing string.
BELLY - Side of bow or lath facing shooter.
BELT HOOK - Metal hook(s) attached to belt to aid cocking.
- Hindged lever to aid cocking; pushes string back using lugs or
a ring mounted at front of crossbow; provides mechanical
advantage of about 5:1, varying with lever length.
BINDING - See BRIDLE.
BOLT - Short projectile for crossbow resembling arrow.
- See TRACK.
BOW - See LATH.
BOW IRONS - Metal fittings used to secure lath to stock; usually tightened
with metal wedges.
BOWSTEEL - Steel lath.
BOWSTRING - String used on all archery weapons to transfer force from bow
BRACED - Position of bowstring when mounted on bow or lath, but not
- Distance between braced bowstring and belly side of riser,
measured from the bowstring's center.
- See BASTARD STRING.
BRIDLE - Binding, usually of twisted sinew cord, used to tie lath to
stock on medieval crossbows.
- Crossbow designed to shoot bullets; generally used in reference
to double-string types.
BUTT - Rearmost portion of crossbow stock; also refers to earthen mound
used in long range target shooting, and as a general term for
CATCH - See LATCH and SAFETY.
- Bow or crossbow lath designed so that the arrow/bolt passes
through its center; center-shot crossbows often have two
CLEAN DRAW- See POWER STROKE.
CLIP - Spring used to retain bolt to cocked crossbow prior to
shooting; usually made of horn or metal.
CLOUT - Long range archery shooting. Modern practice uses a horizontal
target 15 meters in diameter outlined with flags; scoring is
determined by measuring distance from center.
COCK - To draw bowstring from braced position to latched position.
- Metal protruberances on crossbow for anchoring bending lever,
cranequin or goat's foot.
- Peg required to set some crossbow trigger mechanisms prior to
- Metal ring bound to the front of the lath to anchor bending
- Method of serving sometimes used on loops of crossbow
COMPOSITE - Combination of materials used to construct lath including horn,
wood, sinew and baleen.
COMPOUND - Modern lath construction using cables and eccentric pulleys.
CORD AND PULLEY
- Cocking aid consisting of cord with ends attached to crossbow
butt and user's belt running through a pulley attached to
mechanical advantage of 2:1.
CRANEQUIN - Cocking device using rack and pinion; can provide mechanical
advantage of about 145:1, varying with size and number of teeth.
CROSSBOW - Archery weapon consisting of a lath mounted to a rigid stock,
having a mechanical means to hold and release the drawn
bowstring. See also ARBALEST, ARMBRUST, BARRELED CROSSBOW,
DOG'S FOOT- See GOAT'S FOOT.
- Complex form of bowstring designed to launch round projectiles
from crossbow; has leather pouch at center to hold ball.
DRY-FIRE - To release cocked bowstring without projectile; term borrowed
END - Shooting phase of an archery competition; a set number of
arrows or bolts shot consecutively before determining score.
END LOOP - Loops at either end of bowstring.
ENDCAP - Protective cap to protect rear of bolt; similar to arrow nock,
but not forked.
FIRE - To light incendiary crossbow projectile; often used incorrectly
as synonym for shoot or loose.
- See TRACK
FOOTCLAW - See STIRRUP.
GAFFLE - See GOAT'S FOOT.
- Greek weapon described by Heron of Alexandria similar to
crossbow; literally "stomach weapon".
- Two-piece hindged cocking lever designed to pull bowstring from
behind latch (curved shape of lever vaguely resembles goats
leg); provides mechanical advantage of about 5:1, varying with
GROOVE - See TRACK.
HANDBOW - Term used to distinguish hand-held bow from crossbow.
LATCH - Mechanism for holding crossbow bowstring in cocked position,
and for releasing bowstring when trigger is pulled. Synonym
LATH - Bow portion of a crossbow storing motive energy for propelling
projectile; term preferred by some archery historians; not
common parlance among modern crossbowmen. See PROD.
LIMB - Portion of lath to right or left of center.
LOOSE - To launch an archery missle.
- Smaller form of ballista; from the Latin "manus" meaning hand.
NOCK - Forked protective cap on rear of bolt; usually necessary with
trackless crossbows to keep bolt in contact with string.
Notches at each end of bow or lath to accept string are also
NOSE - Forward end of crossbow; sometimes used to refer to assembly
attaching lath to stock.
NUT - Cylindrical latch usually made of ivory or antler.
PAVISE - Large shield used to protect military crossbowmen in the field
while loading and shooting.
- See BULLET CROSSBOW; usually low powered weapon.
- Distance between braced and cocked string positions as measured
PROD - Bow portion of crossbow; term also used as name for light
bullet crossbow (also spelled PRODD).
- See LATCH.
QUARREL - Bolt with four-sided head; often used as synonym for bolt.
QUIVER - Container for carrying arrows or bolts.
RISER - Thick, non-bending center section of bow or lath.
SAFETY - Mechanical device, usually in the form of a button or lever,
used to prevent crossbow from shooting unintentionally. Often
referred to as "safety-catch," "-button," or "-pin."
SCORPION - See MANUBALLISTA.
SERVING - Wrapping of thread used to protect the center and loops of
- Trigger which may be set to release under very light pressure;
SHOOT - See LOOSE.
SLED - Guide attached to the center of crossbow bowstring to lessen
string wear and insure exact centering of the string when
SLURBOW - See BARRELED CROSSBOW.
SPANNER - General term for any device used to cock crossbows; [German,
winding tool, from spannen, to stretch, from Middle High
German, from Old High German spannan.]
SPANNING - Physical act of cocking a crossbow.
- Loop bound to center of some crossbow bowstrings to engage
STIRRUP - Device for holding the crossbow with feet while cocking;
usually 'D' or 'T' shaped, sometimes made from webbing or rope.
STOCK - Portion of the crossbow to which all other components are
attached and by which it is held.
STONEBOW - See BULLET CROSSBOW.
TASSEL - Traditional archery accessory worn on belt to clean bolts or
TILLER - See STOCK.
TOMMY-BAR - Type of bow iron tightened using threaded rods instead of
TRACK - Grooved portion of the crossbow between the lath and latch
where the bolt rides.
TRACKLESS - Crossbow with an bolt rest in front instead of a full-length
groove; forked nocks usually necessary to maintain contact
between bolt and string.
WINDER - General term for windlass or cranequin.
WINDLASS - Crossbow cocking device using a system of pulleys and cords;
provides mechanical of about 45:1 depending on construction.
Literary and physical evidence suggest that the crossbow originated in China
during the 4th century BC, though a type of crossbow called the gastraphetes
may have been independently invented in Greece at about the same period. It
wasn't until the 10th or 11th centuries AD that the crossbow became a
significant military weapon in Europe. It passed from general military
service in the 16th century, but its use for hunting and target shooting has
continued to the present day. The most of following chronology is abridged
from GUIDE TO THE CROSSBOW by Paterson:
341 BC Earliest reliable record of crossbow use at
battle of Ma-Ling in China.
228 BC Earliest crossbow artifact, a bronze lock
mechanism from the tomb of Yu Wang.
0-100 AD Heron of Alexandria describes gastraphetes.
300-700 Roman carvings of crossbows.
385 Vegetius mentions crossbows in DE RE
1066 Crossbows introduced to England by Normans.
1096 Anna Comnena describes Norman crossbows.
1100-1200 Composite crossbow lath appears.
1139 2nd Lateran Council interdict forbids use of
crossbow among Christians.
1192 Crusader victory at Jaffa aided by crossbows.
1314 Earliest reliable record of steel lath.
1346 Genoese crossbowmen defeated at Crecy by
1373 Earliest illustration of cranequin.
1503 First of many English laws restricting
possession and use of crossbows.
1550-1600 Firearms replace crossbows in most Weatern
1860 Photographic evidence from Chinese shows repeating
crossbows still used there as military weapons.
1939-45 "Arrowspeed" crossbow used by Austrailian
commandos in Pacific Theatre.
1945-1975 Crossbows employed by Montagnard peoples and
US special forces during Vietnam conflict.
1960?-present Crossbows used to shoot anesthetic darts for
capturing and treating wildlife; also used to
obtain tissue samples from marine animals for
obtaining genetic information.
Barnett International, Inc.
P.O. Box 934
Odessa, FL 33556
Bear/Jennings Archery, Inc.
4600 S.W. 41st Blvd.
Gainesville, FL 32601
Horton Manufacturing Co., Inc.
484 B. Tacoma Ave.
Tallmadge, OH 44278
New World Arbalest
1402 West 51 St.
Austin, TX 78756
Precision Shooting Equipment, Inc.
2727 N. Fairview
(P.O. Box 5487,
Tucson, AZ 85703
45 Hollinger Crescent, Unit 2
Kitchener, Ontario N2K 22I
P.O. Box 325
Bundoora Vic. 3083
3 Palmerston Street
Philip Ambrose "Modular Ring Ten" Field Crossbow,
7403 Jackson Ave. Crossbow parts
Takoma Park, MD 20912
Bud Fowkes Custom Field Crossbows
904 7th St.
Verona, PA 15147
Lancaster Archery Supply Field Crossbows, Crossbow Kits,
2195-A Old Philadelphia Pike and all Parts and Accessories
Lancaster, PA 17602
Stan Pennypacker Custom Field Crossbows, Limbs
RD1, Box 245B and Accessories
Spring Mills, PA 18975
William G. Pimm Jr. Crossbow Broker
28 Southbridge Rd. #101
Charlton, MA 01507
Red Lion Crossbows Barnett Spirit Distributor, as well
398 East Street Road as many Parts and Accessories
Kennett Square, PA 19438
Leroy Rowe Custom Field Crossbows, Limbs
43 Cone Ave.
Meriden, CT 06450
Ray Stauffer Custom Field Crossbows
538 Habecker Church Road
Lancaster, PA 17603
40351 U.S. Hwy 19 No.
Tarpon Springs, FL 34689
THE AGE OF CHIVALRY PT. 1 by Liliane Funcken.
DIE ARMBRUST by Egon Harmuth.
Akadem. Druk, 1975.
DIE ARMBRUST-EINE SPORTWAFFE by E. Heer and C. Vetterli.
Schlapfer & Co., 1976.
BIBLIOGRAPHY OF ARCHERY by Fred Lake and Hal Wright
Simon Archery Foundation, 1974.
THE BULLET CROSSBOW by Daniel Higson.
W. J. Sandiford, 1923.
COUNTRY CONTENTMENTS by Gervase Markham.
THE CROSSBOW by Sir Ralph W. F. Payne-Gallwey.
Holland Press, 1903, 1958.
THE CROSSBOW AS A MODERN WEAPON by Galen L. Greer.
Firepower Publications, 1984.
THE CROSSBOW OF ULRICH V COUNT OF WURTEMBURG
by Baron C. A. de. Cosson.
CROSSBOW WORKSHOP NOTES by John Clark and Ken Murphey.
Diamond Valley Archers, 1981.
CROSSBOWS by Roger Combs.
DBI Books, 1987.
CROSSBOWS by Frank Bilson.
CROSSBOWS: FROM THIRTY-FIVE YEARS WITH THE WEAPON
by George M. Stevens.
Desert Publications, 1980.
FIELD AND TARGET ARCHERY by Edmund Burke.
GREY GOOSE WING by Ernest G. Heath.
New York Graphic Society, 1972.
A GUIDE TO THE CROSSBOW by W. F. Paterson.
Society of Archer Antiquaries, 1990.
HISTORY OF THE CROSSBOW by Martin C. Wilbur.
THE MEDIEVAL ARCHER by Jim Bradbury.
Boydell Press, 1992.
THE MODERN CROSSBOW by Terry Stewart.
Solway Offset Services, 1975.
THE ORIGIN OF WEST AFRICAN CROSSBOWS by Henry Balfour.
Smithsonian Institution, 1911.
OSS CROSSBOWS by John W. Brunner.
Phillips Publications, 1990.
SEAFOWL SHOOTING SKETCHES by Daniel Higson.
David A. H. Grayling, 1990.
TREASURES OF THE TOWER: CROSSBOWS.
Her Majesty's Stationery Office, 1976.
TREATISE ON ARCHERY by Thomas Waring.
Seale and Bates, 1814.
USE AND MISUSE OF CROSSBOWS IN AUSTRALIA by John Clark.
Archery Australia, 1994.
EUROPEAN CROSSBOWS: A SURVEY BY JOSEF ALM
H.M. Tower of London
EC3N 4AB, England
Price: w/postage to US: 12.45 Pounds Sterling -- roughly $18.00 (Mar 1995)
Originally published in Swedish in 1947, this brand new English
translation is a first-class book in every respect, and is by far the
best single volume on crossbow history currently available. In addition
to the translated text, the book contains 71 b&w illustrations and
photos, with footnotes to correct a few conclusions and statements by Alm
that have been proven incorrect since its original publication. Best of
all, the work includes a bibliography of materials in all languages on the
crossbow that runs sixteen and one half pages.
BULLS-EYE: CROSSBOWS by Ragnar Benson
Paladin Press, 1985
CROSSBOWS FOR SURVIVAL by H. Steele
"Auto-Spring Crossbow" by Bertram Brownold.
MECHANIX ILLUSTRATED, August 1940; pp. 82-84, 143.
"Classic Crossbow; You Can Build Your Own"
MOTHER EARTH NEWS, Sept/Oct 1984; pp. 92-95.
"The Crossbow" by Foley, Palmer & Soedel.
SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN, January 1985; pp. 104-110.
"Crossbow Controversy" by Clare Conley.
OUTDOOR LIFE, June 1985; pg. 4.
"Crossbows for the Record" by Clare Conley.
OUTDOOR LIFE, October 1985; p. 4.
"Hunter's Crossbow" by E. Milton Grassell.
MECHANIX ILLUSTRATED, December 1953; pp.120-123, 196.
"Just how good was Armor?" by Stephen V. Grancsay.
TRUE, April 1954: pp. 44-46, 89-92.
"The Life and Hard Times of the Crossbow" by Robert L. O'Connell.
MHQ, THE QUARTERLY JOURNAL OF MILITARY HISTORY, Winter 1989;
"Land of the Crossbow" by George Forrest.
NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC, February 1910; pp. 132-156.
"A Modern Crossbow You Can Make" by Norman Weis & Sid Anderson.
MECHANIX ILLUSTRATED, December 1976; pp. 134-136.
"Oriental Crossbows" by H. Beveridge.
IMPERIAL AND ASIATIC QUARTERLY REVIEW, 1911 #3; pp. 344-348.
"Pistol Crossbow" by E. Milton Grassell.
INDUSTRIAL ARTS AND VOCATIONAL EDUCATION, October 1956; 263-265.
"Repeating Crossbow" by Austin H. Phelps.
POPULAR MECHANICS, August 1951; pp. 165-167.
"Robin Hood of the Ozarks" by M. Perez.
NATION'S BUSINESS, May 1951; pg. 92.
"Space-Age Crossbows" by Angus Laidlaw.
POPULAR MECHANICS, December 1983; pp. 81-82, 128-129.
"The Story of the Arbalist" by Maurice Thompson.
ST NICHOLAS, September 1880, pp. 861-866.
"This and That (Vietcong Crossbow)" by William Witte.
ARCHERY, November 1967; pg. 13.
In addition to the listings above, the JOURNAL OF THE SOCIETY OF ARCHER
ANTIQUARIES has published numerous articles dealing with crossbows. Consult
the BIBLIOGRAPHY OF ARCHERY by Lake and Wright for specifics.
As mentioned before, the crossbow's earliest widespread use was probably in
China, during the 3rd century b.c. or earlier. On single-shot crossbows, one
type of latch/trigger mechanism was a very clever precision bronze casting
with three moving parts and no springs. Surviving wooden stocks end in a
type of pistol grip. Their laths were either of composite construction or
made from multiple bamboo slats bound like an automobile leaf spring.
Another type of crossbow used by the Chinese since at least 210 b.c. was a
repeating design with a gravity-fed box magazine! The magazine was situated
above the bolt track. When the lever at the rear of the crossbow was first
raised and then lowered, the box moved forward, caught the string in a wooden
recess and drew it to full cock, dropped a bolt into the track and released
the string. These crossbows were neither powerful nor accurate, but they
could launch a bolt every second or two until the magazine emptied. Poison
was usually smeared on the points to increase their lethality.
In the manner of handbows of the same period, early Western crossbows
featured wood laths and long power strokes (compared to later examples.) The
most common latch mechanism was a rotating nut of bone, ivory or antler. To
achieve greater power, massive "composite" laths made from sinew, horn or
baleen, and wood came into use; these were shorter and much stiffer than
earlier wood laths. As draw weights increased, new methods and devices for
spanning had to be employed, which included the cord and pulley, belt claw,
"goat's foot", bending lever, cranequin and windlass. Steel laths later
provided even greater power. Spanning devices made reloading a slow process
compared with hand bows. Crossbows were more useful for hunting and siegecraft
than in open battle, where their slow rate of fire was a serious handicap.
Features usually found on military and hunting crossbows of the 14th to 16th
centuries include a fairly plain, straight stock, a sinew bridle binding the
lath to the stock, a cylindrical latch nut and a long iron trigger. It would
have either a simple rest or a grooved track to guide the bolt; a stirrup,
cocking ring, or cocking lugs would be present depending on which cocking
device was to be used. The stock could be held in the same manner as a
firearm, or rested on top of the shoulder and the trigger manipulated with
the thumb. The bolt's point usually served as the front sight when aiming.
Sporting crossbows of the 17th to 19th centuries were used for formal target
competitions and hunting. Aperture sights and set triggers were usually
present on target crossbows. Bow irons and similar fittings for securing the
lath replaced the sinew bridle. Bullet crossbows became popular for small
game hunting and informal target shooting, using a double bowstring with a
leather pouch to launch a lead, clay or stone balls. The barreled crossbow or
slurbow also shot round balls, using a conventional bowstring and a tubular
barrel. The range of features found on sporting crossbows of this period is
better seen than described; the books by Payne-Gallwey, Stevens, Bilson, Heath
and Paterson listed earlier include illustrations.
The crossbow was (and in some cases still is) a popular hunting weapon in
Southern Asia and parts of Africa. The construction used in both areas is
similar in that a relatively weak wood lath is mounted to a straight stock
with a bolt track. The latch is simply a notch in the stock; the trigger is
a peg that is pushes the string out of the notch from below. On some
examples, the stock is horizontally split for part of its length, so that
pressing the two halves together pushes the trigger peg upward. Since bolts
from these crossbows have little kinetic energy, they are invariably poisoned.
Bolts are slivers of hardwood or bamboo, usually with simple leaf fletchings.
Crossbows of medieval and renaissance design were very inefficient devices.
Modern tests indicate that armor-piercing bolts, while heavier than war arrows,
acheived about the same velocity (130-40 fps) from a 700 lb. draw crossbow as
an arrow did from a 80 lb. draw longbow. The initial velocity imparted to a
crossbow bolt is governed by the velocity of the bow tips as the bolt and
string part company. Despite their heavy draw weights, medieval laths were
too massive to accellerate rapidly. This was made worse by short draw lengths,
which reduced the time available for the tips to accellerate. In addition, the
massive bowstrings required for such heavy draw weights robbed energy from the
bolt. Balanced against these faults is the higher ballistic coefficient of the
short, heavy crossbow bolt, as compared with an arrow. This meant that
crossbows often could shoot further and hit harder than hand bows.
Modern hunting crossbows are engineered to launch 400+ grain bolts at initial
velocities in excess of 200 fps, with draw weights of about 150 lbs. This
provides ample kinetic energy for big game hunting with a far lower draw weight
than would be the case with a medieval crossbow of similar power. A longer
power stroke coupled with a less massive fiberglass lath makes the difference.
Modern target competition with the crossbow falls into two quite different
classes. In international 10 meter competition, shooters use a crossbow that
marries the elaborate stock and sights of a smallbore target rifle with a
short-draw steel lath. The draw weight is well over 100 lbs., so cocking is
performed using a long steel bending lever. Bolts are about 6" long and made
of unfletched wood; their metal points are threaded like a coarse woodscrew to
facilitate removal from the lead plates used as backstops. Field crossbow
competition takes place at 30, 40 and 50 yards, with bolts similar to those
used in hunting. Because lighter-drawing field target crossbows are shot over
greater distances than in international 10 meter, their stocks and sights
must be suited to a broader range of adjustments. Field target crossbows are
usually hand-made, often home-made by their users.
ROLLING YOUR OWN:
Bolts for modern crossbows require the same basic materials and techniques as
conventional arrows. Cut 31" aluminum arrow shafts at the center to produce
two bolt shafts. Points or threaded inserts are cemented in at one end,
endcaps at the other. Endcaps may be purchased from Horton Mfg. Co. for 26
cents each (the Horton LS6 cap fits 2117 shafts); they can also be made by
cutting down a plastic arrow nock. A forked nock suitable for trackless
crossbows can be made by enlarging the fork of a plastic arrow nock with a file
or a heated metal rod to fit around the larger diameter of crossbow bowstrings.
If a flat endcap is used, it will be easiest to fletch the bolt in a three-
place fletching jig. A single-place jig can work, but it will be difficult
to accurately position the second and third vanes without a forked nock; one
way around this is to install a forked nock, fletch the bolt, then saw and/or
file the nock flat. Plastic vanes seem to last longer than feathers on hunting
crossbow bolts, provided the target material used is dense enough to prevent
the bolts from burying themselves to the vanes. Feathers and vanes work about
equally well with less-powerful target crossbows.
When making bolts for a factory-made crossbow, try to obtain at least one
factory bolt to measure its length and weight. Bolt length does not seem to be
very critical on tracked crossbows, but you would do well to make your bolts
be the same weight or slightly heavier. Lighter bolts will fly faster, but may
shorten the working life of the lath. Bolt weight is a careful compromise,
usually determined at the factory through destructive testing, and it would
be most cost-effective to accept their recommendation.
Bowstrings for crossbows, though shorter, are also made in the same manner as
for handbows. Obtain the length and number of strands by inspecting a factory
string and make yours to the same specifications. If you don't wish to make
your own strings, you should still obtain a serving jig and a spool of serving
thread for re-serving the centers whenever necessary. Abrasion from track and
latch contact wears through crossbow center servings very quickly. Depending
on the design of your weapon and the waxes and lubricants used to reduce
friction, the center serving may begin to fray after only a few dozen shots; by
re-serving the center as needed, a crossbow bowstring should last thousands of
For those wishing to make their own crossbows, the National Crossbowmen of
the USA offers plans and a partly fabricated lath for sale at a nominal cost.
See the Archery Organizations FAQ for their address.
CROSSBOW HUNTING CONTROVERSY:
Unless you read hunting or archery periodicals, you are probably unaware that
crossbows and their users are not universally loved in the USA. You won't find
crossbows or their accessories advertised in bowhunting magazines (in the
following discussion, the terms bowhunter and bowhunting refer to HANDBOW
hunting.) Among avid bowhunters, favorable comments about crossbows often earn
a scathing rebuttal and lasting enmity. This state of affairs stems from
disargeements during the past couple of decades over the suitablity of allowing
crossbow use during bowhunting seasons. Bowhunters feel that crossbows are so
much more accurate and easily mastered than handbows that they violate the
original reason for providing an extended archery hunting season. They would
prefer to see crossbows limited to muzzle-loading or modern firearm seasons.
Some also grant that crossbow use during archery season would be acceptable if
limited to physically handicapped shooters.
The author of this section is not a crossbow hunter and has absolutely no
desire to generate flames over an issue that is already the source of bad
feeling amongst fellow sportsmen. There is a side-effect to the controversy
which must be addressed, however. In support of bowhunters' arguments, some
pretty unrealistic claims about the range and accuracy of contemporary
crossbows have been published. Typical examples can be found in two 1985
editorials by Clare Conley in OUTDOOR LIFE (see reading list.) It is unfair
that beginning or prospective crossbow user should take up this challenging
weapon burdened with exaggerated expectations. What follows is a partial
correction of some of the more commonly encountered claims.
- CROSSBOWS CAN BE MASTERED WITH VERY LITTLE PRACTICE
It is easier to aim a crossbow with metal or optical sights than it is to learn
instinctive handbow aiming. In addition, the crossbow's string held in the
cocked position and released mechanically; the handbow archer, on the other
hand, must train his body to draw, aim and loose with the consistency of a
machine -- a far more difficult task.
After studying some good instructional materials and putting in about a dozen
or so half-hour practice sessions at the range, a beginning crossbow user will
probably know his or her weapon well enough to take deer at under 50 yards;
35-40 yards would be better starting limit, however. Of course, this assumes he
can already estimate distances fairly well. This skill is important because,
like handbow arrows, crossbow bolts travel at relatively low velocities. Peak
velocity for hunting crossbow/bolt combinations is usually under 250 fps, which
is almost in the same ballpark as compound handbows. Range estimation starts
becoming important at 35-40 yards, and it gets critical beyond 50 yards.
Words like mastery, accuracy and marksmanship are relative, and therefore
deceptive. A shooter who can reliably hit the vital area of a deer at 35 yards
could still place dead last in a field crossbow tournament. Beginners will
need quite a bit of practice to keep all their bolts within 4" of an aiming
mark at 50 yards; you won't find many rifle shooters who would find this kind
of performance -- 16 minutes of angle -- satisfactory.
- EXPERT CROSSBOW HUNTERS HAVE TAKEN GAME AT 80 TO 115 YARDS
True. And practiced duck hunters occasionally kill waterfowl over 80 yards
away with a 12 gauge shotgun. Neither example is recommended because the
chances for a clean, sporting kill at at such ranges with such weapons is poor.
For the crossbow, the main limitation on hunting range is low bolt velocity.
Time of flight to 100 yards is something like 2 seconds, and (as already
implied) the trajectory starts to lose its relative flatness beyond about 40
yards. In very still air a long shot can work OK, but a chance gust of wind or
a spooked animal could easily result in a cripple. Crossbow hunters would do
better to accept 50-60 yards as a maximum range, and try to get closer whenever
On the other hand, TARGET shooting at 100 yards or more can be a lot of fun.
Clout shooting involves very long distances, usually 180 yards; group sizes at
such ranges are measured in yards. Understandably, it is very difficult to
find an acceptable location for this type of shooting.
- CROSSBOWS HAVE SOPHISTICATED TRIGGERS, TELESCOPIC SIGHTS AND
Life would be a lot simpler for the target crossbowman if the former were
always true. Many of today's factory crossbows use an inexpensive and very
primitive latch based on the medieval rotating nut. They do an acceptable job
for field shooting, but the mechanical releases used with handbows are
generally more sophisticated. For that matter, so are the cast bronze latch
and trigger assemblies of 2200-year-old Chinese crossbows. A shooter already
familiar with firearms will find most factory crossbow triggers a big
The principal advantage of telescopic sights on factory crossbows is that they
can be adjusted with more precision than the type of sights usually provided.
Most factory sights use a front sighting system based on the multi-pin archery
type. Trying to make accurate vertical adjustments with such sights is very
Optical magnification would be of little or no value on a well-made target
crossbow unless the shooter had vision problems; remember, the targets are
highly visable and less than 80 yards away. Hunters might find a scope more
helpful, but it's doubtful that it would determine the outcome of a hunt.
As for applying modern compound technology to crossbows, the advantages are not
as great as with handbows. One point in their favor is their narrower width,
which makes the bow handier when hunting in woods or brush. Compound models
from Barnett and Horton achieve higher velocities than comparable recurve
models by the same makers; according to one Canadian maker, however, a well-
made recurved crossbow lath can equal or exceed compound performance (see
CROSSBOWS by Roger Combs, pg. 131.) On the negative side, compound crossbows
are more expensive, difficult to restring and keep in tune, physically heavier
and (sometimes) noisier. Also, compound technology does not reduce crossbow
- BECAUSE OF THEIR SIGHTS, STOCKS AND TRIGGERS, MODERN CROSSBOWS
ARE MORE LIKE RIFLES THAN HANDBOWS
If so, then batteries and pushbuttons make pocket caculators more like cellular
telephones than slide rules.
It would be OK to say that rifles resemble crossbows, since the early firearms
were styled after the crossbow. But while crossbows are aimed and shot like a
rifle, but they lack the noise, odor, flash, recoil, range, accuracy and
kinetic energy of a hunting rifle. Moreover, modern rifles don't possess bows
or strings either, and require little physical effort to load.
The ballistic and accuracy potential of crossbows is similar to powerful
handbows. Many handbow archers use sights, and latches with triggers called
mechanical releases. The signal difference that separates these two classes of
archery weapons is that handbows are held at full draw with the shooter's
muscles while he aims, while crossbows are held in the cocked position
CROSSBOW HUNTING IN THE USA:
Considering that 30 years back only one state (Arkansas) allowed crossbow
hunting at all, the weapon has gained a surprising degree of acceptance. The
lists that follow are adapted from a table on the back of the crossbow catalog
published by Precision Shooting Equipment, Inc. Since game laws frequently
change, be sure to get and read all the current flyers published by your
state's fish and game department before taking to the field with a crossbow.
If you spot any errors in this list be sure to let us know by email at
dlaurant@CLASS.ORG We want to keep this data current.
CROSSBOW HUNTING PROHIBITED -AL, CT, ME, MA, MI, NV, NJ, NM, NC, OR,
UT, VA, WA, WV
BIG GAME DURING ARCHERY SEASON - AR, OH, SC*, WY
SMALL GAME DURING ARCHERY SEASON - AR, IA, KS, OH, SC*, WY
BIG GAME DURING FIREARMS SEASON - AK, AZ, CA, CO, FL, IA, KY, MO, MT, NE,
SMALL GAME - AK, AZ, AR, CA, CO, FL, HI*, ID, KY, MO, MT, NE, OH, TN, SC, WY
PHYSICALLY IMPARED DURING ARCHERY SEASON - DE, GA, IL, IN, IA, KS, LA*,
MD, MN, MS, ND, NE, NH, NY**, OK, PA, SD, TN, TX, VT, WI, WY
ROUGH FISH - AZ, AR, CA, CO, GA, ID, IL, IA, KY, MO, OH, OR, SC, UT, VT, WI, WY
* Additional restrictions apply
**the state passed an act to amend the environmental conservation law, in
relation to the use of crossbows by physically handicapped. they are now
legal as of 3-13-96 (bill ao9412) permit cost: $5.00 good for 5 years.
Subtitled: "Harry & I Build a Siege Weapon"
Jim Paul. N.Y.: Villard Books (1991).
That's the hardcover edition I have. It's also out in paperback,
and I don't know who put it out (if different). The hardcover was
It's a fun book, but not at all a how-to manual. Their design
is of the cross-bow type. They use a "come-along" and leaf spring
in the design.
>From Coralyn Clark:
"The Australasian Arbalist" is an adhoc publication about crossbow
activities particularly in Australia and New Zealand. John Clark
as Chairman of the Archery Australia Crossbow Committee, edits this
publication which is usually posted "snail mail" to interested
people. If there is anyone interested in receiving this publication
electronically (or by other means) or who has useful suggestions
regarding making this information available more widely (maybe World
Wide Web?), please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
>From Roy Nielsen:
I should mention that I found these files quite sometime ago.
------------------Start of quoted files------------------
I made a crossbow about six years ago with reasonable success and learnt a
bit in the process. I'll discuss what I know of these parts of the crossbow.
Prod:- I made mine from annealed spring steel that was 6mm thick. Following
a plan that I had I tapered it linearly using an angle grinder. This
required a lot of metal to be removed and took a long time. It was bent to
shape approximately like a recurve and then hardened and tempered at the
place I originally bought the steel from. It was fairly large, being 36
inches across, but it turned out to be about the weight that I desired.
Since then, I've put some more thought into it and probably the easiest way
of making a bow prod is to get an old leaf spring from a car wrecker. A
leaf spring consists of a number of leaves, all but one of which should have
their taper already formed. They are already hardened and tempered, so all
that would be required would be to angle grind the grooves in the ends for
attaching the string.
Bolts:- I bought these from a shop. Obviously there is no knock. The other
big difference was that they had large vanes with a higher twist rate than
General construction:- Make it out of a good solid seasoned hardwood. I used
high density softwood but in the end it cracked behind the prod. The slot
for the bolt vane should be wide enough to accomodate the high twist of the
vane. I glued laminex to the body to provide a smooth (low-friction was the
idea) surface for the string to move over. The most important thing to
consider is the design of the release mechanism. This should have as low a
moment of inertia as possible. My own bow had a relatively high moment of
inertia, so what tended to happen was, when fired, the string would jump
over the top of the release mechanism and also over the top of the bolt. It
would take me a moment to realise that I hadn't lost sight of the bolt in
flight, but that it was still sitting in the crossbow. The one thing that
saved the bow from being a total disaster was that the release mechanism had
two prongs to hold the string (rather than just a single post), and the bolt
fit between them so that it could rest directly against the string. Whenever
I pushed the bolt back properly against the string it didn't misfire.
That crossbow was quite powerful and accurate. It was fun to make and also
fun to use. Since its demise I bought an old compound bow and enjoy that
probably more because it requires a bit more skill in aiming and releasing.
------------------End of quoted files------------------
>From Matthew J. Rapaport:
To get yourself subscribed, send a message to email@example.com
The subject of the message doesn't matter, but the body should read:
and nothing more...
Once you are subscribed you will receive a short introductory message
that will confirm your subscription. You can then communicate with the
list using the address firstname.lastname@example.org
I still have a few things to put into place like files specific to this
list. There are already a number of files in place you can get associated
with the first list running under my account (thrower, about throwing
weapons), you can get those too, and of course you can also subscribe to
thrower with a similar message to email@example.com, etc.
Remember to subscribe from the same address as the one you wish to use to
read and write to the list (that's your address, not the list's). There
is a way to subscribe from one place and write/read from another, but it
is better if you don't need to do that for now...
Otherwise, just subscribe yourself and send a message (you will see your
own message sent back to you after a while) after you get your
subscription confirmation. Just to introduce ourselves to one another.
If you have any problems, contact me directly.
matthew rapaport Philosopher/Programmer at large KD6KVH
CIS: 70371,255 Internet: firstname.lastname@example.org / email@example.com
>From David R. Watson
Regarding effective range of 150 lb. non compound crossbow. To some
degree this depends on length of draw, but assuming something like those in
current production, with 7 to 9 in. of draw, these bows will generally cast
about 200 yards. Anything over about 1/3 of maximum range begins to
require real archery skills, as the velocity is pretty slow, comparable to
a hand bow of one third to one half your crossbow weight. (Say 50 to 70
lb.) The crossbow projectiles are slightly lighter, they may be a bit
faster. I think you can safely say the 150 lb. crossbow will shoot pretty
accurately and easily to about 70 yards. After that you will need
carefully balanced and flatched bolts and a lot of practice.
The effective range is also to some degree dependent on design. My
personal bow is 162 lb. at 8 in. of draw. Its point blank is 50 meters. I
can hit precisely what I want at 50 meters by aiming right down the bolt.
If I remove my bolt keeper clip, it's on at 40 yards. I can aim right down
the bolt. At ranges over about 70 yards, I start having to actually
elevate the bow substantially. Then it gets to be tougher.
Generally speaking, you will find bows with fiberglass, rather than
steel prods and longer draws will give you better performance than steel
bows and shorter draws, but those steel bows will last almost forever,
whereas the fiberglass prods wear out in a few years, and have to be
replaced. Compound crossbows should give you better performance than the
non compound models, but they are more complex, hence more trouble to keep
tuned and working right.
>From Barbara Stephen
I don't know whether you are familiar with an important series published by
the Cambridge University Press, called <Science and Civilisation in China>.
The principal author is Joseph Needham, but individual volumes dealing with
aspects of the subject have co-authors. The most recent volume out - they
don't appear in sequence - is Vol. 5 Part VI: <Military Technology: Missiles
and Sieges>, Cambridge University Press, 1994; we received it very recently.
It is co-authored by Robin D.S. Yates and has several other collaborators
including Edward McEwen, a well-known British authority on archery. It deals
exhaustively with bows, crossbows, arcuballista, etc. I am reluctant to
recommend it because, like other volumes in the series in which I am
interested (I focus on bronze technology, horse-drawn vehicles, and bows) it
appears to be notably weak on the archaeological basis for study of ancient
Chinese technology, repeating with great authority information that is
sometimes seriously out of date. But it is certainly rich in references to
literary sources, classics on military thought, etc. and would interest
anyone willing to deal with a 600-page tome. It looks to be quite strong on
later periods, especially after 1000 A.D., when the material record and the
literature support one another more clearly. If you have a chance to look at
a copy you should find it of considerable interest. I'll send you
photocopies of a few pages dealing with crossbow sighting devices since this
is a current thread on the list. (Incidentally, the romanization is not
pinyin, the current international standard, probably a reflection of a
decision dating back to the inception of the series in 1948.)
Copyright © Mark S. Harris (Lord Stefan li Rous)
All Rights Reserved
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