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Far Enough.

"It's not bowhunting; those things can shoot out to 100 yards."

How many times have you heard that phrase, or something similar to it, regarding crossbows? Despite the best efforts of the outdoor media (and, in a few cases, because of it), there remains a fair amount of misunderstanding about crossbows and their effectiveness as long-range hunting tools. This can confuse the folks establishing crossbow regulations and those taking crossbows afield for the first time.

Let's see if we can clear things up a little.

Cutting Edge

PSE created quite a buzz when it introduced its TAC (Tactical Assault Crossbow) series of crossbows in 2009. As its name implied, the TAC's barrel and limb assembly featured a tactical look, which in and of itself was groundbreaking at the time. Even more radical was a design that allowed the TAC's "upper" to fit onto any AR-platform lower receiver. Equally edgy were the 400-plusfps speed rating and claims of two-inch groups at 100 yards.

PSE owner Pete Sheply drew quite a bit of criticism from the archery industry for pushing the envelope, some thought, too far. This was when "black guns" (and crossbows) hadn't completely entered the hunting mainstream and hunting guns and bows all had soft, round edges and camo finishes.

PSE eventually discontinued the TAC series, but tactical looks and 400 fps speeds are common among today's crossbows. Several manufacturers now claim same-hole accuracy at 50 yards or minute-of-angle accuracy at 100. The questions remain, though: Can they, and should they, be making those claims?

The second question is subjective, but the answer to the first is an unsurprising, "Yes." The knee-jerk reaction from some is that 100-yard shots are for rifles, but in the hands of an experienced archer, even a compound bow is capable of accurate shots at that distance--maybe not two-inch groups, but certainly within a pie plate, given sufficient practice. There should be no reason you can't do the same with a crossbow under the right circumstances.

Field Testing

In 2012, I was on a crossbow hunt in Texas with several other writers, and as good, objective journalists, we wanted to test the veracity of long-range shots. (OK, we had some midday downtime and were a little bored.) Our tests involved the Barnett Ghost 400 with a Trijicon ACOG Crossbow Optic shooting 22-inch Easton carbon bolts with 100-grain fieldpoints. Shots were fired off a shooting bench with sandbag rests at static targets at high noon.

Following our rather "experimental" protocol, we were all able to dial in at 50 yards pretty quickly. As the ACOG offered an 80-yard reticle, we tried that next, and with some tinkering and a few lost bolts, we soon gained some consistency at that range.

Things got more interesting after that. Without a lower reticle, we had to determine proper holdover. I found that by holding the 80-yard reticle on the top of a distant hill, I was able to at least hit the target at 100 yards. That took care of elevation, but without being able to even see the bull's-eye, windage proved a bit more challenging. Eventually, one of the five shooters was able to hit an apple at 100 yards, and we called it a day.

It was hardly scientific testing, but our findings might actually be informative for many crossbow shooters. Consistently hitting a target at 100 yards using a crossbow is possible under controlled circumstances such as with a stationary target, solid rest and optimal light conditions. Modify any of those variables, though, and accuracy begins to drop off quickly.

By the Numbers

Conveniently, I was able to find a trajectory chart for the PSE TAC 15. Set at 170 pounds and shooting a 26.25-inch, 485-grain bolt at 420 fps, the bolt drops 60 inches at 100 yards. By comparison, a 150-grain bullet traveling at 2,820 fps and sighted in for 100 yards will drop approximately 1.4 inches at 100 yards. A puff of wind or your heartbeat won't affect the bullet's flight enough at that range to matter, but the same can't be said for the bolt. An inch of variance on point of aim could mean a foot or more of deviation on target. And again, that's shooting at a stationary, inanimate object.

Things change when shooting at a living target. That same bullet is traveling more than twice the speed of sound, so it will clearly arrive on target before the sound of the gunshot. The bolt begins its flight at roughly a third the speed of sound and, depending on sources cited, will lose 15-20 percent of its speed and 30 percent of its energy at 100 yards. That's still enough energy to get the job done though, if your target's vitals haven't moved.

In fairness, while several crossbow makers boast of 100-yard accuracy, I'm not aware of one overtly promoting that as an effective hunting range. TenPoint, maker of the 470-fps Nitro XRT, said, "Today's high-powered crossbows have an effective range in the neighborhood of 60 yards, but not everyone has the ability to be accurate at that distance. If you are an average shooter, you should probably not take a shot beyond 35 or 40 yards."

Ultimately, you need to determine what your effective range is with your crossbow under the circumstances you hunt. Aim to deliver a clean, killing shot, and save the bragging for what you shoot instead of how far.

Tip of the Month

Effective Field Range: Most crossbow hunters sight in and practice shooting off of a bench or rest. That's good for determining the effective range of the crossbow, but not necessarily the shooter in a hunting situation. Practice shooting offhand to find a closer approximation of your effective hunting range.

Caption: The Mission SUB-1 is among a handful of high-tech crossbows designed to produce consistent accuracy at ranges of up to 100 yards. However, just because you can consistently hit a stationary target at that distance while shooting under controlled conditions doesn't mean you should attempt the same shot at a live animal in the field.
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Title Annotation:CROSS BOWS
Author:Humphrey, Bob
Publication:Petersen's Bowhunting
Date:Dec 25, 2019
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