You’d be surprised how many people aren’t aware of the fact that crossbows have varying draw weights to accommodate the wide range of hunting available. In fact, the gulf varies from the 50-pound-draw pistol crossbow to the 200-plus-pound full-size crossbow. That difference in resistance can mean a bolt ejected at 130 feet per second, or one ejected at more than 330 fps.
But how does draw weight and the resulting speed of the bolt factor into hunting?
If you have your sites set on taking home a rabbit or two, you won’t need much more draw than 150 pounds. That degree of resistance will typically give you a bolt speed of 220 to 250 fps. This is actually plenty of power to bring down a turkey, antelope, and even a deer provided you wait for the right shot and hit the kill zone.
Believe it or not, rabbits are tricky beasts to nail with a crossbow because they’re relatively small and are prone to either crouch, jump or dart when they hear the twang of the crossbow. Because of their meager size and small kill zone, the speed of the bolt is actually more critical than it is for larger animals. You’ll want the fastest bolt speed possible to actually hit a coney, rather than the grass where he used to be.
For larger animals with thicker hide and more fat density, such as elk, caribou, and small bears, you’ll want a crossbow with a draw weight of 175 pounds or more. Notice that these larger animals aren’t particularly quick about getting out of the way of a bolt or arrow. What’s needed here is raw power to penetrate into the kill zone of the animal – not speed – although you’ll have plenty of it to work with. Some 175-pound crossbows fire bolts at speeds up to 300 fps and higher.
While the average guy can span (cock) a 150-pound crossbow, a 175-pounder is a bit tougher. You may want to consider getting a device to help you span the crossbow. Many of the new crossbows available on the market today feature a handy foot device to assist in this procedure. It looks like the non-working end of a shovel – big enough to slip your muddy boot into while you pull back on the stock of the crossbow.
Now if you’re into the really big game, such as moose, grizzly bear, and cape buffalo, you’ll want to go with a 200-pound crossbow. A 200-pound-draw weight will give you bolt speeds up to and exceeding 330 fps – plenty of power and speed.
Because of the danger inherent in shooting one of these magnificent creatures, it’s wise to practice to work your way up to them. You can’t afford to miss a grizzly bear at 40 yards out, knowing that it will take you at least 5-10 seconds to prep the crossbow for a second shot. A grizzly bear in the wild can cross a football field in roughly 6 seconds, so hopefully you’re in a tree stand at this point. Start with something that won’t actually kill you if you maim it – like a fuzzy little rabbit.
Now that you know what draw weight is best suited for your style of hunting, all that’s left is to choose a crossbow. To help you decide between a compound and a recurve crossbow, check out this article.