WHAT is a CROSSBOW – An Educational Article About Crossbows

A crossbow is a weapon primarily used by hunters. It consists of a bow placed on a stock. The purpose of the crossbow is to shoot projectiles, called bolts, at a target. There is a mechanism in the stock of the crossbow that holds the bow fully drawn. The bow is realized by pressing a trigger. In the past, the crossbow was used not only for hunting but also as a weapon in open warfare.

Crossbow Structure

The bow of the crossbow is fixed to a stick called the stock or tiller. There is a mechanism that holds the bowstring in the drawn position. The bow is also called the prod or lath and is usually made of a single piece of wood. It is very short compared to a standard bow. As a result the draw length of a crossbow is also very short. Consequently a higher draw weight is necessary to store sufficient energy to launch the projectile effectively.

Types of Crossbows

Crossbows are classified according to the acceleration system, size, energy, degree of automation and projectiles.

Straight Bow

The straight and bent prods are the simplest of the acceleration systems. These were the earliest developed of the crossbows.

Recurve Bow

The recurve crossbow is made with tips that curve away from the person firing the bow. This results in a longer draw length and better acceleration of the projectile. These bows do put more strain on the bow material and are a bit noisier when fired.

Multiple Bow

This bow has a singular manner of pulling the string using several bows. It is similar to a compound bow. Many bows are used in combination with a tackle system. This results in a faster string speed due to the effect of many bows working at once.

Compound Crossbow

With a compound crossbow the extremities are stiffer than a recurve bow resulting in more energy efficiency. However, because the limbs are too stiff to draw using a string directly attached to them, the bow has the string attached to pulleys with cables. Drawing the string causes the pulleys to rotate, which pulls the cables that bend the limbs thus storing energy. This system allows for a let-off thus lowering the full draw weight.


The projectiles that shoot from a crossbow are called bolts. Obviously they are shorter than arrows but can be heavier. Each variation bow has an ideal bolt weight to achieve maximum kinetic energy. The bolts usually have 3 fletches such as are seen on arrows. The bolts can attach to many difference heads depending on the use of the bow. The most common bolt is the four-sided quarrel.

Attachments for the Crossbow

Crossbows contain sights such as red dot sights or telescopic sights. They may also have multiple crosshairs due to gravitational effects over multiple distances.

Crossbows can also have quivers attached to them. Made of plastic, they hold the bolt along the side of the weapon.

Silencers can also be attached to crossbows that are rather noisy when shot. These silencers are attached to parts of the bow that vibrate quickly causing noise.

Crossbow in Modern Times

The crossbow of today is used mostly for target shooting. Hunters still use this weapon throughout the world. The crossbow, used with special projectiles, enables whale researchers to take blubber samples without harm to the whale. In the military the Special Forces use these weapons, some tipped with cyanide, in place of a loud gun.

By: Jen Walterscheit

About the Author:
At Eagle Archery we are dedicated to providing you with the largest selection of Crossbows on the Internet. We stock over 10,000 products, and are adding more all the time, including but not limited to a great selection of Crossbows.