How Does A Crossbow Work | Explained!

Crossbows are something that always fascinated me. The rich history behind this fine craftmanship, the changes it went through the time, everything related to a crossbow is fascinating.

Did you ever wonder, how does a crossbow work? Of course, you did, that’s why you are here. Welcome to my humble adobe. Before we start the lesson, let’s learn a brief history of crossbows first.

A Brief History Of Crossbows

A lot of you might think European’s invented crossbows. But that’s wrong. Long before they adapted and started using crossbows, the Chinese were dominating with crossbows in their internal warfare. According to historians, the crossbow was invented in the early 4th century in China.

The crossbow was invented to improve the artillery division of an army. Archers are highly respected for their skillset. Archery is not an easy task. Back then children were trained from an early age to become a skilled archer for the army.

To compensate for the skill-gape and recruit more archers, the invention of the crossbow happened. Back then crossbows weren’t this compact. They were a bow but horizontally.

Compared to a regular bow, the crossbow is easier to use. That was the plan. If you make it easier for new people, you can gather more people in your army.

Now that we know the basic history and what’s the purpose of a crossbow, let’s start learning how does a crossbow works and why should you know that.

How Does A Compound Crossbow Work

Currently, there are mainly two types of crossbows available for you to purchase. Recurve crossbow and compound crossbow. The compound crossbow is the most famous form of crossbow right now. How does it work? Should be an interesting thing to learn, right?

It is. Even though from the first look it seems like there isn’t much going on with a crossbow. You load in the arrow, the trigger keeps the string tensed and when you click the trigger, the string gets released. A lot like how a bow work. The idea is the same, but the execution isn’t.

If you look closely, you will see a lot of compound bows have 4 cams and double strings. Where most of the traditional compound bows only have 2 limbs and 1 bowstring.

Just like a recurve bow, you route the bowstring through the cams. When you do that, the tension of the string increases by a lot. That generates more kinetic energy. Resulting in higher speed and powerful shots.

That’s why you see 4 cams and multiple bowstrings in high-end crossbows. It increases the tension of the string and gives you an excellent shooting experience.

How Does A Modern Crossbow Work?

First Of All, what is a modern crossbow? Every crossbow you see on the market right now is a modern crossbow. There are three types of crossbows available on the market. Two of them are more popular than the other. Recurve crossbow, compound crossbow, and repeating crossbow. Repeating crossbow is the least popular among all three. To be honest, repeating crossbow is not that modern.

Like compound crossbows, recurve crossbows also have multiple cams. The key difference is a recurve crossbow requires more drawing force and it is noisy. If you are thinking of buying a crossbow for hunting, I will highly suggest avoiding recurve crossbows. Even if you end up taking one, make sure to use noise dampeners with the crossbow.

You need to load the arrow on the flight track, once you place the arrow, you need to pull the wire and cock the crossbow. This will tense up the bowstring. When you release the bowstring by pressing the trigger, it’s going to fire the arrow with high kinetic energy. A lot like how a gun work. But here it’s slower and less powerful.

How Does A Pistol Crossbow Work?

What is a pistol crossbow? Pistol crossbow is a handheld weapon made for close combat shooting. A pistol crossbow is a lot similar to a pistol. Hence the name. You can use the crossbow with one hand. Though like a pistol magazine, you don’t get a large number of rounds with this one.

Think of them as a shrunk-down crossbow. The mechanism here isn’t any different than a regular crossbow. You take out the arrow, place it in the flight track and pull the bowstring. Here, you don’t need to use a cocking aid. To be more precise, you can’t use one. You have to use your hand to load the crossbow. They are not that heavy and doesn’t require much force either.

Due to their size, they are not a powerhouse. You shouldn’t expect much from them. Instead, keep one as a backup weapon. Once you enter the close-quarter hunting zone, they might come in handy.

How Does A Repeating Crossbow Work

A crossbow takes a long-time to reload. If the crossbow has a high draw-weight, it will take more time to load the crossbow. What if we could improve that issue? That was the idea behind a repeating crossbow.

As The Name Suggests, this crossbow uses a mechanism to fire more than one crossbow bolt per shot. Think of it as a miniature machine gun. You load a bunch of arrows from the top and it will keep firing.

But how does it do that? The basic principle of stacking the arrows is still the same. Instead of using a hand to press down the bolts, modern repeating crossbows have a spring-loaded pressure plate pushing down the arrows. Instead of the top, the repeating lever is placed underneath the crossbow.

The bowstring is placed inside the chamber. Instead of using the foot stirrup to load bolts each time after firing, you just have to pull the repeating lever after each shot. It will automatically load the bolts from the chamber and make them ready for firing.

Yes, it’s that simple. But it’s not the most effective option. That’s why people go for compound crossbows instead of repeating crossbows. They are not nearly as powerful as a recurve or compound crossbow.

How Does A Crossbow Trigger Work?

Most modern crossbows have a trigger that resembles pistol triggers. It’s made that way to make you feel you are using something familiar. The job of the trigger is to hold the bowstring in the position after loading it. That’s why crossbows come with an anti-dry fire safety mechanism. You don’t want the crossbow to shoot on its own without your supervision.

When you pull the trigger, the limb inside the trigger chamber lets the bowstring go and the bowstring forces the bolt with high kinetic energy. That’s the surface science behind it. Of course, there are tons of physics involved.

But I am no Einstein, I will refrain from giving you a physics lesson right now. -Just like a rifle or a pistol, once you pull the trigger, the crossbow registers the signal and sends it to the trigger chamber, where the bowstring is held in a place.

How Does A Crossbow Scope Work?

Crossbow scopes are underrated. Often people tend to overlook them. The reason is, crossbows aren’t made for long-range hunting. So it’s obvious that they think a scope won’t be necessary.

Besides providing magnification, a crossbow scope also provides illuminated reticles. Reticles that will help you shoot the target better. A crossbow scope will also improve your accuracy and bring out your A-game.

Just like a riflescope, a crossbow scope is made out of two materials. High-quality aluminum for the housing and glass for the lense. Most of the time the lenses are fully multi-coated.

The job of the objective lens is to gather plenty of light and let the scope do its job. Once the scope is finished gathering enough light, it will use that light to create an image. That image is what we see through the eyepiece. All of this happens in less than a millisecond.

How Does A Crossbow Cocking Device Work?

A cocking device also known as a cranking device is a tool that helps you load the crossbow easily. The draw weight of high-end crossbows tends to be high. To eliminate that draw weight and encourage customers to buy their products, manufacturers came out with the idea of cranking aid. A cranking aid can reduce the draw weight of a crossbow by over 95%.

Even a child can load a crossbow with an ACUdraw pro silent cranking device. If you manually load the crossbow, you need to put the bolt and pull the bowstring with force. It requires brute force and energy.

To reduce the stress and protect our hands, the most manufacturer includes a rope cocking device with the crossbow for free. Using the rope cocking device, you pull the string with the rope and not your hands. Your hands stay safe and you can easily load the crossbow each time.

A cranking aid does that job with a machine inside of it. The machine is not automatic, you need to pull the lever outside for the cranking aid to start working. The cogs inside the cranking aid pull the bowstring for you. This way, you only need to apply force to that cranking aid lever and that’s it. The cranking aid will do the rest.


A crossbow is a tool with rich history and heritage. Currently, we don’t use crossbows for war anymore. But back then it was considered as prestige to own one and use it for your country. I am glad that I was able to share some of that rich history with you today. Learning how a crossbow work is as important as learning how to fire a crossbow.

No matter what you think, hunting wouldn’t be as fun as it is, without crossbows. How they work is also fascinating. It was a fun thing to learn myself. And now, you will have the fun experience of sharing this knowledge with others.

Make sure to take care of the crossbow and it will serve you for a long time. If you respect the tool, you will get your reward sooner or later.

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