Our Tips for Choosing the Correct Arrows for Your Crossbow

By Steve George

May 7, 2024Hunting

After centuries of use, crossbows have become effective hunting weapons thanks to technical developments. Most crossbow designs today shoot arrows at speeds well over 400 feet per second, pushing the boundaries of speed, accuracy, and consistency. Shooters must carefully consider which arrows to choose, from front to back, to optimise arrow flight, ensure safety, and harness the energy that modern bows produce.

What Arrows Do Crossbows Use?

crossbow arrows called bolts
source: skyaboveus.com

Some refer to the crossbow projectile as an arrow, and others as a bolt. Both definitions are accurate, but you should only use the word “bolt” about a crossbow—not a conventional bow. In technical terms, an arrow always has stabilising vanes towards the back, whereas a bolt never does. From a linguistic perspective, however, people typically refer to the same thing when they discuss crossbow bolts or arrows.

What to Consider When Choosing Crossbow Arrows?

hunting with crossbow arrows
source: huntstand.com

Bolts for crossbows come in different weights and lengths and are made of various materials, including aluminium and carbon. You must consider these and the construction of the crossbow parts to pick the correct high-performance crossbow arrows for your game.


There are generally three weights for crossbow bolts:

  1. Lightweight: 350–399 grains
  2. Normal weights: 400 – 459 grains
  3. High-weight: over 460 grains

A 100-grain target point or broadhead is considered when calculating arrow weights. When a crossbow arrow is described as having 450 grains, it indicates that 350 grains are included in the arrow shaft, vanes, nock, and insert. It all adds up to 450 grains at a target point of 100 grains.

What Is a Good Weight for a Crossbow Arrow?

Think about what your end goal is before deciding which arrow weight is suitable for you. Your crossbow will shoot each shot with the same amount of force. A lighter arrow will help you hit the target quickly while maintaining the flattest trajectory.

On the other hand, consider using a standard or heavyweight arrow if your objective is to generate more kinetic energy for big game hunting. Moving up to a heavier arrow will still have a nice trajectory with the crossbow’s powers since crossbows are so fast nowadays.

Because most crossbow hunters are ready to give up some speed in exchange for more kinetic energy, they shoot arrows in the standard-weight range (400–459 grains). A lighter arrow will shoot faster, but even at slower speeds a heavier arrow will always have more penetration force.

Because a heavier arrow has a stronger inclination to stay in flight, it’ll keep more energy over longer distances than a lighter arrow. Longer distances also cause it to lose speed more slowly than a lighter arrow. Therefore, for crossbow hunting, if you have to choose between shooting a lighter or heavier arrow, the heavier arrow will work better.


A crossbow’s typical arrow length is 16 to 22 inches, with an average of 20 inches. Because shooting an arrow that is too short will place the archer’s hand in the path of the string while putting an arrow on the rail, crossbow manufacturers specify a minimum length of arrow for safety. Consult your crossbow’s manual or compare the recommended arrow lengths to the ones that came with the weapon if you’re not sure.


Manufacturers of arrows provide carbon and aluminium arrows in similar weights and lengths. Although less expensive, aluminium shafts are less common than their carbon counterparts. Because carbon arrows can bend and flex, their lifespan is typically greater. When bent or kinked incorrectly, aluminium becomes unusable. Carbon bolts are straight and lack memory. If you avoid shooting anything that will break, carbon is more forgiving and usually lasts longer.

Crossbow shafts are shorter and transfer incredible energy than arrows for vertical bows. As with all forms of archery, crossbow bolts lose energy and speed rapidly over distance. The range can be maximised by shooting the lightest arrows feasible, but you must balance kinetic energy, weight, and range.

Understanding the Different Crossbow Parts

different parts of crossbow arrow
source: ebay.com

The Shaft

This part serves as the main “body” of an arrow, to which all other components are attached. Most modern crossbow arrows, composed of carbon or aluminium, are extremely flexible, lightweight, and do not splinter. Sometimes a mix of these two materials is also employed. Different shafts have different degrees of stiffness; this stiffness is known as the bolt’s “spine.” An arrow is said to have a “spine” if it is more resistant to bending. The bolt shaft’s weight is stated in “grains”, as mentioned above.

The Nock

Affixed to the shaft’s rear, the nock is often composed of aluminium or plastic. Its function is to hold the bolt in position as you place yourself to take the shot. The half-moon and flat nocks are the two main varieties of nocks on crossbow bolts.

Before firing the bolt, you must line up the half-moon nock’s groove with your string. The sort of nocks recommended for use with bolts fired from crossbows varies depending on the manufacturer. When unsure, contact your manufacturer by phone or email to find out what kind of nock you need before making a new purchase.


Fletchings are these tiny “wings” behind the bolt, near the nock. They have three functions: they help the bolt stay in the right direction, they stabilise its trajectory in mid-flight, and they protect it from tilting or swaying left or right. The bolt will rotate on its axis due to fletchings, increasing stability.

Nowadays, bolts come with three plastic-made fletchings, sometimes called vanes. Traditional fletchings are created from bird feathers, but crossbow bolts never employ these. They come in various lengths; there is no “perfect” length. Generally speaking, fletchings get longer the longer the arrow shaft, and vice versa.


You’ll need broadheads, fitted into the tip of the bolt shaft, for hunting. Broad-heads fall into three main categories:

  1. Broadheads with fixed blades: as the name implies, these have fixed razor-sharp blades you can’t remove. There is only one component in the entire broad-head.
  2. Broadheads with detachable blades allow for replacing the individual blades if needed.
  3. Expandable-blade broadheads have concealed blades that only become visible when the arrow strikes the target, dealing maximum damage.

You can use any broadhead you want for hunting, but most hunters prefer those with expandable blades because the bolt will fly as fast as if a target practice field-point tip were attached, and there are no blades to slow down the flight. Models with expandable blades cost slightly more than those without.

To Sum Up

Most manufacturers offer great recommendations to help you choose the correct crossbow arrow. Spending time on the range testing with various broadheads, materials, and arrow weights will let you determine where you gain and lose advantages in your equipment and help you decide what is ideal. Nothing compares to understanding your crossbow and its parts through field practice. So, go outside and fire.