The earliest use of the crossbow originated around 400 BC, according to most historians, making it one of the world’s oldest projectile weapons. Archery itself – or more specifically, the use of the standard bow – predates the crossbow by at least 10,000 years. Interestingly, the crossbow did not make the bow obsolete, despite its seemingly more advanced structure. This article explores the differences between the two projectile weapons, why archery survived the invention of the crossbow, and some of the basics about handling each.
The difference between bows and crossbows
The visual differences between the tools might be obvious at first glance, but their use differs in more ways than just ‘one is vertical and the other is horizontal’. A bow’s mechanics are a matter of simple resistance, where the bowstring is pulled to a point where the forward momentum from the bow itself gathers “compression force”. When the archer lets go of the arrow, this force propels the arrow forward. The accuracy of the shot depends on the archer’s hand-eye coordination as much as strength, balance, and skill.
Crossbows use the same principle, except the compression force isn’t held by the archer’s hand, but a lever attached to a trigger. The design of a crossbow allows its bolts and quarrels (words for crossbow arrows) to stay ‘knocked’ once they are drawn. Rather than releasing the bolt by hand, the operator uses a trigger. This principle lessens the strain of holding the drawn projectile, which requires strength and endurance, and is presumed to lower accuracy. The design also means less skill is required to use a crossbow, so unlike a bow, anyone who can learn to aim a firearm can use it with some success.
Hunting with a bow versus hunting with a crossbow
Hunting with a bow obviously requires more precision and physical fitness than a crossbow, and many archers stick with the bow and arrow because the fun lies in this challenge. Typically, bow hunters aim for animals that are readily available in the woods near civilization, such as deer, turkey, and rabbit, though brave hunters have been known to seek larger prey like moose. In either event, hunters will need a quiver of arrows, a bow, and a hunting bow case to avoid losing small items in the woods.
Crossbow hunters, or arbalists if you’re being archaic, can hunt bigger game since their tool is closer to a rifle than a bow and arrow. Standard targets for crossbow hunts range from whitetail deer and small mammals like a standard bow and arrow, but are more likely to include big game like elk, and even bison. A crossbow hunter always has bolts, a tube to carry them, which can be the same as an arrow’s quiver, the crossbow, and of course, a crossbow case for transport. Either hunter might carry extra archery equipment like thumb and finger guards, backup strings, and bait.