Despite their intimidating draw weight compared to bows, crossbows utilize various techniques and devices to make loading them manageable even for younger shooters, women, and people with physical disabilities.
Compound bows have maximum draw weights up to around 80 lbs. In comparison, some of the most powerful recurve crossbows come with close to 300 lbs draw weight. That looks huge on paper, doesn’t it?
Keep in mind that a recurve crossbow would demand more effort to cock than a compound crossbow if they offer the same arrow speed. For example, a 360 fps recurve crossbow would be harder to load than a 360 fps compound crossbow.
The good news is you won’t have to pull the string back with your bare hands. That doesn’t mean you can’t if you want to and possess the physical strength to do it. But in most cases, you would use either a cocking rope device or a crank.
Crossbow manufacturers even advise against cocking by hand as it would put uneven pressure on the crossbow limbs.
So how to load a crossbow with your hands?
- Make sure the safety feature is off, i.e. the safety knob is in the “fire” position.
- Rest the front of the crossbow on the ground and insert your foot into the stirrup.
- Reach down and grab the string with your hands. Use gloves and the tips of your fingers, if possible.
- Pull the string all the way back into the trigger box until it “clicks”. The sound would indicate that the safety mechanism has engaged and has switched to “on”. This is an automatic safety feature that is present in most modern crossbows. Meaning that you’d need to manually switch it to “off” in order to be able to shoot.
The recommended way to load most crossbow models is by using a cocking rope, which is usually included in the package. A cocking rope would make pulling the string back about 50% easier!
How to use a cocking rope
Instead of grabbing the string with your hands, you would:
- Take the two handles – one in each hand.
- There should be a cord groove on your crossbow stock – usually just behind the trigger box. Position the center of the rope in the cord groove.
- There would be either clasps or hooks to attach to the crossbow string. Make sure both are close to or touching the rail.
- Pull up on the rope handles until the safety sets and the string latch engages, indicated by the same “click” sound.
- Remove the rope.
If pulling the final inches with a rope appears to be too hard, you probably need to shorten the rope. The rope is secured on the two handles by knots. So you can reduce the rope length by simply tying a new knot lower down the rope.
Pulling the string with a crank device
There is even a third option for cocking a crossbow that makes the whole process extremely easy. A cocking crank device would reduce the draw weight to a mere 5-15 lbs.
Useful if you need to reduce the strain on your body even further or if you’ve bought one of these mega-powerful 400+ fps models.
Or if you are up in a tree stand and don’t want to leave it just to load a new arrow. Needless to say, you probably wouldn’t want to try doing it with a rope while still on the tree stand, would you?
These days, some models with very high FPS are sold with built-in crank devices. Other times, you’d have to buy one separately. Each reputable crossbow manufacturer offers one or more cranks that are compatible with their models.
Loading with a crank is similar to using a regular cocking rope, with the difference that you are not pulling the string by hand. You rotate the lever instead.
Here’s a video demonstrating all three methods for pulling back the cord of a crossbow. Mind you, it is pretty old and the crossbow technology has been advancing fast in the last decade so use it only as a general reference:
Also, the manufacturer of your chosen crossbow might use a different approach and principles and offer accessories like rope and crank cockers that look (and work) like nothing else on the market. So do not assume that what you’ve seen on a video is 100% applicable to your weapon.
Physical aspects of pulling back the crossbow string
Cocking the crossbow with either hands or rope would put strain mainly on your back and arm muscles. If you want to strengthen them, the most appropriate exercise is the “bent over row”.
It is not likely that you’d need to go that far, but still worth mentioning 🙂