Crossbow Arrows Guide – Construction, Nocks, Tips

Important Note: please remember that the weight of your arrows can have a significant impact on accuracy and sighting-in. To get a better understanding of how this will impact your crossbow shooting experience, see our article: arrow drop – charted test results.

“Arrows” or “Bolts”? What’s The Difference?

Some people refer to the crossbow projectile as a bolt, while others call it an arrow. Both definitions are correct, however the word “bolt” can only be used in conjunction with a crossbow (never with a regular bow). Technically speaking, a bolt has no stabilizing vanes near the back, while an arrow always does. Linguistically speaking, however, whenever someone talks about crossbow bolts or arrows, they are usually speaking of the same thing. For the sake of simplicity, we’ll refer to it as a arrow in this article.

Different Parts of a Bolt & Specs

Most crossbow arrows are 16″ to 22″ in length, with the average being 20 inches. All crossbows come with a recommendation from the manufacturer regarding the length of the arrows you should use; when purchasing new arrows, you should make sure that they are the same length as recommended. Slightly longer arrows are usually fine, shorter ones are not because the tip could interfere with the crossbow rail (the groove where the arrow goes).

A crossbow arrow is made up of the following parts:

The Shaft

crossbow bolt shaftThe shaft is the main “body” of an arrow, and it is to the shaft that all other elements of the (mentioned below) are attached. Most modern crossbow arrows are made from either aluminum or carbon; these materials are light-weight, do not splinter, and are very resistant to bending. A combination of both these materials is sometimes used as well.

Shafts come with varying degrees of stiffness; that stiffness is referred to as the “spine” of the bolt. The more resistant to bending an arrow is, the more “spine” it is said to have.

The weight of the bolt shaft is expressed in “grains.” When buying a new set of bolts, the manufacturer will either provide the total weight in grains (for example: 350), or he may simply provide you with a GPI value, which is short for “Grains Per Inch.” If only the latter is provided, you can calculate the total weight by multiplying the length of the shaft in inches by its GPI. So if the shaft is rated at 15 GPI, and the total length of the shaft is 20 inches, then the total weight of the shaft is 15 x 20 = 300 grain.

You can then convert that weight into grams if you like by simply multiplying the grain weight by 0.0648. So in the above example, the shaft weight is 300 x 0.0648 = ~19.44 grams.

The Nock

crossbow arrow nocksThe nock is made from either plastic or aluminum in most cases, and it is attached to the back of the shaft.  The purpose of a nock is to keep the bolt in place as you line up for the shot.

There are two primary types of nocks to be found on crossbow bolts: the half-moon (top image on the left), and the flat nock (bottom image).  The half-moon nock has a groove that you will need to align with your string before you can fire the bolt.

Different manufacturers have different recommendations for the type of nocks that should be used on bolts fired from their crossbows. Barnett for example always recommends using half-moon nocks. If uncertain, give your manufacturer a call or send them an e-mail to find out what type of nock you need before purchasing new bolts. Check out these top carbon arrows rankings to get info on which types of nocks go best with some of the better arrows out there.

Fletchings

Crossbow Bolt FletchingsFletchings are these little “wings” you’ll find at the back of the bolt, very close to to nock, and they serve the following purposes: to stabilize the trajectory of the bolt mid-flight, help it keep going in the proper direction, and to prevent it from pitching or swaying to the left or right. Fletchings will cause the bolt to spin around its axis during flight, increasing stability.

Modern bolts have 3 fletchings, made from a form of plastic; you might hear them referred to as vanes on occasion. More traditional fletchings are made from bird feathers, however these are never used on crossbow bolts.

Fletchings vary in length, and there is no “perfect” length to look for. As a general rule, the longer the arrow shaft, the longer the fletchings, and vice versa. When buying crossbow bolts they will always have a set of fletchings glued to them.

The Bolt Head

There are two primary types of arrowheads, and one of them is split further into 3 main sub-types. let’s go over them all quickly.

Field Points

Parker Crossbow Arrow Field Points

Also known as “Target points,” field points are exactly for that – target practice. They do not have any sharp edges so they cannot be used for hunting game as they won’t be able to cause enough internal damage to quickly kill the animal. They simply have a pointy-tip – just enough to have it dig deep into the practice target, but not enough to destroy it.

Field points are typically screwed into the front of the bolt shaft, though some very cheap bolts come with glued on, non-detachable points.

Most crossbow bolt field points weigh 125-150 grain total. When purchasing new points, make sure that they are the same weight as the original points that came with your crossbow (or a little heavier); using lighter field points than recommended by the manufacturer may lead to severe injury and damage to your crossbow.

Broad-Heads

Crossbow Bolt Broadheads

Click the image to the left to enlarge it. Broadheads are what you will use if you want to go hunting, and they are attached (screwed-in) to the tip of the bolt shaft, just like field points. The three basic types of broad-heads are:

Fixed-blade broadheads: as the name suggests, these come with fixed, razor-sharp blades that cannot be removed. The entire broad-head is one single element.

Removable-blade broadheads: here the blades can be removed from the broadhead and replaced if/when necessary.

Expandable-blade broadheads: in this type of broadhead, the blades are hidden and only open up once the arrow hits the animal, causing maximum damage.

It is up to you to choose which type of broadhead you prefer to hunt with, however my personal preference is with the expandable blades; that’s because there are no blades to reduce velocity mid-flight, and the bolt will fly pretty much just as fast as if a target practice field-point tip was attached. Expandable-blade models are a little more expensive than the other ones.

As with field tips, broadheads for a crossbow bolt will weight on average 125 to 150 grain, and they usually come in packs of three or six.

4 Important Things to Keep in Mind

  1. Make sure that both the field points and broadheads you use are of the same weight, and that this weight is exactly the same as the weight of the heads you received with the bolts that came with your crossbow.
  2. Never, ever use arrow shafts and arrow heads that are lighter than what is recommended by the manufacturer. While using heavier ones can be fine, using lighter ones can mean pretty much the same as dry-firing your crossbow, which will void your warranty, lead to crossbow malfunction, and could even be hazardous to your health.
  3. Most crossbow packages you buy will include bolts with target practice field points. You will have to buy the hunting broadheads separately.
  4. I already mentioned that you should never buy lighter arrows/heads than recommended by the manufacturer. What’s important to keep in mind is that using heavier arrows than recommended, while safe, will reduce the velocity (FPS) of your crossbow.

Crossbow Bolts – Summary

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Thanks to the guys at www.bowhunter-ed.com for granting us permission to use some of their images in this article.

45 Comments

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    1. Very useful information. Thanks. I just bought the BARNETT COMMANDO 175lbs. draw. “WOW” It”s a classic and every home should have one.

  1. I agree with Scott…this was very helpful. I’m a newbie to bows of any type, and just bought a recurve crossbow that although older and has a wooden stock which I prefer except for the weight factor, it looks to be in great condition, with sights for windage and elevation, the limbs look good, even the string. BUT…the seller got it at an estate sale and didn’t know the maker, the pull weight, except “I tried to cock it, and it was pretty darn hard to do” lol But knowing his ignorance, as I’m showing mine as well now, at least he took some good closeup pics of almost every inch of it. I HOPE for what I paid for it, $110 w/ free shipping, I come out good. It even includes the bolts that came with it, so that’s a plus too. Any suggestions or advice would be greatly appreciated since the closest bow hunting store from where I live is over an hour away and I’m not crazy about the idea of injuring myself anymore than I already am HAHA. Thanks for any and all help!

  2. thanks for this very helpful information. I am soon to be a novice at the art of crossbow, as I have just ordered the jackal from amazon. can’t wait , and am looking forward to hunting season. thanks for your expertise.

  3. Great amnt.of info. Have tried it & it really does work. I personally use22″ bolts, were my xbow came with20″”. The are more accurate past 25yds, seem quiter,& if I bugger up an end,I cut it off & retip & am good to go again. That just saved buying an other new bolt. I also believe because of the extra wt. that there is less wear & tear on my bow. If my physics is correct , I believe I am making the right choice.

  4. Just got a crossbow from someone who was@looking to get rid of but couldn’t find bolts or tips how do I go about finding the right size bolts and tips for this crossbow there is no name on the crossbow. Any help would be appreciated.

  5. I would like to make my own crossbow bolts(22″) but need some info on what kind of carbon shift to use on my Barnett Ghost 410…

  6. I just received a crossbow for Christmas , but I know nothing about it . I don’t know what kind of weighted field points , and what size bolts the buy . The bow came with 2 “bolts”
    but I already lost them in the bush . (ha-ha)

    The crossbow , has no brand name on it . it just says Crossbow ..
    The crossbow itself is about 2.5 feet long or a little shorter .

    Can anyone help please .

  7. I have really enjoyed your data & tests! I first was going to buy an Excalibur, but as some of the States I hope to hunt in require a positive safety, which Excalibur does not (I even called and talked to Excalibur. You would think I was insulting them to even ask!). This caused me to read more of you reviews! I then bought a Carbon Express Covert CX1 Crossbow Package. I do wish your article had listed the bolt weight and field point weight. I’ll have to wait on the bow to order more bolts and broadheads.
    Thanks,
    Fred

  8. can you rate the salinda chase crossbow for me in 200lb and 225lb. using a 20 inch arrow, what weight broad head should I use. Thankyou

    1. Hi Ralph, I have never heard of the Salinda Chase Crossbow, can you give me a link? Is it the same as the Chase Sun? If so, that is a fairly low-quality chinese-manufactured crossbow if I remember correctly, though I could be mistaken.

  9. I have a barnett crossbow and i know i am 100% acurate at 35yrds i shot at a deer today at 35 yrds and my bolt hit at his feet my question is im shooting across a tank im about 8feet up on the bank and so was the deer directly across. Does me shooting across a tank make a difference ?

  10. Hey. Good info here. Enjoyed reading it. One quick question. When I bought my bow from a pawn shop, it did not have a manual. It’s a horton stag model. Have tried to get the manual with no luck. How do I know which bolt and tips would be best for my bow? Right now, I am using 20″ bolt with 125gn broadheads.

  11. i need to kw where you start and end on measureing the stroke or stock to see what arrows and broadheads are right for my 150 draw crossbow

  12. I just got a Excalibur 380 and I’m trying to find a good mechanical broad head that weighs 150 grains. Any Ideas? Or can I get wieghts to add on or something. Pretty new to this. Thanks.

  13. I have a 1950’s era vintage Shinn-A Eagle crossbow that came without bolts or any information. I do not know what length or weight bolt is most appropriate for the bow. I attempted to contact the manufacturer, Poe Lang Archery, several years ago and received no response. Their website appears to no longer even be active

  14. I received for Christmas a Bear Fortus crossbow but i can not figure the weight of the field points it has 2 circles on it ,does anyone know the weight

    1. 125 grains is what Bear archery told me. first they said 100 then called again was told only fortis has 125 grain. My knocks fell out of two X-ray arrows wonder where to get these at? Wonder if there’s different grain half moon nocks?

  15. Great info here! I am a novice to crossbows and just ordered my Sniper 370 today. I look forward to applying your information when it arrives!

  16. very helpful. I was going to make my own bolts from carbon fiber rods that I have. I have changed my mind due to this article. much more precision than I thought, Details are important. Thank you so much for putting this site together!

  17. I have A Bear x bruzer crossbow. When my crossbow is cocked and the bolt is in place,the bolt is off center to the right at the end of the track. What causes this? Thanks.

  18. Very excellent summary of the most important basics of the crossbow. I learned new stuff as well as reviewing the old stuff. I really appreciate the emphasis on the safety review. Thank you!

  19. What size are the nocks. Mine fell out when pulling bolt out of target. I have the ones that came with my sniper 370

  20. I’ve always wanted to try crossbow hunting, so this is good to know. I didn’t know that buying bolts could be so confusing, but your tips here help a ton. I’ll take your advice, and when I finally buy a bow, I’ll talk to the manufacturer and ask what type of bolt to buy.

  21. Dear Crossbow Source:
    Thanks for sharing your knowledge. Your essay was most helpful.
    I bought a Barnett Wildcat XL way back in the 1980s and haven’t shot it since then. The manual does not specify the bolt length, weight or nock type. The one bolt I have from the original box is aluminum, 14.75 in. long (field tip to nock) with an aluminum flat nock.
    The box states the “Wildcat XL is AVAILABLE in draw weights 50,75,100,125,150 lbs”. Strangely nowhere does it identify what mine is.
    I called Barnett for info and to buy more bolts and a replacement string. The man I spoke with could not answer one of my questions and suggested I go to a ‘custom bow shop’ and have string made for my xbow. (I bought an MTech string on Amazon: 26″ long for 175 lb bow. Hope this will work.’
    I don’t expect you to answer my questions, but perhaps you can suggest a link to a site with knowledge of older products like mine. I’m interested to learn to shoot this thing.

    1. Ken,

      Barnet Wildcat, Wildcat XL, Wildcat III, Rhino Recurve, Panzer, Commando, RC300, RX150, Ranger II, and other recurve style crossbows needing a 32 strand string of this length all use a 25 5/8 inch 32 strand string. Most Wildcat’s came with the 150# limb. Any basic internet search engine will find you a plethora of vendors selling the correct product. Don’t forget to get string wax and use regularly. Good luck and welcome to this wonderful hobby/sport.

      Swamp Man

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