The answer will depend on four factors:
- How good of a shot are you?
- Are you hunting or target practicing?
- What’s the velocity (FPS) of the crossbow?
- How good is your scope
If hitting a target is not a concern, a solid 300+ FPS crossbow, such as the Barnett Jackal or the Buck Commander can send an arrow well over 500 yards if you shoot up into the air; obviously at such a distance the arrow won’t have any juice left in it to achieve a clean pass through, not to mention it’s impossible to aim accurately from 500 yards with a crossbow.
Effective Hunting Range
If using a 300+ FPS crossbow, the average effective hunting range is 50, maybe 60 yards. You can obviously go beyond that – even an 80 yard shot would still be powerful enough to kill medium and even big game. The real question here is whether you can land the shot with perfect precision and penetrate the vital organ(s); most people can’t do so with consistency. Which is why most crossbow hunters will prefer to take a shot from a maximum of 35 yards away; not because their arrow won’t kill from a further distance, but because they want to be certain the arrow will land where it should, otherwise they’d end up wounding the animal only without killing it, and that’s not something any ethical hunter wants.
Effective Target Practice Range
Here there’s more room for error. If using a 300+ FPS crossbow, an arrow with a field point can easily penetrate a compressed foam target (or any other material used in modern archery targets) from well over 180 yards away. Hitting the bulls-eye consistently from such a distance would of course be quite a miracle, there are however people who are skilled enough to shoot 2″ arrow groups with a crossbow from 80+ yards away.
What’s important to keep in mind is that arrow velocity will deteriorate severely at such distances. In fact, the trajectory of an arrow fired from even the most powerful crossbow will begin to slightly drop after as little as 30 yards.
To give you a better idea: a 400 grain arrow fired from a 350 FPS crossbow will drop as follows:
- 0 inches at 20 yards
- 3.81 inches at 30 yards
- 10.81 inches at 40 yards
- 21.13 inches at 50 yards
At longer distances, the drop in trajectory will be way more pronounced. If you want to see more accurate details regarding arrow ballistics and a comparison chart listing arrow drop for crossbows with various FPS, read this article on arrow ballistics.
How Does The Scope Factor Into The Equation?
There are some obvious implications of the above numbers. The further away your target is, the higher you will need to aim your crossbow to compensate for arrow drop. That’s why you will need a sight with at least 3 reticles or red dots if you want to shoot targets from far away (see our guide on sighting a crossbow for more details).
In a typical 3-dot / 3-reticle scope, the top dot or reticle will be sighted for 20 yards, the second for 30 yards, and the third for 40 yards. There are of course scopes with more reticles, where the lowest reticle will be sighted for even 60 yards. On most crossbows though, the bottom-most dot/reticle will be for 40 yard targets, which means that if you want to shoot targets located further than 40 yards away, you’ll need to rely on your instinct and experience to know how high up to point your crossbow for the arrow to hit the target; you’ll need to raise the bottom-most dot/reticle above your intended arrow impact point.
- If you don’t care about hitting a target, a powerful modern crossbow can shoot as far as 500 yards.
- If you want to hunt, up to 80 yards is possible for a very skilled shooter, however you should stick to a maximum of 60 yards, and preferably much less than that (30-35) if you are a beginner.
- For target practice, everything will depend on your skill; 180+ yard shots are definitely possible, albeit accuracy will require godlike skills.