When buying a crossbow, one of the defining features you will want to look at is its speed.
More than anything, crossbow makers use speed as a key marketing feature.
But how fast does a crossbow shoot, really? Does the speed even matter?
The truth is that there’s a lot more to a crossbow than just the speed.
That’s not to say speed doesn’t matter.
One important thing to know is that the speed advertised is not always how fast the crossbow shoots on the field.
There are so many factors affecting the speed, so your crossbow may not achieve that glorious speed the manufacturer has claimed.
How Fast Does a Crossbow Shoot?
The speed by which a crossbow bolt shoots an arrow depends on several factors.
This crossbow speed (or, really, the arrow) is typically measured by feet per second or FPS.
Generally speaking, crossbow speeds range between 100 and 400 FPS, with most modern crossbows offering upwards of 250 FPS.
If a crossbow offers, say, 300 FPS, the arrow will cover a distance of 300 feet in just one second.
In reality, though, that’s not quite the case.
This speed is with the assumption that it will maintain its trajectory and momentum.
Let’s be honest here: it’s hard for the arrow to maintain that momentum and follow a set trajectory, no matter how good a shooter you are.
It’s important to note that the speed that manufacturers mention is often calculated in controlled environments.
Hence, you can expect the real speed to be off by a few feet.
Factors That Affect Crossbow Bolt Speed
How fast is a crossbow bolt depends on a number of factors, some of which are not entirely under your control.
Weight of the Arrow
Crossbow arrows come in a variety of weights, which are measured in grains.
This weight comprises all the parts of the arrow (in other words, the complete arrow).
Typically, arrows weigh between 350 to 750 grains.
Lightweight arrows weigh 350 to 400 grains, medium weight arrows are 400 to 450 grains, and heavyweight arrows weigh over 450 grains.
Lighter arrows have a higher muzzle speed, so, technically, they are the fastest.
However, they also lose momentum the fastest, so they may not maintain their speed for a longer distance.
Heavier arrows with 400 to 450 grains can maintain the momentum much better.
The shooting of the bolt is simply a transfer of kinetic energy from the crossbow to the arrow.
Therefore, the higher the draw energy of the crossbow, the faster the bolt will travel.
The internal physical factors of the crossbow affect the amount of energy transferred.
The weight of the limbs and the inertia ultimately decide how much of that draw energy is actually turned into speed.
In most bows, some of that energy is left behind and dissipated by the parts of the bow.
The noise that bows make is because of that very excess kinetic energy.
However, there are ways to quiet down a crossbow.
Does distance affect how fast is a crossbow bolt? It absolutely does.
How far out you’re shooting the arrow affects the speed and energy the bolt hits the target.
Typically, the farther out you are, the lower the arrow speed will get as it loses momentum.
This is important in the case of hunting.
For instance, you need to be at an optimal distance to hunt a deer for the arrow to maintain its momentum and energy.
Environmental factors like drag and direction of the wind can significantly affect the speed of the arrow.
Therefore, the crossbow speed may not translate into the actual speed the arrow travels with.
The arrow has to deal with the friction from air, which slows down the momentum.
Similarly, if you’re shooting in wet conditions, the crossbow may shoot slower.
This is because when the line is wet, it has more weight than when it’s dry.
Quality of the Crossbow
Believe it or not, the quality of the crossbow is much more important than the speed.
If it’s high-quality, it will deliver the speed it promises, or at least something closer to that.
Similar to quality, the maintenance of the crossbow may also determine the speed and energy.
As the crossbow gets old, you’ll notice it won’t deliver the same speed as it did fresh after the assembly (unless maintained).
How Fast Should a Crossbow Shoot To Kill an Animal?
Most novice hunters remain under the impression that the faster the crossbow arrow speed is, the higher the chances of killing an animal.
While speed is definitely crucial, it’s not the only deciding factor whether you’ll have a successful kill or not.
In addition to the speed, the energy with which the arrow impacts is highly important.
Energy is simply the sum of velocity and momentum.
This means both need to be high enough to pierce through the hide of the animal.
For this reason, most seasoned hunters stick to the standard 400 to 450 grains range in arrow weight, as these provide both energy and momentum.
Another important thing that affects the speed with which an arrow can kill an animal is the animal itself.
You won’t need as much speed to hunt a squirrel or rabbit as you will to hunt a deer or elk.
Generally, a crossbow arrow speed of over 110 FPS at the time of impact is enough to pierce the hide of an animal.
Again, the distance also matters whether the arrow will have enough energy at the time of impact.
The good news is that most modern crossbows launch with more energy than is needed to hit a target.
So how fast does a crossbow shoot? As you can see, there are several factors at play.
Speed is important, but it’s not the only thing to consider.
Some manufacturers hype up their crossbow speeds to entice buyers, but you should also look at other factors, such as draw weight and arrow weight.
At the end of the day, you simply need the arrow to maintain enough weight behind the broadheads to penetrate through the skin and into the tissue.
Some crossbows can shoot as fast as 450 FPS, but the truth is you can easily target an animal with a speed of 250 FPS at a 30 to 40 yards distance.