Crossbow Cocked

How Long Should You Keep a Crossbow Loaded?

Crossbows are excellent hunting tools and fun to shoot during target practice. They are more convenient for large game hunting than traditional bows, thanks to their extra accuracy, power, and flexibility in terms of hunting position.

Another advantage is that you can prepare the crossbow load ahead of time instead of scrambling to load an arrow when you finally spot your game. However, keeping a crossbow cocked and loaded for too long is poor hunting practice, can damage your equipment, or even lead to injury.

Whether you are going hunting or just shooting some targets, here is some advice on how long to keep a crossbow loaded.

Although one of the conveniences of hunting with a crossbow is that you can load it ahead of time, experts recommend waiting until you are set up in your final position or are making your final approach towards your quarry. You should never be covering ground with a loaded crossbow.

Once you have taken up your ambush position and are waiting for game, you can load your crossbow so that you are prepared as soon as you sight an animal. However, even when you are still, your crossbow load should not be active for more than a few hours.

Why Shouldn’t You Keep Your Crossbow Loaded for Long?

The primary reason why you shouldn’t keep your crossbow loaded until the last minute is safety. Crossbows are powerful instruments and you don’t want to accidentally shoot yourself or someone else in your hunting party with it. When you are moving through the woods or getting into position, there is always the possibility that you will bump your crossbow and accidentally shoot the load at someone.

It is especially dangerous to load a crossbow when getting into position in the trees as you have less control over your movements and the movement of your bow.

Another thing to keep in mind when pondering how long to keep a crossbow loaded is the strain that it will have on your machine. Even the most durable crossbows will sustain damage after carrying a load for extended periods as that strains the firing mechanism, cable, and other parts.

How Long Can You Carry Around a Cocked Crossbow?

There is a difference between a cocked and loaded crossbow. A loaded crossbow has a bolt or arrow in position and is ready to fire. A cocked crossbow is in a position that is ready to fire as soon as you add a load to it. However, it will not actually do damage without the projectile.

You can carry around a cocked and unloaded crossbow for much longer than you would a loaded crossbow. Many hunters cock their crossbows as they traverse the woods looking for game, so they only need to quickly load an arrow once they sight their quarry.

You can carry a cocked crossbow during your hunting day, but experts recommend uncocking it every four hours and giving it 30 minutes of rest to prevent straining the mechanism.

Your crossbow should never be cocked overnight or in long-term storage. You should not cock it while performing activities that require more care, such as driving or getting into a complex ambush position on a tree.

Why Can’t You Keep a Crossbow Cocked for More Than a Few Hours?

Although crossbows can fire hundreds of arrows over their lifespans, the mechanisms are not designed to stay cocked forever. Keeping the crossbow cocked for more than a day at a time will stretch out the strings and cables (this is also why you should not keep a crossbow loaded for too long as it could strain the mechanism).

Putting strain on the crossbow’s cables and strings lessens the accuracy and power of the shot, in turn impacting your performance. Taking care of your tool will help you be a better hunter or archer.

Another reason why you can’t keep crossbows loaded for more than a few hours is safety. Even though there is no projectile in a cocked but unloaded crossbow, there is a lot of tension stored in the strings and cables. A mechanism could easily backfire and injure you or a companion.


Always un-cock your crossbow before storing it. If you have an arrow, un-cocking it is easy: just load it and fire at a target. Otherwise, you can invest in discharge arrows, which are designed to be fired safely into the ground, or a rope cocker. Dry firing your crossbow will damage the mechanism and could hurt your fingers.


While crossbows are made to be loaded ahead of time, you should not keep them cocked and loaded for too long. Only load a crossbow when you are in position or have sighted your quarry. Never load it while you still have to move or if you will be waiting for more than a few hours.