Everything You Need To Know About Crossbow Anatomy


If you look at a crossbow, it has a lot in common with both rifles and with bows. But a crossbow is its own beast, with a unique build that distinguishes it from its close cousins.

Most crossbows are essentially a bow built on top of a rifle. They draw back like a bow, but are shot horizontally, with the user aiming down the sights like they would with a rifle.

Here, we’ll discuss the main parts of the crossbow, as well as some other terms that you should get to know.

Basic Parts


The stock is the main part of a crossbow’s body, and the part that all of the other components connect to. With the same general layout as a rifle, the stock has a butt that you hold against your shoulder while shooting, and a trigger tucked under the body.

Unlike a rifle, there is not a barrel. Instead, the arrow rests in a channel on top of the stock.


If you’ve ever seen someone reload a crossbow, you’ve probably noticed that they use their foot to hold it still while they place the arrow. The place where you put your foot is called the stirrup, allowing you to hold the stock still and draw back the string to reload.


These are the arms that just out from the side of the stock, allowing you to bend the string back. The lathes, also called bow staves, give the crossbow its bower, holding the energy from the drawn string. They function like the curved body of a bow, releasing the stored energy of string once you pull the trigger.


The string is connected to the ends of the lathes of the crossbow, and it slides along the rail of the crossbow as you draw it. The string then locks when the crossbow is cocked, and releases when you pull the trigger.

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Butt Pad

This is the part of the crossbow at the back of the stock that rests on the shooter’s shoulder, allowing them to anchor the crossbow.


The foregrip is attached to the stock, giving your non trigger hand a place to rest and support the crossbow. This grip will vary depending on the crossbow, with some featuring rubber grips that prevent your hand from slipping in wet conditions, whereas others use only a thin plastic pad where you can rest your hand.


The rail, also known as the bolt channel, sits atop the stock. It’s where the arrow or bolt rests when you load the crossbow. When you release the string, the arrow or bolt travels along the rail before flying.


This is the part at the front of the crossbow where the two lathes connect. If you imagine a regular bow, it would be the part that you grip with your support hand.

Other Important Terms


The terms bolt and arrow are often used interchangeably when it comes to crossbows. However, they are a bit different, as bolts tend to be a bit shorter than arrows.

Draw Weight

The draw weight refers to the amount of force that is needed to fully pull the back the string. The greater the draw weight, the greater the amount of kinetic energy that is stored.

Scopes and Sights

Many crossbow users will add additional sights or scopes, mounted on top of the stock. These are used just like the sights on a rifle, aiming by looking down the sights at the target.

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Most crossbows will come with some form of iron sight, and you’ll usually have to buy scopes separately.

Lube Wax

Lube wax is used along the arrow tract, decreasing friction and making it easier for the arrow to smoothly move as the string is released.

You should make sure to use lube wax frequently, as it can help preserve your crossbow and prevent wear to arrows and to the rail.


This is the mechanism that holds the arrow in place as you draw the string back and cock the crossbow. When you pull the trigger, the latch releases, letting the arrow fly.

Power Stroke

This is the amount of distance that the string moves as you draw it back. The more you have to pull the string back, the more runway the arrow has as it travels along the rail, increasing the speed.


Like rifles, most crossbows will have a safety next to the trigger that prevents the latch from releasing. It’s always advised that you leave the safety on to prevent any accidental shots.

Types Of Crossbows

There are a few different types of crossbows, although most operate using similar mechanisms. To make things simple, we’ll focus on the two main groups: recurve crossbows and compound crossbows.

Recurve Crossbows

A recurve crossbow is the simplest type of crossbow. It consists of two lathes (or limbs) that are connected to a string. To cock the crossbow, all you have to do is draw back the string. It operates on essentially the same principles as a regular bow, except that it’s fired horizontally.

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Compound Crossbow

Compound crossbows add additional strings that connect to the limbs of the bow. Unlike recurve crossbows, which draw back like a regular bow, they use an additional pulley system to increase tension. This makes compound crossbows more powerful, as they can increase the amount of kinetic energy and make the arrow fly faster.

Other Crossbow Types

There are a few other crossbow types, although they are a bit less common. Repeating crossbows allow you to fire multiple bolts in quick succession. Rifle crossbows are a more modern update on the classic, giving you much more accuracy and power. However, they can be quite difficult to cock, as you need a lot of power to draw the string.

Compound Crossbow Parts

If you have a compound crossbow, there are some additional parts that help the crossbow more efficiently use energy, increasing arrow speed. This allows you to get a greater amount of power in a smaller package, making compound crossbows more portable and easier to use for hunts.


Cams are attached to the end of the lathes, acting as a pulley to allow the crossbow to more easily store energy as you draw the string. The cams are attached to cables that assist in drawing the crossbow.


The cables of a compound crossbow connect the two cams at the end of the limbs of the crossbow. To put it more simply, the cables increase the amount of energy stored in the bow, increasing the power of the crossbow.

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Ethan Smith is a seasoned marine veteran, professional blogger, witty and edgy writer, and an avid hunter. He spent a great deal of his childhood years around the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest in Arizona. Watching active hunters practise their craft initiated him into the world of hunting and rubrics of outdoor life. He also honed his writing skills by sharing his outdoor experiences with fellow schoolmates through their high school’s magazine. Further along the way, the US Marine Corps got wind of his excellent combination of skills and sought to put them into good use by employing him as a combat correspondent. He now shares his income from this prestigious job with his wife and one kid. Read more >>