Why Are Crossbow Arrows Called Bolts?


If you are interested in crossbows or have one, you may know that their arrows are called bolts. The terminology is confusing because some people call arrows, while others insist they are bolts. Most manufacturers agree that you can call them arrows or bolts, but there are distinct differences.

This term bolt dates back to medieval times when oxen were huge contraptions on wheels drawn by crossbows. They used short projectiles that didn’t have vanes and looked like darts. Some say they were called bolts because when they hit the enemy, they hit it like a bolt of lightning.

How Do Bolts Differ From Arrows?

The primary difference between a bolt and an arrow is the length. Technically, bolts are shorter than arrows, and they don’t have their stabilizing vanes in the back. When crossbows were first made in the middle ages, they were huge devices that were in wheels, and they were drawn by oxen.

They were used by the military, and it was the first weapon that was considered simple to use, inexpensive to make, and operable by most untrained soldiers. Back then, the projectiles were shorter and heavier than arrows, and they could make it through chainmail. They would hit the target hard and fast, and it was unexpected, so they called it a bolt.

Differences Between Bolts and Arrows:

  • Bolts are 16 to 22 inches long, while arrows are 27 to 32 inches
  • Both have four parts, including the shaft, the fletching, the broadhead, and the nock
  • Bolts are heavier than arrows
  • Bolts shoot straighter due to design
  • Bolts penetrate better
  • Arrows are deadlier at further distances
  • Arrows are more accurate at longer distances
  • Bolts have a slower load time
  • Heavier bolts make for quieter shots

How Are Crossbow Bolts Constructed?

There are different parts to the crossbow bolt, including the length, the weight, the type of nock, and the shaft materials. Different crossbow manufacturers recommend the type of bolt that will shoot best. You should follow their recommendations because they will include other information such as the length, weight, and type of nock you should use. You need to choose a bolt that fits with their recommendations or you can risk damaging the crossbow.

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Bolts are constructed similarly to arrows, but they are tougher because they need to withstand the pressure of being shot at more than 400 fps. They are usually 16 to 22 inches long, with 20 inches being the most common length. You should go shorter than 16 inches because the field point or broadhead could get caught on the crossbow rail.

The weight of your bolt includes the weight of the bolt, crossbow nock, insert, vanes, and field point of broadhead. Most manufacturers will tell you how many grains each shaft weighs, which is how many grains are in each inch of the shaft. You might have a bolt that is 15 grains per inch, and if the bolt is 20 inches, you just multiply the grains per inch by the length. 15 x 20 = 300, so now you know it weighs 300 grains.

Then, you need to add the weight of the nock, the insert, vanes, and tip to get the total weight. Keep in mind that heavier bolts will have more downrange energy and give you better penetration.

The Kinetic Energy of Bolts

If you plan to hunt small game, such as deer, you can use a minimum of 23 pounds of energy. If you hunt larger game, such as elk or black bears, you will need 43 pounds of kinetic energy.

Your bolt will lose three to four percent of its energy for every ten yards it has to travel, so you need to factor all of this in when you are choosing a bolt. You can actually use a kinetic energy calculator to find out how much energy your bow is delivering.

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The Bolt Fletching

Most people prefer smaller two-inch vanes over larger ones that are four or five inches. The reason for this is that the smaller vanes lift some weight off the back end of the bolt, which adds to the front of center ratio. As a result, you can shoot more accurately. The best way to decide which vanes are best for you is to practice with different sizes of vanes.

The Crossbow Nocks

The nocks also come in different sizes, and you need to make sure that you use the correct size for your crossbow or your string could jump the nock and cause a dry fire. Some of the nocks are half-moon, flat back, capture, and hybrid moon nocks. You should look for the lighted crossbow nock that matches the type of nock you want to use. If you use a lighted nock, you can easily see where the bolt struck.


There are different types of broadheads available as well. Some companies make them with expandable blades, and they are designed just for crossbows. You can choose an expandable or fixed blade, but make sure that you sight your crossbow for the type you plan to shoot.

What Material Are Bolts Made of?

The shaft of your bolt should be made of carbon fiber, aluminum, or a combination of both. The least expensive option is aluminum. While it is durable, it bends easily, and this makes it pretty useless. Carbon fiber is the most expensive option, and it flies well and is very durable. It also penetrates your target better than aluminum.

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Bolts that are a combination of the two have the best properties of each, and they can improve your durability, accuracy, and speed. You can find bolts made of fiberglass or wood, but they are not common. Neither works well or is safe to use on modern crossbows.

Do People Use Arrows on a Crossbow?

If you have a crossbow, you cannot shoot arrows that are designed for a standard bow. However, you can shoot arrows that are made for a crossbow. The problem is that crossbows have a shorter draw length and a higher draw strength, so an arrow for a regular bow would be too long. If the crossbow doesn’t break the arrow when you release it, it has too much weight and the center of mass is too far forward.

In addition, when the draw strength is higher, as it is for a crossbow, it needs a sturdier and heavier arrow or bolt; otherwise, the arrow will split from the force. You need to stick with arrows or bolts that fit the recommendations of the manufacturer for your crossbow.

Final Words

Bolts are the projectiles used by most crossbows, and they are different from arrows. Bolts are shorter than arrows, and they have different vanes. When crossbows were invented, they were very large and sat on wheels. They had to be drawn by oxen because they were too heavy to carry. They were easy to use, and the bolts were short and fat so that they could penetrate the enemy shields.

Today, bolts are projectiles between 16 and 22 inches, while arrows are usually longer. You can’t interchange which ones you use as you could damage your crossbow. You need to pay close attention to what the manufacturer for your crossbow recommends and choose bolts or arrows within that range.


  • http://www.bestcrossbowsource.com/crossbow-bolts-arrows-guide
  • https://www.grandviewoutdoors.com/gear/choosing-the-right-bolt-for-your-crossbow-set-up
  • https://hunthacks.com/crossbow-bolts-guide-arrows-construction-nocks-tips
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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 >>