While the advancement of the modern crossbow continues to reach new levels in technology, design, and build materials, so do crossbow arrows. That’s right, I said “arrows”. You may be thinking, doesn’t he mean crossbow bolt? Quite often people confuse a crossbow arrow with the term crossbow bolt. I’d like to point out they are two very different projectiles. While both can be shot from a crossbow, a crossbow bolt is in no way close to a crossbow arrow. So let’s look at some of the differences that make one and arrow and one a bolt.
Crossbow arrows of today have plastic fletching or feathers to help stabilize and guide the arrow in flight. Most of the time there are three total vanes or fletchings spaced at 120 degrees apart from each other around the circumference of the arrow shaft. However some crossbows can shoot a two or four fletched arrow. These arrows are normally anywhere from 17” to 26” long, with the majority of crossbow arrows measuring in at 20”-22” long depending on a manufacturers recommendations. Most of todays crossbow arrows weigh in at somewhere between 400 - 425 grains for compound style crossbows and between 350 - 400 grains for recurve style crossbows and feature some sort of removal point or tip. The point or tip can vary in weight and come in a variety of offerings suited for target practice, small and large game, and even specific tips for turkeys and or fish. Tips or points used for hunting that contain sharpened blades are called broadheads, while practice tips are often called field points. Todays arrows are often made from carbon or aluminum. They flex when shot and require a good front of center balance point in order to achieve maximum accuracy. Crossbow arrows also contain some sort of end cap at the rear of the shaft called a “nock”. Nocks can be straight across the back of the arrow called “flat” nocks or they can have a crescent shaped indent to help prevent a string from jumping over or sliding under the arrow when fired. These types of nocks are called “moon” nocks. And there is even a third style that feature a deeper groove in the nock much like traditional arrows would have. These crossbow specific nocks are called “capture” nocks.
Crossbow bolts however have none of these characteristics. Crossbow bolts, or sometimes referred to as quarrels are much shorter in length than arrows. When it comes to the overall weight of crossbow bolts or quarrels, it is not uncommon for them to weigh as much as three times the weight as a modern arrow. They are usually made from some type of metal but have also been known to be made from wood. They are very stiff and do not flex like an arrow. They provided very high kinetic energy depending on what type of bow they are shot from and were even known to be able to pierce midlevel chain mail or armor. Crossbow bolts do not have any fletching or feathers to help guide them in flight. As a result the crossbow bolt often looses accuracy quickly and are much better suited for close range targets. While there are known variations as far as tip or point style, most were designated for one purpose only and points were not interchangeable.
So why do most hunters call todays arrows crossbow bolts and not arrows? Well for starters most of the arrows say “bolt” right on them. Arrow manufactures market crossbow arrows as crossbow bolts. This is a term that carried over from the first commercially available crossbow arrows from over 30 years ago and kind of stuck around. I am hoping that some manufactures step up and realized that the crossbow arrow has been mislabeled for decades and start marketing them as what they truly are, and that is arrows. Not only is this the correct terminology for the arrow, but with todays state by state legislation battles aiming to get crossbows included into archery seasons, it sure would be nice to make it a point that they shoot arrows just like vertical bows do. As the consumer, we have also accepted the industry standard of labeling arrows as bolts. This mistake is something that the uniformed crossbow hunter or enthusiast probably doesn’t even know he or she is making. Thus the reason for this article. I want to make sure people realize they are not using crossbow bolts to hunt or shoot with and are actually using arrows. I would like to see manufactures adopt “crossbow arrow” as the new industry standard. I think in the near future we will see the “bolt” tag fall by the wayside. Until then, I will do my part to try and inform the crossbow community that crossbow bolts, aren’t for crossbows anymore.