You may have heard about the dangers of dry firing a bow, and you wonder if dry firing a crossbow will pose the same danger. After all, the seemingly robust design may appear to make it less dangerous. For those who don’t know, dry firing a crossbow would happen when you shoot a crossbow without a bolt set for shooting.
Dry firing a crossbow poses as much danger as dry firing a bow because of how the kinetic energy doesn’t transfer into the bolt and goes straight into the limbs instead. This action adds stress to the limbs and done enough times, it can cause the limbs to break and cause potential injury.
If you’d like to learn more about dry firing a crossbow, keep reading as we cover the dangers and why it’s a bad thing.
What Injuries Can Happen When You Dry Fire a Crossbow?
Dry firing a crossbow is bad because of the injuries that it can cause. The biggest danger comes from how close the crossbow sits to your face when you go to fire it. In a dry fire scenario, the string snapping could take out an eye. Having eye damage or even blindness from a dry fire is a distinct possibility. Granted, this only shows you a remote possibility, it can happen due to the closeness to the face.
You also have cases where the limb could break violently and bounce back hitting you in the face causing a laceration. Another example of what could happen is if you were to have a fractured eye socket from dry firing the crossbow—it has happened. This hopefully shows you why you need to take dry firing a crossbow deadly seriously. The consequences would not be worth it.
Hopefully, you can also see why you should perform regular maintenance on your crossbow too. You want to change your crossbow strings and cables at a minimum of once every two years. Perform regular inspections to replace things not right with the crossbow.
In some cases, it won’t hit you in the face, but one person reported how they had a scar on their hand from when the cam cracked.
Why Would Someone Dry Fire a Crossbow?
Oftentimes, inexperienced archers dry fire a crossbow with no particular reason for it. They were screwing around and decided to shoot the crossbow. The lack of experience and lack of knowledge from the dangers leads them to firing the crossbow without a bolt. They don’t realize the danger that they put themselves in when they perform a dry fire.
For that reason, you should give every inexperienced archer a quick lesson about never dry firing a crossbow. This poses the most danger to an inexperienced archer because it seems harmless.
Forgot to Load the Bolt
The other reason that someone might dry fire a crossbow would come from the fact that they forgot to load a bolt. This happens more commonly with the crossbow than the bow because of how you don’t handle the bolt as much.
It’s easier to dry fire a crossbow than a bow. You should always check the bolt to see that it was seated properly up against the string. Failure to check this can cause a dry fire as well.
While a crossbow may survive a dry fire the first couple of times, you don’t want to be anywhere near it if the crossbow were to explode violently. It can cause a violent episode. They don’t have as much resilience as a bow. A crossbow is a lot like a compound bow in that it has a special vulnerability to it due to the extra components on it.
Commonly when you dry fire a crossbow, the string will break because the kinetic energy has nowhere else to go.
If you’d like to see the damage done to a crossbow after a dry fire, check out this video to highlight the dangers:
Don’t Trust the Crossbow’s Anti-Dry Fire
Many crossbow shooters say how they won’t even buy a crossbow without an anti-dry fire mechanism on it. Even with an anti-dry fire mechanism on the crossbow, you must take precautions never to dry fire the crossbow if you can help it. Like the video above highlights, you can still shoot a crossbow without a bolt even with the anti-dry fire on it.
The good news is that some companies will cover you under warranty if that were to happen, but it poses a danger not worth the trouble. Most companies won’t cover a dry fire by itself. The only time where they would would be if the anti-dry fire mechanism failed. Check the warranty ahead of time or choose a crossbow brand that offers an excellent warranty.
Why You Want an Anti-Dry Fire on Your Crossbow
You want an anti-dry fire system as well because of how it allows for easy de-cocking of your crossbow. Let’s say that you fired an anti-dry fire crossbow. Ideally, the crossbow’s mechanism will catch the string to prevent it from dry firing and avoid possible damage to it.
Even if you didn’t intend to dry fire, it can happen even without negligence, which explains why so many people prefer to have a crossbow with one on it. You need to check to see that you have the arrow nocked each time. All it takes is to get distracted one time to accidentally cause a dry fire.
Most of the newer crossbow models will include an anti-dry fire mechanism but not all. You want to check this ahead of time to make sure. In addition, you don’t want to depend on it completely either. Avoid dry firing the crossbow at all costs.
When you look at the packaging for this feature, check for the label DFI mechanism. In some cases, they call it this instead.
What Happens if You Dry Fire a Crossbow?
When you dry fire a crossbow, the kinetic energy has nowhere to go causing it to vibrate all over. This sends it straight to the limbs, cams, strings and cables. You might luck out and not have the crossbow blow up in your face, but you don’t want to take this risk too many times.
Many times, micro-cracks will start to form in the limbs after the first dry fire. While you can’t see the damage done to the limbs, enough shots will cause a violent split in the limb, or it may snap the crossbow string, which can be equally dangerous since you fired it right next to your face.
At the next attempt to fire the crossbow, you may see the components fail. Your crossbow may exhibit signs where it begins to fail, or you could see total failure where you can’t even use it. This can prove especially problematic if it happens during bowhunting season, and it may put your crossbow out of commission for a while. It takes time to make the repairs.
Some crossbows may blow up and others may experience minor damage that should still be taken seriously. Certain crossbow brands built their products to withstand dry fires better than others.
Energy may be likened to the bending of a crossbow; decision to the releasing of the trigger.—Sun Tzu
Did You Dry Fire Your Crossbow? Here’s What to Do…
After you have dry fired your crossbow, you should understand a few things about it and dry firing them. Oftentimes, it’s not the dry fire that causes the damage. Much of the damage happens when you try to shoot it the next time. Because of that, we would advise that you don’t shoot a crossbow after having dry fired it until you have had a professional inspect it.
You could inspect it yourself as well for signs of damage, but do this at your own risk. We wouldn’t advise it because you may miss something crucial.
Use a Cotton Ball to Check for Damage
Some damage may be minor, but you have cases where the damage caused will be more severe. Take a cotton ball and run it over the limbs of your crossbow. You do this to detect if the crossbow splintered at all during the dry fire. In some cases, you may not be able to see the damage.
If you don’t see any splinters, it may indicate that only minor damage occurred. Still, you should exercise caution because of how the damage could still be there. Examine the cams and the risers to see if they cracked at all. You also want to check the crossbow string for signs of fraying or loose strands because this indicates that damage occurred.
Let’s say that you see no further damage. Cock the crossbow slowly, and if it doesn’t make noises or other strange sounds, you may be okay.
You could also use a magnifying glass to see if microscopic damage occurred to the crossbow. If you’re interested in learning about dry firing a bow, I wrote about that here.
Recurves Do Better in a Dry Fire
With a recurve crossbow, you will want to check the limb tips to see that the string loops remain securely in place. A recurve crossbow has much higher chances of surviving a dry fire than other types because of the fewer components like the lack of cables and cams. On a compound crossbow, you want to check to see that the string and cables remain slotted in place.
Examine the limbs, cams and cables especially because they will often be even more vulnerable to damage. The strings and cables of your crossbow should maintain tension in them. One of the signs of a damaged crossbow is that the string is no longer taut.
Take Minor Damage Seriously
Don’t underestimate even minor damage to your crossbow. You may want to take it to a crossbow shop to have it repaired. Even minor damage can turn into more severe damage over time. The repeated shooting of your crossbow will cause it to wear and tear much faster. You want to be aware of the damage and fix it as quickly as possible.
With a bolt on the crossbow, it will absorb 75 percent of the kinetic energy, but without the bolt, all this energy goes straight into your weapon. Even 25 percent of the kinetic energy, however, can still damage a crossbow with minor damage.
Crossbow Dry Fire: Assume That Damage Has Occurred
After a dry fire, you would consider it safer to assume that damage occurred until proven otherwise. Never fire a crossbow immediately after a dry fire without the proper inspection, and we would advise you to take it to a professional for extra safety. Firing it a second time without the proper inspection could put you in danger of an injury if the crossbow breaks due to damaged parts.
If you’d like to learn more about hunting safety in general, check out this article here.
Never Dry Fire to Uncock Your Crossbow
Over the years, we have heard of people who would dry fire to uncock their crossbow. This shows you one of the reasons to have an anti-dry fire mechanism so that you never find yourself put in this position. The safest way to decock your crossbow is to fire a bolt at a target. Point it in a safe direction away from people.
At the end of each hunt, you should discharge it rather than drive home with a cocked crossbow. You never know if something would set off the bolt. Always you will unload it with an arrow in the chamber. Never dry fire the crossbow to decock it. You have stories of people who did that and the crossbow exploded.
Decocking Arrow to Avoid Dry Fires
You have several companies that have made special decocking arrows to allow for a safe discharge without the need to dry fire it. The discharge arrows allow you to shoot the crossbow into the soft ground without worrying about harming the arrow. That’s often the biggest concern that hunters will have is that they would blunt an arrow or damage it.
I would call the decocking arrows worth the cost so that you never have to dry fire an arrow. Some of the more modern crossbows may have a crank-style device that lets you decock your crossbow safely.
Manual Decocking to Avoid Dry Fires
You can also decock a crossbow manually, but you need incredible strength, and I wouldn’t advise it for the faint of heart. It can be scary manually decocking a crossbow.
If you did decide to decock the crossbow manually to avoid dry firing, I would recommend having a buddy nearby. One person handles the anti-dry fire mechanism and the trigger while the other person lowers the string gently.
Is It Okay to Leave Your Crossbow Cocked Overnight?
You should never leave your crossbow cocked for over a 24-hour period. You may cause premature stretching of the cables and strings. Leaving a crossbow cocked will cause a lot of tension and stress to it. You might keep it cocked while hunting, but don’t leave it cocked for longer than 24 hours.
Dry Firing a Crossbow Can Cause It to Explode
The biggest danger posed from dry firing a crossbow comes from how it has the potential to explode right in your face. Some people may luck out and not have it hit them in the face. The unlucky few will be struck by it, and when you have things that close to your face and eyes, the consequences can be severe. A thorough inspection before taking each shot can help you to avoid a dry fire. Some crossbows may survive it with minor damage, but many crossbows will suffer damage, which is why dry firing is bad.
If you’d like to learn more about what happens when a bow explodes, check out this article that I wrote here. This may better highlight the dangers of dry firing a crossbow as well.