When the moment of truth arrives, and you are ready to pull the trigger on that big buck lined up in your sights, you want total confidence in your archery equipment. Getting in close enough with a crossbow to make a killing shot is not easy work, and the last thing you want is poor equipment performance. The wrong equipment could leave you with nothing more than the memory of a white tail waving goodbye.
When hunting with a crossbow, bolt selection is critical. Choose the best crossbow bolt and you’ll get optimal energy transfer from the string and smooth flight off the rail. Choose the wrong bolt and not only do you risk flawed performance and inconsistent accuracy, you also risk injury.
There are plenty of crossbow bolts on the market today. Hunting down the best crossbow bolt can feel like a more daunting task than stalking big game. Choosing the right bolt to meet your shooting needs is not a task to be taken lightly. There are many factors to consider, but don’t worry. We are here to walk you through the process.
Here is the table for our current best crossbow bolts recommendation:
|Category||Standard Bolt||Upgraded Bolt|
|Target Shooting and Field Practice||Barnett Outdoors Carbon 20-inch bolt with field points||Carbon Express Maxima Blue Streak Crossbolt|
|Hunting Deer or Smaller Game||BloodSport Witness Crossbow Arrow||Carbon Express Maxima Hunter|
|Big Game Hunting||Carbon Express Piledriver||TenPoint Pro Elite Carbon Bolt
Our recommendations specific to each crossbow is given in the “Addon” section of our in-depth crossbow reviews. Most bows are recommended a crossbow bolts listed below that fits their model.
Picking the Right Crossbow Bolt
Check Manufacturer’s warranty & crossbow requirements
The first step in choosing proper bolts for your crossbow is to check the manufacturer’s warranty. Most manufacturers include guidelines for choosing bolts to use in each specific crossbow. Following the specifications laid out in the owner’s manual or product warranty is important for several reasons.
- The manufacturer is the primary expert on their product. They want you to succeed and already understand what types of bolts will function best in their specific crossbow.
- Using a bolt that does not meet the manufacturer’s recommended specifications could void your warranty. Most product warranties are only valid if you follow their directions. When you use their equipment outside of the intended use, any damage that occurs will no longer be covered by the warranty.
- You risk personal injury and damage to your crossbow. For your safety and the safety of others, you should only shoot bolts that meet the specifications laid out in your user’s manual. Also, a crossbow is an expensive investment. If you use an incompatible bolt with your crossbow, you risk damaging it. This could result in costly repairs or an irreparable crossbow
Decide if you want to use carbon or aluminum bolts
The shafts of crossbow bolts are made from either aluminum or carbon fiber. Whether aluminum or carbon shafts are better is largely a matter of personal preference.
Many shooters choose bolts with aluminum shafts because they tend to be less expensive than carbon. The biggest issue with aluminum bolts is they bend easily and are typically less durable than carbon. However, if you’re looking just to get in some decent archery practice without wasting too much money, they’re a perfect option.
Shafts made of carbon fiber are stronger and tend to provide deeper penetration. Carbon fiber shafts also allow for more flexion. This means when the bolt comes to a sudden stop as it hits the target it is less likely to stress the shaft and cause it to weaken. This translates into a more durable product that can be shot repeatedly without compromising the material’s integrity. Carbon bolts are recommended for hunting.
Determine the desired weight of your crossbow bolts
Like traditional arrows, the weight of crossbow bolts is measured in grains per inch (GPI). Generally, lighter weight bolts fly faster and potentially straighter, at least in perfect conditions. Heavier bolts have more kinetic energy, are quieter, and more resistant to wind drift.
With lightweight, standard weight, and heavyweight crossbow bolts readily available, finding which will work best for a shooting or hunting situation is just a matter of understanding your options. let’s take a closer look at the characteristics and recommendations of the different weighted arrows.
Lightweight Bolts (less than 350 grains)
Using a lightweight bolt increases speed and flattens trajectory. However, a lighter bolt transfers energy to the limbs of your crossbow. This results in excess vibration, louder shooting, and potential wear-and-tear on your weapon.A lightweight bolt may get to your target faster, but it will be more susceptible to wind, rain, and debris downrange. A bolt that is easily blown off course by a light crosswind is going to be less accurate.
Uses: If your crossbow can handle firing a lightweight bolt (check the manufacturer’s recommendations), there are situations where they can be useful. Lightweight bolts are great for target shooting, especially competition shooting.Also, if you are hunting in open areas where judging distance is difficult, a bolt with a flatter trajectory will help make up for misjudged distance. Hunting in wooded areas or in inclement weather with lightweight bolts is not your best option. Just be aware that the extra noise generated by your crossbow when firing a lightweight bolt, could spook fidgety game.
Standard-Weight Bolts (350-400 grains)
A great all-purpose bolt, standard-weight bolts provide a nice balance of kinetic energy and speed. Standard-weight bolts also meet most manufacturer’s requirements and are less likely to cause bow damage.With this slight increase in bolt weight, more energy is transferred from the string to the bolt. This reduces noise and increases target penetration. Also, a standard-weight bolt will be less affected by wind and weather, improving accuracy in outdoor shooting situations.
Uses: A great “all-purpose” bolt, a standard-weight bolt works well in most crossbows. Also with low noise vibration, good penetration and energy, and less susceptibility to the elements, these bolts make an excellent choice for hunting most game.
Heavyweight Bolts (more than 400 grains)
Heavyweight bolts retain the highest amount of kinetic energy, creating hard-hitting terminal performance. This bolt style will create the highest amount of target penetration. Heavyweight bolts also have the best in-flight stability, making them less likely to deflect in windy conditions. However, they lose trajectory downrange, dropping rapidly at longer distances, so proper judgment of target distance is crucial.
Uses: A heavyweight bolt is necessary for hunting the largest game, especially species with tough hides like elk, moose, and bear. If you will be hunting in adverse weather or thick vegetation, a heavyweight bolt is a smart option. These bolts offer quiet shooting, but you should consider hunting with a rangefinder to accurately judge target distance.
A heavier bolt still won’t work well without an adequate crossbow. Make sure your crossbow is capable of producing enough FPS to handle heavyweight bolts.
Ensure that you pick a good nock compatible with your bow
The crossbow nock is a piece inserted in the back of the bolt shaft. Generally made of durable plastic or aluminum, the nock provides the connection between the string and the bolt. Having a good, quality nock is important to ensure maximum energy transfer. Usually, you won’t be in situations where you can cherry-pick the exact nock you want. You just want to make sure that the nock of the bolt you are purchasing matches the manufacturer’s requirements/recommendations for that crossbow. If it works with your crossbow, we recommend a half-moon hybrid for day hunting and archery, or a lighted-nock for hunting at night. The reasoning behind this is explained below:
- Flat– This simplest nock design is also the oldest and most traditional. Like the name suggests, this nock design is a simple flat disk. This design allows for the arrow to positioned in almost any position on the arrow With this nock style, special care needs to be taken to ensure the string doesn’t slip from the nock and cause a dangerous dry fire.
- Half-moon – This nock design features a groove to provide secure bolt placement on the string. This concave depression prevents the string from slipping from the nock during firing. It also ensures the bolt’s fletchings are correctly positioned along the rail allowing for a smooth trajectory and greater accuracy. Most crossbows that are compatible with this nock style will have you load the bolt with one vane straight down in the groove.
- Half-moon Hybrid – This relatively new nock design features multiple grooves to facilitate multiple fletching positions. This nock style gives you the positioning freedom of the flat nock with the string security of the half-moon nock. Essentially, this nock gives you the best of both worlds.
- Lighted Nocks – A relatively recent advancement in the archery field, many hunters are turning to lighted nocks. These shot-activated nocks, emit a lighted glow that helps you see the flight path of your bolt, pinpoint where it struck the animal, and make your bolts easier to retrieve.
Make sure your crossbow bolt has the correct length
Most crossbow bolts measure between 16 and 24 inches long. Keep in mind that the length of your bolt will affect the total weight since bolts are measured in grains per inch (GPI). A shorter bolt will theoretically fly faster than a longer bolt with the same spine and GPI.
Aside from arrow speed, how a bolt fits into your crossbow will determine whether it will perform accurately when fired. The bolt must be long enough for the nock to contact the string while the tip is free from interface at the end of the rail. Length can vary depending on the type of crossbow you’re using to hunt, so make sure to check the manufacturer’s recommendation for bolt size.
Ultimately, the best crossbow bolt depends on the requirements of your crossbow and the intended use. Here are our hand-picked favorites to help you narrow down your options and select the right fit for your shooting application. These recommended bolts are compatible with most crossbows on the market today.
Best Crossbow Bolts for Target Shooting and Field Practice
Standard: Barnett Outdoors Carbon 20-inch Bolts
A great option for the high-volume shooter on a budget, these Barnett Outdoors crossbow bolts offer quality and accuracy at a price that won’t leave you screaming if you lose or damage one. The lightweight shaft is surprisingly strong and durable, yet offers a nice flat trajectory for those targets that are difficult to judge
Each of these carbon bolts measures 20 inches in length and weighs just over 8 ounces. They come ready to shoot with field points and half moon nocks already in place. As a bonus, they come with a 5-year limited manufacturer’s warranty, so you know this is a product that the company stands behind.
These bolts fly fast and are crazy accurate for distances up to 50 yards. However, don’t expect stellar long-distance shooting, you’ll need a heavier bolt for that. Still, these bolts are fun to shoot and an excellent option for beginners or recreational shooters who enjoy popping targets.
Upgraded: Carbon Express Maxima Blue Streak Crossbolt
The Dodge Viper of lightweight crossbow bolts, the Maxima Blue Streak is the fastest in the Carbon Express lineup. It features Carbon Express’s exclusive and revolutionary Diamond Weave material. This innovative material is composed of a carbon cross-weave of two different carbon materials with a weight forward balance. The result is like having 2 spines in the same bolt. This gives you a faster bolt recovery off the rail. With more consistent flight patterns, you can expect reliable accuracy, tight arrow groups, and high target scores.
The bottom line is these bolts cruise. Their low-profile diameter allows them to cut through a crosswind like a hot knife through butter, especially for a lightweight bolt. Fast driving, these bolts almost seem to have their own power steering control. Well worth the hefty price tag, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a better handling, more accurate crossbow bolt anywhere.
Best Crossbow Bolts for Hunting Whitetail Deer & Smaller Game
Standard: BloodSport Witness Crossbow Arrow
Designed for reliable performance in today’s high-speed crossbows, the BloodSport Witness offers everything you need to hunt whitetails without breaking the bank. Relatively lightweight, you can customize your bolt by choosing a broadhead weight to compliment, tailoring the overall bolt weight to your specific crossbow.
Offering wicked precision and impressive penetration, these bolts reach your target at a velocity of over 400 feet per second. At that speed, the bolt will reach that trophy buck before his flinch response kicks in, allowing for a solid hit in the vitals.
The feature hunters may most appreciate is the patent-pending Blood Ring technology. A specially designed ring on the bolt shaft gathers forensic evidence as it moves through the animal. You’ll know immediately if you’ve made a killing shot. The Blood Ring allows you to gauge exactly where your bolt penetrated, whether heart, liver or digestive tract. You can use that information to discern how long or far the animal may travel before it can be recovered.
Upgraded: Carbon Express Maxima Hunter
When hunting whitetails you need speed, accuracy, and stealth to bag the big one. Carbon Express Maxima Hunter crossbolts deliver all three. With the same Dual Spine Weight Forward design as the Maxima Blue Streak, these bolts offer better shot recovery and speed retention.
The precision design also delivers tighter tolerances for more consistent performance and dependable accuracy. Basically, this means these bolts come off the rail, and speed straight toward your target.
And on top of the speed and accuracy these bolts provide, they are also wrapped in the proven Mossy Oak Treestand pattern. With features like these, the deer will never see them coming.
Best Crossbow Bolts for Hunting Bigger Game
Standard: Carbon Express Piledriver
By now you should be aware that Carbon Express produces some of the best crossbow bolts on the market. Their Piledriver bolts are no exception, delivering massive knockdown power and superior target penetration. This is the heaviest carbon composite crossbolt in the Carbon Express lineup.
The heavy grain weight creates maximum kinetic energy, allowing these bolts to penetrate deep, even when cutting through tough thick hides. Designed to deliver the ultimate in hard-hitting penetration, these bolts perform well even on the largest game.
Carbon Express builds these bolts to be strong and durable. Retaining straightness even after repeated use, you’ll be shooting these bolts season after season.
Upgraded: TenPoint Pro Elite Carbon Bolt
Incredibly accurate, each of these TenPoint Carbon bolts is laser inspected to guarantee straightness. These crossbolts feature durable premium Easton shafts that are hand-sorted for uniformity.
These bolts feature a special Omni-Nock system. Using six microgrooves in the nock, three separate string alignment channels are created. This design eliminates most of the indexing difficulties and dangerous string slippage.
Outfitted with 68-grain brass inserts, these bolts are balanced for an increased forward of center. The result is better long-range accuracy and greater kinetic energy, ensuring your bolt will reach your target and hit hard once it gets there. Pair these with sharp, cut-on-contact broadheads and you’ll be ready to bring down even the largest game.