Crossbow Maintenance – How To Take Care Of Your Weapon

Written By Ron Parker 

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Crossbows may have existed for thousands of years, but they are still sophisticated machines with moving parts that require care and respect on the part of their owners. Appropriate crossbow maintenance will not only keep your weapon functioning correctly for many more seasons than it would otherwise, but it will also improve bolt speed and accuracy, thereby increasing your effective range and chances of hunting success. 

The following are the most important crossbow maintenance practices, both while regularly using it and before and after storing it in the offseason.

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Inspect Your String and Cables

Inspect crossbow string and cables

The strings and cables of your crossbow are nuanced mechanisms that can affect your shooting a lot even if they're just slightly out of tune. You should check them before each use.

I doesn't matter whether you are shooting a budget Barnett crossbow or a super expensive Ravin crossbow, you should check that the cables are well lubricated and in good shape. In other words, they shouldn't be frayed, bent or snagged. They should run smoothly into the grooves of the cams.

As for the bowstring, it should not be loose or frayed, also running smoothly through the cams on a compound crossbow. It should also be well lubricated, and the serving should not be cracked or ripped. 

If you find any of these problems, you should replace the parts or lubricate them as necessary.

Clean Your Crossbow To Remove Dirt and Grit

wiping down a crossbow

Even a little bit of dirt or grime can cause a crossbow to shoot inaccurately, so clean it regularly. In addition to wiping down the main surfaces, you can use a bottle of compressed air, same as you would use to clean your laptop keyboard, to get into all the grooves and tight spaces of the crossbow. Do this after each use, during the hunting season

Clean Your Crossbow Scope

Cleaning a crossbow scope

For the best accuracy possible, you should clean your crossbow scope regularly, especially before you store it for the offseason and after use in rough, dirty conditions. To do this, make a mild solution of water and a drop or two of dish soap. 

First, dip a cotton swab in the solution and then dab it on the lens both inside and outside to remove as many dust particles as possible. It's important to dab and not wipe to remove dust and debris so that you don't scratch the lens. Once you've removed as much dust and debris as possible, dip another cotton swab in pure water and use it to wipe the lens. 

You can also use the cotton swabs to clean the inside of the scope and where the lens meets the scope bell. When you're finished cleaning the scope, use another cotton swab to dry the scope by removing excess moisture.

A properly maintained scope will last for years and only needs to be zeroed in once.

Apply Wax and Conditioner To The String And Cables

Applying wax to the crossbow bowstring

Every crossbow owner should have some basic bow tuning tools and string wax is one of the tools you cannot live without.

Common wisdom holds that you should wax your crossbow string every 75 shots, which will last most bowhunters a full season. However, it's also recommendable to apply wax if you're going to use the crossbow in rain, snow or other extreme conditions. 

To apply it, rub some bowstring wax in between your thumb and index finger and rub it along the bowstring until it's deep into the strands of the string.  

Do not put wax on the serving. The serving will be lubricated when you lubricate the rail.

Lubricate The Rail

Apply Rail Lube to the crossbow rail

You can improve bolt speed, spin and accuracy by making sure the rail of your crossbow doesn't put too much friction on the bolt as it leaves. This is simple to do. Just apply a drop of rail lube to each side of the rail and then rub it along the length of the rail with your fingers. It's okay if you can't get to every part of the rail. The bowstring will help spread the lube evenly the next time you shoot the crossbow.

Lubricate The Trigger, Dry Fire Mechanism, Axles and Safety Slide

Minimizing friction will help other parts of your crossbow work more effectively too. Specifically, lubing the trigger will give you better control over the shot and therefore more accuracy. Meanwhile, lubing the axles helps keep the cams timed and improves bolt speed. In fact, it's a good idea to properly lube just about any part of your crossbow with moving pieces.

Luckily, you don't need a unique kind of lube for every different part. Just use rail lube, applying a drop or two to the points where moving parts meet. This is especially important to do if you've just used your crossbow in the rain.

Tighten All Nuts, Bolts and Screws

Tightening nuts, bolts and screws on a crossbow

This one is pretty straightforward. Crossbows have a lot of power, and since some of that power is absorbed by the crossbow itself after each shot, it can slowly rattle the nuts, bolts and screws that hold it together loose. Check these regularly, and tighten any that are loose. Even if you don't find any noticeably loose, it's still a good idea to tighten them every few weeks and before you store the crossbow for the offseason.

This is especially true with crossbows that shoot over 400 FPS. These crossbows generate a huge amount of energy and vibration, requiring more diligent maintenance procedures. 

There are different types of crossbows, but many utilize hex bolts to secure parts. As a result, it's a good idea to keep hex keys with you when you're hunting in case you need to tighten anything.  

Apply Rust Preventive Oil To Prevent Corrosion

Applying WD 40 to a crossbow

The metal parts of your crossbow may be susceptible to rust, especially if they get wet. So, like with many aspects of crossbow maintenance, it's important to apply rust-preventive oil after hunting in the rain or snow. This could be WD-40 or a similar product.

First, you should adequately dry the crossbow. Use a hair dryer to dry out all the nooks and crannies including inside the trigger housing. Then, spray the WD-40 into the same nooks and crannies and across any metal parts of the weapon, including the rail.

Inspect Your Cocking Device

You definitely don't want your cocking device to break in the middle of cocking or uncocking a crossbow. That could be dangerous, accidentally dry firing or damaging the crossbow itself.

Regardless of your cranking device, check to make sure nothing looks broken or out of place before every use. For a simple cocking rope, this means checking that it isn't frayed or weak at any point and that the clamps are still firmly attached. For something more complex like a crank, verify that all the nuts and bolts are tight and that the mechanisms are functioning properly before cocking the crossbow.

Inspect Your Crossbow Bolts For Damage

Cracked crossbow bolt

If a bolt is damaged, chances increase with each shot that the bolt will shatter causing a dry fire and damage to the crossbow, potentially injuring you. 

A damaged bolt could also cause your shot to go off line, resulting in a miss on that buck of a lifetime, or worse, wounding an animal.

Be sure to inspect your bolts carefully before using. Look for dents, cracks or any sign that the bolt is damaged in any way.

Also inspect the point. If you are using broadheads, make sure that the broadhead is undamaged in any way.

If you find a damaged bolt, immediately discard it and replace it with a new one.

Safely Store Your Crossbow When Not In Use

Crossbow in a protective case

Proper crossbow storage is about avoiding three things: moisture, heat and physical damage. Moisture and heat can cause rust and rot on the bowstring and cables. And physical damage, well, it can break your crossbow, possibly beyond repair.

To avoid all of this, it's best to store the crossbow in a case. A soft-shell case is fine, but for long storage periods such as those in the offseason, a hard-shell case is better at preventing physical damage if something falls on it, you drop it, etc. 

Once in the case, store the crossbow in a cool dry place, keeping in mind that most sheds and garages get too hot and too damp for such a fine-tuned machine.

Final Thoughts

It doesn't matter if you have a starter crossbow or a high end model, vigilant crossbow maintenance improves the life of your weapon and its effectiveness in the field. Since this will save you time and money in the long run, it's worth the investment to learn, remember and employ these maintenance practices.

All of this advice applies whether you are using a crossbow or compound bow. Follow these few simple steps and you are well on your way to a safe and successful deer hunting season.

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Ron Parker

Ron is an archery instructor and expert bow hunter that lives with his wife and kids in central Ohio. When he is not teaching archery or in the woods bow hunting deer, he is writing informative articles for

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