Best case scenario, you're uncocking your crossbow by shooting a deer or other game. However, any bow hunter knows the real world is often not that kind. Instead, you're left sitting in your tree stand at the end of a long day, and your bolt is exactly in the same place it was when you climbed up there.
So what do you do with all that power you've got stored up? It has to go somewhere, but shooting the bolt just anywhere will end up losing or damaging it, and shooting the crossbow without a bolt in it will almost certainly break it.
You do have to uncock it, though. Carrying around a loaded crossbow is dangerous. So here are five safe—and easy—ways to do it.
1. Shoot It Into A Target
The easiest way to decock a crossbow is just to shoot it. But you obviously don't want to just shoot it across the woods and lose it. You have to shoot it at something.
If you want to wait until you get home, this could be your normal archery target. Alternatively, there are small "discharge targets" that you can buy so that you can decock your crossbow before you leave the woods. These are usually made of material that can stop a bolt at close range without harming it.
There are a couple problems with this method, though. First, you have to carry the target with you, making it more difficult to get to your tree stand and more likely that you accidentally make noise.
Additionally, you may not want to shoot your bolt into a target if it's fitted with a mechanical broadhead. At the very least, it means having to reset it, but most mechanical broadheads are fragile, so there's a good chance they'll get damaged.
What I normally do is put my cocked crossbow into a crossbow case and transport it home.
When I get home, I discharge the crossbow with a bolt and field point into my archery target.
2. Use A Discharge Bolt
A frankly better option to shooting your crossbow into a target is to shoot it into the ground using a discharge bolt. This type of bolt is specifically designed to do this without getting damaged, so you can use it for this purpose repeatedly.
The obvious disadvantage to this method is that the discharge bolt takes up a spot in your quiver, which may only have capacity for three or four bolts in the first place. Plus, you have to be deliberate with your shot. You should shoot several yards in front of you and avoid hitting rocks or wood. Then, you have to go retrieve it. One solution to this is to use a biodegradable discharge bolt that you can just shoot wherever you want and leave it.
3. Use A Crossbow Defuser or Decocker
A crossbow decocker is a device designed specifically for the purpose of decocking a crossbow. Usually shaped like a cross, you load it into the crossbow rail like you would a bolt. It then holds the bowstring and limbs so they don't release their energy. After you "fire" the crossbow, you then use the defuser mechanism to slowly let the bowstring and limbs back down to their precocked position.
A defuser is a great way to decock your bow silently, so if you care about minimizing noise in a specific area, maybe because you want to hunt again the next day, it's a great option. However, it is a dedicated device you have to carry with you into the woods. And not a cheap one either.
That said, the biggest issue with crossbow diffusers is that you have to know how to use them. It's not that they're particularly difficult to use, just that each model is different. Employing one incorrectly could damage your crossbow, so you have to make sure to read the manufacturer's instructions and follow them.
Here is a video showing how to use the crossbow decocker.
4. Use A Crank
You're probably familiar with cranks as devices for cocking your crossbow, but they work just as well for uncocking and you can even find less expensive crossbows that come with a crank. While there are many models, some integrated into your crossbow and some stand alone, they all work by the same principle. They hook onto the bowstring and use a rotating lever (remember your simple machines?) to minimize the amount of force you need to cock the bow with the trade-off that you have to apply the force over a longer distance (the rotations of the crank).
Naturally, the same principle can be applied in reverse. By uncocking your crossbow with the crank, you let it dissipate its energy by applying a much lower force over a long distance so it doesn't damage the crossbow itself.
To use a crank, you need to make sure it's correctly attached to the bowstring. Once it's holding the bowstring, you can release the trigger and then slowly lower the bowstring and limbs back down to their starting positions.
Most modern day crossbows have a crank cocking device as either standard equipment or as an option.
Here is a video showing how to uncock a Ravin crossbow with a crank.
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5. Use A Cocking Rope
Cocking ropes are also devices designed for easily cocking your crossbow that can be used in reverse to decock it, though they're much simpler than cranks. Basically, you hook a rope onto the bowstring, and then by holding the crossbow down with your foot, you have enough leverage to draw the bowstring.
You can do the same thing to decock a crossbow, attaching the cocking rope to the bowstring and then lowering it down gently. Of course, this takes a certain amount of precision, and you need to have the strength to do it correctly.
Be sure to inspect your cocking rope for wear and tear before every use. This is part of everyday crossbow maintenance that should be followed to provide safe and accurate use of your crossbow.
Here is a video demonstrating how to uncock a crossbow with a cocking rope.
Why Is It Important To Decock/Uncock A Crossbow?
A crossbow stores a lot of energy when it's cocked. Carrying it around or letting it bounce around in the bed of your truck is a lot like doing the same thing with a loaded gun—with one important difference. A cocked crossbow is still dangerous even if it isn't loaded.
If you accidentally fire your crossbow, that bolt could hurt you or someone nearby or damage something, including the bolt. And if you don't have a bolt in the crossbow, all that energy has to go somewhere, specifically, the crossbow itself.
Dry firing a crossbow will most likely damage it. Even if you can't see the damage at first, it could be internal. Then, the next time you go to shoot your crossbow, it could break fully, shattering and sending pieces flying into your face. Of course, that could also happen the first time, meaning that dry firing isn't just dangerous for the crossbow, but you too if you're holding it.
Oh, and one last thing. In some states, it's actually illegal to walk around with your crossbow cocked, so decocking it when you're not using it is doubly important.
Tips To Safely Uncock/Decock A Crossbow
Check Your Crossbow Design
There are different types of crossbows and your crossbow design can help you determine which uncocking method is best for you. That's because some models are designed in such a way that you can't take the bolt off the rail unless you release the safety first. And unloading the crossbow while the safety's off is a good way to lose a finger. In other words, if you have a crossbow like this, a discharge bolt or crossbow diffuser is not your best option.
Read the different crossbow reviews to see the method for uncocking each crossbow model. The review should state if it includes a cocking rope, or has an integrated crank, etc.
Check Your Surroundings
If you decock your crossbow by shooting it, either into a target or the ground, look around first. You never know when someone might wander into your path.
Even if it's not a person, though, you might accidentally shoot a tree or rock that will damage the bolt, or worse, send it bouncing off somewhere you don't want it to go.
Decock Your Crossbow Often
Leaving your crossbow cocked for long periods of time is hard on the weapon's limbs and bowstring in addition to the cams if it's a compound model and the trigger mechanism, which has to resist the force of the bowstring. Most modern models are tough enough to handle this for a while, certainly enough to leave your crossbow cocked while you're hunting.
Nevertheless, you should still be vigilant about decocking your crossbow when you aren't using it. Many experts even recommend decocking after as little as four hours, but you certainly shouldn't go more than 24 hours with your crossbow cocked. This could damage the limbs or stretch the string, impacting accuracy and the effective range of the crossbow.
NEVER Dry Fire a Crossbow
New crossbow users are often tempted to just take out their bolt and pull the trigger. Not only will you probably ruin your crossbow doing this, but you're likely to injure yourself, maybe even severely.
When you dry fire a crossbow, the energy goes into the crossbow itself, which could cause it to splinter or explode. These pieces could hit you, possibly in a vulnerable place like your eyes, and cause permanent injury.
Even if the crossbow doesn't explode right when you dry fire it, there will almost always be some kind of internal damage. This could cause it to explode or splinter the next time you use it, presenting the same risk.
Even if your crossbow is not damaged, you will probable have to sight in your scope again.
Final Thoughts On How To Uncock A Crossbow
You just got home from a long day of deer hunting without success. You're tired, you're hungry and you just want to get in the house, but you were using a crossbow vs compound bow. Now you need to take the time to uncock your crossbow.
Decocking your crossbow is both good for the crossbow and your own safety. Sometimes it's even a legal requirement.
If you find yourself at the end of a hunt with the crossbow still cocked, make sure to use one of the five methods to correctly decock it and keep yourself safe for another hunt.