The invention of the bolt goes way back to Medieval warfare, designed solely for crossbows. Aside from historical references and design reasons, their size and length are somewhat different from arrows. Hence, it is only right to call them bolts instead of arrows.
Terminologies can be confusing, especially if you are still trying to get familiar with all of them. One of the most intriguing terminologies that even continues to be in discussion is whether one should refer to a crossbow’s arrow as a bolt or not.
Most archers and hunters indeed use the two words interchangeably when firing crossbows. They think the term “bolt” here is a synonym for the word “arrow,” which isn’t the case when shooting crossbows.
At one glance, there is no apparent difference between the two. Both have similar parts, such as a nock, shaft, fletching, and field point. However, they are not identical, given that crossbows have unique features requiring specific measurements to reach a said projectile.
To help you understand better, enumerated below are the following reasons why you need to call crossbow arrows bolts:
- Historical references
Like crossbows, bolts started to exist in the Medieval period. Compared to vertical bows, crossbows are horizontally-oriented and must be heavy to deliver enough energy to reach the target. As a result, the crossbow needed a shorter and heavier projectile, which led to the invention of bolts.
They call the crossbow’s projectile bolts because they hit the target like a “lightning bolt from the sky,” aided in successfully penetrating the enemy’s plate armor and chain mail. That’s why it only makes sense that they are deadlier than vertical bows in the past.
The Medieval bolts had no vanes and were much larger than the modern ones archers use today. Moreover, they also look like squat darts, which differentiates them from other arrows.
Therefore, bolts are a type of projectile like the arrows used for vertical bows but made solely for crossbow weapons.
Concerning historical facts, the word “bolt” also comes from different etymologies, which you can refer to best below:
- You can trace “bolt”‘s etymology back to Middle English botel, derived from Old French “boite,” which means a box.
- Bolt also originated from the French word “carré,” which refers to “square” because of its square-like heads.
- It’s also related to “spear,” which is an Old Norse word, reflected from “pijjlfft,” a modern Swedish name for crossbow.
- The term also originated from the Old English word for arrow.
- The word bolt refers to several distinct sorts of arrows, derived from the Old French verb “bolte,” which means “to shoot.”
Therefore, the term bolt came from various origins, which proves that it is not an alternative word for “arrow.”
Besides history and etymologies, bolts differ significantly from vertical bow arrows regarding design characteristics. Although they have the same purpose as their counterparts, bolts have a distinctive shape that allows them to operate appropriately with crossbows.
If you look closely at the tip, it takes the shape of an arrowhead, wherein it can sometimes be flat or pointed, usually made of plastic or metal. Hence, it will not easily deform once it hits the target.
Manufacturers in the modern era are selling bolts made of synthetic materials like aluminum and carbon since they are more durable, lightweight, and flexible than old materials. Depending on your preferences, you can also choose between fixed-blade or mechanical broadheads, majorly made of steel.
Compared to vertical bow arrows, bolts are shorter and have a thicker shafts. If you have noticed, most bolts sold in the market are only as long as 16 inches. However, some are over 16 inches but still shorter than their counterparts.
Another thing to note when it comes to bolts is that they are also heavier than vertical bow arrows. Remember that for the crossbow to be able to reach the target; it needs to have projectiles heavier than the standard.
Additionally, you can immediately tell if it is a bolt based on size and length.
You may also want to know what the experts say about this play in terminology. According to Bowtech Archery’s Director of Marketing, Sam Coalson, he thinks that there is nothing wrong with using both terms interchangeably since they serve the same primary purpose.
Moreover, more and more crossbow enthusiasts seem to be calling bolt arrows more often. Aaron McCaleb from Barnett Crossbow thinks arrow is the correct term, but it depends on the circumstance.
On the other hand, TenPoint Crossbows’ Director of Marketing, Phillip Bednar, has an interesting perspective regarding bolts. He said that if the projectile is over 16 inches, it is an arrow; if it’s not, it’s a bolt.
As you can see, even experts in the crossbow industry have different perspectives on what to call a crossbow arrow. Nevertheless, whatever name you call it, ensure that the bolt you use is a projectile fit for crossbows to avoid dangerous misfires.
Please note that you cannot shoot vertical bow arrows from crossbows, which applies to bolts shot from vertical bows.
Can you shoot longer bolts in a crossbow?
You can shoot longer bolts in a crossbow not more than two inches. Contradictorily, if you want to shoot shorter bolts, please know that it is not advisable since it can lead to a misfire. Nonetheless, following your bow manufacturer’s recommended bolt length would be best for a better and safer shooting experience.
Aside from knowing the correct terminology to use when referring to the arrow shot from a crossbow, you may wonder if it is possible to shoot longer bolts in a crossbow.
If you look in the market, bolts come in various sizes but are limited. Some may have told you that bolts don’t get longer than 16 inches; however, this isn’t entirely true.
Crossbow bolts are available in four different standard sizes:
- 16 inches
- 18 inches
- 20 inches
- 22 inches
It is also interesting that other bolts measure lower than 16 inches. An excellent example is the ones used by military forces, which are only not more than 14 inches. It allows the crossbow to achieve a muzzle velocity of around 300 meters per second, leading to a penetration of approximately one inch of hardened steel at a hundred yards.
Modern civilian bolts, on the contrary, can measure around 16 to 18 inches, depending on the crossbow type.
The increase in bolt length is due to the invention of new crossbow models. Bow manufacturers develop new crossbows with better specifications, features, and capabilities that previous models couldn’t provide.
As a result, it is only understandable that bolt lengths now varied size to accommodate the rapid advancement of the weapon.
Despite such changes, crossbow bolts appear to be available in limited lengths compared to vertical bow arrows. Luckily, you don’t need to shoot bolts with excessive lengths to be able to reach your target.
Assuming you have a 16 inches bolt recommended by the bow manufacturer where you bought your crossbow. However, the bolt’s length seems insufficient for you, and you are thinking of using longer ones.
Although there is nothing wrong with shooting longer bolts in your crossbow, you have to know that a limit to how many inches is advisable to add. When shooting bolts with longer lengths than recommended, please note that they shouldn’t go over two inches.
Crossbow users prefer to shoot longer bolts because the longer they are, the more stability it gives, which results in a more substantial impact on the target. It usually applies to those who hunt using crossbows, especially those who join the big game hunting seasons.
Now that you know it is alright to use longer bolts in a crossbow, you may think it’s the same for shorter ones. Unfortunately, using shorter bolts than the recommended length is not advisable and can be dangerous.
Shooting shorter bolts can lead to a misfire because it likely couldn’t fit properly in the crossbow rail, causing damage to your crossbow and inflicting injuries.
For instance, if you fire a crossbow with a bolt a few inches more concise than recommended can end up causing the field point or broadhead of your bolt to get caught on the crossbow rail.
Therefore, it is essential to remember that choosing the right bolt length matters because it can significantly affect your safety and weapon. That’s why, to be safer, always follow your bow manufacturer’s recommended bow length so your crossbow will shoot properly.
Most bow manufacturers, especially the big ones, provide a recommended bolt length you can follow. Unfortunately, some don’t, which makes it challenging for you.
Luckily, there are various crossbow bolt size charts you can refer to, such as this:
|Bolt Length||Shaft Material||Recommended Brands|
|16 inches||Carbon||Carbon Express|
|18 inches||Carbon||Wicked Ridge, Excalibur|
|20 inches||Carbon||Barnett, Carbon Express, TenPoint|
|Aluminum||Easton Archery, Wicked Ridge|
|22 inches||Carbon||Barnett, Carbon Express, TenPoint|
Based on the table above, you can easily pick which material and brand you must buy from, which can also assist you in selecting the correct bolt for your crossbow.
Is a heavier crossbow bolt better?
A heavier crossbow bolt is better for those who hunt large animals like elk, moose, and bears because it penetrates better, helping achieve an ethical kill. However, be careful not to go too heavy because it can plummet to the ground before reaching the target.
Opting for a lighter or heavier bolt depends on a shooter’s preference. For example, most big game hunters prefer to use heavier bolts, while crossbow target archers prefer lighter ones.
Preferences aside, it would be better to delve deeper into what makes a heavier bolt a desirable weight to use. Compared to lighter ones, heavier bolts significantly impact the target. It offers better penetration, perfect for crossbow hunters joining the big game hunting seasons.
Hence, you can go heavy anytime with your crossbow bolt. The same also applies if you want to go lighter. Sadly, there are downsides to shifting to heavy bolts.
If you go heavy, you are sacrificing your crossbow’s speed. Therefore, you can expect that your crossbow’s velocity has decreased.
For instance, your crossbow boasts 350 fps, but you shoot a 500-grain bolt. As a result, your bolt will travel at a speed of only 315 fps instead of 350 fps. On the contrary, the opposite will happen if you use lighter bolts.
Aside from a decrease in fps, heavier bolts will lose power quickly as it flies. Crossbow hunters who shoot heavy bolts shoot at a limited distance instead of aiming at a far range. In contrast, lighter arrows travel faster and are better shot at far reaches but with less damage inflicted on the target.
Shooting heavy bolts from your crossbow is ideal for hunters. Nevertheless, remember to stay moderate because heavy bolts tend to plummet to the ground and end up unable to reach the target.
It is still best to stick to your bow manufacturer’s recommended bolt weight if you are still determining if a heavy bolt will work well with your crossbow.
Bolt is the proper name to use when referring to a crossbow arrow. However, it isn’t a big deal for most crossbow enthusiasts as long as it serves its purpose. Rather than stressing out about what name to call it, it is more important to be careful in choosing the right length and weight of the bolt you will use in your crossbow.