For the modern hunter, few things are more exhilarating than hunting with a crossbow. The combination of required proximity to your prey and the power that a crossbow exerts makes for an unforgettable experience.
Plus, knowing that you are using a weapon that revolutionized medieval warfare is pretty cool, too.
But crossbows are sophisticated weapons, and there are many different types of bolts – a particular kind of ammunition specific to crossbows that are also known as arrows – on the market today.
To select the optimal bolt for your device, you will need to consider a variety of factors that are not necessarily intuitive to the average person. That is where we come in – we will explain the mysteries of bolt design to help you make an educated decision.
Bolts differ in all sorts of ways, some obvious such as length and type of nock and some less obvious, such as weight and material. You also have to consider what kind of point you want, as well.
We have conducted exhaustive research on all the possible bolt options to bring you this informative guide. So, read on to learn all you ever wanted to know about bolts and our reviews for the top choices.
OUR TOP PICK
Reegox’s value pack of 12 bolts offers excellent value for the money without compromising quality.
- Made of carbon
- Designed for beginners and young hunters
- Ideal for target practice and familiarizing yourself with the crossbow
- The standard point, nock, and insert make repairing and upgrading accessories a breeze
- Straight shooting with good accuracy
- Prone to bending
Another quality Carbon Express offering, this bolt set features multi-layer construction and special technology to provide consistent results time after time.
- Made of two different types of carbon
- High energy transferability
- Delivers exceptional down range accuracy with a broadhead
- The back-shaft is constructed with that patented K-360 weave technology that integrates a carbon weave into the outer layer of the bolt
- Nocks and field tips must be purchased separately
- FOC balance can be lacking
This powerhouse bolt set is not for the faint of heart. It delivers crushing penetration and accuracy for the serious hunter.
- Made of heavyweight carbon
- Delivers maximum kinetic energy, knockdown power, and penetration
- Laser checked to a straightness of ± 0.0004-inch maximum measurement and weight sorting tolerance of ±1.0 grains
- Quiet, stable, and hard-hitting
- Comes with both moon and flat nocks
- Fletches sometimes need reattachment after use
Industry darling Barnett offers this set of quality bolts that function equally well for hunting and target practice. Plus, the 5-year manufacturer’s warranty will give you peace of mind about any issues that might arise.
- Made of carbon
- Durable fletchings
- Great target penetration
- Come with moon nocks
- Don’t perform as well at long ranges, best suited for short and medium range use
This bolt set is perfect for kids, adults, amateurs, and professionals, alike. Durable, sturdy, and with extremely sharp tips, these bolts will have you hitting your target every time.
- Made of carbon
- The precision arrows, nock, bullet tip, and vane are durable and suitable for long lasting target practice
- Come in a pack of 12
- Nocks are difficult to remove
Best Crossbow Bolts Buying Guide
What Are the Different Types of Bolts?
Modern bolts come in three types of material: aluminum, fiberglass, and carbon fiber. Aluminum is cheap and bends easily.
Of the three options, it is better suited for target practice than for hunting because its pliability could become a liability out in the field. Fiberglass is also relatively inexpensive and more durable than aluminum.
That being said, it is still prone to distortion and can shatter into many pieces if bent too far.
Carbon fiber is the most expensive but also the most durable option. It will penetrate even the thickest skins without issue.
What Are the Most Important Things to Consider in a Bolt?
As even the most novice archer will recognize, a bolt’s weight will have a significant impact on how well you shoot. In general, lighter bolts travel faster and straighter than heavier ones.
They are also noisier due to their increased tendency to vibrate and are more likely to have their trajectory affected by wind, other elements, or impediments in their trajectory path, such as branches.
Heavier bolts possess more kinetic energy, meaning that they maintain the power necessary to penetrate their target harder upon impact than ones with less kinetic energy.
They are also quieter and are less prone to being blown off course. The heavier they are, though, the more limited their range will be.
Bolt weight (much like traditional archery arrow weight) is measured in grains per inch (GPI). They come in three standard sizes:
- Lightweight (<400 grains) – best for target practice or for shooting in open areas
- Standard (400-435 grains) – an all-purpose choice that will perform well in a variety of environments and climate situations.
- Heavy (435+ grains) – best for less-than-ideal hunting and weather situations and for game with thick hides
Bolt length ranges from 14 to 24 inches, with the vast majority measuring 20 inches long. The bolt must be long enough for the nock to contact the string without encountering interference at the end of the rail.
The trade-offs between shorter and longer bolts generally conform to the trade-offs between light and heavy ones. All crossbow manufacturers include recommendations for what length to use in their weapons.
You should always follow these recommendations to avoid injury to yourself or damage to your bow.
Nocks are an integral part of the crossbow experience because they provide the connection between the device’s string and the rest of the bolt. In other words, they keep your arrow in place when you shoot.
You need to have a good quality nock to ensure that the energy exerted by your bow adequately transfers to the bolt. Otherwise, your bolt isn’t going to get very far.
Nocks can be broken down into the following categories:
- Flat – The most basic nock type, this flat disk allows you to position your arrow just about any way you choose. The drawback to this type is that it increases the potential for the string to slip off and dry fire, which can be dangerous.
- Half moon – As the name suggests, this style is indented in the shape of a half moon. Aside from preventing the above-mentioned string slippage, this style provides you with greater shooting accuracy by ensuring that your fletchings are always correctly aligned.
- Half moon hybrid – Also known as the “Omni nock,” this style is essentially a fusion of the best parts of the above two options. Instead of a single groove, these offer multiple grooves for multiple positions. This style gives you both flexibility and security.
- Full containment – This nock is very similar to those used with regular archery bows. It completely encompasses the string when you insert it, making it an extra secure but less flexible option.
Some nocks are now evenly lit to facilitate use during nocturnal shooting. They light up when you shoot them to enable retrieval and to easily see where your bolt struck its target.
A bolt’s spine is measured in two ways: static and dynamic.
The static spine refers to the stiffness of the bolt when it is at rest. The more pliable your bolt is, the lower your static spine is, and vice versa.
The dynamic spine refers to the bolt’s propensity to bend once it has been fired. Aside from manufacturing material, several outside factors affect this quality.
These include the force of the bow’s string, the fletching on the bolt, and the weight of the chosen nock. Controlling the spine on your bolt is essential because the amount of bend has a direct impact (no pun intended) on your accuracy and precision.
Those colorful feather-looking things – also known as vanes – at the end of the bolt are more than just decoration. Fletchings cause the bolt to spin on its axis, increase its strength, and stabilize the trajectory of the bolt during flight.
Today, fletchings are most commonly made out of plastic and vary in length. Fletching length correlates to shaft length.
Their plastic composition creates a more uniform trajectory and renders them more resistant to the elements than traditional feathers. Some bowhunters still prefer to use old-school feathers for fletchings, but the power and nature of crossbows lend themselves toward the plastic variety.
Also known as “target points,” these tips fit on the end of the bolt. They weigh between 125 and 150 grains and are rounded but still sharp enough to penetrate targets.
They are not sharp enough to pierce animal flesh, though.
If you are planning to use your crossbow for both target practice and hunting, make sure to purchase bolts that allow you to change out your points. Otherwise, you” ll be forced to buy two completely different sets of bolts, once for each type of activity.
And that’s just a waste of money when there are so many options on the market that provide versatility. As with bolt length, the manufacturer will provide you with recommendations for the best point weights for your particular device.
The real-world equivalent to the above option, these tips have sharp edges that are made for hunting.
They require more maintenance than field points because they must be sharpened after each use to retain their effectiveness. They also weigh between 125 and 150 grams and come in two basic types:
- Cut-on-contact – This traditional type of head extends all the way to the tip of the blade. This design maximizes speed upon impact to ensure that your prey won’t be able to run far.
- Its downside is that it can be easily damaged if it hits bone. Experts generally advise you to choose this type of head for smaller game, such as turkey or smaller mammals, but many people have had success with larger game, as well.
- Chisel point – This type of head features a leading tip that directs the blades away from bones or anything else that might damage it. It is ideal for hunting large animals and is more durable than the cut-on-contact variety, meaning that these blades can be used year after year with minimal chance of significant damage.
In addition to the design of the physical blades, broadheads can also be divided into three additional categories, based on how the blades attach to the bolt.
- Fixed blade – The most basic option, these cannot be removed from the bolt. They are the sturdiest but least customizable option.
- Removable blade – These can be removed from the bolt, which serves to both protect the user and to maintain their sharpness more effectively. An added benefit is that you can usually buy just the replacement blades instead of the entire broadhead, making for a more economical choice if you plan to use your crossbow frequently.
- A downside is that these heads have the potential to get lodged in your target when you remove the arrow. They also have a lower accuracy because they are more affected by the elements such a wind.
- Removable blades come almost exclusively in chisel point form, for safety reasons related to the extra handling necessary to remove and replace them.
- Expandable blade – The fanciest of the three options, expandable blades (sometimes referred to as “mechanical”) remain folded down until impact, at which time they expand. Many hunters prefer this type because they cause maximum damage to prey and thus reduce the likelihood of having to track a wounded animal or inflict a finishing blow.
- They also offer a straighter trajectory more similar to the traditional fixed blade, which increases accuracy. The downsides to this type of head are that it requires more maintenance and is costlier than the other alternatives.
Since sharpness is so critical to hunting effectiveness, we wanted to share a useful tip regarding how to test broadhead sharpness.
Take a handful of rubber bands and stretch them across a small opening. Run the broadhead across the bands.
If the bands are cut easily, your broadhead is sharp and ready for the hunt.
All five of the products described above are excellent choices for your crossbow activities. But if we had to choose the overall best crossbow bolts, we would have to select product number 5 – The Carbon Express Mayhem Fletched Carbon Bolt.
Each type of bolt has its strengths and weaknesses, but the Mayhem offers superior construction that will withstand a variety of uses and environments. The PileDriver is excellent for experienced crossbow users hunting large game but is probably too heavy and powerful for the casual or novice user.
The Barnett is also a decent middle-of-the-road bolt, but it falters at longer ranges, and the company has outsourced its production to China, resulting in some quality control issues. Reegox is an excellent choice for general use but the fact that its bolts are prone to bending mean that you might have to replace them sooner than other models.
And finally, the Hunting Carbon Archery arrow could be a decent choice, but it is hard to tell as there is much less information on the internet about this company or their products than other bolts. Therefore, we cannot reliably recommend it ahead of the Mayhem.
Selecting the perfect bolt for your weapon requires more than just reading the manufacturer’s guidelines and picking something off of a shelf or website. It includes aspects of art and intuition, as well.
For optimal results, you need to have a decent idea of what you will be using your crossbow for and how frequently. From there, you need to run through each of the qualities explained above the product review section and narrow down your choices.
It is quite likely that you will need to experiment with a few different types of bolts before landing on the perfect fit for your needs and your weapon. The Mayhem possesses enough of the essential qualities of a great bolt that selecting this brand can limit the number of different types you have to try.
When it comes down to it, there is no single “best crossbow bolt” for everyone but the Mayhem comes pretty close, so give it a try and let us know how it stacks up to your expectations!