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Crossbow Glossary, Terms, And Definitions

If you're new to crossbows or archery, some of the terms used can be confusing. Use this crossbow glossary as a guide to learning any crossbow terms you might be unfamiliar with.


Arrow Grain

Arrows are measured in grains, not to be confused with grams. A grain is based on the British Units system, and refers to the weight of a grain of barley. It is recommended that a compound crossbow arrow should weigh at least 5 grains per pound of draw weight. For example, if your crossbow has a draw weight of 100 lbs, you would want at least 500 grain weight arrow.


A bolt is the specific name for a crossbow arrow. Another name is also quarrel.

Bristle Retainer

A bristle retainer is a new invention from Barnett and is included on all of their newly released crossbows. It kind of looks like a toothbrush, and it replaced the plastic retainer. The bristle retainer is better than plastic retainers because it will not be brittle in cold weather and does not need to be adjusted. You can read more about the bristle retainer in reviews of the Barnett Whitetail Hunter, Quad Edge S, and the Ghost 415 crossbows.


The broadhead is the attachment at the end of the bolt shaft. It is used for hunting and comes in many different configurations including fixed blade and mechanically opening broadheads. Most have 3 blades, while many states have a legal requirement of a minimum of 2 cutting edges. Use this crossbow laws and regulations guide to see what the crossbow laws are in your state or country.


The cable is used to keep tension and provide power for your crossbow. They connect to the ends of the limbs and work with the string to cock your crossbow. Over time these wear down and will need to be replaced. Review this crossbow maintenance guide to learn how to properly maintain your crossbow.


Cams are used on compound crossbows, and they are pulleys. The string is connected to the cams and the cams roll when the string is being cocked or fired. They improve arrow FPS over a similar power stroke when compared to a recurve crossbow.


Cocking is the action taken to set your crossbow into a ready state to fire. Most crossbows are cocked with the assistance of a rope cocking device. Some smaller crossbows have self-cocking mechanisms by squeezing the two halves together.


Dampeners come as add-on kits that will help reduce the noise and vibration while shooting your crossbow. High end crossbows typically have these pre-installed. They can also extend the life of your string, cables, and limbs. You can install these on many crossbows and they're a low cost improvement. Read reviews of string dampeners here.

Draw Weight

The draw weight of a crossbow is how many lbs of force need to be applied to fully cock the crossbow. The higher the draw weight, the harder to cock, however this is where rope cocking devices come in handy as they help reduce the force necessary.


Dry-fire is what happens when you shoot your crossbow improperly, either without an arrow at all, or an arrow of insufficient grain weight. A dry-fire can damage your crossbow limbs and should be avoided at all costs.

Feet Per Second (FPS)

Feet Per Second is the standard measurement to describe how fast a crossbow shoots an arrow. Typically the higher the FPS, the more kinetic energy can be applied to the target.

Finger Safety Reminders

Some manufacturers, like Barnett, include a piece called finger reminders to stop you from putting your fingers near the string while shooting your crossbow.


Also referred to as fins or vanes, the fletching usually consists of 3 feathers attached the back of an arrow or bolt. Its purpose is to help stabilize the flight of the arrow. Damaged fletching will cause a decrease in accuracy, so you'll want to make sure you store your arrows properly.

Flight Track

The arrow sits on the flight track before being shot.

Foot stirrup

A foot stirrup allows you to cock your crossbow by using your foot to help make the process easier. Not all crossbows use a foot stirrup, click here to read about additional ways to cock your crossbow.


A foregrip is used to provide additional stability. This helps increase your accuracy and mobility.

Kinetic Energy

Kinetic energy is the force amount the arrow has when fired. The higher this amount, the more "punch" the impact has on the target and is a major factor in arrow penetration. Click here to help calculate the kinetic energy your setup can have.


Limbs are the arms of a crossbow. When full cocked, the limbs contain all of the potential energy, and when fired, they pass this energy through the string and onto the arrow.


The nock is the end of the arrow that connects the bolt to the crossbow string. You should always use arrows with the correct knock recommended by the crossbow manufacturer for safety and crossbow care reasons. There are many different types of nocks, check out Lancaster Archery for a basic guide to arrow nocks.

Power Stroke

The power stroke is the distance between a fully cocked string and the string's uncocked position. As a general rule, the longer your power stroke length is, the higher FPS and kinetic energy you'll get. Click here to learn more about power stroke.


A quiver is the device that holds onto additional arrows. Some crossbows come with front mounted quivers for easy access and storage.


The rail is the flat part on a crossbow that an arrow is placed onto. Different materials from aluminum to magnesium are used for the smoothest surfaces.


An arrow retainer is the piece that holds an arrow down onto the crossbow rail. This allows you to move around without having to worry about constantly holding the arrow in place yourself, and keeps the bolt flat so the string can accurately fire.


The riser connects the crossbow limbs together as a central support. Typically made of a lightweight metal such as aluminum or magnesium.

Rope Cocking Device

This is a crossbow cocking device to help aid the shooter and reduce the strain involved through the use of a rope with grips at the end. Watch a video on how to use a rope cocking device.


A crossbow scope helps you aim your crossbow properly. The scope attaches to the rail. Scopes come in many different configurations, including magnification, red dot, and night vision.

Spine Stiffness (Arrow Stiffness)

Arrows are made out of many different materials, each which offer different spine stiffness. Many bolts these days are made out of carbon. Different manufacturers recommend you review their manual to use an arrow that has the correct spine stiffness to avoid simulating a dry-fire scenario.


The stock is the piece to brace against your shoulder to assist in aiming. Some stocks have small compartments to help carry items such as rail lube and string wax.


The crossbow string is responsible for shooting your crossbow arrows downrange.

String suppressors

Greatly reduces the sound caused by the crossbow string while shooting. May also help increase the grouping of your shots. These work by catching the string at the end of its power stroke, and absorbs the energy and vibration that otherwise would go into the limbs, stock, and rest of the crossbow.

Want to add a new description to this crossbow glossary? Let me know in the comments below and I'll be sure to add it.

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