How To Cock A Crossbow – Rope, Crank or Raw Muscle!

If you’re reading this, I think it’s safe to presume you are a beginner at crossbow hunting. Don’t worry, you’ve come to the right place, because this article is going to teach you an absolutely fundamental skill for crossbow users – How to cock a crossbow.

Done incorrectly, not only can you run into significant accuracy problems, but you can also cause severe damage to your crossbow and even yourself. Done the correct way, you will ensure the safety of yourself and your equipment and will also see more consistent and accurate shots.

There are three different methods you can use:

  • Manual cocking the crossbow with your bare hands and raw muscle!
  • Using a rope cocker – You can buy one from Amazon here!
  • Using a cranking mechanism – You can buy one on Amazon that can be aftermarket installed on most crossbows here!

Not all methods are available for all crossbow models while others may even have integrated solutions, both of which may make your choice for you. However, even if your crossbow is suitable for multiple methods, there are a few things to consider that may help you find your personal preferences.

Let’s get to it!

How To Cock A Crossbow – Things To Consider Before You Start

Draw Weight Vs Your Strength

The draw weight of a crossbow refers to the amount of pressure that needs to be applied to draw the crossbow without and cocking aids.

It’s important to recognize that crossbows get a significant amount of their stopping power and speed from this one factor. If you’re in the market for high-powered, super-fast crossbows to take down large game, it’s going to have a high draw weight.

You need to consider whether your own frame, strength and fitness level are going to allow you safely and effectively cock the bow. If you feel uncomfortable applying 100+ pounds of pressure to draw the bow, then you can immediately ignore the manual cocking method unless you want to give yourself a shoulder injury every time you try to cock the crossbow.

The other options reduce the effective draw weight that needs to be applied, with rope cocking devices reduces required draw weight by about half and a cranking device reducing effort by as much as 95%!

How much weight you think you can draw is an important factor to consider. Always make safety your number one priority!

Options Available For Your Crossbow

Rope cocking devices are basically available to every crossbow, making the method of rope cocking one that every crossbow hunter should learn.

However, rope cocking still requires a reasonable amount of force and you may want to opt for a crank system. Unfortunately, only some crossbows come with a pre-installed crank and you will need to buy an aftermarket cranking system and have it fitted to your crossbow.

Incorrect installation of the cranking system can result in damage to your crossbow and personal injury. It’s recommended that you have one professionally installed, or at least install it yourself and have a professional check over your work.

Lastly, the barehanded method is not recommended for reverse limb crossbows, as there is a high risk that you will get your fingers caught in the trigger mechanism as you pull the string up. Use of a cocking aid is a much safer method.

How To Load A Crossbow

Cocking Speed and Sound

This is likely to be the decider for most people. Manually cocking will be the fastest and quietest option, but with practice rope cocking can be nearly as quick and just as quiet. For a roughly 50% reduction in required effort and a considerable increase in loading consistency and accuracy, a second or two is a small price to pay.

Although crank systems are the safest method, they are notoriously slow, particularly if you prefer to remove the crank handle. Crank systems can also be quite noisy which can alert prey to your location if your aren’t well prepared.

The Classic Limitation – Money

You’ve probably already started to realize it, but hunting is not a cheap hobby. A quality crossbow can easily cost more than a thousand dollars and once you add one crossbow accessories, hunting clothing, tree stands, knives and the rest of the hunting kit, you can quickly find yourself struggling to pay the bills!

The least costly method is always going to be the manual method, as you literally don’t need to spend another dollar to do this. However, if you over-exert yourself and cause injury or damage your xbow, then you’ll quickly regret not making a small investment in a cocking aid.

A rope cocking device is the next cheapest solution, and should only set you back a few bucks if you don’t already have one included with your crossbow package. Cranks typically cost between USD75 – 150, but are definitely the easiest and most accurate method when installed correctly.

If you are on a budget, you might be interested in our list of the best cheap crossbows, check it out!

How To Load A Crossbow – Basic Steps For All Methods

Step 1: Safety First!

As with all things hunting, crossbow safety should be your number one priority. To start, find a safe area to cock your crossbow. Level ground, free from debris and away from any hazards like pointy, low hanging branches, slippery surfaces or sharp objects.

Make sure your crossbow’s safety mechanism is on to prevent any accidental dry-firing that could damage your xbow or you. It’s also worthwhile keeping any bolts without broadheads out of the way while your cocking the bow. Crossbow broadheads are incredibly sharp and its better to be safe than sorry!

Point your crossbow directly at the ground and lean the back of the stock against your thigh. Firmly plant your foot in the cocking stirrup or shoot-through riser and ensure you balance is solid.

Step 2: Mark The Crossbow String (Optional)

With the bow in an un-cocked position, locate the spot where the crossbow string crosses over the bolt tracks. Now, mark the string on either side of the tracks with a pen or Sharpie. This will act as a guide that gives you an indication of how evenly you have drawn the crossbow.

How To Cock A Crossbow – Bare Hands

Step 3: Pull Up The Crossbow String

Leaning down, place all four fingers from each hand over the top of the crossbow string. Before you pull, slide your hands inward along the string so your inner-most finger from each hand is as close to the flight track as possible.

Before you pull, make sure you balance is still solid, your foot is firmly in the stirrup and the stock is comfortably and safely leaning on your thigh. If you have a longer recurve crossbow or you are a bit on the short side, you may be able to give some additional support to the crossbow from your stomach area as you bend over.

Your goal now is to pull up smoothly and evenly on both sides in one nice, clean action. If you’ve marked your crossbow, you can try to keep the marks evenly along each side of the track as you pull upwards. Now firmly jerk upwards and keep pulling the string along the flight tracks to its maximum height up in the trigger box. Keep pulling until you hear a distinct double click, indicating that the trigger box has locked the string in place.

Step 4: Check Your Work

You can now release the string and check that your guide lines are still evenly on each side of the bolt track. Unevenly cocking the crossbow the crossbow can significantly impact your accuracy. If this is the case, it may be better to start again.

The only way to safely disengage a crossbow is to load a bolt and shoot it. DO NOT ATTEMPT TO DRY FIRE YOUR CROSSBOW! Load a bolt, aim into a soft patch of dirt a few feet away from you, and pull the trigger.

Step 5: Load the Bolt and Shoot!

Now that your guide lines are perfectly lined up, its time to load the bolt. It should easily slot into the bolt tracks and you then simply slide the nock-end of the bolt back into the trigger box, where it should sit comfortably without wiggling around.

Turn off the safety, take aim through your crossbow scope, and pull the trigger!

How To Use A Crossbow Cocking Device

How To Cock A Crossbow – Rope Cocking Aid

Step 3: Ensure Your Rope Is The Right Length

Rope cocking mechanisms which come as part of crossbow packages will usually already be at a length that matches your crossbow, but not always. If you’ve bought a cocking rope on the aftermarket, then you are almost always going to need to adjust it’s length to suit your xbow, as these will all come at a standard length that allows resizing to fit any model.

Loosen One Handle

The easiest way to do this to first loosen one handle from the cocking rope. This is usually pretty easy and just a matter of pulling the knot beneath one handle free by pulling the handle in the opposite direction.

Measure The Right Length

Get into the position described in Step 1 above and slide one hook up against the un-loosened handle. Hook this onto your crossbow string butted up against one side of the flight tracks. Pass the cocking rope over the back of the stock and slot the rope into the cocking rope lip, typically located just behind the trigger box. Be sure to keep the loose handle towards the other end of the rope as you do this.

Pass the rope back down towards the string again and attach the second hook to the other side of the bolt track. Slide the loosened handle down the the rope to butt up against the second hook. Mark the point on the rope just behind the handle, or simply pinch this point to save your spot.

Free the hooks from the crossbow string, being sure to retain the point your measure on the rope. Tie a simple knot at this point, making sure that the loosened handle is on the inner side of the knot before you tie. Once tied, slide the handle back against the knot and repeat the process to ensure you measured correctly.

Cut and Burn The Rope, Then Lock In The Handle

Once you’re satisfied, cut the rope an inch or so down from the knot with a good quality knife. Now, use a lighter or match to burn the rope and prevent any fraying. Lastly, hold the handles in each hand, place your foot in the center of the rope and firmly pull up. This will lock the loosened handle on to your new knot.

That’s it!

Step 4: Fit Your Perfectly Sized Rope

Similar to the process for measuring your rope length, the first step is to slide one how hook up against one side of the flight tracks. Pull the rope over the back of the stock and fit the rope into the cocking rope lip behind the trigger box.

Pull the rope over the other side and attach the second hook to the crossbow string on the other side of the flight track.

Step 5: Pull!

Just before you pull, steady yourself, lock in your foot to the stirrup or shoot-through riser and make sure you have control over the crossbow against your thigh.

Grab the handles and evenly pull up on both sides in one smooth and swift motion. Pull all the way to the top until you hear a two clicks, indicating that that string is now firmly held in the trigger box and you’ve correctly reached the cocked position.

Step 6: Check Your Work

Remove the rope cocking aid and confirm your string markings are still evenly on each side of the bolt track.

If not, it may be better to reset and try again, otherwise you are likely to see a significant reduction in the accuracy of your next shot. DON’T DRY FIRE YOUR CROSSBOW, to reset it. Load a bolt, preferably just a field point, and aim into a loose bit of ground a few feet away from you to shoot the bolt and disengage the crossbow.

Step 7: Load the Bolt and Shoot!

Once you’re all lined up, simply slot the crossbow bolt into the flight tracks and slide the nock of the bolt all the way back into the trigger box. The bolt should sit comfortably in the bolt tracks without slipping or sliding around.

Turn off the safety, take aim and pull the trigger!


If you need to get yourself a rope cocking device, the ELONG OUTDOOR Crossbow Rope Cocking Device is cheap and super reliable!

Rope Cocking Device

Check Current Price and Rating on Amazon


How To Cock A Crossbow – Cranking Device

Step 3: Release The Safety Mechanism and Set The String Bracket

Once you’re position appropriately, release the safety mechanism on the cranking device to loosen the string bracket. You should be able to freely pull on the bracket and drag it down towards the crossbow strings. Just be conscious that the crank is likely to be unwinding by itself as you do this.

Mount the bracket in the center of the strings, hooking it in before reengaging the safety. Lightly crank once or twice to make sure the bracket is holding solidly.

Step 4: Crank it!

Now just crank away! It will take a fair number of cranks to fully drawn the string and lock it into the trigger box, but it should be very easy to do. Because of this, cranking is easily the safest method and is very unlikely to lead to any injury (unless the crank is incorrectly installed).

Be sure to continue cranking until you hear the double-click that signals you’ve reached the cocked position.

Step 5: Prepare For The Hunt

If installed correctly, crank systems are very consistent and you don’t really need to check your work. It may be worthwhile the first time after you’ve installed a crank, but otherwise you don’t need to double check draw.

With your xbow fully drawn, you can now disengage the safety again, loosen the bracket from the string, reengage the safety and wind the bracket back up to its starting position.

One great feature that most cranking devices come with is a removable handle. It usually just requires a thumb screw to be twisted to completely remove the handle, preventing it from negatively impacting on safety, accuracy or comfort as you stalk your prey.

Step 6: Load the Bolt and Shoot!

Time to load the bolt. Just slot it into the flight tracks and gently slide the nock all the way back into the trigger box. It will sit there nice and flat without jiggling about if you’ve done it correctly.

Now take a deep break, flick off the safety switch, take aim and fire!


Want to upgrade your crossbow to have a crank mechanism? The Barnett Archery Universal Crank Cocking Device can be aftermarket fitted to 65 difference crossbow models and could be just what you’re looking for!

Crossbow Crank Cocking Device

Check Current Price and Rating on Amazon


How To Cock A Crossbow – Summary

That’s it! Hopefully this helped learn and with a little more practice it will all become second nature. As a last little gift, check out the following video from Barnett, which does an amazing job of wrapping up everything you need to know.

Good luck and good hunting!

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