If there’s one thing that you need to at least need consider before buying your first crossbow, it’s how you intend to cock it, and what, if any, crossbow cocking aid is right for you.
This is not a question only for “wimps” either. If you haven’t used a crossbow before, you’d be surprised at just how much force is needed to cock these weapons. Draw weights are reportedly equivalent to dead-lifting the same amount of iron. Of course, this is only fair since you get out what you put in to them!
For the most part, you have one of three options….
1) Manual Cocking – The Hardest, But Quickest Way
How about no cocking aid at all? Actually, you don’t need to be a body-builder or weigh over 200 lbs to manually cock a crossbow…but it does help! In all seriousness though, it seems that most able-bodied males that are 150 pounds or more can potentially manually cock a crossbow with a 150-pound pull. I’ve even heard of women cocking these, but none of them were what I’d consider petite either!
Beyond 150 lbs of pull weight, however, things start getting more difficult. And rigs with 175 pound pulls are probably too difficult to cock (at least routinely) for the vast majority of users. Beyond that and we’re now talking about an even smaller minority of people capable of this degree of strength. As for rigs with 200+ pound draws, you need to be a veritable monster to peel those bowstrings back!
OK, let’s assume you’ve got a crossbow that is still possible to cock manually – even so, do you really want to? It’s clearly the fastest way to cock a crossbow, but it can get old very quickly if you are doing any repetitive shooting, and is just plain uncomfortable for most people. Moreover, there is a more important disadvantage – it can result in improper string placement.
If you favor one side of the string versus the other when manually cocking (which is common), you can set the string off center and essentially alter the direction in which the arrow is fired. Further, this degree of misalignment isn’t something that you can necessarily eyeball either, which is problematic since even slight asymmetry in string positioning can make you miss badly in the field, or shatter your sharp-shooting reputation at the club with ugly, sprawling groups. Thus, if you are going to manually cock your bow, you should always mark both sides of the string on either side of the rail beforehand to ensure that it’s perfectly centered when cocked.
2) Cranking Devices – The Easiest But Slowest Way
On the other end of the pain-in-the-backside spectrum are hand cranks. These devices provide the most mechanical leverage of all. For all practical purposes hand cranks are tantamount to mini hand-powered winches that let you slowly but surely cock even the heaviest crossbows without breaking a sweat. Thus, while anyone can enjoy their convenience, they are often necessary for shooters that are older, less-powerful, and/or individuals with any health issues. The only downsides are that they can sometimes be expensive and require a bit of patience when cranking.
One huge additional perk of cranks (and ropes too as we discuss below) is that you don’t have to become obsessed with an off center bowstring. These devices are excellent at getting the string right on center virtually every time.
3) Rope Cockers – a Happy Medium
Rope cockers, which are essentially string and pulley systems, lie between manual and hand-crank cocking in terms of effort/time required. Specifically, it is believed that rope systems offer the user a 50% mechanical advantage. In other words, your 150-pound crossbow now requires about 75 pounds of pull to fully cock – which is not a walk in the park for some, but still fairly easy for most people to manage compared to manual cocking!
In addition to halving your rig’s pull, these cockers also obviate concerns about improper string placement when used correctly. They are also pretty quick to use (compared to cranks) and are lightweight and small enough to carry around in a large pocket. And if that weren’t enough, they are pretty darn cheap. It’s no wonder why rope-cockers are the most popular of all crossbow cocking aids.