Crossbows are weapons and can be used to kill prey, it's therefore imperative to know how to operate a crossbow safely to avoid injuries or death. Just like other weapons, crossbows have a safety switch, which should be in the safety position at all times except while reloading as required, or as you are about to shoot.
When loading a crossbow, most will need to be switched in the firing position and as you draw your string back, it will automatically change to the safety position so that you may safely load your arrow. Again, never leave the safety pin in the firing position until you are ready to fire. Avoid walking with a loaded crossbow as a precaution, but always keep the safety on.
It's a good idea to wear specially designed non-slip gloves when handling your crossbow to protect your skin and fingers. When the crossbow is cocked it packs a tremendous amount of kinetic energy which will shoot an arrow at over 300 feet per second, enough to kill a big animal like a deer at over fifty yards. For this reason crossbows are not toys and children require strict preparation and supervision while handling a xbow.
Another extremely important tip regarding safety is to keep your fingers and hands away from the drawstring when the crossbow is cocked. Accidents have happened and thumbs have been severed, so please make sure to keep your fingers and thumbs under the string. This is particularly important for beginners who use a scope, since the hunter is looking through the scope and not paying attention to where his fingers are positioned on the crossbow body or hand-rest.
Examine your arrows before loading them for chips or cracks to prevent further damage to the arrow and injury. To load, set the crossbow vertically on the ground and use your foot to hold it down while using the cocking rope to cock the crossbow until you hear a click. At this point the safety will be set to Safe and you may now load the arrow bolt.
Crossbows can be shot from the standing position, the kneeling position and the prone position, the last being the most stable and accurate. If you are zeroing your new crossbow you should use a table or a chair as a rest for best accuracy, but the prone position will also do. When preparing to fire, breathe in, breathe out, breathe in, breath out and hold to take aim and fire by pulling the trigger firmly and slowly, pressing all the way.
You can carry your bow in the same way you would carry a shotgun or rifle, in the ready position, against your body or over your shoulder, use what it most comfortable for you. Use a shoulder sling to free up the other hand. Keep in mind that crossbows are top heavy, so it may also be easier to carry it pointed downward. If you have a long ways to go, keep in mind there are special crossbow backpacks, that even have a quick-release feature to grab your bow without removing the pack. If you are going hunting, it's best to cock your crossbow beforehand so you don't scare away your prey.
Crossbows today shoot arrows, sometimes called arrow bolts. The shafts can be made from aluminum or carbon. Aluminum gives more consistency in straightness and weight, but are heavier and can easily bend. Carbon arrows are lighter and more durable, but some are inconsistent and may not group with the other arrows from the same batch.
Arrow inserts attach at the tip to of the shaft, which in turn are fitted with broadheads used for hunting. Fixed broadheads have 3 or 4 fixed blades, while mechanical broadheads have blades that move when they hit the animal you are hunting, and open up, but they are not legal in all the states. Needless to say broadbands are razor sharp and you should always watch where you're pointing your crossbow.
For consistency during a hunt, shoot the same weight as your practice points so you can get used to your arrows' weight and shooting distance. The fletching on your arrows can be made of plastic, which is more durable than feathers, and creates arrow spin for increased accuracy. The odd colored fletching should always be pointing downward. Use the recommended knocks by your crossbow's manual to avoid damage to the bow and injury to yourself. Do not use arrows with a different length than that specified in the guidelines set by the manufacturer, it's simply not worth the risk.