Why Are Crossbow Arrows Called Bolts?

why are crossbow arrows called boltsSome enthusiasts insist on calling them arrow, and others prefer to call them bolts. Today we are going to explore why there seems to be so much debate about what to call crossbow projectiles. 

According to Sportsman’s Guide, most crossbow manufacturers would agree that modern crossbows shoot arrows, not bolts. If the manufacturers generally agree, then why is there such an intense debate amongst enthusiasts?

In short, both are correct. But, the word bolt is only used when talking about crossbow projectiles. 

 In this brief article, I’ll give you a rundown on the makeup of a modern crossbow projectile, and the strict technical differences between an arrow and a bolt. 

We’ll also discuss the reasons why some might prefer to use one name or the other. For the sake of simplicity, unless it is essential to distinguish, I will refer to crossbow projectiles as bolts. 

Parts of a modern crossbow bolt

The shaft 

The shaft is the main body of the bolt. All other components of the bolt are attached to the shaft. Nowadays, most shafts are made with lightweight materials such as aluminum or carbon. These materials don’t splinter and are less bendable than other materials.

The nock

The nock is a bolt component that is attached to the back of the shaft. Its purpose is to keep the bolt in place as you aim for your shot. 


Fletching refers to the “wings” that are characteristic of any kind of modern arrow or “bolt.” They are positioned at the back of the arrow just in front of the nock. 

The purpose of the fletching is to stabilize the arrow during flight. The wings prevent the arrow from swaying to the left or right. They are typically glued to the arrow by the manufacturers. 

Typically there are 3 fletchings attached to the arrow and made of light plastic. Bird feathers can also be used. 

The head

The head is located at the front of the shaft. This is where the arrowhead is mounted. There are 2 main types of arrowheads, field points and broadheads. Put simply, field points are used for target shooting, and broadheads are used for hunting animals.  

Field points are not sharpened at the edges, but instead, they have a pointed tip. You will not be fatally hurt by these kinds of bolts when shot at. Broadheads, on the other hand, are fitted with razor-sharp blades that are either fixed or removable. 

Now that we know more about the parts of a crossbow bolt, we can talk a little more about the difference between a crossbow bolt and an ordinary arrow. 

For a newbie, it might be difficult to distinguish the difference between the two at first glance. Ordinary arrows and crossbow bolts share many of the same features and parts. 

In the next section, we’ll explore the historical reasons for the differences in names and also see what the experts say. 

Why are crossbow arrows called bolts?

The answer to a lot of questions can be found by looking back at history. So what does history say about this question? 

It is said that during medieval times, the crossbow was one of the most critical weapons at an army’s disposal. It was cheap and straightforward to use. Even untrained men could manage it!

The projectiles for the crossbows were shorter and heavier than those used for traditional bows. They were heavy to the point that the projectile could pass through chainmail. 

When shot, it would hit unexpectedly and with a tremendous impact like a lightning bolt. This is what some believe led to the projectile being called a bolt. 

We’ve now discussed a historical reason for why the name came to be, but what do modern experts have to say about this issue? 

According to Philip Bednar, marketing director at TenPoint Crossbows, if it’s under 16 inches, it’s a bolt. It’s 16 inches or more it is considered an arrow. 

Sam Coalson, Marketing Director at Bowtech Archery, says technically, both terms are correct, but more and more crossbow enthusiasts seem to be calling them arrows.

It is clear that in an expert’s opinion, size determines whether to call it a bolt or an arrow. You might also have noticed that bolts weigh more than arrows. Aside from these two exceptions, in a modern context, the two terms are the same.

Is it wrong to refer the crossbow arrows as crossbow bolts?

It is entirely correct to refer to the crossbow’s projectile with either name. In recent times, the names have been accepted to mean the same thing. 

For the people who choose to believe medieval history, a crossbow bolt would do. For those who go for the expert opinion, the sizes of the heads will be the determinant. For people like me, the differences are slight, so both terms will do.

Precautions when using crossbow arrows

We’ve talked a lot about arrows in this article, to end it, let’s talk about some key things to pay attention to when selecting and using arrows. 

You need to take several precautions when using crossbow arrows. These include: 

    1. Making sure to purchase heads that weigh the same as the ones initially bought with the crossbow.
    2. Ensuring that the shaft and arrowheads are of the appropriate weight as prescribed by the manufacturer. If you use parts that are lighter than recommended, the bow can malfunction.
    3. Using arrowheads that are heavier than recommended isn’t risky, but, you may find your arrows are too slow. This is the effect of using heavier arrows.
    4. Buying hunting arrowheads separately. Field points are usually included in the crossbow package.
    5. Always make sure the shaft length is as recommended by the crossbow manufacturer. If not, you run the risk of hitting the crossbow’s rail. This is typical for arrows shorter than the recommended length.


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