We may earn revenue from the products available on this page and participate in affiliate programs. Learn more ›
Updated May 16, 2023 7:37 AM
Send the best crossbow bolts down your crossbow’s rail, and good things will happen. The bolt will fly true because it’s spine (thickness of the bolt) and weight are perfectly paired with the crossbow’s draw weight. That bolt will hit with incredible kinetic energy and track perfectly behind the broadhead to ensure a quick and ethical kill. If your bolt is too short, too light, or under-spined, not only will you be inaccurate, but things can get dangerous in a hurry.
So, just how do you go about choosing the right bolt to marry with your crossbow? First, read the literature your crossbow manufacturer has provided. Any horizontal bow maker with their salt will not only provide you with exact length, spine, and weight recommendations, but they will also tell you what type of nock choices work best for the bolt you decide to go with. Some crossbows even come with bolt packages—bolts that tested tried-and-true with the crossbow.
Another option before you drop greenbacks at the pro shop is to visit the websites of various bolt makers. Many bolt buyers go with a specific brand or model of bolt based on a website ad or something a buddy told them. Neither of these things are bad, but you must make sure the bolt will shoot safely from your crossbow before you make a purchase. If the bolt’s spine (thickness), length, and total weight fall within the recommendations for the crossbow maker, you’re good to shoot that particular bolt. In the meantime, I put together this buying guide for the best crossbow bolts on the market.
How We Picked the Best Crossbow Bolts
Each of the bolts mentioned above, minus TenPoint’s Alpah-Blaze Lighted Nocks, have been tested on the range out to the maximum test distance of 100 yards. Crossbows were placed in a Primos Trigger Stick Gen3 Crossbow Tall Tripod during field-testing to eliminate human error further. Each bolt was then shot with field points, mechanical, and fixed-blade broadheads, and total bolt weight was measured with a Hornaday digital grain-weight scale. Speed tests were conducted using a Caldwell Ballistic Premium Chronograph. To help with testing durability and penetration, bolts were shot into cow scapulas, ¼-inch plywood, and cinder blocks. The following are the main criteria in which I based my selections on.
- Accuracy: How accurate of groups do the bolts shoot?
- Speed: How fast are the bolts? Are they fast enough for hunting?
- Durability: How much wear and tear can the bolts withstand after being shot?
- Overall Performance: How well do the bolts perform in each category for an overall rating?
- Price: Does the price match the quality? Are you getting what you pay for?
Best Crossbow Bolts: Reviews & Recommendations
Best Aluminum: Easton FMJ Crossbow
- 40-grain RPS inserts
- +/- .003 straightness
- 13.7 GPI
- FMJ flatback or halfmoon nocks
- Remarkable accuracy
- Hushed in-flight build
- Deep penetration and easy target pull
- The aluminum wrap can require intermittent care
Engineered to ensure maximum penetration and remarkable downrange accuracy, Easton’s FMJ Crossbow is available in lengths of 20 and 22 inches. The high-strength carbon-core married with the 7075-alloy metal jacket provides just the right blend of durability. And with a GPI rating of 13.7, these bolts will blow through the biggest of bulls. One of the most accurate and quiet-shooting shafts I’ve ever fired, the FMJ Crossbow—thanks to the aluminum wrap— pulls quickly and easily from dense foam archery targets. Multiple insert options are available to boost or reduce total weight, letting you fine tune these bolts to your crossbow.
Best Long-Range: Victory VooDoo SS
- 50-grain inserts
- +/- .003 straightness
- 15.75 GPI
- Flatback or halfmoon nocks
- 95% less rail contact
- SHOKTL outsert
- Carbon fiber infused with stainless steel
- Could be even more accurate
I believe that Victory’s VooDoo SS has one of the finest blends of speed, penetration, and accuracy ever crafted. With only two points of contact to the rail, reduced friction boosts speed going down the rail. And the .166-inch micro-diameter build gives the wind less surface area to press against in flight. This design also eliminates nose up or nose down bolt launch angles. Each shaft is spine aligned to ensure maximum accuracy, and each dozen VooDoo SS shafts are weight-matched to +/- .5 grains to up shot-to-shot consistency. I also tip my hat to the weight-forward engineering and stainless-steel mesh that has been woven into the carbon to boost durability. The Ice Coating on Voodoo SS provides for easy target removal.
Most Accurate: Axe Crossbows Axe
- Aluminum nock ensures proper loading
- 3 Fusion XII SL Vane fletch
- .166-inch micro-diameter build
- .166-inch micro-diameter
- 19-inch length (without point)
- 403-grain finished weight
- 6061-T6 Aluminum Nock
- These shafts do have some sticker shock
I couldn’t pen a “Best Long-Range Hunting Bolt” section and not include the AXE. A 19-inch-long bolt with an inside diameter of .166-inches, these bolts cut the air like butter, and resist side-to-side drift in a crosswind. The 6061-T6 Aluminum Nock ensures proper loading each time, and this bolt produces a healthy blend of speed and kinetic energy. The trio of Fusion XII SL vanes up accuracy and reduce noise in flight.
Best Youth: TenPoint Non-Lighted Pro Elite 400 Carbon
- 28-percent string-to-nock engagement increase
- HP aluminum bushing for boosted strength & accuracy
- .003-inch straightness
- Super safe construction
- Durable build
- Deep groove Alpha-Nock HP nock
At $44.99 per three (or $70 per six on Amazon), these bolts are by no means a super cheap, youth-only build. So why brand them as the best youth bolt? I love the deep groove in the Alpha-Nock HP and 28-percent increase in string-to-nock engagement. Safety is critical for youth and adult shooters, and these features boost the safety factor. The 20-inch length will also work well out of most youth-model crossbows, and these arrows have proven extremely accurate in testing.
Best Budget: Carbon Express Maxima Hunter Contour Crossbolt
- BuffTuff Plus carbon weave for maximum strength
- +/- .002-inch straightness
- 20 percent sooner spin off the rail
- Affordable bolts that don’t sacrifice quality
- BuffTuff Plus Precision design
- Dual Spine Weight Forward technology
- +/-.002-inch straightness
- .343 outside diameter
- Not the best for long range
Like the Maxima Hunter bowhunting arrow, this 20-inch beauty gives the hunter a great blend of speed, accuracy, and dependability. Each three-pack is fitted with inserts and moon nocks; however, CX includes a trio of C-Nocks and three universal nocks as well. The finished grain weight is 390, and Dual Spine Weight Forward blends a pair of spines into a single bolt. This patented mixture of a dynamic duo of carbon materials ensures better energy management and faster bolt recovery. This is a great crossbow bolt for the money, and if you don’t shoot close-range groups, these bulletproof bolts will last you a grip of time.
Best Hunting: Wicked Ridge Match 400 Alpha-Nock
- 61-grain aluminum insert
- Improved 14 percent FOC
- Improved 14-percent FOC
- 20-percent tighter groups
- Alpha-Nock deep groove holds the bowstring in place
- 3.5-inch Bohning X Vanes
- .004-inch straightness rating
The Wicked Ridge Match 400 Alpha-Nock is a tremendous all-around hunting shaft. With a 400-grain finished weight, shooters get an ideal blend of speed and penetration, and the stainless-steel insert option creates an improved 14-percent FOC. Downrange testing (out to 100 yards) was flawless, and while I can’t say I experienced the advertised 20-percent tighter groups over previous Wicked Ridge builds, I will note these bolts consistently found their mark. The Alpha-Nock HP is a nock wonder, and it eliminates any chance of the bowstring sliding under or going over the bolt. The slightly offset 3.5-inch Bohning X Vanes further boost accuracy.
Best Heavyweight: Gold Tip Nitro Pro
- 60-grain brass insert
- +/- .001-inch straightness
- 500-grain total bolt weight
- 13.9-grains per inch
- 3.5-inch Fusion Vanes
- Smart Carbon Technology
- Only crossbows with draw weights over 175 pounds are recommended
Most hardcore whitetail hunters, even when toting a scoped crossbow, don’t take shots over 40 yards. These hunters want an arrow that is quiet, durable, and hits like a ton of bricks. Enter the Nitro Pro. The outside diameter of .347 inches blended with the .272-inch inside diameter gives the hunter a brawny build, and the addition of a 60-grain brass insert ups FOC and kinetic energy. The Nitro Pro comes fitted with your choice of a flat or moon nock, and of course, other nock options can be added to the bolt’s backend. This bolt shoots straight and hits like a ton of bricks.
- .001-inch straightness
- 17.5 percent FOC
- 3.5-inch Bohning X Vanes
- Matched to within 1-grain per bolt
- Lazer-Tech carbon weave
- Alpha-Blaze Lighted Nock
- Only available in 16-inch length options
What To Consider When Choosing a Crossbow Bolt
When compared to the complexities offered by the crossbows that fling them, bolts seem like simple affairs. But there are quite a few factors that go into selecting the correct ones for your set up. Think about the following when looking for bolts.
Crossbow Package Deals
Many crossbow manufacturers have done all the thinking for you. Crossbow packages, even flagship outfits, come with ready-to-shoot bolts. While these may not feature the most up-to-date technologies—the weight, length, and nock style will be correct. Crossbow manufacturers do lots of testing, so you can be sure the bolts that go out the door with these packages are proven. If you want to eliminate the guesswork and start getting the most out of your crossbow right away, bolts that come as part of a package deal are worth their weight in gold.
All crossbow builders will list a recommended bolt length. It’s best to stick to this exact length, as the crossbow you’re shooting is tested for safety and accuracy with bolts that meet the recommended length spec. Some crossbow shooters like to go with a longer-than-recommended bolt to either add weight or boost bolt stabilization. Be sure to check with your crossbow manufacturer to ensure a more extended bolt choice is safe.
As with length, crossbow crafters will provide a minimum bolt weight. This weight accounts for the finished bolt, including the nock, insert, point, and fletches. Running a bolt that flirts with the minimum rating for the crossbow you’re shouldering will boost speed. However, speed isn’t everything.
Most crossbow hunters rank accuracy and penetration above speed. Heavier bolts typically have more weight toward the front of bolt, giving them a higher Front of Center (FOC), which can help stabilize flight over long distances and increase accuracy. Plus, beefier bolt builds that still produce a fair speed are quieter in flight and will drive deeper into the game. Heavy or light, it’s up to you as long as you stay above the manufacturer’s minimum.
Don’t overlook the importance of choosing the right nock. Pick the wrong one and you’ll see increased string wear and decreased accuracy. Most crossbow builders recommend what nock or nocks to use with each bow design. The problems can come when a crossbow shooter changes from one bow to another or upgrades to a newer model and doesn’t change nocks accordingly.
Like vertical bow shooters, many crossbow goers prefer to use lighted nocks. If you go this route, make sure you select a design that is recommended by the crossbow builder. Failure to do so will ruin the string in short order.
You don’t need a NASA pedigree to understand diameter. Smaller diameter bolts—dubbed micro-diameter—tend to do better in the wind and hold tighter groups at extended distances. Larger diameter bolts perform just fine, and most consider an outside diameter of .300-inch to be standard.
What Animal Are You Hunting?
Typically, Western shooters chasing fleet-footed pronghorn and mule deer prefer a slightly lighter bolt that gets from point A to point B in a hurry. This is a good tactic, if you keep kinetic energy in mind. Those looking to have a close encounter with a rutting buck or screaming bull elk tend to go heavy. At close range, a heavier bolt will have better penetration.
Q: What are the most accurate bolts?
The key to bolt accuracy is paying close attention to the crossbow manufacturer’s recommended bolt length, weight, and nock choice. Crossbow builders do piles of testing, and if you follow their advice, you will be on the fast track to finding the bolt that will be the most accurate when fired out of your crossbow. As with hunting arrows, when it comes to long-range accuracy, I prefer a micro-diameter build that promises a high FOC.
Q: Should I shoot a carbon or aluminum bolt?
Today’s carbon bolts are tough as nails. The main advantage of an aluminum bolt is reduced friction in dense foam targets. Aluminum bolts are much easier to pull out, and aluminum is hard to beat when it comes to straightness. Many carbon bolt designs have special coatings that prevent the carbon from binding to the target and make the bolt difficult to remove.
Q: How much do hunting bolts cost?
As with any hunting product, the more bells and whistles (technology) a specific bolt possess, the higher the price tag. Those that put a premium on long-range accuracy and use their crossbow on many hunts throughout the year won’t be disappointed when they drop a good amount of coin on quality bolts. However, if close-range deer and turkey hunting is your game, or if you tote a crossbow afield a few times a year to extend your season, you can get away with bolts that cost around $10 per shaft.
Q: Can I use a mechanical broadhead with a fast crossbow?
Not only do I love mechanical broadheads, but I recommend them over fixed-blade designs. When you put a quality mechanical broadhead on a bolt with the perfect speed-to-weight ratio, you can expect maximum penetration and devastating wound channels. Because of their slim design, mechanical broadheads fly more accurately than fixed blades at extended ranges. Broadhead manufacturers have created remarkable mechanical heads designed for crossbow shooters. While some broadheads designed with vertical arrows will work with crossbow bolts, I recommend looking into crossbow-specific models. The reason for this is speed. Crossbows are faster than vertical hunting bows, and these speeds can cause in-flight blade deployment with some heads.
Q: What is the best bolt weight for hunting?
Modern-day crossbows produce jaw-dropping speed, and as mentioned multiple times in this article, GPI shouldn’t be toyed with. Speed is inviting but never jeopardize safety to obtain it. If you’re all about seeing a radar-busting fps flash across the screen of your chronograph, go with the minimum recommended GPI rating for the crossbow you’re shooting. However, don’t expect precision accuracy, and if that ultra-light carbon bolt his heavy-bone, penetration can quickly be thwarted. When hunting North American big game like elk and moose, I recommend a minimum bolt weight of 400 grains. When hunting medium-sized game like deer and black bear, you can get away with a slightly lighter bolt.
Q: Do I have to shoot a lighted nock?
While I recommend lighted nock usage for all crossbow goers, these nocks are not a must-have requirement. The benefit of a lighted nock is being able to track bolt flight, identify any nock travel issues, and find your bolt after taking a shot in the hunting woods. Lighted nocks also quicken the sight-in process. Twenty-two inch and shorter bolts are hard to see in a target, even with bright-colored vanes. When you’re shooting a lighted nock, you always know the exact placement of your bolt, and you can make adjustments without making numerous back-and-forth trips to and from the target.
Q: How do I maintain my crossbow bolt?
The best way to keep your crossbow bolts in peak condition is by storing them properly when they aren’t in use. Keep them in a protected case out of heat and moisture to prevent them from warping, getting broken, or damaging the fletching.
Final Thoughts on the Best Crossbow Bolts
Shooting a crossbow is enjoyable, and those that prefer the fit and feel of a rifle but want the challenge of running a carbon or aluminum projectile through game will enjoy chasing critters with these medieval weapons. When it comes to proper bolt selection, your best bet is strictly following crossbow manufacturer directions. Don’t be afraid to ask questions when purchasing your crossbow. A top-end technician will be able to answer all your bolt questions and help you find the best match for your horizontal shooter. I also recommend, if you have the time and some discretionary income, to purchase a few different bolt types. Few things are better for shooting confidence than shooting lots of bolts and finding which one produces the best results to determine the best crossbow bolts for you.
Why Trust Us
For more than 125 years, Field & Stream has been providing readers with honest and authentic coverage of outdoor gear. Our writers and editors eat, sleep, and breathe the outdoors, and that passion comes through in our product reviews. You can count on F&S to keep you up to date on the best new gear. And when we write about a product—whether it’s a bass lure or a backpack—we cover the good and the bad, so you know exactly what to expect before you decide to make a purchase.