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Crossbows Are Back

Crossbow Hunting Qualifications and Safety Information

Hunters are now allowed to hunt small and big game with a crossbow under conditions established by the New York State Legislature. Reading and understanding the information on this page will serve as the legal required qualification for crossbow use.

Hunters that plan to hunt with a crossbow must have in their possession while afield either their completed Hunter Education Certificate of Qualification card dated on or after April 1, 2014 OR the completed Crossbow Certification of Qualification located below.

General Information

  • Crossbows may be used to hunt deer, bear, unprotected wildlife and most small game species except waterfowl & other migratory game birds.
  • Game seasons that allow the use of a crossbow can be found throughout this Hunting and Trapping Regulations Guide.
  • Crossbows cannot be used in Westchester, Nassau or Suffolk counties.
  • Junior Big Game hunters (age 14–15) and any adult accompanying a junior hunter may not use a crossbow to take a deer during the Youth Deer Hunt Weekend.
  • Without owner’s permission, a crossbow may not be discharged within 250 feet of any home, farm structure, school building or grounds, public structure or an occupied factory or church.
  • No crossbow shall be carried or possessed in or on a motor vehicle unless it is uncocked.
  • Optical sights are allowed on crossbows.

License Requirements For Crossbow Use

  • Crossbows may only be used by licensees who are 14 years of age or older.
  • The hunter must possess a current year’s hunting license to hunt with a crossbow.
  • The hunter must possess a Muzzleloading Hunting Privilege to legally hunt big game with a crossbow, during any muzzleloading season OR during open portions of the early bowhunting seasons.
  • Muzzleloader privilege is not required when hunting with a crossbow during the early bear season or the regular firearms seasons.

Crossbow Safety Rules

  • Before shooting your crossbow, read and thoroughly understand your crossbow owner’s manual.
  • Make sure your fingers are well AWAY (below rail) from the path of the bow string and cables.
  • Never dry-fire a crossbow (cock and fire without an arrow placed on the rail).
  • Make sure the crossbow limbs are free of obstructions before shooting.
  • Never carry a cocked crossbow with an arrow in it while walking.
  • If hunting from a tree stand, always cock the crossbow on the ground before climbing into the stand.
  • Once seated and secured in the tree stand, pull up your unloaded crossbow with a haul line.
  • Do not place an arrow on the crossbow until you are safely secured in your stand.
  • Never use a cocking device to uncock a crossbow.
  • To uncock a crossbow, shoot an arrow tipped with a field point into the soft ground or a target.
  • Always identify your target and the area beyond it before shooting.
  • To prevent wounding game, practice often and do not take shots at game that are beyond your effective range, generally less than 30–40 yards, similar to a modern compound bow.
  • To better understand how an arrow functions and the skill required for hunting with an arrow, DEC recommends all crossbow hunters take a bowhunter education course.

Practice safely, practice often, and learn the capabilities and limitations of the crossbow and the arrow it shoots.

Legal Specifications For Crossbows

  • A bow, a string, and either compound or recurve limbs with minimum width of 17 inches (tip of limbs, uncocked).
  • Mounted on a stock with a trigger and working safety that holds the string and limbs under tension.
  • A minimum peak draw weight of 100 pounds and a maximum peak draw weight of 200 pounds.
  • A minimum overall length from the butt of the stock to the front of limbs of 24 inches.
  • A minimum arrow (bolt) length of 14 inches.(For big game, the arrowhead must be nonbarbed, 2 or more cutting surfaces at least 7/8” wide).

Suggested References To Review

Crossbows at a glance…

Big Game

  • Crossbows may be used to take deer during:
    • early and late muzzleloader season in the Northern Zone and late muzzleloader season in the Southern Zone using Bow/Muzz tags, DMPs, DMAP tags, or an unfilled Regular Big Game tag (late season only);
    • regular firearms seasons using a Regular Big Game tag, DMPs, or DMAP tags.
  • Crossbows may be used to take bear during early bear season, early muzzleloader season in the Northern Zone, regular firearms seasons in the Northern and Southern Zones, and the late muzzleloader season in the Southern Zone.
  • Crossbows may also be used to take deer or bear during limited portions of bowhunting seasons as follows, provided that the hunter possesses the muzzleloading privilege:
    • During the last 14 days of the early bowhunting season in the
      Southern Zone (i.e., November 1–14, 2014);
    • During the last 10 days of the early bowhunting season in the
      Northern Zone (i.e., October 15–24; this includes the 7-day early muzzleloader season in the Northern Zone);
    • Only Bow/Muzz tags, DMPs or DMAPs may be used during these times.
  • Crossbows cannot be used to hunt deer during the Youth Deer
    Hunt Weekend.
  • Crossbows may not be used to take deer or bear in WMU 4J in Albany County, WMU 8C in Monroe County, or in Suffolk or
    Westchester Counties.

Small Game

  • Crossbows may be used to take most small game. See Small Game Hunting Regulations for details.
  • Crossbows may not be possessed afield in the Northern Zone when hunting small game (except coyotes) with the aid of a dog or when accompanied by a dog.


  • Crossbows may not be used to take carp or any other fish species.

Regulations in red are new this year.

Purple text indicates an important note.

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