Why Is A Crossbow Arrow Called A Bolt?

by | Mar 22, 2024

When it comes to crossbows, there has always been some confusion about the terminology surrounding the projectiles they shoot. So why is a crossbow arrow called a bolt? And why is there a difference in how we refer to them? Let’s unravel this mysterious distinction and discover the reasons behind it.

  • The terms “arrow” and “bolt” are often used interchangeably, but there are technical differences between the two.
  • Arrows are longer, have fletching or feathers, and weigh less than bolts, while bolts are shorter, heavier, and do not have fletching.
  • The term “bolt” can be traced back to medieval times when crossbow projectiles were known for their piercing power.
  • Modern crossbows have evolved to shoot arrow-like projectiles, but the use of the term “bolt” still persists in the crossbow community.
  • The debate between calling them arrows or bolts continues, but accurate terminology is important for clarity and inclusion in archery.

Why Is A Crossbow Arrow Called A Bolt?

Why is a crossbow arrow called a bolt?

The Origins of the Term “Bolt”

The term “bolt” is thought to originate from the Old English word “bolt” meaning a short, stout arrow, or from the Middle Low German word “bolt” or “bulte,” which refers to a missile or short shaft.

The distinction primarily lies in the design and purpose of the projectile.

The design of bolts makes them more suited for penetrating armor or thick hides, which was particularly advantageous in medieval warfare and hunting large game.

Bolts often have a flat or pyramidal tip, unlike arrows, which are usually pointed and may have a barbed design to inflict more damage.

A bolt was once called a quarrel in some places. It’s shorter, heavier, and stronger than a regular arrow. Crossbows, which use bolts, can push them with more force over short distances than bows can with arrows.

The term has persisted into modern times, where “bolt” is used to distinguish these shorter, heavier projectiles from the longer arrows used with traditional bows. This reflects their unique historical and functional characteristics.

Technical Differences Between Arrows and Bolts

The main technical differences between an arrow and a bolt lies in their design and construction. Let’s explore these differences:

  • Fletching: Arrows typically have plastic fletching or feathers to stabilize and guide the arrow in flight. This fletching improves accuracy and ensures a consistent trajectory.
  • Weight: Arrows and bolts differ in weight. Arrows are generally lighter, allowing for faster flight and greater distances. Bolts are heavier, and provide high kinetic energy upon impact.
  • Point: The points or tips of arrows and bolts can vary in weight and purpose. Arrows used for target practice may have field points, while hunting arrows often have broadheads for increased penetration.
  • Nock: Arrows feature a small notched piece at the rear end of the shaft called a nock. This nock securely engages with the crossbow string, ensuring proper alignment and consistent release. Bolts, however, may not have a standard nock.
  • Shaft: Arrows and bolts also differ in shaft length. Arrows are longer, measuring between 17 to 26 inches, while bolts are shorter. Usually, if it’s under 16 inches in length, it’s a bolt. 

In summary, arrows are fletched, are lighter in weight, have various point options, feature a nock for string engagement, and have longer shafts.

Bolts, on the other hand, do not have fletching, are heavier, may not have a standard nock, and have shorter shafts.

Understanding these technical differences can help crossbow enthusiasts choose the right ammunition for their specific purposes.

Read More: Do Crossbow Bolts Need Fletching?

Modern Crossbow Terminology

In modern crossbow terminology, the majority of crossbow enthusiasts and manufacturers refer to the projectiles as arrows.

This is because modern crossbows have evolved to be more similar to traditional bows used in archery. They shoot long, slender projectiles with fletching for stabilization and accuracy.

However, there are still some individuals and companies that use the term bolt to refer to crossbow arrows, especially those who have been using crossbows for a long time and are accustomed to the traditional terminology.

While the technical differences between arrows and bolts exist, the use of the term crossbow arrow has become the industry standard.

Using the right terms links crossbows with regular archery. This helps include crossbows in archery seasons and contests. They’re seen as a real and respected type of archery.

Even though people argue about the terms, the key point is that the projectile should fly straight and hit the target well.

No matter if you say arrows or bolts, crossbow shooting is just as fun and skillful for fans.

Marketing and Industry Standard

The marketing and labeling of crossbow arrows as bolts can be traced back to the first commercially available crossbow arrows, which were labeled as bolts over 30 years ago.

This terminology has become the industry standard, and many arrow manufacturers continue to market their crossbow arrows as bolts.

However, there is a growing movement among crossbow enthusiasts and some manufacturers to adopt the term “crossbow arrow” as the new standard to accurately reflect the projectile’s purpose and function.

The use of the term “arrow” also supports the inclusion of crossbows in archery seasons and competitions.

Crossbow ArrowA projectile designed specifically for use with a crossbow. It typically has plastic fletching or feathers to stabilize flight, a point or tip, and a nock to engage with the string.
BoltA term historically used to describe crossbow arrows. They are often shorter and heavier than arrows and do not have fletching. Bolts may have different types of tips and may not have a standard nock.

The marketing and industry standard for crossbow projectiles has predominantly used the term “bolt” for many years.

This traditional terminology reflects the historical usage and technical differences between crossbow arrows and bolts.

There’s increasing support for calling them “crossbow arrows” to match traditional archery words better. This change helps make things clearer and shows crossbows as a true part of archery.

The Debate and Perception

The debate over the terminology for crossbow projectiles within the crossbow community is an ongoing discussion.

Though “bolt” fits due to technical and historical reasons, many now think “arrow” is better and ties crossbows to traditional archery.

The term used can differ by person and doesn’t really change the shooting experience or outcomes.

Ultimately, what matters most is that the projectile flies true and hits the target effectively.

However, by adopting the term “arrow,” crossbow enthusiasts can strengthen the connection between crossbows and traditional archery, reinforcing crossbows as a legitimate and respected form of archery.

This perception has gained traction within the crossbow community and is shaping the way crossbow enthusiasts approach the terminology debate.

It’s important to recognize that both terms, “arrow” and “bolt,” are widely used and understood within the crossbow community.

Choosing “bolt” or “arrow” might depend on personal likes, where you are, or keeping to history. At the end of the day, if the projectile works well and does what it should, the name you use is up to you.

The ongoing debate surrounding terminology highlights the passionate and engaged nature of the crossbow community.

No matter the terms, crossbow fans keep exchanging knowledge and advice, building friendship and help in their circle.

Even with ongoing debates, the key is the common love for crossbows, aiming for precision, and enjoying this special archery style.

The Evolution of Crossbow Arrows

Over the years, crossbow arrows have undergone significant evolution in both design and materials used. In modern crossbow technology, carbon fiber and aluminum alloys are commonly employed to create lightweight yet strong arrows.

These materials offer a perfect balance of durability and weight, enhancing the overall performance and flight characteristics of crossbow arrows.

The introduction of new materials and techniques by crossbow manufacturers has brought crossbow arrows closer to their traditional counterparts used in archery.

Modern crossbow arrows made from carbon fiber or aluminum alloy possess specific flex characteristics when shot. This flex allows for optimal energy transfer, transmitting increased accuracy and power upon release.

To achieve maximum accuracy, crossbow arrows require a balanced front of center, ensuring stability and precision during flight.

The use of carbon fiber and aluminum alloys has revolutionized the crossbow industry, providing archers with arrows that are comparable to their traditional counterparts.

These improved crossbow arrows exhibit superior flight characteristics and achieve higher levels of consistency, making them a preferred choice among archery enthusiasts.

Advantages of Carbon Fiber and Aluminum Alloy Crossbow Arrows:

AdvantagesCarbon FiberAluminum Alloy
StrengthHigh tensile strength, allowing for greater durabilityExcellent strength-to-weight ratio, offering durability and stability
WeightLightweight design enhances speed and accuracyLightweight construction provides enhanced maneuverability
FlexibilitySpecific flex characteristics for optimal energy transfer and accuracyGood flex properties ensure stability and consistency during flight
PerformanceImproved flight characteristics for increased consistency and precisionEnhanced performance with increased speed and accuracy

The use of carbon fiber and aluminum alloys in crossbow arrow construction has transformed the archery experience, achieving greater accuracy and performance.

These materials have become the standard choice for crossbow enthusiasts and professionals alike, revolutionizing the sport and enabling archers to reach new levels of precision and success.

The Importance of Terminology

When it comes to the debate over calling crossbow projectiles arrows or bolts, some might dismiss it as trivial. However, accurate terminology plays a crucial role in crossbow enthusiasts’ community.

Using the correct terminology not only reflects the purpose and function of the projectile but also improves clarity in communication.

More than that, accurate terminology aligns crossbows with traditional archery, showcasing their legitimacy and respect in the field.

By using the appropriate terminology, we contribute to the inclusion of crossbows in archery seasons and competitions.

As the crossbow community continues to evolve and grow, the importance of using the proper terminology becomes more evident.

Whether you refer to them as crossbow arrows or crossbow bolts, recognizing the significance of terminology is essential for accurate understanding and effective communication.


Why is a crossbow arrow called a bolt?

The terms “crossbow arrow” and “crossbow bolt” are often used interchangeably. However, there are technical differences between the two. While “bolt” is commonly used to describe crossbow arrows, the origins of the term can be traced back to medieval times when crossbows fired short, stout projectiles called bolts. The terms “arrow” and “bolt” are still used interchangeably in the crossbow community today.

What are the origins of the term “bolt”?

The term “bolt” for a crossbow arrow can be traced back to medieval times. Crossbows were large, wheeled contraptions that fired relatively short, stout projectiles without vanes. These projectiles were known as bolts and were known for their ability to pierce midlevel chainmail or armor. The term “bolt” stuck around and continued to be used to describe crossbow arrows, even though modern crossbow arrows have evolved significantly in design and materials.

What are the technical differences between arrows and bolts?

Crossbow arrows typically have plastic fletching or feathers, a point or tip, and a nock. Bolts, on the other hand, do not have fletching, are usually heavier and shorter, and may not have a standard nock.

What is the modern crossbow terminology?

While there are technical differences, the majority of crossbow enthusiasts and manufacturers refer to crossbow projectiles as arrows. This is because modern crossbows have evolved to be more similar to traditional bows used in archery, shooting long, slender projectiles with fletching for stabilization and accuracy.

What is the marketing and industry standard for crossbow arrows and bolts?

The practice of calling crossbow arrows “bolts” started over 30 years ago with the first crossbow arrows sold. They were labeled as bolts, and this name stuck in the industry. Now, there’s a push to use “crossbow arrow” instead, to better describe what the projectile does.

What is the debate and perception surrounding the terminology?

The debate over the terminology for crossbow projectiles is ongoing within the crossbow community. While the technical differences and historical origins may lean towards the term “bolt,” there is a growing perception that using the term “arrow” is more accurate and aligns crossbows with traditional archery.

How have crossbow arrows evolved?

Modern crossbow arrows are often made from carbon fiber or aluminum alloy, making them lightweight yet strong. They have specific flex characteristics and require a balanced front of center to achieve maximum accuracy. The introduction of new materials and manufacturing techniques has improved the overall performance and flight characteristics of crossbow arrows.

Why is the correct terminology important?

Right terms show the projectile’s use and role, make talking clearer, and link crossbows with traditional archery. Also, correct terms help include crossbows in archery events and seasons, marking them as a valid and respected archery type.