Info Favorites Register Log in
myArmoury.com Discussion Forums

Forum index Memberlist Usergroups Spotlight Topics Search
Forum Index > Historical Arms Talk > Does a crossbow operate like a gun? Can anyone just use it? Reply to topic
This is a standard topic  
Author Message
John A. Brown




Usergroups: None


Posts: 16
PostPosted: Wed 12 Apr, 2017 10:55 am    Post subject: Does a crossbow operate like a gun? Can anyone just use it?         Reply with quote

After testing my bow and realizing how tiring using them can be (even if the 12 lb draw weight was actually easy to draw and fire until after 15 minutes of non-stop usage), I am reminded of something I saw in reddit.

https://www.reddit.com/r/crossbows/comments/64zisb/how_hard_is_it_to_string_a_crossbow_are_the/

So I'm inspired to ask. Is using a crossbow basically the same as firing a gun except you load in single arrows at a time? As in you can draft random civilians in a town, drill them in crossbow usage for less than a month, and expect them to use it effectively much how guns impacted warfare for the same reason? Even to the point that you can give an old lady a crossbow and she'll be able to defend against a 6'4 tall muscular burglar with a history of raping people in homes he rob?

Or would it require physical strength (since the reddit link states the immense difficulty of just trying to attach the string)? I mean I saw that medieval crossbows had draw weights of hundreds of pounds. I didn't even understand how draw weight worked until I started testing my bow today which to my surprise really required some strength even if it wasn't much difficulty to use.

I ask because crossbows are often portrayed working like guns with mini arrows where you just pull the string and load the bolt and va loi you can start killing bad guys even if you are an 8 year old child or a rich Southern Belle who just sits down in her home all day drinking tea.

How does the reality work? I seen a few blogs online about the way Daryl (from the Walking Dead) using his crossbow is so inaccurate it really makes the authors of said blogs cringe and I also seen some reviews on Amazons of replicas of Daryl's crossbow about how its far more difficult to use it than how TWD portrays Norman Reedus using it on TV. Where Daryl/Norman Reedus just pulls the string quickly in less than a second each time he reloads after shooting and taking out hundreds of Walkers in a fight scene. Amazon reviewers state they can barely pull the string mechanism to fire the bolt (some of them complaining they can't attach it together like the reddit link) and the blogs I seen state such a crossbow would be heavy even to merely carry around and would take superhuman finger strength to pull it the way Reedus does on TV.
View user's profile Send private message
Baard H




Usergroups: None

Location: Norway
Posts: 83
PostPosted: Wed 12 Apr, 2017 1:07 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

First off: Movies and TV shows bend the rules of reality more often than I change socks (ok, maybe not the best analogy, but you get my drift).

For your actual question it depends on the crossbows. Many (especially later era) crossbows have mechanisms like cranks or levers to make it easier (not to mention possible) to get them strung. Depending on the mechanism anyone should be able to operate them if they know how. If it is a mechanism that require a certain amount of strength (or no aiding mechanism at all), then a certain strength is required.
As far as the act of shooting is concerned, then yes, it's basically like shooting a rifle.

At kveldi skal dag leyfa,
konu, er brennd er,
mćki, er reyndr er,
mey, er gefin er,
ís, er yfir kemr,
öl, er drukkit er.
-Hávamál, vísa 81
View user's profile Send private message
Baard H




Usergroups: None

Location: Norway
Posts: 83
PostPosted: Wed 12 Apr, 2017 1:33 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Oh, and archery use muscles that are completely different from what most people normally use so if it's your first time doing archery you're probably using muscles that until now were almost non-existant. I've never been remarkably strong, but I've lost track of how many times people who're undeniably stronger than me have had problems with or been outright defeated at attempting to draw my bows.
Just give it time and practice and your muscles will appear and you'll laugh at 15 lbs for hours at a time Wink

At kveldi skal dag leyfa,
konu, er brennd er,
mćki, er reyndr er,
mey, er gefin er,
ís, er yfir kemr,
öl, er drukkit er.
-Hávamál, vísa 81
View user's profile Send private message
Mikko Kuusirati




Usergroups: 
Donating Members

Location: Finland
Reading list: 13 books
Posts: 897
PostPosted: Wed 12 Apr, 2017 1:36 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Pretty much. But then, there's a lot more to using a gun than just shooting it. You could give an old lady a gun or a crossbow and show her how to point and fire it, and without any more training she might well be able to shoot or at least threaten a would-be mugger with it... but she wouldn't know the first thing about how to use it as a weapon of war, and would not be a worthwhile combatant in the least. (And I for one would not trust her with either weapon without further lessons in safe handling.)

Aiming and shooting is actually a very small part of the firearms training given to regular soldiers, and the same held true with crossbow archers, too. Maintenance of the weapon is a big thing - you have to know what kind of circumstances and what kind of (ab)use it can survive while staying in functional condition, how to protect it from damage under hostile circumstances, how to fix any damage that nevertheless occurs, and so on. And then you have to know how to reload it under stress (this can get very finicky even with modern firearms!), how to handle it safely while it's loaded, how to carry it on the march, how to store it in camp, and so on and so on ad nauseam. And then there's all the necessities of general soldiering, how to work as a unit, follow orders, march, make camp, keep your head in the middle of action, and so on...

So... yes, guns and crossbows are, in very broad terms, similarly easy to shoot. Guns tend to have significantly flatter trajectories which simplifies accuracy over long distances, but the general mechanics involved are, to the casual shooter, more or less the same or at least of similar complexity.

HOWEVER, your question is potentially misleading in that it completely overlooks the importance of things other than the relatively simple act of aiming and shooting in the grand scheme of how to actually use a gun or a crossbow as an effective weapon. You can indeed just hand a guy a crossbow (or a gun) and show him how to point and shoot it, and if he's physically capable of working the mechanism he'll be able to shoot it with a certain baseline accuracy, sure. Won't take more than an afternoon or so. But he will not be an effective combatant with just that.

PS. Oh, and yeah - I sort of sidetracked myself and missed this aspect of the question, sorry! - most crossbows used in warfare could not be simply pulled back by hand, almost regardless of how strong a person you are. You need to use the whole body (well, mainly the legs - don't lift with your back, kids!) and/or some sort of mechanical aid (e.g. a lever, winch or ratchet). Modern compound crossbows using systems of pulleys to step down the force needed to pull the string back might be more forgiving, although I seriously doubt you can just grab and cock one rated for large game like it ain't no thing, either...

The subtle tongue, the sophist guile, they fail when the broadswords sing;
Rush in and die, dogs -- I was a man before I was a king.
-- R. E. Howard, The Road of Kings
View user's profile Send private message
Leo Todeschini




PostPosted: Wed 12 Apr, 2017 2:23 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Mikko has the basis of it I think in that shooting a gun/bow effectively is much more than just aiming.

The first point is that in theory yes you could train a guy to shoot a crossbow accurately or at least reasonably so in a couple of days. They do require some strength, but not so much. My 8 year old daughter can load a 1000lbs windlass bow, though she can't pick it up. Repeated cycles of anything will make you tired though.

But.....

The medieval crossbow men were very well paid and well respected and if it was that easy why were they so well paid? So in essence something is missing from this simplistic line of thinking.

Mikko has made a very good point in that shooting the bow is only one element. Maintenance, equipment, speed of discharge, tactics, secondary weapon use, mobility, adaptability, reliability under 'fire', reliability under poor outcomes and so it goes on.

Shooting a bow accurately is not hard; doing so when 200 mounted knights are charging you down, whilst simultaneously a bunch of English archers have got you in a cross fire, the heavens have opened, and 3 of your close mates are screaming in agony with stomach wounds, is a different matter. (for the record, I would be an incontinent rabbit in the headlights).

Tod

PS. I have some video here that may be of interest to you. https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCWnlQMQ-ACfhpD68yWRsnJw

www.todsstuff.co.uk
www.theenglishcutler.co.uk
www.todsfoundry.co.uk
www.todmedia.co.uk
View user's profile Send private message Visit poster's website
Benjamin H. Abbott




Usergroups: None

Location: New Mexico
Spotlight topics: 1
Posts: 1,156
PostPosted: Wed 12 Apr, 2017 4:20 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

In the 15th-century piece El Victorial describing events around 1400, the protagonist spans heavy crossbows among his various feats of strength. The exact spanning method isn't clear, but it shows how many spanning methods even at that late did still required strength just like a bow. You see other reference to crossbowers having crossbows according to their strength in the 14th century, and records from ancient China emphasizing the need for strong crossbowers.

So, while some later spanning methods don't require much strength, many European and Chinese methods did require it.

Read my historically inspired fantasy fiction in here. I walk along a winding path set by Ludovico Ariosto, William Morris, J. R. R. Tolkien, and Ursula Le Guin.

Out of doubt, out of dark to the day's rising
I came singing in the sun, sword unsheathing.
To hope's end I rode and to heart's breaking:
Now for wrath, now for ruin and a red nightfall!
View user's profile Send private message Visit poster's website
Henry O.




Usergroups: None


Posts: 55
PostPosted: Wed 12 Apr, 2017 4:39 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I'm not sure you would want to put your crossbows in the hands of poorly trained troops. A good Arbalest seems to have been fairly pricey, and a string with 1000 lbs of tension on it could be very dangerous if it suffered a failure. Although the same was true to early firearms to an extent. In fact many 16th century writers stressed the point that poorly trained arquebusiers in combat could do more harm to their own allies than the enemy. In addition, while the arquebus could be used by smaller, more nimble men, the heavy, 20 lb musket did require quite a bit of strength to handle and it took a fairly stout, well-fed man to be a musketeer.

I still wouldn't really put crossbows and firearms in the same category though. Firearms had a flatter trajectory, making them much easier to aim and they could shoot with an order of magnitude more power than the strongest crossbow. Mass volleys of crossbow bolts just don't seem to have achieved the same decisive impact on the battlefield that massed arquebus and musket fire eventually did.
View user's profile Send private message
Philip Dyer




Usergroups: None


Posts: 455
PostPosted: Wed 12 Apr, 2017 7:50 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Benjamin H. Abbott wrote:
In the 15th-century piece El Victorial describing events around 1400, the protagonist spans heavy crossbows among his various feats of strength. The exact spanning method isn't clear, but it shows how many spanning methods even at that late did still required strength just like a bow. You see other reference to crossbowers having crossbows according to their strength in the 14th century, and records from ancient China emphasizing the need for strong crossbowers.

So, while some later spanning methods don't require much strength, many European and Chinese methods did require it.

Are you sure that account indicates that the correct spanning method for the required strength or that he was showing how strong he was by spanning a heavy crossbow without the aid of a spanning device?
View user's profile Send private message
Benjamin H. Abbott




Usergroups: None

Location: New Mexico
Spotlight topics: 1
Posts: 1,156
PostPosted: Wed 12 Apr, 2017 8:40 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

You can read an English translation here. The Spanish term is "a cinto," literally "to/by [the] belt." It presumably means some sort of spanning method that uses the belt. Some people have interpreted this as a referring to a goat's-foot lever, which strikes me as unlikely, given that that doesn't involve the belt and that there's a Spanish term for that (gafa).

In any case, El Victorial indicates that the proper spanning method for strong crossbow required strength. As mentioned, there's other supporting evidence for this notion.

Read my historically inspired fantasy fiction in here. I walk along a winding path set by Ludovico Ariosto, William Morris, J. R. R. Tolkien, and Ursula Le Guin.

Out of doubt, out of dark to the day's rising
I came singing in the sun, sword unsheathing.
To hope's end I rode and to heart's breaking:
Now for wrath, now for ruin and a red nightfall!
View user's profile Send private message Visit poster's website
Iagoba Ferreira




Usergroups: None


Posts: 114
PostPosted: Thu 13 Apr, 2017 5:35 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I agree with you. Belt implies belt hook, which was the standard arming device for crossbows in Spain even decades later, as shown in inventories and other texts.

BTW, some days ago I have identified one belt hook, a lucky coincidence, as I was being shown archeological stuff from a very different kind and it was an odd rusty iron piece. Properly excavated... I will do my best to have it shown in the museum Laughing Out Loud
View user's profile Send private message
Lafayette C Curtis




Usergroups: None

Location: Indonesia
Reading list: 7 books
Posts: 2,589
PostPosted: Tue 18 Apr, 2017 10:11 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

One of my friends just got back from a shoot with the Menwa (the Indonesian ROTC thing) last weekend and told me how bad most of the first-time shooters were. He assumed that there must have been many ROTC cadets and members who were having their very first time using actual firearms because more than half of them scored below 135 out of a maximum of 270. I find that unlikely since they must have had at least some marksmanship practice during basic training, although of course they might have forgotten the fundamentals already if they hadn't had any live-fire practice since then. All the same, the main point is that apparently it's not that easy to use a modern assault rifle (the SS1/FNC, which my friend said was pretty user-friendly from his subjective viewpoint) without extensive practice.

So crossbows? Nope. No way it's going to be that easy for the untrained (or poorly-trained).
View user's profile Send private message
Brian Nelson




Usergroups: None

Location: Houghton, MI
Posts: 43
PostPosted: Thu 20 Apr, 2017 1:07 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I have a large amount of experience with firearms and quite a bit with medieval crossbows as I've built a few. Here is my analogy:

Imagine if your goal was to teach someone to hit a human target with a rifle from about 50 yards away. After an explanation of the way the sights work and a couple practice shots, they'd be good enough at it.

Now imagine if your goal was to teach someone to hit a moving human target with the same rifle hundreds of yards away. That would take years of practice.

After about 3 hours of practice with my medieval crossbow I was able to put all my bolts in about a one foot circle at 50 yards. Not bad. After a hundred more hours I still cannot put the bolts in the same size circle at 100 yards. It takes an enormous amount of focus, steadiness, consistency, reading the wind, reading the lay of the land, etc.

A crossbow is wonderful because an inexperienced person can be lethal with it after a few minutes of training, unlike a bow. But mastering the crossbow is really about as hard as mastering the bow. Very different, but still very hard.
View user's profile Send private message Send e-mail
Mike Janis




Usergroups: None

Location: Atlanta GA
Posts: 26
PostPosted: Mon 24 Apr, 2017 12:52 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

What everybody said above. Also, don't think that because a person can hit a target on a range with a gun means they can hit a target during combat. I have seen estimates that the US Army fired 3,000 bullets for every VC killed in Viet Nam. Heck, the NYPD routinely fires 20-30 rounds to hit a fleeing suspect who is not firing back.
MikeJ
View user's profile Send private message
Iagoba Ferreira




Usergroups: None


Posts: 114
PostPosted: Tue 25 Apr, 2017 9:43 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

459 rounds were spent by the Anglo-Potuguese units for each French dead or wounded at Vitoria (1813). And that without taking in the account that the Spanish units, cavalry, artillery, and edge weapons were responsible too of some of them, so the actual number is higher...
View user's profile Send private message
Henry O.




Usergroups: None


Posts: 55
PostPosted: Tue 25 Apr, 2017 12:52 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

And it doesn't seem like the accuracy of the common soldier improved much even after muzzle loading rifles were introduced.

On that subject then, given that a crossbowman would also need to be making rapid judgements about distance and angles, it seems like that might limit the effectiveness beyond very short ranges. I know we like to focus on armor penetration, but to what extent were medieval crossbows designed for a high projectile velocity rather than raw power to improve accuracy?
View user's profile Send private message
Benjamin H. Abbott




Usergroups: None

Location: New Mexico
Spotlight topics: 1
Posts: 1,156
PostPosted: Today at 11:53 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

As I understand it, a major reason for the high number of rounds fired per kill in modern armies comes from suppressive fire: shots not necessarily intended to hit anybody but degrade enemy performance, control areas, prevent enemies from moving or force them to move, etc. It was different in even the Napoleonic era, much less earlier, but you may have seen similar dynamics at times back in the 16th century.

Raymond de Fourquevaux complained about arquebusiers shooting from too far away and hardly hitting anyone. I forget the exact number, but he gave a high numbers of shots per hit. While probably motivated more by fear than sound military judgment, the practice of skirmishing with arquebus under conditions that make hits unlikely had a certain logic: it functioned as contest of wills, a way to see if enemy morale would break while putting troops in relatively little danger.

I imagine you saw kindred skirmishers with bows and crossbows, where nobody wanted to risk getting close or venturing out of cover.

So, while accuracy was and remains an issue, it's not simply a matter of insufficient practice, the stress of combat, or whatever. It's partially about minimizing risk and about suppressive fire.

Read my historically inspired fantasy fiction in here. I walk along a winding path set by Ludovico Ariosto, William Morris, J. R. R. Tolkien, and Ursula Le Guin.

Out of doubt, out of dark to the day's rising
I came singing in the sun, sword unsheathing.
To hope's end I rode and to heart's breaking:
Now for wrath, now for ruin and a red nightfall!
View user's profile Send private message Visit poster's website
Henry O.




Usergroups: None


Posts: 55
PostPosted: Today at 1:24 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

The issue is that during the early modern period combat is usually described taking place at ranges that should theoretically be suicidal.

During musket trials in the late 18th-early 19th centuries a group of soldiers firing in volleys would usually hit a battalion-sized wooden target about 50% of the time. In actual combat at the same distance, accuracy typically dropped to around 2-3% or lower. Even during the US Civil war accounts of fire taking place at more than around 100 yards are uncommon, and the casualty rates don't seem to have been much higher than they were with smoothbore muskets.

I strongly suspect that trying to use a bow or crossbow under those sorts of conditions would have even worse results.
View user's profile Send private message


Display posts from previous:   
Forum Index > Historical Arms Talk > Does a crossbow operate like a gun? Can anyone just use it?
Page 1 of 1 Reply to topic
All times are GMT - 8 Hours

View previous topic :: View next topic
Jump to:  
You cannot post new topics in this forum
You cannot reply to topics in this forum
You cannot edit your posts in this forum
You cannot delete your posts in this forum
You cannot vote in polls in this forum
You cannot attach files in this forum
You can download files in this forum






All contents © Copyright 2003-2017 myArmoury.com — All rights reserved
Discussion forums powered by phpBB © The phpBB Group
Switch to the Basic Low-bandwidth Version of the forum