There is nothing more relaxing than spending time in the woods while hunting. It can be tempting to just stow your crossbow in the closet when you get home, forgetting about it until the next getaway. But that is a surefire way to ruin a fine weapon. The hunt isn’t over when you return home, until you properly clean and store your weapons and other accessories.

Crossbow maintenance is a chore that pays dividends. The money it saves you on replacing parts – or whole crossbows – is better spent on gear for your next bird, deer, or Oklahoma hog hunting adventure. No matter how or what you hunt, a little effort now can keep your crossbow operating at peak performance for many seasons to come. So here’s what you need to do each time you return from a hunt.

1. Decock the Weapon

Do not store a crossbow while it is still cocked. Most manufacturers suggest not leaving a crossbow cocked for more than a few hours at a time, but crossbows normally remain cocked at least that long during a hunt. However, that constant tension on the strings, cables and limbs can cause these parts to weaken. The unfortunate result is less powerful shots. Never dry fire a crossbow to decock it, or for any other reason. Doing so even once can damage the string or bend an axle. Instead, use a rope cocker to decock the weapon – like in this YouTube video – or simply decock the string back by hand if you’re strong enough. Just remember, a cocked weapon is much more dangerous than one that has been uncocked.

2. Clean, Dry, and Inspect

Wipe down your crossbow after every use with a clean, lint-free towel, and especially after any time in the wild. Take extra care to clean the recesses between parts and dry off any moisture left over from a rainy hunt. Clean away dirt or grime before it can cause rusting or attract dust. Pay attention to the parts of your crossbow while you clean it, and inspect for damage or loosening bolts. Check the limbs for cracks and the cams for smooth operation. Inspect the string, cables and serving closely, looking for any fraying. This is the time to discover that your crossbow needs servicing, not the night before a hunt.

3. Wax Cables and Strings

Coat the cables and strings in a high quality wax. If the manufacturer included a tube of wax, use it over any other type and follow the directions carefully. Some makers suggest waxing after only a few shots, while others say their bows can go for many ten shots between wax applications. The manufacturers know what works best on their equipment. Unless otherwise instructed, do not wax the center serving on a crossbow. Wax can soften the fibers of the serving, allowing it to fray much sooner than it might otherwise. Work the wax into the strings with your fingers. Really rub it in. The heat from the friction will soften the wax and help it coat the string evenly. Never use artificial heat sources.

4. Oil the Rail

Much like the oil in your car’s engine prevents metal parts from contacting one another, lubricant on the rail of your crossbow will lessen friction between the bolt and rail. However, be careful not to over-lubricate the rail. Excess oil will seep into the serving, causing it to fray. Some crossbow makers stipulate wax for lubricating the rail. As always, follow the manufacturer’s guidelines. Otherwise, you should use only a high quality rail oil from a trusted maker. Rail lube normally dries to hardened glaze, meaning it is unlike other oils that can attract dust and gum up in cold weather.

5. Cam and Trigger Care

The final step before putting your crossbow away is to check the operation of the cams and trigger. The cams should rotate freely on their axles – without drag or friction. Check the timing marks as well, then clean and lubricate the axles if necessary. Do not over-oil the cams, as the dirt build-up will slow their operation. With the bow de-cocked, check the operation of the trigger. Pull it slowly and evenly, feeling for dragging or catching. If your bow’s manufacturer allows it, one or two drops of rail oil through the provided oiling ports should do the trick. Gun or machine oils make poor trigger lubricants because they attract dirt and dust.

Maintain Your Crossbow Consistently For The Best Results

Crossbow maintenance is a quick and simple process that you should tend to every time you use your weapon. The string and serving will last as much as twice as long with regular waxing and rail lubrication, saving you money and downtime. Most importantly, disregarded crossbows are dangerous to operate. But with proper care, your crossbow can give you many years of safe and reliable service.