Can I load a hand crossbow if I am using a shield and the crossbow? Would I be able to get multiple attacks with Crossbow Expert if I am using a shield and a hand crossbow?


The errata added “(you need a free hand to load a one-handed weapon)” to the Ammunition weapon property (PHB p. 146). Thus, you wont be able to carry a shield and load your weapon.

As a DM myself, I would allow you to load your weapon if you posses the War Caster feat (PHB p. 170):

You can perform the somatic components of spells even when you have weapons or a shield in one or both hands.

PHB p. 203, SOMATIC (S) says

Spellcasting gestures might include a forceful gesticulation or an intricate set of gestures. If a spell requires a somalic component, the caster must have free use of at least one hand to perform these gestures.

As I said above, I would houserule that the War Caster feat enables you to also load ammunition to a one-handed weapon while wielding a shield. Doing wild gestures with weapons in the hand to manipulate magic should have the same prerequisite as loading ammunition to one-handed range weapon (the hand-crossbow, sling and blowgun are the only one handed range weapons).

Drawing or stowing away your shield is an action, as listed in the "getting into and out of armor" (PHB p. 146).


No, you can't load a hand crossbow while holding a shield. The errata added a new condition to the Ammunition property:

Loading a one handed weapon requires a free hand.

A hand holding a shield is not a free hand, so you can't load your hand crossbow while using a shield. And since you can't load your hand crossbow, you can't make multiple attacks.


As far as D&D 5E is concerned

The errata'd rules prohibit it. You need a free hand to load a crossbow.

In real life (yes, I know :-) )

It is possible to reload a hand crossbow with a shield. I've done it. It was in response to exactly this question when playing 1st edition AD&D - yes, this question is that old.

The type of shield: we had one with a sleeve and a handle. You slipped your forearm into the sleeve and held on to the handle (i.e. it was not a centre-boss shield). This left the fingers and thumb able to wiggle a little bit - enough to be able to grab bolts from a bandolier and load them into a handbow. Cocking the handbow was done by hooking it into a hook sewn into clothing.

As an aside, we also tried it with small weapons in the second hand, like a dagger. Like the shield, these left the fingers and thumb able to wiggle enough to do simple tasks.

The bow was pretty low-power, but could punch bolts into a pumpkin at around 8m, so I think it was close to what D&D calls a "hand crossbow".

However, "possible" is not the same as "easy". Some of my D&D group were actual weapon users (some fencing, one sword-and-shield) - they were dubious about whether it was possible under combat conditions.

House Rule

I think a reasonable house rule is: if you take Crossbow Expert feat then you can reload a hand crossbow while using a shield, as long as you've paid a bit of gold for a chest-mounted bandolier.


enter image description here

  • \$\begingroup\$ I thought I was the only one crazy enough to build the stuff and try it. I came to a similar conclusion and rule but I added that it took longer than a regular reload. Of course once we tried it, we realized that the smart move was to carry 2 or 3 hand crossbows, as they were so easy to cycle thru, that I'd have 2 bolts in the target before shield guy reloaded (and we'd fire the 3rd roughly simultaneously) \$\endgroup\$ – Jim B Jul 29 '15 at 0:12
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ Would a quiver instead of a bandoleer make a difference? (Bandoleer sounds really dangerous if you, like, fall.) For that matter, does D&D 5E explain in what sort of container hand crossbow bolts are typically stored? (Hey, these reality tests are serious business!) \$\endgroup\$ – Hey I Can Chan Jul 29 '15 at 2:51
  • \$\begingroup\$ @HeyICanChan "Case, Crossbow Bolt. This wooden case can hold up to twenty crossbow bolts." \$\endgroup\$ – Miniman Jul 29 '15 at 6:35
  • \$\begingroup\$ Hmm, when you were using your shield-hand for loading, were you still able to "hide behind" the shield? \$\endgroup\$ – Tim Grant Jul 8 '17 at 17:27

Read here for a very clear breakdown. You cannot use a shield and a crossbow of any kind and still reload ammunition without editing the standard rules of DND.

Crossbow Expert, PHB p. 165:

  • You ignore the loading quality of crossbows with which you are proficient. (Allows you to make multiple attacks if you have them in a single round with crossbows.)

  • Being within 5 feet of a hostile creature doesn’t impose disadvantage on your ranged attack rolls. (Point blank firing.)

  • When you use the Attack action and attack with a one-handed weapon, you can use a bonus action to attack with a loaded hand crossbow you are holding. (Any 1 handed weapon attack, follow up with bonus action attack with hand crossbow.)

Using a shield does not allow a "free hand" which is required for a crossbow due to the ammunition property.

The Crossbow Expert feat does not make any changes to the ammunition property, only the loading property.

The ammunition rule requires a free hand for any weapon that requires ammunition to be loaded.

Ammunition Property:

Ammunition. You can use a weapon that has the ammunition property to make a ranged attack only if you have ammunition to fire from the weapon. Each time you attack with the weapon, you expend one piece of ammunition. Drawing the ammunition from a quiver, case, or other container is part of the attack (you need a free hand to load a one-handed weapon).

  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ It would be helpful to quote the rules for the ammunition property as well. \$\endgroup\$ – Thomas Markov Sep 8 '20 at 17:16
  • \$\begingroup\$ Good point, edited by request. \$\endgroup\$ – Cameron Cowles Sep 9 '20 at 19:06

If you take the Crossbow Expert feat to ignore the loading quality then yes, you can.

You ignore the loading quality of crossbows with which you are proficient.

  • 6
    \$\begingroup\$ What about the ammunition property? \$\endgroup\$ – Patta Jul 8 '17 at 18:26

There is a way to do this. Dropping your shield takes no action. As discribed by Jeremy Crawford's Sage advice here https://www.sageadvice.eu/2017/03/29/what-are-the-rules-on-dropping-weapons/. You are given a free "interact with object" action as apart of a move or action each round which you can use to pick it back up. Pg 190. PHB

So you could drop your shield, fire your crossbow however many times, pick your shield back up. With no real penalty to your action economy.

  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ This is definitively not true. You're citation references rules regarding weapons. A shield not a weapon, it's armor and has specific rules for donning and doffing. \$\endgroup\$ – Pyrotechnical Sep 28 '20 at 17:02
  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ Doffing a shield requires and action. \$\endgroup\$ – Thomas Markov Sep 28 '20 at 17:05

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.