I remember my first bow: a handsome recurve with 45 pounds of pull and an effective range of 15 to maybe 20 yards in my hands. I never arrowed a deer with it, but that wasn’t the bow’s fault: Teenage inexperience and youthful impatience assured that the township’s whitetails survived unscathed. That was the late 1960s.
Unlike most endeavors, I was a little ahead of the curve, and a few years later, bowhunting started experiencing the explosive growth that would begin to propel the sport into the stratosphere where it resides today — an integral component of our hunting culture.
Then, in the mid 1970s, a new kind of archery gear started appearing on the scene: the compound bow. After a couple of years, I procured one of my own from the American Archery Co. out of Oconto Falls, Wis.
Basically, the unit was a thick-handled, stout-limbed bow of laminated wood sporting small wheels suspended on brackets screwed onto the end of each limb. The 50 percent let-off at full draw was a blessing for getting on target, holding longer on a straw bale or deer, and increasing accuracy. I would say my effective range increased to 20 or maybe 25 yards; 30 was pushing my abilities and that of the bow.
I arrowed my first archery whitetail with that rudimentary compound bow a year later. It wasn’t because of the gear, though. I was just becoming a better bowhunter.
Oh, the objections to the compound bow, though. I can still hear the arguments today. The wails came from traditionalists rooted in the world of longbows and recurves, as well as hunters in general who feared the potential ruination of deer herds and other big game because of the perceived advanced technology compound bows brought to the woods.
They’d say, “Why, there’s no challenge to shooting one of those compound bows, with all that let-off and such,” and, “Heck, those compound bows will kill a deer so much farther, there won’t be any whitetails left for anybody to hunt,” or, “This technology is bad for bowhunting. We need to just keep it the way it is.”
Well, here we are four decades later. Compound bows dominate the bowhunting scene, having evolved into legitimate 30- to 40-yard hunting tools. Complex wheel systems and split risers make for let-off ratios of 70 to 80 percent that let a hunter hold on a deer as long as needed. Space-age carbon and aluminum arrows fly through the air at unbelievable speeds. Devastating broadhead designs do their work efficiently. Bowhunting is more popular than ever.
And still deer herds are bursting at the seams.
The Crossbow Controversy
The bowhunting world, and hunting world in general, has a new controversy, but it’s all been bandied about before: The idea that a new and better bow — in this case, the modern crossbow — will make hunters too efficient, take the challenge out of the pursuit of deer and other big game and decimate herds.
In the famous words of Yogi Berra, “It’s deja vu all over again.” Only this time, crossbows are taking the heat instead of compounds. This situation has evolved in a parallel fashion: The introduction of a new and better tool, the initial fear of it, its slow acceptance, foot dragging in certain places for adopting the new tool and making it legal, and needless arguments within the hunting community when instead we should be sticking together and expanding hunting opportunities for everyone.
It’s clear that crossbows are here to stay. Here’s why it’s time to bury any objections you might have to this accurate and effective hunting tool — and even pick one up yourself.
The Arguments Against Crossbows
Crossbow opponents aren’t necessarily against the gear itself. Rather, they are against the crossbow’s use during archery-only seasons. It’s a fine line. Here are the arguments against crossbows for regular archery seasons:
—The range of crossbows is too great, and they make it easy to kill a deer.
There’s a misconception that crossbows are long-range tools that let you kill deer at 60, 70 or 80 yards consistently. That’s simply not true. For most hunters, the crossbow adds maybe 10 good yards onto the range of what can be done with a compound bow. In most hands, the crossbow is a 50-yard — or closer — hunting tool.
Compound bows are deadly out to 30 yards for some shooters and maybe 40 yards in the hands of a really good shooter. That’s not much less than the reliable range of a crossbow. Are an extra 10 to 20 crossbow yards really going to whack back our deer herds?
— Crossbows will increase archery kills and decimate deer herds. It’s like hunting with a firearm.
In no way is a crossbow a consistent 70-, 80- or 100-yard weapon similar to a slug gun, as opponents might want you to believe. Crossbow bolt speeds are not that different from arrow speeds out of today’s top compound bows. For example, Mission’s MXB-360 propels bolts at up to 360 fps. The arrow/bolt drop is similar between compounds and crossbows.
Just as compound bows did not decimate deer herds, nether will crossbows. Today, the tools just are not that different. Archery deer harvests have not skyrocketed in states where crossbows are legal in archery season.
—Crossbows don’t take as much practice or skill to shoot as compounds or traditional bows. More people can shoot them well.
Yes. And your point is … ?
If the crossbow has a distinct advantage, it’s that it’s more accurate in the hands of more people. This means cleaner kills and fewer wounded deer. How can someone be opposed to those goals?
And that’s exactly why crossbows are great for the sport of bowhunting. More people — women, children, older folks, and people with major physical disabilities, or even minor ones, that make traditional or compound bows difficult to impossible to use — are perfect candidates for crossbow hunting. This translates into more hunters in the sport (and they will come), which is what the hunting world needs right now: more participation.
The Case for Crossbows
Refuting the arguments against crossbows doesn’t complete the case for them. Crossbows should be treated as archery equipment in the states that don’t yet allow their use in bow-only seasons. Here’s why:
—Crossbows allow broader participation in archery hunts.
More people can handle a crossbow than a traditional or compound bow. Crossbows expand who can bowhunt. Overall hunting license sales have been decreasing for the past decade, so this is a critical time to expand hunting participation. How could you be against more people participating in our sport? Don’t worry, they’re not going to overrun your hunting spot or shoot your deer. But you will be happy to have them on our side when we go under attack from anti-hunting organizations.
This is not the time to be excluding people from our sport.
Crossbows are perfect for getting children and teens involved in bowhunting. You’re not going to change how busy we keep children’s lives these days, so why not set up youngsters with a crossbow, which requires less practice time and consequently builds hunting opportunity?
Come to think of it, adults are mighty busy, too, and could benefit from the reduced practice commitment needed with a crossbow. Consider this statement from a new crossbow hunter: “I purchased a Mission MXB-360 and was amazed at the accuracy. I shot three bolts to get it sighted in for 20 yards. Then I moved to 30, 40 and 50 yards. Each shot was dead on.”
Maybe you’re in the prime of life, in your 20s and 30s, and don’t see the personal need for a crossbow. But wait until you pass through your 40s and into your 50s and 60s. You will not have the physical ability to shoot a traditional bow or compound as well. Every statistic and study on bowhunting participation recognizes a steep drop in participation as we age. It starts in our late 40s. It’s going to happen to you, too. If crossbows are legal in your state, you can keep hunting the archery season.
Of course, crossbows are good for disabled hunters. But even if you’re in good shape, sometimes you can’t quite handle a compound bow. This past spring, I crashed on a bike ride and dislocated my left elbow. That elbow might not be able to straighten out and hold a compound bow at bay yet this fall. You just don’t heal as fast at my age. The crossbow is the perfect solution to get me in the woods — if it were legal for bow seasons in the states I hunt.
— Crossbows produce precise bolt placement.
This results in quick, clean and humane kills. Yes, crossbows are more accurate than even a good compound bow, because the shooting process requires much less physical prowess. Crossbow shooting is much more like shooting a firearm. So what’s wrong with making better shots? Hunters of all ages and physical ability can appreciate this.
— Crossbows aren’t that much faster or more effective than the best compound bows.
Technology hasn’t ruined hunting yet. Today’s best compound bows are flinging arrows at speeds of up to 350 fps, with 400 fps surely on the way. A modern crossbow can zing a bolt out at about 350 fps. So where’s the difference?
Compound bow users should be the last people to object to crossbow use during archery season. It’s the pot calling the kettle black, and it’s being selfish — worrying about others killing game that you might have gotten. That’s just silly. You won’t have a crossbow hunter sitting next to you and dropping your deer before it closes maybe another 10 or 15 yards into the range of your compound.
— Crossbows are efficient hunting tools for suburban areas.
They can help control burgeoning deer herds. As human populations grow, and suburbia and exurbia expand, more of our deer hunting will be done near human habitation. Crossbows are a perfect additional tool — quiet, with limited but effective range — for hunting deer in these types of areas.
Should you hunt with a crossbow? That’s a personal decision everyone must make. It should be a personal freedom and choice. Wouldn’t it be nice to have the option during your state’s archery season?
If you live in a state where crossbows are legal for the regular bow season, maybe it’s time to give them a try. They’re accurate, fun to shoot and bring home venison. Crossbows don’t guarantee success, though. You still have to hunt hard and smart.
If you live where crossbows are not yet legal during the regular bow season, maybe it’s time to talk to your state game department and see what’s happening on the crossbow front. And if you want to create more challenge in gun season, or expand your hunting opportunity when you might not otherwise be in the woods, gear up with a crossbow during the gun season.
It’s time to embrace the crossbow. The compound bow didn’t ruin bowhunting. Quite the contrary, it expanded hunting opportunity and made our pastime more accessible to more people. Crossbows are doing the same thing. In this age, who can argue with that?