Making the Move from Rifle to Crossbow

Fate’s whimsy introduced me to the crossbow.

Last November I was a guest at the Hixon Land and Cattle Ranch near Catulla, Texas, invited by Steve Hall, Hunter Education Coordinator for the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, to participate in the 2015 IHEA-USA Heritage Hunt. Shooting a crossbow was one of the activities at the ranch. The crossbow appealed to me because it was accurate and loading it did not aggravate my back pain.

By Michael G. Sabbeth

tenpoint_outdoor_05TenPoint Crossbows offered me a Stealth FX4 crossbow for testing and hunting. Testing a crossbow on inanimate targets is within my expertise; I have been doing so with rifles and shotguns for years. Hunting with a crossbow, however, presents mental and ethical challenges different from those in my hunting experiences.

Crossbows: Prepare the Mind to Prepare to Hunt
Proper mechanics and technique are as critical with a crossbow as with any hunting platform. I am confident I can achieve a high skill level quickly; probably more quickly than with a vertical bow. But that’s the easy part of rifle-to-bow transition. Beyond technical competence, when progressing from technique to mental toughness the transition becomes more difficult.

My longest rifle shot was 328 yards, a one-shot kill on a mouflon sheep in Croatia. The animal became, for that moment, an abstraction; a silhouette against rock and dirt. The sheep’s awareness of me was, at best, attenuated; a whiff of scent but no more. Physical proximity creates an intimacy different from rifle hunting; an intimacy that has physiological consequences and unique mental demands. My research indicates the average distance of a bow hunt shot is about 25 yards. The entire animal is close; it’s totality as a living creature is inescapable. The hunter watches it breathe; sees its hide undulate from muscle movement; often the hunter can see the animal’s eye or eyes. The sound of its breathing may descend on the hunter like a blanket.

I will approach the forthcoming challenges through studied anticipation of them and by visualizing the critical hunting moments, the way a dedicated athlete visualizes catching a ball or making a perfect golf putt. The toughest course, elite golfers proclaim, is the six inches or so between the ears. For the hunter, the same course exists but is infinitely more demanding and vexing, for the morality and self-control that determine life and death, suffering or not suffering, drench the hunter’s mind and dictate its actions.

I anticipate my heart rate increasing to a jackhammer pitch; a battle for muscle and breath control advancing like a tank division. I may lose focus, mental and visual, as I absorb the breadth of the moment, for the animal’s proximity will pervade the air with a tension that long range hunting denies.

Technology presents a paradox that has an ethical dimension, a phenomenon not unique to crossbows. However, perhaps more so with a crossbow than a vertical bow, the twenty-to-thirty-yard shot may seem seductively easy to make. Yet, as the two-faced Roman deity, Janus, who looks to the future and the past, reminds us, that ‘easy’ shot may be deceiving, enticing a shot that should not be taken.

I must sharpen my skills to previously unnecessary degrees to stalk an animal to within bow hunting range. As I see events unfold in my mind’s eye, I sense to the core of my being this is no video game from Cabela’s to be mastered from my couch. Harry Potter isn’t guiding that arrow. I am. Crossbow hunting is up close and personal. By thorough preparation I will successfully meet the challenges.

Michael G. Sabbeth is a hunter, lawyer and author in Denver, Col.

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