Love them, hate them or just not sure, whatever you think about crossbows, one thing is for certain, they are here to stay. And they may be coming to the woods near you. What was once an anomaly, a tool just for those hunters who couldn’t draw a standard recurve or compound bow, are now a common sight in at least 12 states. And if some wildlife managers get their way, they could be a common sight in dozens more as numerous states debate the merit of relaxing crossbow restrictions.
Not everyone is happy about the inclusion of crossbows in special bow seasons. Numerous state archery associations have fought them and the Pope & Young Club, which sets standards for bow-shot animals and keeps records of animals that meet those standards, does not recognize game killed with a crossbow. They went so far as to issue a statement in which the club “does not consider the crossbow to be a hunting bow and will not accept any trophies collected by crossbow hunters.”
Try one and you’ll see why. It’s no secret that crossbows take less practice and dedication than a compound or stick bow. Take one out of the box, #### it, drop an arrow, or bolt, into the groove, look through the scope and squeeze the trigger. If the scope was bore-sighted at the factory, there’s a good chance you’ll hit the bullseye on your first shot. If not, a few adjustments will put you on the mark.
They don’t require regular “tuning” or hours of pre-season practice. In fact, they don’t require much at all, which is exactly why traditionalists despise them. Scroll through any internet hunting forum and you will find thread after thread deriding crossbows and the hunters who use them. Most of that scorn comes from bow hunters who feel the addition of crossbows is a direct threat to their lifestyle and their deer. The Pope & Young Club also “considers crossbows a serious threat to the future of bow hunting,” according to a position statement, and recommends they be allowed only during general firearms seasons.
The fear of losing traditional bow hunters to crossbows seems to be turning into a reality. In Ohio, the first state to legalize crossbows for all deer seasons, the number of hunters who use crossbows now outnumber traditional bow hunters. They also kill more deer. But that’s exactly why some biologists want to increase their use. As deer herds continue to spiral out of control and hunter numbers continue to dwindle, wildlife managers struggle with effective methods for controlling those deer. In urban and suburban areas, crossbows may be the ticket.
They are not, however, any more effective than traditional archery equipment, at least not if you measure that effectiveness by overall hunter success rates. Crossbow and traditional bow hunters in Ohio had roughly equal success rates, said Mike Tonkovich, a wildlife research biologist with the Ohio Division of Wildlife. Although crossbows do shoot flatter and farther than standard archery equipment, he’s not sure why they share similar success rates.
What he does know is that the addition of crossbows is having another positive effect on Ohio and its deer hunting culture. A survey found that 80 percent of bow hunters 66 and over use crossbows. Similarly, a survey of Georgia hunters found that 31 percent of crossbow hunters had never used traditional archery equipment, meaning they were attracting new hunters into the woods.
“That’s a pretty good indication that the addition of crossbows during regular archery seasons is helping retain hunters in Ohio,” he said. “I’m also seeing more young hunters using crossbows, kids who might not be strong enough to draw a conventional bow yet. When I look at the big picture, I have a hard time finding anything bad to say about crossbows.”