As a new contributor to Petersen’s BOWHUNTING, I am excited about this opportunity to pass along my knowledge and experiences to others. I have spent many, many years heavily involved with the outdoor sports. My years on competitive shooting ranges, my time hunting with a vertical bow and crossbow and my many hunting adventures using all types of firearms have given me a very eclectic background. I want to share my background, my first hunting experiences and how my interest in bowhunting — more specifically, crossbow hunting — got started.
I started hunting when I was 12. My first hunting experiences were terrific, and right from the start, I could not get enough time in the woods! I hunted with firearms and vertical bows throughout my youth. I still remember my first bow, a Bear recurve. I would attempt to shoot rabbits, squirrels and chipmunks. I had that bow with me every day for years, after school, all the time. My first compound was an old Pearson I still have. I hunted several years with it, unsuccessfully. I was the first bowhunter in my family, so I had to teach myself. I quickly realized I had a lot to learn about whitetails and how to get close to them. I read all I could on them and even did a school report on deer. My first bow harvest was a giant doe I shot with a Bear Grizzly compound. I believe I was about 15 at the time. The thing I remember most was I shot her at about 12 yards and she ran down the steepest ravine on the property! She weighed 170 pounds dressed. That was one heck of a drag — about a mile, with entrails still aboard — as the landowner didn’t want them field dressed on the property!
Despite some early success with gun and bow, my time hunting was always too short, and I yearned to spend more time at this great outdoor sport. To help quench that desire, as I got older, I got involved in competitive shooting events, and that became a vehicle to improve my hunting skills and fill the void between seasons.
Competitive shooting was a real eye opener for me. The need to pay attention to every detail became apparent early on. At the age of 20, I won my first major competition, the National Action Pistol Championship (Bianchi Cup), setting a course record in the process. That was a milestone for me. However, my competitive career at the Bianchi Cup had actually started the previous year — with a last-place finish!
My troubles that first year and my immersion into world-class level shooting made me aware of the need for more preparation. Preparation is the key to being a winner in competitive shooting. Even the most skilled marksman does not get anywhere at top-level events without a high level of preparation. This unwavering attention to detail in my preparation for competitive shooting events eventually translated into my hunting preparation. As a result of the disciplines learned in competitive shooting, I have become a dramatically better hunter, and I look forward to sharing some insights to help you do the same.
Even today, after winning more than 50 national and international shooting titles and being called the “best all-around shooter in the world,” I still find that competitive shooting is a great way to fill in the “hunting gaps” that take place during the calendar year. Although I have made my name in the outdoor community through firearms shooting, bowhunting has always been important to me and remains a treasured part of my outdoor experience. I have applied the same lessons learned as a competitive shooter to sharpen my archery skills, and I continue to appreciate the special challenges bowhunting offers.
About seven years ago, my home state of Pennsylvania instituted its first crossbow season in select management units. I decided to give it a try and quickly discovered crossbows are a fun hunting tool. I took my first whitetail buck with a crossbow that season! I really like to hunt with a crossbow when it’s cold; you don’t have to worry about getting too bulked up and not being able to draw. From a personal point of view, I like the trigger on the crossbow, because it’s similar to that of a firearm. And even though I still do the majority of my archery hunting with my vertical bow, I sometimes just enjoy the change of pace my crossbow offers, especially when my hectic competitive shooting schedule doesn’t allow as much time as I’d like to spend practicing with my vertical bow.
I also feel crossbows are a great entry tool into bowhunting for gun hunters, both young and old. The lack of any pull requirement and the ease with which the device works makes it fun for youngsters and keeps aging hunters in the archery game. This is something I have experienced firsthand with my own boys. I started all of my boys shooting vertical bows, like I did. But at their young ages, it’s hard to draw a 40-45 pound bow for hunting. My oldest, Zach, can do it, but Trevor and Bradley can’t. So, I’ve gotten them shooting crossbows as well, and they are able to get that in-close bowhunting experience with the opportunity to take a deer. Though they have not yet been successful in taking a deer, they love being out there with a chance to hunt. We are fortunate to be able to shoot in our back yard, and we frequently shoot the crossbows at our 3-D targets.
Many uninformed observers believe crossbows are essentially the same as a firearm. As one of the world’s most successful firearm shooters, I am here to tell you nothing could be further from the truth! The only real comparison is that firearms and crossbows both have a stock. The triggers aren’t much different in concept and operation than the trigger release I use on my vertical bow. The crossbow also has the same arrow drop as a vertical bow (maybe more), and the hunter still needs to know trajectory and yardage. The misconception is that you can sight in a crossbow at 20 or 30 yards and shoot flat out to 100 yards. That simply is not true.
In the months ahead, I hope this column will serve as a valuable source of reliable crossbow information and educate those who are seeking to learn more about them. I will be covering topics such as triggers, maximum range, bolts, broadheads and shooting techniques unique to crossbows. I also hope that you, the readers, send in your suggestions for topics you would like to see covered. The sky’s the limit, so I hope to hear from you