If I was asked to choose just one spot to hunt with a crossbow, it would be my back yard. But then again, the choice would be complicated by Idaho’s less-than-friendly crossbow regulations. If, however, I was forced to pick a state that allowed unhindered crossbow use during standard archery seasons, I’d start by picking one known for the biggest bucks—such as Kansas or Ohio—but that’s just me.
Every hunter has his or her own priorities. For some it’s about the biggest antlers, highest success rates, most readily available public lands and/or over-the-counter tags, liberal bag limits or varied species options. In the interest of compiling as objective a list as possible of the best crossbow states, we established a set of criteria to filter the appropriate data.
To help measure which states offer crossbow aficionados the best hunting opportunities, we devised a ranking system based on our assessment of six things: crossbow hunting regulations, season length, tag availability, number of available big game species, amount of public land and trophy quality. For each category, we awarded between one and five points, for a total score out of 30.
First and foremost, any state on our list must allow unrestricted crossbow use during regularly scheduled archery-only seasons which are open to all (no handicapped or geriatric-only rules, or hunting only during rifle seasons). Since we’re dealing with only 20 spots—there are 23 states that currently allow unrestricted use of crossbows during general archery-only seasons—this list contains nothing but five-star states allowing full-access crossbow hunting during archery-only seasons.
The second criteria we considered was generous season dates allowing months—not just weeks—of legal crossbow hunting. Again, every state on this list meets this criteria. Now, let’s move on to the factors that separate the best from the rest of the pack.
Third, we looked at states where obtaining tags is easiest. The fewer lottery drawings and non-resident restrictions, the better.
Fourth, each big game species offered in a particular state earned that state an additional point. Variety is the spice of life, so a state that offers mule deer, pronghorn antelope, black bear and elk on top of the standard whitetail and turkey fare is obviously more appealing.
Fifth, states with abundant public lands were heavily favored, since hunting isn’t so great when you’re on the outside looking in.
Last but certainly not least, we considered trophy quality. More specifically, we looked at each state’s standing as a trophy whitetail destination, since it is America’s most popular big game animal. An abundance of big bucks, based on Pope and Young record-book entries and recent data from the Quality Deer Management Association, earned bonus points. In the case of ties (of which there were many), more frequent record-book entries ultimately decided the state’s ranking.
So, without further ado, we present BOWHUNTING’s list of the best states for crossbow hunting in 2013.
- Season length: 5
Tag availability: 5
Number of species: 2
Public lands: 2
Trophy quality: 3
Delaware hosts a five-month deer season (Sep. 2–Jan. 31) and offers a liberal bag limit of four deer, plus bonus tags in selected regions. Traditionally, Delaware’s rich alluvial soils, mild winters and abundant agricultural bounty relinquish exceptional trophy quality, but hunting is complicated by private land access issues. The First State harbors an average of 2.5 bucks per square mile (Quality Deer Management Association data analysis), with Pope and Young bucks appearing at a .8 per thousand square mile rate (PTSM, QDMA data). The state ranks about 37 for P&Y entries. Tags are available over the counter for whitetail deer and turkey.