Best States for Crossbow Hunting in 2013

Best States for Crossbow Hunting in 2013

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.

1. Oklahoma

Season length: 5
Regulations: 5
Tag availability: 5
Number of species: 5
Public lands: 5
Trophy quality: 4
TOTAL: 29

The No. 1 spot goes to the Sooner State for many reasons. Affordable over-the-counter tags, long seasons (Oct. 1 — Jan. 15), generous bag limits (varies by region) and an interesting mix of game species all add up to a winning combination. The state also offers 1.6 million acres of WMAs and good trophy quality. In fact, 51 percent of the state'™s whitetail bucks are 3.5 years or better. Oklahoma hosts 1.7 deer per square mile, an incidence of .47 P&Y entries PTSM and a No. 17 overall ranking for P&Y whitetail entries. Oklahoma hunters can pursue whitetails and mule deer, black bears, pronghorn, turkeys and hogs (in certain regions).

2. Wyoming

Season length: 5
Regulations: 5
Tag availability: 3
Number of species: 5
Public lands: 5
Trophy quality: 5
TOTAL: 28

The Cowboy State'™s Wild West demeanor — boasting the lowest human population of any U.S. state — and wide variety of game species would make it an automatic no. 1 if it weren'™t for pesky lottery drawings and early deadlines required for obtaining hunting tags. Wyoming harbors the largest pronghorn population in the nation (more than all other states combined), plus seasons for whitetail and mule deer, elk, turkey, black bear, bighorn sheep, moose, mountain goat and mountain lion — and probably more. National Forest, BLM and state lands outnumber private ground, and bowhunters may hunt during established rifle seasons in addition to September archery-only dates. Up to three deer (one buck) may be taken in some areas.

3. Texas

Season length: 5
Regulations: 5
Tag availability: 5
Number of species: 5
Public lands: 2
Trophy quality: 5
TOTAL: 27

The Lone Star State isn'™t exactly DIY friendly, with the lowest incidence of public lands for a state of its size. Limited WMAs are available around the state, normally on a drawing basis (some odds even or assured). Texas is a land of deer leases, though reasonable daily trespass fees can often be arranged. The hassle is worth the effort, as 60 percent of Texas bucks are 3.5 years or older, buck populations stated at 5.8 bucks per square mile (QDMA), and the state grabs a solid no. 10 spot in overall P&Y whitetail production. The state is also home to mule deer, two subspecies of turkeys (Rio Grande and Eastern), javelina (year round in southern counties), abundant wild hogs, pronghorn, various exotics and alligators. September through early January deer season dates give you plenty of time to hunt.

4. Georgia

Season length: 5
Regulations: 5
Tag availability: 5
Number of species: 4
Public lands: 5
Trophy quality: 3
TOTAL: 27

Georgia maintains at least one Wildlife Management Area (WMA) within an hour'™s drive of every single Georgia resident — 90 hunt areas in all, totaling more than 1 million acres. Archery seasons include Sep. 14 to Oct. 11 archery (either sex), Oct. 12 to 18 primitive weapons (either sex) and extended archery season Jan. 2 to 31, in addition to regular firearms seasons. The bag limit is a generous 12 deer, no more than two of these antlered. The Peach State is also home to black bear, feral hogs (hunting permitted year round on private lands) and turkeys, and alligator under special regulations. The state supports 4.1 bucks per square mile (QDMA) and ranks no. 24 in P&Y whitetail entries.

5. Pennsylvania

Season length: 5
Regulations: 5
Tag availability: 5
Number of species: 3
Public lands: 5
Trophy quality: 4
TOTAL: 27

The Keystone State has gotten a bad rap in the past, the long-running joke being that Pennsylvania hosted more hunters than it had deer. Yet even with some quarter million licensed bowhunters, relatively recent antler point restrictions have resulted in 50 percent of harvested bucks are 2.5 years or older. Pennsylvania ranks a respectable no. 14 in P&Y record book entries, supports three bucks per square mile and 1.85 P&Y PTSM numbers (QDMA), which are aren'™t exactly statistics to thumb your nose at. Overall, Pennsylvania offers several million acres of State Game Lands, State Forest and State Parks, so finding a place to hunt is fairly easy. The Keystone State also offers good turkey and black bear hunting, with elk available on a lottery basis.

6. Ohio

Season length: 5
Regulations: 5
Tag availability: 5
Number of species: 2
Public lands: 4
Trophy quality: 5
TOTAL: 26

Ohio offers world class whitetail hunting on a working man'™s budget, including over-the-counter tags and high success rates. About 40 percent of the state'™s whitetail deer are taken by bowhunters, and three to four deer may be taken, depending on region. Excellent turkey hunting is also available. The Buckeye State hosts 2.1 bucks per square mile (QDMA) and ranks as a top-five state for P&Y entries, while also boasting 1.05 B&C and 3.50 P&Y PTSM (some of the highest in QDMA'™s analysis). The southeastern part of the state offers National Forests for DIY bowhunters, giving you plenty of room to roam.

7. Kansas

Season length: 5
Regulations: 5
Tag availability: 3
Number of species: 4
Public lands: 4
Trophy quality: 5
TOTAL: 26

Kansas deer managers recently made crossbows a legal part of archery-only seasons for the 2013, opening this trophy-whitetail Mecca to horizontal archers. Kansas tags remain coveted by serious bowhunters, a top trophy destination making any top 10 trophy list possible, including .52 B&C and 1.91 P&Y PTSM density (QDMA), ranked from No. 3 to 6 annually for P&Y production and No. 4 for all-time P&Y non-typical bucks and No. 6 for overall B&C entries. Tags are secured through deadline-dated lottery drawings, the only real drawback to the Sunflower State program, while productive public-access walk-in areas and WMAs are scattered across the state. Game species include whitetail, mule deer, turkeys and pronghorn.

8. Nebraska

Season length: 5
Regulations: 5
Tag availability: 5
Number of species: 3
Public lands: 3
Trophy quality: 5
TOTAL: 26

With one of the nation'™s lowest hunter densities and a long Sep. 15 to Dec. 31 deer season opened to bowhunting, the Cornhusker State is a great place to arrow a deer. More than 34 percent of Nebraska'™s whitetail bucks are 3 years or older. Deer populations are concentrated in riparian habitat or pockets of rougher prairie, but the state hosts a .79 PTSM incidence of P&Y bucks and ranks in the top 15 in overall P&Y record book entries. The state also supports abundant populations of mule deer, pronghorn, turkey and elk (available to residents only).

9. Michigan

Season length: 5
Regulations: 5
Tag availability: 5
Number of species: 3
Public lands: 5
Trophy quality: 3
TOTAL: 26

Michigan'™s Oct. 1 to Nov. 14 and Dec. 1 to Jan. 31 deer seasons provided bowhunters in the state with 46 percent success rates in 2012 — odds encouraging to even the beginning archer. The state is also home to nearly 20,000 black bears (mostly in the Upper Peninsula region), and ranks 6th in the nation for wild turkey harvest. The Great Lakes State also posts an impressive 3.6 bucks per square mile (QDMA) and .62 P&Y entries PTSM (QDMA), giving it a no. 7 spot in overall P&Y entries. Public lands are quite abundant, especially in the northern portion of the state.

10. Arkansas

Season length: 5
Regulations: 5
Tag availability: 5
Number of species: 3
Public lands: 5
Trophy quality: 3
TOTAL: 26

A five-month whitetail season, liberal bag limits and a state population of more than 1 million deer make Arkansas highly attractive to bowhunters. Better yet, Arkansas includes more than 280,000 acres of Natural Areas and WMAs, 350,000 acres of National Wildlife Refuges and two National Forest areas open to public hunting. The Delta Region gives up the state'™s best antlers, though statewide 67 percent of bucks harvested are 3.5 years or older (QDMA). Overall, the Natural State has 1.9 bucks per square mile (QDMA) and ranks no. 25 in overall P&Y whitetail listings, while also offering decent turkey and black bear hunting.

11. Indiana

Season length: 5
Regulations: 5
Tag availability: 5
Number of species: 2
Public lands: 3
Trophy quality: 5
TOTAL: 25

Crossbows have emerged as an important tool in helping Hoosier State deer managers bring deer numbers in check with available habitat. Thanks in part to these new regulations — as well as extended seasons — bowhunters took record numbers of deer in 2012. Indiana is home to quality whitetail deer and turkeys, hunters tagging about 4.3 bucks per square mile (QDMA), the state also relinquishing .85 Boone & Crockett bucks PTSM and 3.47 Pope & Young bucks PTSM (QDMA). Indiana also ranks in the top 10 for numbers of P&Y bucks recorded. Tags are purchased over the counter, seasons generous (Oct. 1 — Jan. 5), one buck and one doe may be taken (with additional antlerless tags available in selected counties), though public lands are somewhat limited.

12. Maryland

Season length: 5
Regulations: 5
Tag availability: 5
Number of species: 3
Public lands: 2
Trophy quality: 5
TOTAL: 25

Maryland is renowned for producing big whitetail bucks, offering bowhunters a crack at 3.8 bucks per square mile and posting 1.53 P&Y PTSM entries (QDMA), numbers resulting in a no. 12 spot in overall Pope and Young listings. Exotic sika deer are also found on 1,000-acre Taylor'™s Island and 20,000-plus-acre Fishing Bay WMAs, Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge, Worchester County and Assateague Island National Seashore. These are elusive little deer that provide archers the ultimate challenge. Turkey hunting can also be excellent. Sunday hunting is allowed only on private lands in selected counties and bowhunters may hunt during firearms seasons. Limited public lands complicate bowhunting the Old Line State.

13. New Jersey

Season length: 5
Regulations: 5
Tag availability: 5
Number of species: 2
Public lands: 5
Trophy quality: 3
TOTAL: 25

The Garden State offers more than 750,000 acres of public lands in the form of state, federal, county and municipal forests, state parks and wildlife management areas. Five of the state'™s best-scoring whitetail bucks have appeared in the past 7 years, testament to improving trophy quality as new management schemes take hold. The state also boasts 1.95 P&Y PTSM entries (QDMA) and ranks number 19 overall in P&Y entries. Exceptional wild turkey hunting is also available. Season dates include a Sep. 14 to Oct. 25 early archery season, Oct. 26 to Dec. 31 regular season, and Jan. 1 to Feb. 15 winter bow season. Bag limits and antler restrictions vary by zone. Tags are offered over the counter.

14. Virginia

Season length: 5
Regulations: 5
Tag availability: 5
Number of species: 3
Public lands: 4
Trophy quality: 3
TOTAL: 25

Virginia offers a generous October through January whitetail-deer season, with bowhunting-only success rates adding up to around 30 percent — good numbers anywhere deer are pursued with bow and arrows. However, only 7 percent of the state'™s deer harvest is collected by archers. The state hosts healthy populations of turkeys, as well as black bears in its western reaches. Old Dominion can brag of harboring 2.7 bucks per square mile (QDMA), while posting P&Y numbers of .19 bucks PTSM of habitat (QDMA) and ranking no. 21 in overall P&Y entries.

15. Mississippi

Season length: 5
Regulations: 5
Tag availability: 5
Number of species: 3
Public lands: 4
Trophy quality: 3
TOTAL: 25

Mississippi offers a lengthy Oct. 1 through Jan. 31 deer season and a large, healthy population of whitetail deer and wild turkeys. Intensive game management via antler restrictions has resulted in exceptional herd dynamics and an increasing presence of trophy bucks — 70 percent of bucks harvested in the state are 3.5-plus years old (according to QDMA data). The Magnolia State ranks number 23 in overall P&Y record book production. Tags are secured over the counter, public lands relatively abundant, with bonus wild hogs common in many areas.

16. Tennessee

Season length: 5
Regulations: 5
Tag availability: 5
Number of species: 3
Public lands: 4
Trophy quality: 3
TOTAL: 25

Tennessee has been on the upswing regarding whitetail deer trophy quality, with 60 percent of bucks aged 2.5 years or older and several Boone & Crockett bucks appearing in recent years (most from the Central Basin). The Volunteer State harbors 1.9 bucks per square mile (QDMA) and is responsible for supplying .17 P&Y bucks PTSM (QDMA), though it ranks only no. 28 in P&Y whitetail entries. The bag limit is three bucks annually during a September through January season. Tennessee also offers healthy populations of turkeys and black bears, with wild hogs present in some areas.

17. North Carolina

Season length: 5
Regulations: 5
Tag availability: 5
Number of species: 3
Public lands: 5
Trophy quality: 2
TOTAL: 25

North Carolina is a state with very liberal whitetail deer seasons and bag limits, with crossbow hunting allowed during archery-only seasons generally beginning in early September and running through early October or November (depending on region). Bowhunting is legal during the state'™s firearms seasons, taking the hunter all the way into January. The state also offers quality turkey hunting and some of the biggest-bodied black bears in the nation. Sunday hunting is now allowed on private lands, but not on the state'™s 2 million acres of public lands. North Piedmont foothills and the northwest corner of the state account for the biggest bucks. Overall Tar Heel bowhunters are privy to about .26 P&Y bucks PTSM and 1.9 bucks per square mile, and the state ranks no. 29 in P&Y listings.

18. Louisiana

Season length: 5
Regulations: 5
Tag availability: 5
Number of species: 4
Public lands: 4
Trophy quality: 2
TOTAL: 25

Louisiana has a lot to offer bowhunters, including ultra-long seasons (Sep. 15 — Feb. 15) with liberal bag limits (three bucks and three does per season) and mild winters. There'™s no limit imposed for feral hogs, which are generally abundant throughout the state. The state also offers top-notch turkey hunting and bowhunting for trophy alligator (guide required). Louisiana is also the only state where bowfishing is legally permitted for redfish. The state'™s best bucks come from river delta regions where soil is most fertile. Sixty-four percent of Pelican State bucks are 3.5 years or older, with 3.2 bucks per square mile and .14 P&Y bucks PTSM, making it no. 32 in P&Y record-book entries.

19. Alabama

Season length: 5
Regulations: 5
Tag availability: 5
Number of species: 3
Public lands: 4
Trophy quality: 2
TOTAL: 24

Alabama is known for abundant whitetail deer, generous bag limits and reasonable license fees. What might come as a surprise is '˜Bama also offers plenty of public lands for DIY bowhunters, including about 755,000 acres of WMAs (accessible for a $16.70 fee) and 420,000 acres of National Forest lands. Much of these public areas remain underutilized. Seasons kick off Oct. 15 and end Jan. 31, with a bag limit of two deer a day, and a total of three bucks per year allowed. Wild hogs and turkeys are also abundant in the Heart of Dixie, and over-the-counter tags are available. Alabama hunters are privy to 2.7 bucks per square mile (QDMA), though trophy quality isn'™t exceptional — the state posts .04 P&Y bucks per thousand square mile rate (PTSM) and ranks no. 27 overall in P&Y entries.

20. Delaware

Season length: 5
Regulations: 5
Tag availability: 5
Number of species: 2
Public lands: 2
Trophy quality: 3
TOTAL: 22

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.

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