June 26, 2023
Crossbows have an interesting and lengthy history that dates back to the 4th century BC when Alexander the Great conquered Europe and Asia as part of his empire. The Chinese perfected the crossbow as a long-range weapon and eventually had an army with a formidable force of 50,000 crossbowmen.
Those crossbows were rudimentary but mass-produced and made of bronze. Fast forward to today, and the basic concept of limbs, string and bolts still holds true, albeit with a different look and feel.
In the Middle Ages, the crossbow was made of a short bow attached to a wooden stock. A groove guided the bolt, and a sear held the string in the cocked position with a trigger to launch it. The crossbow was so effective that it was outlawed for use in some places.
The longbow ultimately became the weapon of choice since it could be used to shoot a second projectile faster. But it didn’t have the same reach, and the arrows it launched were not as heavy, both of which are still valid when it comes to modern archery equipment.
Some historians believe the battle lines between crossbows and longbows created ill feelings that remain today, though it seems sad to think a medieval disagreement over tools and weapons could linger for centuries.
Although the crossbow has been around for more than a millennium, there were no major technological leaps in development, and the basic concept remained the same for much of its existence. In fact, it wasn’t until recently that research and development found new materials with which to build crossbow limbs. More importantly, crossbow manufacturers discovered new ways to generate more energy and transfer it without significant losses. Even more impressive is the consistency and accuracy of modern crossbows.
The modern crossbow revolution started about 40 years ago when Bill and Kath Trowbridge created Excalibur Crossbow. New patents were developed, machines were engineered to make parts, and recurve limbs were constructed of fiberglass for strength and endurance. The couple fought the odds, working to unify crossbow manufacturers to lobby for crossbow inclusion in hunting seasons and collectively have a positive voice for horizontal bows.
For its 40th anniversary this year, Excalibur released the Wolverine, a tribute to the first crossbow it ever produced. It took years, but the majority of states now allow crossbow use in archery seasons or other seasons.
Once they gained a foothold, crossbows grew in popularity and some four decades later, the research and development continue. No doubt, it’s a sign of the times when features are described as “Micro High-Output Express Limbs for increased durability and performance.”
Another crossbow manufacturer, TenPoint Crossbow Technologies, is also approaching a milestone, getting ready to celebrate its 30th anniversary next year. And, thanks to its various innovations, the company continues to be a positive influence in the market and for hunters.
TenPoint took a new approach to designing crossbows, using cables, strings, cams and composite stocks. The company was founded by Rick Bednar and his father, Bill, both of whom had deep roots in archery. The family ran an archery shop where they lived in Ohio, and they offered programs to get people involved in the sport. Bill was inducted into the Archery Hall of Fame for his efforts to get more people into archery, and Rick is an accomplished archer who received excellent coaching from dad.
Rick learned to shoot bows when he was five years old, and in a short time he was competing at the national level. He went on to win three national championships and also qualified for the U.S. Olympic team in 1976.
Why the history lesson? It shows the connection between the elite archery community and how it used knowledge and engineering to develop a new and better crossbow for the modern world.
Growth in Sales
As crossbow use increases, retailers are finding an unexpected financial win with horizontal bow sales. Plus, some Archery Trade Association (ATA) board members represent crossbow manufacturers, which strongly signals that horizontal bows are here to stay. The ATA even offers seminars to help retailers take advantage of the increased interest in and use of crossbows. Reports from the most recent ATA Show noted that 30-50 percent of archery retail sales in areas where crossbows are legal in archery seasons are thanks to crossbows and accessories. No matter how you look at it, increased sales in the archery world are good for all hunters.
They’re Here to Stay
Crossbows have forged a stronghold in modern archery and they make up one of the fastest-growing segments of the archery industry. These bows have been proven valuable for hunter recruitment because they introduce new people to bowhunting. The horizontal advantage also allows individuals with physical disabilities to archery hunt. In addition, aging hunters stay in the fraternity longer, giving all hunters hope for a long and successful run in our favorite passion.
Crossbows are a great tool to expose people of all ages to hunting, as the bows are quiet, easy to learn and less intimidating to some than firearms. In fact, organizations such as the National Deer Association regularly use crossbows to introduce newcomers who are mainly interested in learning to hunt for food.
The most significant change for modern crossbows is that hunters can now use them without needing an excuse such as old age or a physical ailment that prevents them from using a vertical bow — horizontal hunters can take their favorite tool into the field simply because they want to.
The Bottom Line
Crossbows have increased participation in the field by bringing in new hunters, rekindling the passion of the old and spurring others to get out more because they now have someone with whom to share the experience. Like all hunters, crossbow users purchase hunting licenses and equipment that support conservation, wildlife management and programs that benefit society as a whole.
Crossbows are great for individuals and the archery industry, and modern bows also play an important role in wildlife management. It may have taken centuries to change opinions on the crossbow, but their inclusion in the sport of hunting reflects modern times. And, the crossbow is no longer archaic — current designs come from innovative archery minds.
Whether you hunt with a vertical or horizontal bow, be proud to be a hunter. Celebrate your time afield and embrace the tools you use.
Hunting skills are developed over time or fast-tracked via mentors. I love crossbow hunting, and I do so because I enjoy it and find it rewarding. The time has come to stop making excuses for being a hunter and celebrate the fact that we have the opportunity, no matter our choice of engagement.