By Bob Humphrey
Wounding rate — the number of animals hit by hunters but not recovered — is an important topic, particularly when bowhunting is being considered as a legitimate wildlife management tool.
Proposals for controlled hunts in urban areas or on public lands often bring strong sentiment from both pro-hunting and anti-hunting factions, and depending on the study or studies you cite, there seems to be sufficient evidence to support both sides of the argument.
For example, a Wisconsin study from 1958 found a bowhunting wounding rate of 10 percent, while in a 1963 New York study, it was a mere 7 percent. Later studies in Iowa and Michigan reported wounding rates of 17 percent and 12 percent, respectively. Conversely, studies from Georgia, Indiana, Michigan, New Jersey, South Dakota and Wisconsin reported wounding rates ranging from 30 percent to almost 60 percent. Why such a wide variation in findings?
One key reason for the disparate results among studies is a lack of standardized terminology. As a Technical Review by The Wildlife Society points out, terms such as crippling loss, crippling rate, wounding loss and wounding rate are often used interchangeably, though they aren’t clearly defined to mean the same thing. For example, most studies base wounding rate on the number of deer hit compared to those recovered. However, in some cases, reported hits were actually misses, and more detailed studies found some of the deer that were hit survived. Both examples inflate results. On the other hand, hits not reported, or reported as misses, deflated estimates. Further, much of the available data comes from hunter surveys, which can be loaded with bias. Removing Bias
A study at the Camp Ripley Military Reservation in Minnesota attempted to remove as much bias and haze as possible by incorporating detailed hunter interviews to determine the severity of the hit, as well as follow-up deer examination and aerial infrared scanning to locate unrecovered deer. They found an average wounding rate of 13 percent, which they considered as maximum, as it also included deer that were hit but survived.
Choice of weapon can also influence wounding rates. An Oklahoma study found a 50 percent wounding rate with traditional archery equipment (recurves and longbows). Biologists and wildlife managers seldom show a preference to one weapon or another. Their objective is to manage the population by allowing a certain number of individuals to be removed and, as they’ll tell you, “A dead deer is a dead deer, regardless of how it was killed.” However, they will sometimes show bias if one weapon represents a more efficient or effective way to meet their objectives. Prime examples include the aforementioned controlled hunts, as well as special hunts in places such as parks, arboretums and more developed areas where firearms discharge is unsafe, impractical or prohibited. It then becomes a question of whether one type of archery equipment offers a clear advantage.
A study at a Naval Support Facility in Maryland looked at deer wounding rates and shot accuracy of bowhunters using modern archery equipment in a managed hunting program. All bowhunters had to pass the International Bowhunter Education Program and an annual pre-season shooting proficiency test before hunting. They also had to submit daily reports after hunting. The average wounding rate from 1989–2006 was 18 percent, with no difference between compound bow and crossbow users. As a side note, hunters who harvested the most deer had the lowest wounding rate.
A 2014-2015 Ohio survey of bowhunter shooting and wounding rates found somewhat similar results. The overall shooting distance for hits was similar, with compound shooters averaging 22.6 yards compared to 22.4 yards for crossbows. The average miss was 31.6 yards for compound shooters and 31.1 yards for crossbows. Crossbow shooters demonstrated a higher accuracy rate of 73.6 percent, compared to 67.6 percent for compound shooters. They also showed a slight edge in recovery of deer they shot at, with 60 percent for crossbows and 56 percent for compounds. The overall wounding rate for compound, traditional and crossbow hunters was 18.5 percent, with traditional archers posting the highest wounding rate at 30 percent. Crossbows vs. Compounds
When considering all available data and trying to tease out variables and biases, it appears 18 percent is probably a fairly accurate average wounding rate among bowhunters as a whole. While most studies clearly show a difference between traditional and modern archery equipment, the Ohio study also seems to suggest there isn’t an appreciable difference between crossbows and compounds.
It ultimately boils down to the individual and how proficient he or she is with their chosen weapon. Several of the studies mentioned involved controlled hunts where hunters were required to take bowhunter education classes and demonstrate shooting proficiency. Both are sensible approaches, but not necessarily enough. A review of published literature by the Wildlife Society found shooting accuracy does not translate to hunting proficiency. That comes with experience. In terms of shot distance and accuracy, crossbow and compound shooters are about even.
That then leaves participation rate. Most recent statistics show the use of crossbows is rising for most demographics, but especially for younger and older bowhunters. As human development continues encroaching on wildlife habitat and deer become more accustomed to living among humans, the need for proficient bowhunters will continue to rise, and crossbow hunters can be a valuable asset in the ongoing effort to balance deer populations with societal and ecological considerations.