April 09, 2021
As states continue to liberalize crossbow regulations, more folks are picking them up and taking them afield during deer season.
This year will be no exception as several states, including Maine, are offering new crossbow-hunting opportunities. The majority of folks taking advantage of them are firearms hunters looking to increase their time afield or just to try something new, but they’re not the only ones. There are other motivations for picking up a crossbow this fall, ranging from the obvious to some you may not have considered.
Recruit & Retain
Let’s pick the low-hanging fruit first: recruitment and retention. Crossbows are a great way to introduce youngsters to archery hunting. With so many distractions such as smartphones and social media, it’s increasingly difficult to attract young hunters, and it’s important their early experiences in the sport are positive if we want to retain them. They need a tool they can learn to shoot quickly and easily, and they need to experience some degree of success, all of which are more likely with a crossbow.
Most youngsters begin hunting with firearms, but some may opt for a bow right away, or early in their hunting career. Every kid is different, and some may be able to master a compound at a young age. Most, however, would be better served starting with a crossbow, and studies from Ohio and other states have shown a fair degree of transition from crossbows to compounds as young hunters gain strength, confidence and experience.
There’s a similar but opposite trend at the other end of the spectrum. I’m at that age where increasingly more of my peers are coming to terms with a perceived end to their bowhunting career. Joints fail, and as those endless radio and TV ads keep reminding us, lower testosterone levels make it much more difficult to build and maintain muscle mass. Crossbows provide a means by which once able-bodied archers can continue experiencing the early-season solitude and up-close interaction bowhunters prefer.
Then there are those incapable of drawing a bow because of some physical limitation. It could be a disability they’ve had since birth or something that resulted from an accident or injury. Fortunately, many states allowed at least some of them to use crossbows long before the recent, more inclusive trend. Others have been more restrictive but are now loosening up. Either way, crossbows provide a means to bowhunting for those who would otherwise be excluded.
Even those physically capable of handling a compound may see some advantages to crossbows under certain conditions. We enjoy the aforementioned early-season hunts when temperatures are mild and comfortable, but late-season conditions can be a different story. Sitting for long hours in bone-chilling cold makes your muscles stiff and weak. Those 70 pounds you could draw with ease back in October suddenly feel more like 140. Heavy, insulated clothes, mittens and face coverings also make it more difficult to draw, hold and find your proper anchor point. Not so with a crossbow.
When it gets colder, or when the situation dictates, you might find it more effective (and comfortable) to be in a ground blind or a shooting house than perched in an exposed lock-on or ladder stand. Some have enough height and width to draw a compound within, but many don’t. A crossbow is far more maneuverable in tight quarters.
A relatively recent trend among some crossbow makers is boastful claims of long-range accuracy. They’re not untruthful or misleading, though they could be the latter to those not familiar with the functional limitations of archery equipment. Study after study has shown the trajectory and effective range of crossbows and compounds to be quite similar under ordinary hunting conditions. Those lofty claims of 100-yard accuracy are based on shooting on the range under controlled circumstances.
However, a crossbow shooter could gain some advantage by creating more controlled circumstances. A couple examples are the aforementioned shooting houses and ladder stands. A solid shooting rest could provide a steadier shot and therefore increase your effective range.
One of the biggest drawbacks to compounds (no pun intended), and the reason most bowhunters ply their avocation from elevated platforms, is the need to draw, anchor and release when game is close at hand. The crossbow is cocked and ready to shoot, which could be a considerable advantage when hunting at ground level. A good ghillie suit or makeshift natural blind might be all you need to produce a close-range shot opportunity.
This also means more mobility. If the deer are moving just out of range, you don’t have to climb down, move over, then climb back up another tree. You can simply stand up, walk over and sit down. You can also cover a lot more ground, still-hunting along until you find a decent ambush spot, waiting a while, then moving on to another spot.
The above are just a few motivations for trying a crossbow; there are plenty of others. In the final analysis, the weapon you choose to take afield during deer season is just that — a personal choice — and we should not judge or condemn anyone for it.
I’m predominantly a bowhunter, but when our Maine firearms season opens, I hang up the bow and switch to my trusty .308. And thanks to a change in hunting laws, I’ll have a month in between our early bow season and our November firearms season this year when I can use a crossbow if I so choose, which I probably will. Then, after rifle season, I’ll pick up the compound again to finish off the late bow season.
Tip of the Month: Crossbows allow bowhunters more mobility, and two or three hunters could carry out an effective still-hunt drive. Position one hunter as you would in a conventional deer drive, then have the others still-hunt and stop along pre-planned routes, going stealthily enough to nudge deer into moving without panicking them.