Mapping Progress: The State of Crossbow Hunting in America

Mapping Progress: The State of Crossbow Hunting in America
Photo courtesy of Parker Bows

Despite push-back from traditionalists, crossbow hunting in America is on the increase.

By Al Raychard

The revolution that has allowed hundreds of thousands more crossbow hunters into the woods continues to grow.

While the number of new markets opened in the last year has not been as expansive as it was in 2014, when a handful of states allowed crossbows in archery season, we still saw thousands of hunters given the privilege to use a hunting tool that includes a crossbow.

[caption id="attachment_86867" align="aligncenter" width="648"]crossbow hunting in america Map showing crossbow hunting laws in the Lower 48. (Click to enlarge)[/caption]

Vermont opened the door to crossbow use for hunters 50 years of age and older during any season open to bow and arrow, and Missouri started allowing crossbows during archery deer and turkey seasons, as well as the fall firearms turkey season for all hunters.

On the downside, in January of this year North Dakota did not pass a bill that would have allowed hunters 65 years of age and older to use crossbows during any archery season. Proponents promise to keep on trying, and until then crossbows remain legal during deer gun, youth deer and muzzleloader seasons. 

And, as this is written, the legislature is seriously considering revamping the current crossbow regulations in New York. Among other things, if adopted, the new legislation would classify crossbows as archery equipment and require crossbow hunters to purchase the bow privilege rather than the current muzzleloader requirement.

crossbow hunting in america

It would also eliminate the 200-pound maximum draw and 17-inch minimum width restrictions. Plus, it would allow crossbow use during all archery seasons except for the restrictive archery areas of Suffolk and Westchester counties and around Albany and Rochester. Check crossbowrevolution.com for updates.

Illinois had a bill pass its House that would allow crossbows in archery season. Currently crossbows are allowed after the second gun season in December. But, at press time, the bill still had to pass the Senate and get the governor's signature first. 

When you look at all 50 states, crossbows have full inclusion in gun seasons in 26 states now, and are legal during archery and firearms seasons, in some way, in 23 other states.

Oregon remains the lone holdout; crossbows are still illegal to hunt with there. In most of the restrictive states, the powers that be are taking a cautious let's-wait-and-see approach or are pressured by well-represented "traditional" archery groups for non-inclusion, like we just saw in North Dakota.

But pressures are mounting and legislation is introduced in many states in almost every legislative session for a more open-door policy. States realize they are missing out on a new revenue source and are seeing the negative effects predicted from inclusion are not materializing in other states. Slowly but surely it will come, but it is important for pro-crossbow individuals and groups to keep hounding their elected officials to examine the issue.

But one thing is certain. Based on crossbow license sales in states that require them and crossbow harvest figures and other available data in states with full or partial inclusion or during firearms seasons, crossbows are definitely here to stay. In a nutshell, crossbows are more popular than ever and by all indications are becoming more so. Here's what we mean.

crossbow hunting in america

Crossbow Stats

During Vermont's 2016 archery season 1,110 deer were reported killed with a crossbow, according to the state's Deer Project leader.

"That represents 32 percent of our total archery harvest, up from 14 percent in 2015, when crossbows could only be used by hunters with a disability permit," said Nick Fortin. That suggests there was a greater percentage of hunters over 50 buying archery licenses and actually hunting in 2016 than in 2015, which is one of the reasons the regulation was changed.

Crossbow hunters took 30 percent of all archery deer in Missouri last year. It was the first year that crossbows were allowed during archery season there.

In Missouri, archery hunters checked in 47,550 deer in 2016. Of that total, 14,336 were taken with a crossbow, a very respectable take for the first year crossbows were allowed during the archery season. Of the 2,304 turkeys taken, under the archery method 853 were taken with a crossbow. Who would have expected that 30 percent of all turkeys would fall to a crossbow arrow!

In 2015, West Virginia hunters got their taste of crossbow hunting. Bow and crossbow hunters checked 32,540 deer that year, 46 percent more than in 2014. That huge increase was largely fueled by hunters switching to crossbows. They contributed 37 percent of the 2015 total, according to Chris Ryan of the state's DNR. The overall archery take was down about 11 percent in 2016, but the number taken by crossbow hunters increased to more than 40 percent of the total. 

Since 2008, numerous states have opened their doors to crossbows with similar results. Pennsylvania first allowed crossbows in archery deer and bear seasons in 2009 with certain provisions and a sunset review provision in 2012. Crossbows now have full inclusion during all bear and deer archery and rifle seasons and pre-2012 provisions have been removed.

In 2012 resident archery license sales totaled 297,031 but have increased to 326,870 in 2015, and non-resident archery sales have increased from 12,283 to 13,604, with the major difference being the 37,000 hunters using crossbows. The sales of both resident and non-resident bear licenses have also increased.


CROSSBOWS BY THE NUMBERS

  • 27Number of states that now allow crossbows during archery deer season.
  • 13Number of states that allow crossbows during archery season with major restrictions.
  • 7: Number of states that allow crossbows only in firearms season exclusively. 
  • 1: Number of states (Oregon) that classify crossbows as illegal hunting equipment.  


Michigan first allowed crossbows during archery season for hunters 50 years of age and older in 2009. A free crossbow stamp was required, and that year 19 percent of Michigan's archers used crossbows. In 2010 the age restriction and stamp requirement were eliminated, and the following year the percentage using crossbows had increased to 37 percent, or just over 118,573. In 2015 the percentage increased to over 55 percent, or roughly 150,000.

Across the border and Lake Michigan, Wisconsin legalized crossbows during a concurrent archery/crossbow season in 2014. The season this year starts September 16 and ends January 7, 2018, except in Metro-Sub Units, when it ends January 31. Wisconsin hunters can purchase an archery authority or crossbow authority license and a $3 upgrade allowing the use of both.

That first year 47,449 crossbow authority licenses and upgrades were sold, according to the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources. In 2015 the number that allowed crossbow use jumped to 131,623, the highest on record. In 2016 crossbows accounted for 39,776 deer, again the highest on record, up from 34,094 in 2015 and 26,891 in 2014.

Crossbow Interest

Indeed, interest in hunting with crossbows seems to be higher now than ever.

According to a nationwide survey conducted by the Archery Trade Association, some 18.2 million Americans participated in archery or bowhunting. Of that number 5.5 million, or 29 percent, used crossbows, according to the data released four years ago.

In another survey, crossbow products were 30 percent of all bow products in 2012. By 2014, that number was 38 percent.

As more states offer full inclusion down the road and hunters age and young hunters discover crossbows and enter the game, these numbers are bound to increase.

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