Whether Illinois hunters like it or not, crossbows may soon be part of the state’s special archery season. A bill that would legalize crossbows for all hunters already passed the senate and is poised to sail through the house.
Based on a 2005 survey, few hunters, including Lynn Wilcox, want them. As president of the Illinois Bowhunters Society, Wilcox sees no good coming from the addition of crossbows in the archery season.
“Our biggest problem is access,” he said. “By allowing crossbows, we will see a tremendous influx of new hunters, well into the thousands, which will likely displace existing bow hunters. We just don’t have anywhere to put them.”
Is this fear irrational? Or are crossbows the salvation for declining participation and a decrease in license revenue?
FEWER VERTICAL BOW
Virginia, for example, sold 15,000 crossbow licenses in 2006, the first year they were legal for all hunting seasons. That number jumped to 27,459 in 2012, generating nearly a half-million dollars in revenue. But while Virginia hunters have flocked to crossbows, they have been abandoning vertical bows, validating fears by some industry insiders, including Wilcox, that the rising popularity of crossbows would hurt the compound bow industry. That fear may have some truth.
“We don’t know exactly how many hunters have moved from compound bows to crossbows, but looking at the license data, we can be pretty certain that it’s a substantial number,” says Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries deer project leader Matt Knox. “Part of that has to do with the aging population of hunters in general. Younger kids are more likely to start out with a crossbow, as well. I don’t know how many of them end up switching to a compound.”
Based on recent trends, the answer might be: Not many. Virginia hunters bought 54,000 regular archery licenses in 2006 but just 43,791 in 2012, a sharp downward trend that follows the rise in popularity of crossbows. But Knox said Virginia bow hunters were leaving the sport long before crossbows were legalized.
“They’ve definitely helped reverse a trend,” he added.
From a wildlife management perspective, what people hunt with is far less important than the fact that they continue to hunt. But as Knox said, anything that helps increase participation is better than the alternative.
“As participation declines and deer numbers increase, we will rely on hunters more than ever to help manage our deer herd,” said Knox. “We can’t do it without them. We need to use every tool we can.”