During the last session of the South Carolina General Assembly in 2008, state legislators approved a proposal that legalized the use of crossbows for deer hunting during archery season in the state of South Carolina.
For many years, crossbows had been legal for hunting deer, but only during firearms seasons, which garnered little interest from the general hunting public. As a result of the General Assembly meeting, the legal definition of "archery" was changed in the South Carolina regulations to include crossbows as archery equipment. For various reasons, crossbows had held a reputation for being a far superior weapon compared to vertical archery equipment and many hours and much effort was expended by members of the crossbow community to demonstrate that the reputation of crossbows, often thought of as only poacher's weapons with the range of firearms and the silence of vertical archery, wasn't justified.
Barb Terry of TenPoint Technologies, an industry leader in the manufacture of precision crossbows and designer of crossbow innovations, believes that deer hunting with a crossbow is every bit as challenging as using traditional archery gear.
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"We have done side by side comparisons between our crossbows and some of the industry leaders in vertical archery gear," said Terry. "In these tests, we have shown that crossbow arrows will drop faster than other arrows because they are generally shorter and heavier than those used with vertical archery."
Agreeing with other archery manufacturers, Terry recommends that hunters keep their hunting shots within 40 yards in order to make effective, ethical kills, especially with crossbows. She also claims that many gun hunters who've never tried any type of archery gear and buy a crossbow just to extend their deer seasons are in for a rude awakening.
"The close proximity required to kill a deer with a crossbow spooks a lot of gun hunters," she said. "Scent control is still paramount as well as playing the wind, estimating distances, and shot placement. A lot of hunters get discouraged because they think it's a far superior weapon. It's not as easy as it's made out to be. It's just one more way to get out in the woods and enjoy what we all enjoy doing."
Crossbow hunting has found a foot-hold in certain portions of South Carolina, owing in part that Game Zones 1, 2, 4, and 5 provided for segregated seasons when only archery equipment is permitted on private lands. Many public lands are also available with archery only restrictions. This allowed archers, both crossbow and vertical archers, to take to the woods on average two weeks ahead of gun hunters.
While this may seem like an "us and them" proposition, many deer hunters don't consider themselves one-weapon hunters. They enjoying two weeks of up close and personal hunting with archery tackle, then extending their range with firearms, either primitive or modern as the seasons dictate.
Although South Carolina does not designate any specific area as "crossbow only" since a crossbow is now legally defined as archery tackle, there are many areas across the state where archery-only hunting is permitted for a portion of the season and a couple of areas where archery is the only weapon permitted during the entirety of the season. It is in these areas that many deer hunters have come to embrace the crossbow.
Croft State Natural Area is a state owned park located in Spartanburg County. Croft encompasses nearly 7,000 acres on the outskirts of the city of Spartanburg and for many years was overpopulated with deer to the point they created a nuisance. Then, in 1997, an agreement was struck between DNR and state park agencies to allow archery-only draw hunts for deer on Croft land.
Gerald Moore is the SCDNR wildlife biologist who administrates these hunts for the Department.
"We have a lot of die-hard bow hunters who apply for the draw hunts at Croft," said Moore. "But we are seeing that the crossbow usage here is growing. After the Department redefined archery to include crossbows, I believe a lot of new hunters are looking into crossbows as a means to hunt deer. A crossbow seems to be easier to work with and once it's cocked, it's ready to fire without having to draw a bow on a deer once it's within range."
Moore said there was an overall decrease in the number of deer that were harvested on Croft last season — a result which tracks with harvest numbers for all methods of deer hunting across the state.
Of the combined 45 deer that were taken from Croft during the three 2-day hunts held last year, four of them were taken with crossbows out of an unspecified number of hunters who used the weapons. In comparison, 47 hunters during the 6 days of allowed hunting in 2009 registered a crossbow as their primary weapon and no specific harvest numbers were recorded for crossbows.
Accessibility to the Croft State Natural Area is better on average than most public game lands due to the nature trails and bicycle paths that traverse the landscape. All traffic is by foot or bicycle, which makes transporting a climbing stand a chore, especially for hunters on their way to some of the more remote areas of the expansive property.
The scheduled draw hunts for Croft State Natural Area this year are Sept 28-29, October 19-20, and November 2-3. Applications for draw hunts were available in July and may be closed by the publication date of this article. Questions regarding draw hunts should be directed to Patti Castine at the SCDNR office in Columbia at (803) 734-3886 or by e-mail at CastineP@dnr.sc.gov
One Upstate hunter who made the switch to crossbow hunting for deer from vertical archery also found that the crossbow excelled as a ground-based weapon, freeing him from having to transport a climbing stand or bulky ladder when he hunts on public lands within the Fant's Grove and Keowee WMAs in Oconee and Pickens Counties.
Bill Plumley is a retired Mitsubishi employee turned fishing guide who now resides in Townville. He recognized the potential of the vast acres of public land that were available in the vicinity of Lake Hartwell. When he's not guiding clients fishing, he's scouting and selecting ground blind sites
"When I decided to set up my fishing guide business on Lake Hartwell four years ago, I discovered all the land that surrounded the lake. Between Fant's Grove, the Keowee Unit, and all the Corps land, I figured there was nearly 15,000 acres right outside my door."
"Permanent stands are not allowed on these public lands and I wasn't keen on using climbing stands when hunting by myself," said Plumley, "so I taught myself how to hunt from the ground.
"Most archers wouldn't dream of hunting off the ground — it's tough enough to get that close to a deer and get drawn on him from high in a tree, much less a ground blind," he said. "Plus I like to hunt thick areas near clear cuts and on lake point ridges. A lot of these areas don't have substantial trees close enough to where I wanted to hunt. Hunting from the ground just seemed to make the most sense."
According to Plumley, hunting from the ground on public land and the use of a crossbow as a weapon just seemed to go hand-in-hand. Factoring in to that decision was that crossbows became legal for archery areas right about the time he retired.
"When the state legalized crossbows, I decided I would try one out," he said. "I've hunted with compound bows and long bows for 30 years and I've found it's just as challenging to hunt with a crossbow. The benefit for me is when I'm nose to nose on the ground with a deer; I don't have to draw right before I take a shot. I tell you it can be tough because you may have a consistent wind higher up, but down on the lake, the wind tends to swirl more. But I soon discovered that when hunting on the ground if the wind changed directions, I can relocate to a favorable spot in less than a minute."
Plumley spends a great deal of time during the off-season scouting and creating ground blinds in his hunting areas. His ground blinds are simple, requiring only a solid backstop to break up his outline and a few limbs to brush himself in. Most other hunters wouldn't recognize his blinds if they were standing in them.
"Shooting lanes are also important," he said. "I create two lanes for each blind, one main lane straight ahead and one to my left so I don't have to move to make a right handed shot. My shooting lanes are more like paths clear of shot-blocking limbs and vines rather than an obviously manicured lane. I build a blind at each end of the lane, so if the wind swaps, I can pick up my folding chair and move to the other end quickly."
Flat camo clothing didn't work very well for Plumley so he asked his wife, who the hunter claims can make anything he shows her in a catalog, to design a three dimensional ghillie suit. She even constructed a fleece backpack for her husband because he couldn't find one in the retail market quiet enough to suit him.
"It's a lot like playing Rambo," he said. "I'm on the ground but completely concealed, waiting for that deer to take one more step into my shooing lane. Most of the time, they never knew what hit them."
Last year's deer season opened on Fant's Grove and the Keowee WMA on October 15 and ran consecutively through December 22. This was a change from past years when the two areas opened and closed at different times. Season dates for all US Army Corps of Engineers land in Games Zones 1 and 2 opened on Oct 1 and September 15, respectively, during the 2010 season. This year's season dates were not available as of press time but can be obtained by consulting the SCDNR 2011 — 2012 Rules and Regulations booklet. For further information on seasons, limits, and regulations, visit the SCDNR website at www.dnr.sc.gov.
For deer hunters who are interested in hunting deer from the ground, a crossbow makes perfect sense simply for not having to draw the bow prior to taking the shot. Just like any other type of deer hunting, scout out food sources and locate travel corridors between feeding and protected bedding areas and position your stand accordingly. Hunting from the ground will require some advance scouting to determine appropriate hunting sites and shooting areas. Since all public lands within the state do not allow for the exclusive use of permanent stands, it's best to create your ground blinds for crossbow hunting from natural materials such as blown down trees or fallen limbs.
This season marks the fourth year that crossbows are included as permitted archery gear and public interest and gear availability has gone way up. Whether you are looking for a change in tactics or have always desired to hunt during archery season but never got the hang of traditional archery, crossbow hunting in South Carolina this season may be the way to go.