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Don't Hate the Crossbow

Demonized archery tool actually has hand in increasing hunter numbers

Don't Hate the Crossbow
Don't Hate the Crossbow

Crossbows are currently enduring what compound bows battled years ago; claims that their use will decimate deer herds and ruin the "sport" of archery. The same goes for 60 percent let-offs. The old stick-and-string was simply becoming unrecognizable to the elitists and purists of archery, and they didn't like it.

They dug in their heels and whined and moaned about the impending deer population apocalypse that compound bows would bring. Well, 60 percent let-offs are here, compound bows are the norm and guess what: deer hunting has never been better. Period.

What's even more interesting is that participation in hunting and the outdoors is up 9 percent from 2010-2011, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's latest national survey.

Merle Shepard, a past president of Safari Club International, is a board member of the Congressional Sportsman's Foundation who works with the crossbow industry in regards of market expansion. He's also an avid vertical bow hunter.

Click image to see how to accessorize a crossbow

"I've never killed an animal with a crossbow, but they represent one of the best tools for recruiting young hunters today," he said. "As far as getting more hunters into the field, I'm not saying that it's all because of crossbows, but they're definitely contributed to that."

Why? Because they're more user-friendly than vertical bows and present fewer challenges, namely drawing the arrow back with an animal in range.

"I challenge anyone to take and 8- or 10-year-old kid out into the woods, give him a compound bow and see if he can effectively harvest a deer. I bet the majority of them can't," Shepard said. "In Ohio, where nearly 60 percent of the archers are crossbow hunters and crossbows have been legal for about 30 years, these kids shoot a crossbow when they're young, then when they turn 14 or 15, the vast majority of them go to vertical bows. Then, in their mid-40s they go back to crossbows. Plus, if they're not in the woods in their mid-40s, neither are their kids."

Shepard says the bottom line on crossbows is very simple: At no point in time have crossbows ever negatively affected deer populations. Ohio is one of the states that has had crossbows the longest, and they have some of the most and biggest deer in North America.

Furthermore, vertical bow hunters and crossbow hunters experience very similar levels of success.

"Success rates between the two are usually within 3 or 4 percent," Shepard said. "Most recently in Michigan, crossbow hunters had 44 percent success and vertical hunters had 40 percent success. Management practices were to blame for poor deer numbers in years past, and they're to be credited for the resurgence we've been seeing since the 1980s.

"A lot of the arguments you hear against crossbows are very passionate, but there is little to no science to back them up."


Phil Bednar, Director of Marketing at TenPoint Crossbows, spoke of the stigma that horizontal bows are enduring, as well as what he and his company are doing to buck it.

"The negative talk toward crossbows has been here as long as crossbows have been around, but fortunately, we're hearing less and less of it," Bednar said. "Those guys will never go away, but we're not trying to change their minds or argue with them. We just make a product that we hope will get more people in the woods. 

"We support all legal means of hunting, be it with a recurve bow, rifle, compound or crossbow. We just want to see the sport grow."

Bednar also wasn't surprised to see that hunter success rates among vertical and horizontal bow users is very similar.

"We've done some testing and found that crossbows and vertical bows have very similar arrow flight characteristics and effective ranges," he said. "But, it's true you don't have to draw on an animal and a crossbow takes less practice, but these are all things that can make a first-timer's experience unsuccessful.

"Like I said, we're not out to change people's minds or long-held beliefs about crossbows. The best we can do is to get them to shoot one of our bows, see what it's all about and learn that you still have to be proficient with it to be effective," Bednar said.

Feel free to scoff and call me a hack if you like, but I'm pretty darn fond of horizontal bows. Plus, I bet I can shoot my crossbow every bit as well as an archer who has been shooting for years, and so can a novice. 

No hunter -- vertical archer or otherwise -- can argue with a good, clean kill, and a crossbow makes a humane kill easier for a novice. After all, who wouldn't want that youngster to make that first shot at an animal which would inspire him to hunt for decades?

David Hunter Jones is a hopelessly addicted hunter from central Alabama who allows the DNR (in collaboration with his wife) to set his vacation time. When he's not in the woods, he's chasing all manner of scaly critters. And, yes, "Hunter" is his real middle name.

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