Going the Distance with Extended-Reach Crossbows

The age-old question — Shoot or don’t shoot? — should always be in the forefront of hunters’ minds.

Are crossbow companies shooting themselves in the foot by promoting their products as long-range capable?

In January 2018, Wyoming’s Game and Fish Commission met to discuss amending the state’s current regulations, which allow crossbows during general archery seasons.


By most accounts, the current law has worked as designed. After all, if allowing crossbows increases hunter participation, especially among young hunters, the elderly, handicapped and women, how could it not be beneficial?

It seemed Wyoming’s crossbow hunters were humming along without major incident until mid-2017, when the Mission Company (owned by archery juggernaut Mathews) did what it does best: Mission engineers pushed the technology envelope, creating a crossbow that promised rifle-like accuracy. As its name and marketing message suggests, the “SUB-1” touts sub-1-inch-group accuracy at 100 yards. The archery industry stood up and took notice — and apparently so did Wyoming.

Wyoming’s Game and Fish Commission felt compelled to re-examine its regulations, citing potential unfair advancement in technology that could alter its seasonal harvest and wounding-loss rates. Interestingly, at their meeting, crossbows weren’t the only new “technology” examined and discussed. On the agenda were cellphone-based trail cameras, air bows and “smart rifles.” In the previous year, Wyoming outlawed drones for hunting after the same review process.


The fact is, when Wyoming made crossbows legal for general archery seasons, crossbows were considered “50-yard weapons,” defined as “Short Range Elusion of Harvest” tools by the state. If crossbows were now 100-plus-yards capable (in essence, doubling their effective range), some in power were now postulating they should be regulated like rifles.

The meeting ended with an order for further exploration and fact gathering on archery hunting statistics, harvest data and wounding-loss percentages and for obtaining public input. So Wyoming hasn’t changed its crossbow regulations at the time of this writing, but it’s possible crossbows (and/or certain engineering advancements such as magnified optics) may only be legal for rifle seasons as soon as 2019.

Whatever Wyoming decides, the situation begs the question: Are crossbow companies shooting themselves in the foot by promoting their products as long-range capable?


THE CASE AGAINST LONG-RANGE HUNTING

Most hunters realize why long-range archery hunting is a bad idea. In a nutshell, an arrow shot by an average 350-fps crossbow begins shedding velocity (and energy) the moment it takes flight. It takes a 400-grain arrow approximately 1 second to reach a target 100 yards away. One second is ample time for a deer to move or the wind to swirl, thereby resulting in a miss or, worse yet, a wounded animal.

Additionally, the presence of a mere 5-mph crosswind at 100 yards can cause the arrow to drift several feet left or right. Combine these variables with awkward real-world shooting positions, hunters’ nerves and skill, and unseen objects in the flight path, and it’s easy to see how a 100-yard shot can quickly become a fiasco.

An arrow is not a bullet, which travels more than two-and-a-half times the speed of sound. Given that, there are simply too many variables out of the hunter’s control to ensure a high rate of success when an arrow is delivered at long ranges. A mortally wounded animal that is not recovered does not produce revenue for conservation, nor does it produce offspring for the future of its species, and no meat is stored away in the freezer.

To be clear, this writer, this publication and the hunting community at large are not the hunting police. Conversely, most hunters believe that various means and methods of hunting should not be banned outright. A more effective solution is for hunters to educate themselves and others about practices that could negatively impact the overall sport of hunting, as well as its public perception. This is an internal debate hunters should have before state agencies pass knee-jerk restrictions that could negatively impact our hunting future. After all, personal ethics are best left to the person — not to the state.

Meanwhile, sporting goods companies will continue to unearth every marketing angle to sell more products that make hunting easier. For instance, at the time of this writing, Ravin Crossbows’ first sentence on its website reads: “A good rifle can consistently punch holes in 3-inch bull’s-eyes at 100 yards. A great crossbow can too.”

In my tests, Mission’s Sub-1 recorded 2.85-inch groups outdoors at 100 yards, with broadheads. While not “sub-1-inch,” it’s amazingly accurate, and good enough to nail bull’s-eyes on my controlled practice range. This kind of advanced engineering should be celebrated and encouraged — but that doesn’t mean hunters must take advantage of it. Besides, why cast blame on new technology when it is ultimately hunters who control the trigger?

LASTING IMPRESSIONS

The reality is this: some compound-bow hunters can punch targets at 100 yards with stunning consistency. These archers spend countless hours on the range in pursuit of shooting perfection. They know their equipment intimately, and they know their equipment’s limitations as well as they know their own. We all should do the same, regardless of the bow or firearm chosen.

Indeed, being a responsible hunter means realizing your own limitations. Because if we don’t police ourselves, bureaucrats will do it for us. Game animals are valuable natural resources that we should respect. Quite simply, if you can get closer before shooting, do so. After all, isn’t getting close the reason we bow hunt?

Note: Originally published in 2018 Crossbow Revolution Magazine.

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