Why I Switched To Crossbows
What I discovered about the challenges and versatility of crossbow hunting after decades as a vertical-bow hunter.
Note: Author Terry Madewell almost gave up hunting after developing neck and shoulder problems. Now that he uses a crossbow, he’s back in the archery game and loving it.
Bowhunting passions die hard. For many years I loved the challenge of hunting various big-game species with a compound bow. But shoulder and neck problems threatened to shut down my bow season. Not wanting to give up bowhunting altogether, I decided to try a crossbow. Happily, I can relate that the transition to using a crossbow was much easier than I’d thought it would be. And crossbow hunting has enabled me to maintain the same mental and physical engagement and enjoyment I had experienced through hunting with a vertical bow.
I had feared that the “up close and personal” aspect of bowhunting, which I’d always loved, would be lost, but in some ways it’s been enhanced.
My issues with continuing to hunt with the vertical bow were limiting physical issues, mostly from old injuries. The core problem was arm, shoulder and neck issues that made it impossible to effectively draw and hold, even with modern compound bows. I prefer to focus on positives when it comes to hunting, and I discovered to my surprise much of what I loved about bowhunting with a vertical bow has remained intact with the crossbow.
SPEED & ACCURACY
Crossbows offer several advantages. One major advantage is speed. My issue was the inability to pull and hold a vertical bow for extended periods with ample arrow speed.
I opted for the Barnett 410 Ghost model, which, based on arrow and broadhead weight, can deliver speeds over 400 feet per second. It’s a velocity I could have never achieved with a vertical bow even in my youthful prime. Velocity translates into flatter shooting and improved accuracy. The improved accuracy is not only measured by the ability to deliver an accurate shot, but also in being able to do so consistently in many different settings and setups.
The speed and accuracy result in a longer effective shooting range for me, but by my own choice not radically longer. Topography and cover can be limiting factors, but it’s an honest assessment to say I’m extremely comfortable with an additional 12-15 yards longer shot compared to my vertical bow. I practice even longer shots than my perceived maximum, ensuring that when the opportunity arrives it’s not a stretch on the confidence. And while longer shots are possible, I draw the line at a range where I feel totally comfortable with the shot. (See “Going The Distance,” page 26.) I don’t want to dilute the close-and-personal aspect. It’s one of the tangible benefits of bowhunting for me.Now when I’m hunting from stands formerly used for vertical-bow hunting, I trim less vegetation.
I actually limb out a narrower window of vegetation using a crossbow from a permanent stand because of accuracy confidence and bolt speed. A valuable byproduct of this is improved concealment.
Another major difference is that once I’m set up in the stand, no major movement is required, as it is in pulling a vertical bow to full draw. I use a crank assistance device to draw the crossbow, so a good aim and trigger pull are all that remain to take a shot.
Because I move less at the shot, and because of improved speed, consistent accuracy and ability to shoot effectively in tight openings, the crossbow enabled me to expand my deer hunting strategy to tactics I use for turkeys.
As a passionate turkey hunter,I’ve learned that stalking gobblers using calls to mimic natural turkey sounds is an excellent method to lure them close. The crossbow affords me the ability to expand the art of stalking and vocalization in the deer woods. With less movement and longer range with consistent accuracy, I can use natural cover for hunting setups more effectively than in the past.
Skirting bedding and feeding areas with the crossbow, setting up on the ground using natural cover and vocalization adds an exciting element to the hunt.
I’m willing to grant that hunters with elite woodsmanship and shooting skills can be successful with vertical bows. But that’s a relatively small segment of the hunting population. Crossbows open it up as a realistic option for hunters with the passion for it who simply needed a slightly different tool to be consistently successful.
I now stalk and hunt from the ground more often, expanding my options of locations to hunt. I employ deer vocalization as a primary tool when stalking and it seems more effective than when used from a static setting. It’s possibly due to making calls from various locations, thus mimicking natural deer movements through the woods.
I’m much less limited to just hunting from permanent stands. These stands are still effective. But I can learn new property better while still effectively hunting.
When using climbing stands with the crossbow, I don’t have to climb as high because less movement is required prior to the shot. Depending on the terrain and type of woods, a lower climbing stand elevation often affords better vision and fewer vegetation issues to work around when taking a shot. Crossbow hunting has opened windows of opportunity in new, deer-rich areas.
MAKE IT ACCESSIBLE
But I’ve learned from other hunters some significant advantages to using crossbows other than what I’ve experienced. Longtime friend and excellent vertical bowhunter Mike Kossover had two reasons he opted for a crossbow.
“I was diagnosed with a degenerative shoulder issue and I was having problems shooting my compound bow,” Kossover said. “I worried I was getting to the point I couldn’t practice enough to effectively hunt, so over the summer in 2016 I bought the crossbow.”
Kossover’s plan worked and he took a 140-plus-class Boone and Crockett buck that season with the crossbow. Even for temporary use, the crossbow was effective for Kossover. It’s changed his entire perspective regarding crossbows. The crossbow is now a fixture in his hunting scheme.
“The second reason I got a crossbow is some of the property I hunt is archery only,” he said. “I also wanted to be able to take both my sons, neither of which really got into shooting compound bows, so the crossbow was a way for me to take them hunting. Now both sons have taken deer with the crossbow and are discussing getting compounds.”
There are many options and tactics for stalking. Identify bedding, feeding and water areas and locate the nearest travel route between them. It’s a great location if it has adequate cover for deer to feel secure for movement. Set up in this prime corridor and use vocalization techniques.
Another option is hunting deer while they’re between feeding and bedding areas. Focus on the edge of the target area where they’re moving. Give each setup spot enough time to produce, or be patient and stay for a couple hours. Always set up near areas of heaviest travel sign such as trails, tracks and droppings.
As always, hunters must play the wind correctly, especially when hunting from the ground, using vocalization and at the close range required by bowhunting.
This takes “up close and personal” bowhunting to the next level.
RAISE THE BAR
The bottom line is this: hunting with a crossbow has enhanced my hunting experience by opening new pathways to pursue deer. In what began as a begrudged compensation for a physical issue, I’ve found extensive enjoyment and a new perspective of bowhunting. If I had known then what I know now, I would have long ago added crossbows to my repertoire of tools for hunting deer and other big game, even when using vertical bows.
This season, I’m planning to use the crossbow to take big game hunting to the next level with friends and family. For me, no greater endorsement of an outdoor product exists than for it to be one I’m eager to pass along to my grandkids.
Note: Originally published in 2018 Crossbow Revolution Magazine.