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The Great Crossbow Debate

by Justin Zarr 16. April 2012 13:44
Justin Zarr

Over the past several years, few topics have stirred more controversy in the bowhunting community than that of the legalization of crossbows.  From coast to coast, State wildlife agencies are weighing their options and proposing legislation that expands the use of crossbows during hunting seasons.  However, that new legislation is often met by fierce opposition from individuals as well as both national and State bowhunting organizations.  My question is, why all the hate?

Crossbows Aren’t Really Bows

Possibly the most common argument against the legalization of crossbows into archery seasons is that they, in fact, aren’t really bows at all.  Many anti-crossbow advocates claim that due to the nature of their appearance, in that they have a stock and trigger mechanism and are not drawn and held by hand, that crossbows are more like a firearm than a traditional bow.  I must admit, this particular argument has always given me reason to laugh.  I suppose the inclusion of the word “bow” in the word “crossbow” isn’t quite good enough for some people, so let’s delve a bit deeper.

As defined in Webster’s Dictionary, a firearm is “a weapon from which a projectile can be discharged by an explosion caused by igniting gunpowder”.  The last time I checked, crossbows did not use gunpowder or any other exploding substance to fire a projectile.

When looking up the definition of the word “bow” in the same Dictionary you will find “a weapon for shooting arrows, consisting of an arch of flexible wood, plastic, metal, etc bent by a string fastened at each end”.  This definition certainly seems more applicable to modern crossbows, which use bowed limbs and a string to fire an arrow, don’t you think?

String and arrow?  Check.  Gunpowder?  Negative.

Many State and local bowhunting organizations who are opposed to crossbow use often define the word “bow” for their own internal purposes.  In doing so, many clearly state that a bow is only a bow when it is hand drawn and hand held.  Despite how these groups seek to define the word for their own agendas, the definition of this word in the English language poses no restrictions on the method by which the string is drawn or held.

Historic crossbows, dating back as far as 400 B.C. look about as much like today's modern crossbows as modern compounds look like historic longbows.

Another comparison made between crossbows and firearms is their effective hunting range.  Many anti-crossbow advocates claim that modern crossbows can be used to shoot 200 or even 300 yards.  Clearly these people are misinformed.  In fact, most modern crossbows have an effective hunting range of 30-40 yards for most shooters, which is about the same as a modern compound bow.

Remember, we’re talking about bow HUNTING here.  While the method by which the arrow is fired may differ, it does not detract from the fact that you need to put yourself within shooting distance of your quarry before you can be successful.  While a crossbow can make the execution of the shot easier, it is by no means a guarantee of success.  There are plenty of crossbow hunters out there who have eaten tag soup and can attest to that.

Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf?

Moving on from the bow versus firearm debate, the next most common arguments against crossbows all seem to originate from two things; fear and selfishness.  A quick search on the Internet for articles and comments about crossbows and crossbow hunting turns up a myriad of unfounded fears and accusations.  Fear that allowing crossbows in archery seasons will ruin our bowhunting heritage, shorten our seasons, destroy our wildlife populations, and cause our woods to be overrun by unsafe hunters.  It seems to me that the only thing we should be afraid of is our own ignorance.

Let us first take a look at some of the numbers behind the great crossbow debate.  When discussing the expansion of crossbow hunting, many of those who are opposed often rely on potential figures rather than actual numbers.  In my opinion, this is not only irresponsible but also only works when you are attempting to gain supporters through fear and ignorance.  Consider Pennsylvania as an example.

In 2009 crossbows were made legal for use during all archery seasons in the Keystone State.  Prior to this legislation passing, there was much controversy over the potential effects to the State’s deer population and harvest numbers.  Representatives of the United Bowhunters of Pennsylvania went on record saying they expected as many as 200,000 new bowhunters to enter the woods over the next three seasons should the new crossbow legislation pass.  This, as intended, sent thousands of bowhunters across the state into an uproar and threw gasoline on the proverbial fire.

Crossbows?  Not in OUR archery season!

A year later, after the smoke had cleared and hunting seasons had ended, Pennsylvania issued a report that there was indeed an increase in archery license sales in the 2009 season.  However, the increase was just over 15,000 new license sales, not 200,000.  In fact, 2009 archery license sales in Pennsylvania were only 401 more than nearly a decade earlier in 2001.  In 2010 archery license sales increased by just over 3,000 and in 2011 archery license sales rose by another 8,277 units.  These past three years of increases have stimulated Pensylvania’s archery license sales, which had been in decline prior to the legalization of crossbows.  To date, there has been a 9.75% increase in the amount of licenses sold since the crossbow legislation was passed.  This increase is a far cry from the 74% growth predicted by the UBP.

The Pope & Young Club, one of the oldest and most well respect bowhunting groups in the world, has taken a clear stance against crossbow use in archery seasons.  According to their website: “the Pope and Young Club considers the use of crossbows during bowhunting seasons to be a serious threat to the future of bowhunting.”   Apparently their view on crossbows is as antiquated and backwards as their scoring system. 

Despite the addition of 15,000 more archery hunters in the 2009 season, overall harvest numbers in Pennsylvania fell by nearly 27,000 total deer that year.  In 2010 the total deer harvest climbed back to 316,000, which was still shy of 2008’s pre-crossbow number of 335,000 and well below Pennsylvania’s peak deer harvest of 517,000 whitetails in 2002.  Clearly, the legalization of crossbows during archery season has had little to no effect on overall deer harvest across the State. 

Not to single out Pennsylvania as the only state to provide evidence that crossbows don’t cause massive spikes in hunter participation or harvest numbers, let’s take a look at Ohio.  The Buckeye state has allowed crossbows as a legal weapon for hunting since 1976.  Surely more than three decades of data should be able to give us an insight into the true effect of crossbows in archery seasons, no?

Going back to 2005, crossbow hunters accounted for 16% of Ohio’s whitetail deer harvest that fall.  During the same year, traditional bow hunters (those using “vertical” bows) accounted for just over 12% of the total harvest.   In 2010 crossbow hunters had grown to account for 18% of Ohio’s deer harvest, while vertical bowhunters accounted for just over 17%.  What this means for those of you keeping score at home, is that over a 6 year period from 2005 to 2010 the crossbow harvest of Ohio whitetails grew by just over 2 %, while the vertical bow harvest grew by more than 5%.  While there is no doubt that both segments are continuing to grow each year, the number of deer being harvested with vertical bows is actually growing at a faster pace than those taken with crossbows. 

Despite the legal use of crossbows during archery season in Ohio their whitetail population is flourishing.  In 2009 more than 260,000 whitetails were harvested in Ohio which was a new all-time record, set 33 years after the legalization of crossbows.  Although the recorded whitetail harvest has dropped to just 219,000 whitetails from the 2011/2012 season, most people attribute this to new regulations which no longer require you to check your deer in at a check station, but instead provide the option to do it over the phone or online.
As the saying goes, the numbers don’t lie.  In states where crossbows are 100% legal during archery season, we have seen no evidence of a drop in overall deer numbers or an unmanageable increase in hunter numbers.  So why all the worry?

Each year Ohio produces a considerable number of trophy whitetails
such as this, despite the legalized use of crossbows in archery season
for over 30 years.

Unfortunately hunters are a selfish lot; especially bowhunters.  Despite our extended seasons and liberal bag limits, it never seems to be good enough to satisfy our needs.  We want more deer to hunt, bigger deer to hunt, and more land all to ourselves to do it on.  In my opinion, these are three of the primary reasons people oppose crossbow hunting, but are too afraid to admit.  After all, it’s easier to spread false claims and fear monger than it is to admit you’re selfish person, isn’t it?

Let’s take a look at the hypocrisy around the fear of too many hunters in the woods.   Many groups, like the UBP, fear that there will be an increase in the amount of crossbow hunters in the woods during “their” archery season.  This of course increases hunter pressure on the whitetail population and decreases the amount of land per hunter, making it more difficult to harvest an animal.  None of this has anything to do with proper management of the whitetail population or concern for the health of the herd as a whole, but rather concern for the individual’s own chances for success. 

Where it becomes hypocritical is when many of these anti-crossbow advocates claim to be worried about the alleged decline of hunters and future of hunting as a whole.  Their goals and mission statements are to help fight anti-hunting and grow the sport of bowhunting – so long as you conform to their rules and their way of thinking.  If you don’t, well then I guess growing hunter numbers isn’t really that important after all.

The Eye of the Beholder

The final topic I want to cover, and one that I feel very passionate about, is the claim that crossbows diminish the experience and heritage of bowhunting.  I’ve found that this particular topic is often most difficult to debate, as there are no facts or figures to support either side.  However, that fact in itself should be enough to prove how ignorant this belief is.

Everyone hunts for their own reasons.  Whether you take to the woods with a longbow, compound, crossbow, rifle or shotgun, you do so for your own reasons.  Some do it for the solitude of a cold morning in a treestand, while others do it for the camaraderie of deer camp.  Some do it for the thrill and challenge of stalking their quarry at eye level, while others do it to put meat on the table for their family.  Whatever our reasons are for hunting, they are ours alone.  Nobody can tell us how to feel or what type of experience we should have depending on the weapon in our hand.  Those who seek to tell us that the quality of our experiences should be dictated by their beliefs are sadly misguided.

While my weapon of choice remains the compund bow, my love for hunting and the outdoors extends far beyond the weapon I carry into the field.

For me, my experience is directly related to the sense of pride and accomplishment I feel after harvesting an animal with archery equipment.  My bow is an extension of who I am as a hunter and I will hunt with a compound bow so long as I am physically able.  That is who I am, and those are my ideals.  I do not force them on others, nor do I judge those who don’t share them with me.  Instead, I offer my support and encouragement to any hunter who enters the woods, regardless of which manner weapon they chose.

I strongly encourage everyone that reads this who does not support the use of crossbows during archery seasons to reconsider their beliefs.  We may all choose different paths, but in the end they all lead to the same place.

Turkey Triumph

by Daniel James Hendricks 28. November 2011 15:03
Daniel James Hendricks


 Hunting during the full moon sucks!  The past four days of pursuit the rough and tumble landscapes of south central Missouri had given credence to that fact.  We were hunting with Jim and Darlene Wilson of Ozark Mountain Outfitters and the dire circumstances were aided and abetted by a bumper crop of acorns and weather that was just a shade too warm.  None of our hunters were seeing big bucks, although a yearling buck and a couple of does had been taken.  One of our hunters had taken a turkey, but in general the hunting was very poor.


  I had passed on a doe the first morning that had grazed within fifty yards and than a flock of turkeys that had come as close as thirty yards.  In both incidences I was not comfortable taking such long shots.  Although the crossbow I was using, a Parker Hornet Extreme, had preformed faultlessly on the range by slamming arrows into the bull's-eye on every shot all the way out to fifty yards, shooting at a living target was a little bit more serious. 

  On Thursday morning, I watched as a yearling buck wandered down the trail and passed the ladderstand I occupied.  All that befell the unsuspecting creature was being shot with a digital camera a hundred times.  By the time Friday rolled around, I was getting antsy and impatient wanting to put the Hornet into action just to see how it would perform while taking live game. 

 I was dropped off well before daylight at a little food plot surrounded by heavy timber.  As dawn arrived from the east, it overpowered the fleeing darkness and blossomed into full daylight.  The morning passed quickly as I sat atop my perch wondering if I would even get a chance to shoot this fine crossbow that patiently rested in my lap waiting to be called upon to do its thing. 

 Several hours into the day, I caught movement on the far side of the food plot.   A flock of turkeys emerged from the heavy cover of the underbrush and slowly worked their way around the far edge of the clearing.  I had ranged the large pine tree at the opposite end of the field at 50 yards.  Too far to shoot, especially at a turkey considering how small the vitals are, so all I could do is hope that the birds would move down the field giving me a closer target. 

  The flock, numbering about twenty birds, worked its way to the other side of the plot and them moved back again.  It seemed pretty obvious that they were not about to cross the food plot and as birds began to be swallowed up by the same brush that had burped them out earlier, I realized that my opportunity was about to dissolve into goose eggs.  I thought about our experience on the range.  The Hornet was right on the money at fifty yards from a bench rest.  This particular ladderstand had a rail that went all the way around it that would provide me with a stable shooting rest.  

 I knew that the big pine which was now surrounded by feeding turkeys was exactly fifty yards so the distance of the shot was more or less locked in.  This was the last day of the hunt and I was running out of time.  I was using a Lumen-Arrows tipped with a Grim Reaper broadhead so there was no lack of confidence in my projectile.  I reasoned is the worse that could happen was that I would miss and would have to eat a little humble pie and take a bit of good natured kidding about my marksmanship.  I made my decision, I would take the shot.

  As I moved bring my head and scope together, one of the birds went into fencepost mode.  You turkey-hunters know what I mean.  That’s when the bird stands at perfect attention, straight as an arrow and still as a rock while it studies you carefully with that incredible vision that is possessed by the wild turkey.  And when it did that I moved the crosshairs to the hen’s chest thinking that position just took care of my up and down variances.  Now it was just a matter of getting my left to right exact.

  I steadied the Hornet on the rail and placed the smallest circle of the scope on the birds chest and slowly squeezed the trigger of the bow.  The release came as a surprise, launching the arrow into the crisp morning air.  The Lumenok lit into a fiery red leaving a trail as it arched over the little food plot completely disappearing into the dark copper chest of the clueless bird.  The hapless creature dropping to the ground like a feather covered bag of dirty laundry. 

 Birds exploded in every direction as I quickly recocked the crossbow and loaded another arrow, but the only remaining sign of turkeys was their excited chatter from the thick brush as the said things like, “Did you see that shot?”; and “That was unbeleiveable!  We’re never going to be safe around here if he doesn’t go home!”;  and “Poor old Mable, he caught her looking!”.  I am not entirely sure about the translations, but I think I am pretty close. 

 Bottom line is that the arrow entered the bird severing its spine from a distance of 52 yards.  My first turkey with a crossbow with a shot that only could only make me smile.  Thanks to great bow, arrow and broadhead combination, along with a stand that provided a steady rest I was able to make a perfect shot.  It is amazing what one can accomplish when he has topshelf equipment and a bird that cooperates by standing fencepost style.



     CROSSBOW:  Parker Hornet Extreme

     ARROW:  20” Lumen-Arrows

     BROADHEAD: 100 Grain Grim Reaper

     OPTICS: Alpen Pro 8 x 42 Binoculars & Model 119-10x32 Monocular

     RANGEFINDER: Bushnell Yardage Pro

     CAMERA:  Sony DSC-H50

     TARGET: Rinehart 18 to 1

Bye, Bye Birdie!

HBM Hunt Club Report: 2011 Antelope Roundup

by Daniel James Hendricks 28. November 2011 14:17
Daniel James Hendricks


As sure as the last days of August signal the dusk of summer, they usher in the breaking dawn of the fall hunting season.  And of course the hors d'oeuvre of the fall hunting buffet is Pronghorn Antelope.  Now Douglas, Wyoming is the historical birth place of the Jackalope, but, in my humble opinion, it is also the Pronghorn Capitol of the world.  There may be better places, but I have yet to see one and I would require a pile of documentation to make me think otherwise.  For the second consecutive year the HBM gang gathered at Douglas to do our part at thinning out the flourishing goat herds of SW Wyoming.  Last year there were but three of us; this year our ranks swelled to sixteen.  And for five days we romped and stomped creating memories that none of us are likely to forget.

Our host for this year’s adventure was George LeBar of the LeBar Ranch and his Gamekeeper, Mike Judd.  The LeBar Ranch is a mere 65,000 acres and is covered up with antelope, mule deer and a hundred other species of wildlife.  The only sparse feature on the LeBar Ranch is trees and that characteristic exposes the vast Wyoming sky for exactly what it is…knockout gorgeous.  The billowing cloudscapes and brilliantly colored sunrises and sunsets were inspiring, especially to a country boy from Minnesota where most of the sky is hidden from view by a thick wall of green forest.  On the eve of the hunt, we gathered at the Kimbal Headquarters which served as the team’s gathering spot, providing our campers with running water, a shower and electricity for emergency uses; and also with a great location for processing our game and sharing the camaraderie that is so very important to an HBM gathering.  

The ranch catered a huge feast of wonderful food to feed our hunters as they were introduced to George LeBar and his mother, Victoria; as well as Mike’s wife Kristi, his mother, Lois and his son, Skeeter.   Final registration was taken care of and the hunters were shown to the blinds that they would be using the following day.  Spirits were high and all were excited to begin the hunt.
Young Nick McElwee was the first to score with a short 85-yard chip shot made with his vertical bow, a feat that was held in awe and perhaps ever some disbelief by the elder crossbow hunters in the group.  Once Nick broke the ice, goats began to fall everywhere. 

We had a total of 15 hunters on the LeBar Ranch and one other member who was hunting on a neighboring ranch and to properly tell all of the stories would require a novel akin to War and Peace.  Some of the shenanigans of the week-long adventure have been permanently filed away under the label of What happens in Wyoming, stays in Wyoming.  Suffice it to say that a good time was had by all and memories were made a mile a minute.   At the end of the week every license was filled but one; and that hunter has to resign because of the pain and discomfort of sitting for long periods of time.  I had purchased an extra doe tag and filled that along with my buck tag so technically one could say that we went 16 for 16.

 Ron Williams, a veteran hunter in the HBM Hunt Club, donated a dozen of his beautiful handcrafted crossbow arrows as the prize for the person that shot the largest antelope.  As luck would have it, Ron shot the largest antelope, but then presented the arrows to Gene Strei, who shot the second biggest goat.  Thanks Ron, you are indeed one of the great ones.  Our entire team would like to thank our host, George LeBar, his sparkling mother; Victoria and the ranch staff.  We wish to especially thank the LeBar Ranch Gamekeeper, Mike Judd along with his family for the exceptional service, the kind consideration and the wonderful conversations shared during the down times of the hunt.  Mike went out of his way to see to our needs and to make sure that we got the most out of our visit to the ranch and for that we are very grateful; thank you, Sir.  

We are going to do it again next year and the twelve spots are already being spoken for.  If you want to join us in 2012, give us a call at 320-634-3660 to get you name on the list.  You won’t be sorry.




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