LAST UPDATED: May 1st, 2015
License sales for Wisconsin’s archery deer season are inching toward the record 266,573 sold in 2013, thanks to the state’s new crossbow license that took effect this year.
As of early November, the Department of Natural Resources reported nearly 262,000 licenses sold for use during the statewide archery season, which opened Sept. 13 and ends Jan. 4. The DNR will sell deer licenses through the season’s end, so totals won’t be final until then.
Sales of regular archery license for residents and nonresidents reached 170,138 by Nov. 2, down 48,993 from 2013’s final tally, roughly a 22 percent decline. However, the combined sales of resident, nonresident and mentored-hunter crossbow licenses (44,487); and a net increase of 835 in the combined sale of resident and nonresident patron licenses (47,365) pushed total archery-eligible license sales above 261,000 for the fifth time since the state created the nation’s first archery deer season in 1934.
In fact, if license sales stopped at 262,000, this year’s tally would rank fourth on archery season’s all-time list. All five of Wisconsin’s 261,000-plus sales seasons have occurred since 2008.
What’s impossible to pinpoint is where archery-license sales would be if Wisconsin hadn’t opened the bow-deer season to crossbows. On the surface, it appears about 45,000 people simply bought a crossbow license instead of the regular archery license this fall.
However, several factors complicate an analysis. For instance, about 8 percent of this year’s bowhunters (20,578) are licensed to use a crossbow or a regular “vertical” bow, which usually means a compound bow, but also includes traditional recurve bows and longbows. So far, 4,353 bowhunters with a crossbow license bought the state’s $3 “upgrade” so they can also use a vertical bow, while 16,225 bowhunters with an archery license bought the upgrade so they can also use a crossbow.
Further, interviews with three archery pro shops found that new crossbow customers include not only longtime bowhunters, but also bowhunting newcomers, or those returning to it after being sidelined in recent years. And although the archery pros pegged most crossbow customers as men in their late 40s and older, they also reported sizable numbers of women buying crossbows, as well as youngsters 10 and older who struggle to draw hunting-weight compound bows.
Crossbows have increased hunting opportunities in Wisconsin, but new users should inspect and lubricate strings and cables regularly to prevent wear and breakage.
Until this year, only those 65 and older or with doctor-certified physical limitations could use crossbows during Wisconsin’s archery season. The new law allows all archers 10 and older to use one.
No matter what a hunter’s age or motivation, the DNR views crossbows as a tool for boosting participation. “We’re hearing lots of positive feedback from customers who appreciate this new opportunity to hunt deer,” said Sawyer Briel, a DNR spokesman. “It’s a good thing for older hunters who want to bowhunt during a nice time of year, or to mentor kids and grandkids.”
Paul Schliepp, manager of Wausau Archery, agreed that crossbows are spurring wider participation. “Guys in their 40s and older are the majority, but more kids and women are coming in, too,” he said. “They especially like crossbows they can crank to cock. It makes things much easier.”
Crossbows that can be cocked with a crank are popular with women and youngsters, who might struggle to manually cock high-poundage models.
Schliepp also said crossbows are great for those who prefer ground blinds to tree stands. Wade Jeske, owner of Lena Swamp Archery in Oconto Falls, expects that preference to increase during December, because brutal weather makes it difficult to stay warm in tree stands and draw vertical bows with cold muscles.
“I expect even more people to choose crossbows once we reach the late season,” Jeske said. “Some people who could have shot an antlerless deer in September, October or November were holding out for a buck, but they’ll hunt antlerless deer in December.”
More bowhunters are expected to switch to crossbows for late-season hunting in Wisconsin’s cold climate.
The archery pros also said that they’re racking up strong crossbow sales, but many customers waited until early fall to buy. Compound-bow shooters typically buy new rigs before July and August because they require more practice to become proficient. Even so, Jeske said crossbow sales generated a 67 percent surge in overall sales from the same time in 2013. Elsewhere, Randy Smith, owner of Pappas’ Trading Post in Arena, said his overall sales remain about the same.
“We sold a lot more crossbows this year, but it hurt our sales of vertical bows,” Smith said. “I don’t know what the percentage is, but crossbow sales aren’t quite as profitable, and so our overall sales were about even.”
The retailers also report more crossbows coming in for repairs, probably because these “new toys” are still foreign to many people.
“The first Monday of the season we had 21 guys bring in crossbows for repairs,” Jeske said. “They’re buying crossbows from Internet sites and box stores that know little about them. Those places won’t service them, so they come here. The biggest problem is broken strings and cables. Crossbows aren’t like compounds. You can’t just rub wax on a fray and keep shooting. If you see string wear on a crossbow, don’t ignore it.”
Meanwhile, although fewer traditional archers express open dislike for crossbows, one archery pro – who didn’t want his name used – notices a humorous trait among crossbow customers.
“It seems nearly every guy who buys a crossbow tells you a story about why he’s buying it instead of a compound bow,” he said. “It’s almost like they feel guilty for buying one.”