Crossbows Make Presence Known in Wisconsin

Wisconsin’s first crossbow season for white-tailed deer helped generate a record archery buck kill of 46,201 and a record 275,417 licensed bow hunters in 2014.

Of that buck kill, regular archers accounted for 30,433 (66 percent) and crossbow hunters 15,768 (34 percent).

Man Holding Crossbow

A record number of Wisconsin’s deer hunters bought archery licenses in 2014.

Even so, the combined kill of bucks and antler-less deer with archery gear fell 7 percent from 2013 (87,628) to 81,701, ranking it 14th in Wisconsin’s deer hunting history. That’s because the 2014 antlerless archery kill was 35,500, a 23 percent decline from 46,111 in 2013, ranking it 17th all-time. The 2014 archery antlerless kill was also the first time since 2002 that it fell below 41,700, and only the second time it fell below that mark since 1998.

And although the 2014 archery buck kill set a record, it wasn’t by much. The previous record was 45,988 in 2012, or 213 fewer bucks. The archery buck kill exceeded 45,000 two other times: 45,562 in 1999 and 45,498 in 2003.

In case you’re wondering, Wisconsin’s combined firearms/archery deer kill also declined in 2014, falling 11 percent to 304,289 from 2013 (342,631).

Bucks made up 56.5 percent of the 2014 archery kill, accounting for 59 percent of the crossbow kill and 55.5 percent of the regular bow kill. In comparison, bucks made up 44 percent (97,196) of the firearms kill (222,588). Further, the combined gun/archery buck kill in 2014 was 143,397, of which 68 percent was by gun-hunters

Crossbow Father Son

Data from Wisconsin’s 2014 archery season indicates that crossbows might extend the average hunter’s “career” by a decade.

And here’s a head-scratcher the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources can’t explain: The crossbow kill in the state’s “northern forest” region was 4,446, nearly equal the kill in the “southern farmland” region, 4,676. Meanwhile, among regular archers, the northern-forest kill (5,160) was roughly a third of the southern farmland kill (14,723). For firearms hunters, the northern forest produced 26,629 deer, a little more than half as much as the southern farmland (50,360).

DNR license data also show the combined 2014 sales of firearms and archery deer licenses declined by 17,150, or 2 percent, despite the crossbow boost. The decrease was largely in gun licenses, where sales plunged nearly 25,000 (4 percent) to 609,779 from 2013, the lowest figure since 1976, when the DNR sold 589,590 gun licenses. Think about that: For the first time in nearly four decades, Wisconsin’s gun-license sales nearly sank below 600,000.

Meanwhile, the record archery-license sales marked the fifth straight year this category increased in the Badger State. After setting the previous record, 266,435 in 2008, archery licenses slid to 254,014 in 2010 before increasing steadily to 266,380 in 2013, and then rising by 9,037 (3.4 percent) to the 2014 record.

Man with Crossbow in woods

Beginning in 2014, hunters of all ages could hunt with crossbows, but the mean age of crossbow hunters was 52; 14 years older than bowhunters using regular archery gear.

Although 2014 was the first year hunters of all ages could hunt with crossbows in Wisconsin, roughly 17 percent of bowhunters used a crossbow in previous seasons. Crossbows could be used by anyone 65 and older, or those issued a disabled-hunter permit. However, the DNR had no way to track how many deer crossbow hunters killed until 2014.

A DNR analysis of the inaugural crossbow season found some data worth monitoring. In no particular order:

  • 71 percent of first-time hunters buying a crossbow license were not yet 18.
  • The mean age for crossbow hunters was 52, while the mean age for regular bowhunters was 38.

Veteran researcher Brian Dhuey in the DNR’s wildlife bureau said the age data for license buyers suggests crossbows might be most effective at retaining hunters. “That first year suggests crossbow hunting might add 10 to 12 years onto the average bowhunter’s career,” Dhuey said. “It will be interesting to see if that continues.”

  • Of the 649,131 individual hunters who bought a deer license of some sort (firearms, archery or crossbow), 108,765 (17 percent) were licensed to hunt with crossbows. This included 42,788 who bought a crossbow license, 18,416 who bought an archery license and a $3 crossbow “upgrade,” and 47,561 who bought a conservation patron license.
  • Only 7,930 hunters bought just the crossbow license, which was 7.3 percent of crossbow-license holders and 3 percent of all licensed archers.
  • Of the crossbow-only archers, 36 percent bought an archery license in 2013; but 32 percent bought no deer license in 2013, 20 percent bought gun and archery licenses in 2013, and 10 percent had not bought a deer license for nine or more years.
  • Although females accounted for 11 percent of all license purchases, they favor archery gear, and are more likely to buy a license that restricts them to one weapon type than a combination of bow and gun types. Females, for instance, accounted for :
    • 18 percent of crossbow-only licenses;
    • 16 percent of regular-archery only licenses;
    • 17 percent of crossbow and regular-archery licenses;
    • 14 percent of gun-only licenses;
    • 7 percent of gun and crossbow licenses;
    • 6 percent of gun and regular-archery licenses;
    • 4 percent of gun, crossbow and regular-archery licenses.
  • 27 percent of hunters who bought gun and crossbow licenses in 2014 hunted only with a gun in 2013.
  • 67 percent of hunters who bought gun and crossbow licenses in 2014 hunted with a gun and archery gear in 2013.

Given 2014’s big mixed bag of data on license sales and deer-kill data, it’s tough to predict how crossbows will affect Wisconsin deer hunting and license-buying trends this autumn and in future seasons.


All that’s certain is that crossbows are here to stay in Wisconsin.

Patrick Durkin

Patrick Durkin

President at Wisconsin Outdoor Communicators Association
Patrick Durkin is a lifelong bowhunter and full-time freelance outdoor writer/editor who lives in Waupaca, Wisconsin. He has covered hunting, fishing and outdoor issues since 1983. His work appears regularly in national hunting publications, and his weekly outdoors column has appeared regularly in over 20 Wisconsin newspapers since 1984.
Patrick Durkin


  1. Tim Schnuckel says:

    It makes me sick when the dnr and seasoned hunters, by that I mean the”old” guys that have been hunting for decades (I’m 36 hunting 4 years), talk about things like crossbows , crossbow data, bonus tags,etc. Anything that makes it even easier yet to kill a deer (something I have yet to do). Everyone gets excited about getting a crossbow, getting their bonus tags (one guy I know gets 2 before the season even starts!!). And these are the same guys that kick and scream when they don’t see any deer. After the hours of videos I’ve watched, and dozens of articles ive read. The Wisconsin deer can’t and I fear won’t survive the onslaught of technology and greedy hunters. For my part I fear my kids will never know deer hunting, and I myself if I’m lucky that is,might get one,, maybe. Hey dnr how will you make your precious money without the deer!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    • You’re 36 and have never killed a deer… those facts kinda speak for themselves that you don’t have a damn clue what you’re talking about. The only thing that could plausibly wipe out the deer to the rediculous extent that you’re inferring is disease, plague, or famin.

  2. Did I mean it to the extent of deer will literally become extinct…no I did not Ryan learn to read the entire paragraph you dumbass. before you go on here and start talking s*** because you live somewhere where you spit in any direction and hit a god damn deer. I hunt harder and longer than anyone I know I’m not saying I never see dear but if I’m lucky I see 2 or 3 a year,, maybe

    • Oh so you’re just butt hurt that you suck at hunting…. my mistake. Sounds like you should be all about crossbows. And in all sincerety I wasn’t trying to offend you but I am correct. If you’ve only been hunting 4 years, never killed one, and maybe see 2 or 3 a year…. it means you don’t know what you’re doing out there… You basically have the hunting skills most of us had by the time we were 14 yrs old. I applaud you for trying so late in the game to take up the sport but getting on here and hating on something as remedial as crossbows is not (I promise you) going to help your cause.

  3. not trying to offend, skills of a teenager? look obviously I’m dealing with someone who hunts somewhere that it’s like shooting fish in a barrel. Tell me what f****** amount of skill does that take. stop wasting my time and not that you need it good luck be safe have a fun season.

    • Well actually… It took years and years of trial and error to earn the experience to where my hunting is as you say “like shooting fish in a barrel”. Yes, I can go out and know that my odds of “seeing” deer is 99%. My odds of getting “shots” on deer is 50%. And my odds of getting shots on mature bucks is less than 10%. If you’re not even seeing deer then either you’re blind, you’re spooking them beforehand, or the places you’re hunting are absolute wastelands… and given the fact that you have only 4 seasons of experience…. I’m guessing the first two reasons have a lot to do with it.


Speak Your Mind