The popularity of crossbows – and the technology behind them – have seen an impressive boom in recent years. With more states opening up opportunities for crossbow hunters and bows becoming lighter, faster and more accurate there’s little doubt we’re seeing the largest expansion of crossbow hunting in our lifetime. With the increase in crossbow use we’ve seen an influx of new bow manufacturers all competing for sales. Within this fierce competition to convert those using vertical bows to crossbows, and to lure firearm hunters to crossbows, we’ve noticed somewhat of a disturbing trend.
Where crossbows were once judged almost solely on the FPS (feet per second) they could achieve, nowadays a number of marketing programs are ranking crossbows by the yardage distance they can accurately launch an arrow. I’ll admit, the numbers being advertised are impressive. Any weapon easily capable of accurately launching an arrow at 100 yards gets my attention. But are these marketing strategies doing more harm than good for the future of crossbow hunting?
Following the ATA show we received a letter encouraging media members to be aware of how we present the facts and performance of today’s top crossbows. The letter went on to say that the state of Wyoming is currently rethinking their laws on whether or not to continue to allow crossbow hunting in the same capacity as in the past due to the increase in technology and performance of the latest crossbows on the market.
Think about it. For the longest time crossbow advocates preached that crossbows were no different than hunting with a vertical bow, and any advantage above what could be achieved with a vertical bow was minimal. And for many years this statement was relatively true. Crossbows of just a few short years ago, while fast and accurate, were generally considered as 40 and 50 yard weapons. Bowhunters, and perhaps more importantly game agencies, bought into the concept and crossbows saw adoption into archery seasons at a record pace.
Fast forward to 2018 and we find crossbows capable of shooting sub 1-inch groups at 100 yards. We see crossbow commercials on TV that feature crossbows being shot side by side with rifles on a 100-yard rifle range and touted as “Your Next Rifle”. This year’s ATA Show found even more crossbow manufacturers boasting of 100 yard accuracy abilities and shooting speeds well in excess of 400 fps. As time goes on and crossbow innovations continue to push the limits of speed and accuracy the gap between compounds and crossbows certainly appears to be widening.
Don’t get me wrong. The numbers put up by these crossbows are impressive and we wouldn’t expect a company to refrain from pushing the limits in technological advancements of their equipment. But the question remains, “Is the marketing strategy of crossbow manufacturers doing more harm than good for the future of crossbow hunting?”.
Think of is this way; a brand new Chevrolet Corvette is capable of hitting a top speed of over 200 mph which we all know is far in excess of the legal limit or what someone should safely attempt. And while this is an impressive stat, the Corvette isn’t marketed as a 200 mph vehicle. After all, why encourage something that the average driver should not be attempting and may in fact put their life in jeopardy? Crossbows should be looked at the same way. While shooting 100 yards accurately on the range is a blast, is marketing that stat to hunters doing more harm than good for the crossbow cause?
When we asked several crossbow manufacturers whether or not hunters should be attempting 80 and 100 yard shots on game animals with their bows, the answer is always “no”. Manufacturers claim that while their bows are more than capable of shooting accurately as these distances they do not recommend shooting animals that far – for all of the reasons that we already know. In short, there’s just too much that can go wrong under uncontrolled circumstances when shooting at live animals. When pushed on the issue manufacturers fall back to their recommendation of shooting at long distances for fun or “recreational” purposes. However in all of the advertisements we saw and read, there was no mention of “recreational” shooting. Advertisements clearly aimed at hunters draw no line between what should be done on the range and in the field. That’s left for the individual to decide on their own.
The unfortunate thing is that we live in a world that doesn’t read past the headline. When hunters see headlines that include “100 yard accuracy” or phrases like “Your next rifle” they simply assume that hunting at these distances is acceptable, and even encouraged. Few stop to think further on the topic or research why they should or should not be shooting animals at these distances. This is leading to the creation of an entire generation of crossbow hunters with ill conceived notations of what their effective hunting range is, and may even be hurting the future advancement of crossbow inclusion into archery seasons.
Here’s why it’s such a concern. The state of Wyoming is one of the few states out West which allows crossbows to be used during the archery season. It’s an incredible opportunity for crossbow hunters to take part in hunting the early season. But now the Wyoming Game & Fish commission may consider changing that rule. After all, should a weapon that can shoot 100+ yards be included in the same season as one which can shoot 40 or 50 yards?
A meeting last week was held to discuss the issue in Douglas, Wyoming. It wouldn’t be the first time the Commission has addressed controversial technology. Just a few years back, in 2016, the commission banned the use of drones as a hunting tool.
One report said that rapid changes in technology along with interest from lawmakers, the commission and the public, prompted the Wyoming Game and Fish Department to compile an extensive report on new hunting tools from trail cameras that track animals in real time (cellular cams) to rifles that shoot guided bullets like a jet fighter. The report outlines recommendations to department leadership, who will then make recommendations to the Commission. In this report it was strongly recommended to remove the use of crossbows during archery season in Wyoming.
The main question the Commission always seeks to address is: Is using the new equipment fair to wildlife and other hunters?
“When it comes down to the balance between opportunity and fair chase, it becomes a public discussion,” said Brian Nesvik, the department’s chief game warden. “It’s different in different states. In Wyoming, it’s acceptable to use hounds to pursue lions. In some places that’s not allowed, but hunters can use dogs to chase bears. In Wyoming, that’s not acceptable. The public has a huge role in identifying what fair chase is.”
Sources say Wyoming is revisiting the issue now primarily because of the new crossbows that allow average shooters to accurately launch arrows much farther than those with traditional bows. In the desire to sell more bows and covert more people to crossbow advocates, it appears that the bar may have been pushed too far.
Fortunately for crossbow hunters, during last week’s meeting the idea of removing crossbows from archery season was tabled until a later date. The Wyoming Fish & Game Commission asked for more public input on the matter, along with quantifiable data, before making any decisions.
“I’m not in favor of having crossbows taken out of archery season,” said Commissioner Gay Lynn Byrd. “We ought to see what the public thinks.”
This would be a huge blow to the crossbow hunters that fought so hard to have the opportunity to crossbow hunt during the archery season. I personally love the fact that my boys and I can go out during the archery season and have the chance to shoot a deer with a crossbow. It’s a great way for them to get into the woods and experience the hunt prior to growing into the opportunity to hunt with a vertical bow, and it’s a great opportunity for those folks who simply enjoy shooting a crossbow.
The message we received regarding how we promote crossbow performance served as a reality check for many of us. If we’re not careful, we will lose it.
We want to hear from you. Comment below and tell us your thoughts on these high-end crossbows capable of accurately launching arrows at 100+ yards. Should they be in a season of their own? Should they be limited to gun season? Do product manufacturers have a duty to portray their product in a manner that promotes ethical shooting by their customers? Are crossbows hurting deer hunters?