In a time when hunting recruitment and retention are at all-time lows, it’s difficult to bring up the highly controversial topic of full inclusion crossbow use during the archery season. If you read enough articles and peruse the online forums, you can’t help but get sucked into the debate. There are compelling arguments on both sides of the discussion. Crossbow sales continue to rise each passing year. Twenty-seven states now allow full inclusion crossbow use during the archery season. Is it possible that vertical bows and crossbows can share the same season? Should they? Are crossbows becoming to efficient for archery season altogether?
According to Merriam-Webster, archery is defined as the art, practice, or skill of shooting with bow and arrow. When one digs into the history of archery, you will find it is one of the oldest art forms still practiced today. In both of those instances, the common denominator is art and practice. The purists argue that crossbows are eroding the essence that makes hunting with archery equipment so special and unique. In order to be a successful archery hunter, you must practice and perfect your craft. Repetition, muscle memory, mental toughness are a few adjectives that depict the art of archery. There is fear that full inclusion during the archery season might put too many hunters in the woods and thus make the bowhunting season like what some states experience during the firearms season. And what the states that already include crossbows in their archery season? Crossbow technology has changed rapidly since some of these states added them to the archery season roster. Are these technological advancements making them a weapon that should now be reconsidered for inclusion in archery-only seasons?
Since I do not own a crossbow, I recently spent some time at my local archery shop to get hands-on experience with these “easy” to shoot bows. The TenPoint Nitro XRT, Mission Sub-1 XR and the Ravin R20 are some of the hottest crossbows on the market this year. The TenPoint Nitro XRT is the fastest bow on the planet with speeds up to 470 feet per second. The Mission Sub-1 XR and Ravin R20 are very similar weapons with both touting 430 feet per second and accuracy up to 100 yards. The Ravin R20 is fully adjustable up to 200 yards (but Ravin does have the discretionary statement against any ethical shot at that distance). I wanted to see if these bows were as easy and as accurate as I have read. I asked my local bow technician to accompany me on the range to give me a tutorial on operating one of these bolt launchers. After a brief introduction, we were shooting bolts down range. Two minor adjustments to the scope that comes equipped on these bows and I was firing perfect shots. It really was almost too easy.
The states that allow full inclusion crossbow use during archery season, argued that it would increase hunter participation and open the sport to a wider demographic. Younger hunters, female hunters, disabled hunters and older aged hunters would all have the opportunity to hunt when previously, they might not have been able. Hunter recruitment was the basis of their argument. However, the most recent data shows that hunter, and especially bowhunter participation, continues to fall. What is changing in the states that allow full inclusion crossbow use is the number of gun hunters that are also bowhunting. Ohio has had full crossbow inclusion for 35 years. According to the 2018 Deer Summary conducted by the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, 70 percent of gun hunters also hunted the archery season. The statistic that really sticks out in my mind is the season harvest comparison. Over 5,000 more bucks were killed during the archery season than during the gun season. In 2017, 39,362 bucks were killed during the archery season. Of that harvest total, 65 percent of those bucks were taken with a crossbow. Data from both Michigan and Wisconsin (two other states with full inclusion) show that more hunters are now using crossbows than vertical bows.
Several states allow the use of crossbows during the archery season with stipulations. For example, in my home state of Minnesota, crossbows are allowed during the archery season if you have a disability or if you are over the age of sixty. The crossbow federation has been pushing for full inclusion over the past few years, but the Minnesota Deer Hunters Association continues to vote it down. In the spring of 2017, 70 percent of the membership voted against full inclusion crossbow use during the archery season. Minnesota does allow crossbow use during the firearms season by any legal age hunter. Also, crossbows are allowed during the spring bear season and during the spring and fall turkey seasons. However, you cannot purchase an archery turkey hunting license and use a crossbow (the archery season runs the entire length of the turkey season). If using a crossbow for turkeys, you must purchase one of the firearms seasons. This applies if you are under the age of sixty and not disabled.
Kentucky and New York both provide a season just for the use of crossbows. This allows the crossbow hunters a longer season but does not overlap the entire archery season. I could see this model becoming more acceptable with the remaining 23 states that do not allow full inclusion crossbow use during the archery season.
Crossbows are an extremely effective hunting tool and have their place in the hunting world. The baby boomer generation is retiring from the workforce at an alarming rate. They are also retiring from bowhunting. My own father just retired at the age of 61. He is the person that instilled this passion (my wife calls obsession) of bowhunting into my existence. He hasn’t bowhunted in close to ten years. When I asked him what he wanted for his retirement gift, his response was a crossbow. The years of working construction have taken a toll on his body, especially his shoulders. It’s difficult for him to draw and hold a vertical compound bow. In Minnesota, he can use a crossbow for the entire archery season (because of his age). He now has an abundance of time on his side and can rekindle that passion for bowhunting…just with different equipment.
Crossbows and vertical bows are different functioning weapons. It’s acceptable to acknowledge that fact and treat them separately. It’s also acceptable to allow them both to have their place in the hunting woods. I am a firm believer in championing hunting, conservation, hunter recruitment and retention. I also feel the hunting industry needs to rally around each other and eliminate the bickering and bantering amongst the community. That being said, I feel the tradition of bowhunting must be protected. My children are being raised with the opportunity to learn the art, practice and skill of shooting bows. They will get to experience the practice and preparation it takes to become successful bowhunters. Once successful in the field, they will ultimately feel the reward when all that practice, repetition and muscle memory pays off.
What do you think? Is the efficiency of today’s crossbows pushing them into a category of their own, beyond the standard archery season? Should crossbow hunters have a season of their own? Comment below and let us know what you think.
Take a closer look at the new TenPoint Nitro XRT in the video below…