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Why We Shouldn't Shame Crossbow Hunters

It's time for sportsmen (and women) to come together.

Rifle hunters, compound bow hunters, and crossbow hunters are all on the same team, right? You would think so, but the immeasurable amount of flak crossbow hunters get from other hunters tells us otherwise. Crossbow hunters have been on the receiving end of plenty of backlash from other kinds of hunters for years. They have been labeled weak, lazy, and worse. But why?

There is a lot of noise in the hunting community. Traditional long bow or compound bow hunters often bash other hunters because they want to use a crossbow. It's not unlike hunters who berate trappers for doing the things they do. All of this in-fighting among sportsmen does more harm than good. Shaming any hunter for their choices does absolutely nothing to promote hunting. However, it gives anti-hunters ammunition to fuel their agenda and a weak spot to crack open and expose the vulnerabilities of the hunting community. As Abraham Lincoln reportedly said about America—that it could only be divided from within—also holds true for the hunting and sporting community. We, and not the opposition, are our own worst enemies.

Crossbow Hunting Is Widely Recognized

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In the past, crossbow use was limited to shorter crossbow seasons. Most states had crossbow regulations that stated only disabled hunters could use them. Before they could buy their hunting license, many hunters who wanted to use one had to have a medical note from their doctor explaining they could no longer pull back a regular bow. There is no good reason that anyone should have any issue with crossbow use by disabled hunters.

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The trolls really come out when an otherwise able-bodied hunter uses a crossbow. Some hunters suddenly adopt a very snobbish, elitist attitude that looks down on anyone who isn't disabled and dares use a crossbow setup. When the Michigan Department of Natural Resources started allowing anyone to use a crossbow during archery season, all hell broke loose for some opponents of the idea.

The complaints began almost immediately: "Gun hunters will be swarming the woods during OUR time," and "They can shoot accurately to 100 yards, that's not fair," and "Use traditional archery equipment or don't bowhunt." The complaints were everywhere.

The sense of entitlement some bowhunters felt was shocking. And, of course, all that doom-and-gloom talk about the woods being overrun was vastly overblown. Were there more people in treestands trying bowhunting for the first time that first season and since? Most definitely, but it certainly wasn't the end of deer hunting as we know it.

The season dates stayed the same, bag limits stayed the same, and so did harvest numbers. I only saw a few people humble enough to admit they were a bit overdramatic about what would happen when crossbows were legalized.

Crossbows Are Ultimately Archery Equipment

We can argue until the cows come home about whether crossbows can still be considered "archery equipment." Sure, there are some key differences. They have heavier draw weights that often require the use of a cocking device. Crossbows have a longer maximum effective range, and they often shoot faster than compound bows.

Hunters still have to get in perfect position at relatively close range for a shot. There is nothing simple about it. A crossbow bolt can easily be deflected by an errant branch, just like an arrow shot from a regular bow. So, what is it that makes some hunters flip out over crossbows? I think it has to do more with the design than anything else. You've got a buttstock, which is closer to a firearm than a vertical bow. It's a lot stealthier to bring a crossbow to your shoulder than it is to come to full draw with a compound on a spooked deer.

People Should Use What They Are Comfortable With

The No. 1 priority of any hunter should be a quick, humane kill every single time.

For me, this quick anecdote is one of the biggest arguments for crossbows. A few years ago, my uncle was fortunate enough to harvest a beautiful, 133-inch 9-pointer with a crossbow during Michigan's archery deer season. I helped him dress the buck, and when we opened the deer's chest, blood came gushing out in buckets. We found out why when we removed the buck's lungs. We found the mechanical broadhead he was using had made a nearly 4-inch-wide hole in them. It was some of the most impressive damage I've ever seen on a whitetail deer.

The buck probably never knew what hit him. He only ran about 30 yards before piling up. It was the exact type of quick and humane kill every hunter should strive for. I was definitely impressed with how well the crossbow had brought this deer down, and it made me want to buy one for myself. He has since shot a few others that went down in equally impressive fashion, such as the wide 9-pointer shown below. His shot was a clean passthrough, and the buck traveled less than 50 yards before falling.

Crossbow Hunting

Travis Smola

The entrance and exit holes on this buck were most impressive, and it's pretty clear the deer didn't suffer. At the end of the day, a humane harvest should be your one and only concern when it comes to choosing a weapon to hunt with. You owe it to the animal to minimize their suffering. If you're confident enough to do that with a longbow or compound bow, more power to you. But don't shame others if their comfort zone is different. I'll admit, I'm a gun hunter first and foremost, and bringing a crossbow to my shoulder feels a lot more natural to me than coming to full draw with a vertical bow. Personally, I gave up hunting with a compound because I lost that comfort with it, and it wasn't for a lack of trying, either. I put in the time on the practice range every day in the summer, but I just couldn't translate good practice to success in the field with a compound. I had many, many misses over and under deer.

After a while, I decided I couldn't always make the ethical shot on an animal. I didn't want to give a bunch of deer non-lethal wounds in the process, so I sold my bow. I'm sure plenty of other hunters have had similar experiences.

Shaming Other Hunters Hurts Hunting

Hunter numbers are already declining, and people want to bash something that gives hunting opportunities to people who might not have tried bowhunting otherwise? Please tell me the logic in this way of thinking, because I see none.

Nothing scares someone away from something new quicker than that snobbish, elitist view. As long as the equipment and strategy a hunter chooses to use enable a hunter to make an ethical, clean, and legal harvest, it's not our place to judge. We don't have enough players on our team for us to start alienating new ones from ever trying. We're all on the same side here. Think about that this season before you judge someone on that buck they just proudly harvested with their crossbow.

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