Shaming hunters for their weapon of choice does nothing to help hunting.
As more and more states move towards legalizing crossbows, airbows, and other new weapons for hunting, there is also an increasing backlash towards these methods.
Every year I see the complaints of people on social media. I overhear them when I'm at my favorite sporting goods store. What I encounter is hunters bashing other hunters because they want to use a crossbow instead of a more traditional long bow or compound bow.
But shaming any hunter for their choice of tools to aid in harvest does nothing to help hunting. To me, it's just sad. And I'm going to explain why.
In the past, crossbow use was limited to shorter crossbow seasons. Most states had crossbow regulations that stated only disabled hunters could use them. 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 before they could buy their hunting license.
For the record, no one should have any issue with crossbow use by disabled hunters. But if anyone else uses one, look out. I've seen it again and again; hunters take on a very snobbish, elitist attitude that looks down on anyone who isn't disabled and dares use a crossbow set up.
For instance, in my home state of Michigan, the Department of Natural Resources was cautious in their approach to legalizing them for deer hunting. It started with allowing them in firearms season only. When the DNR finally decided to open up their use to anyone and everyone during archery season, you would think 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 disgusting. And of course, all that doom and gloom talk about the woods being overrun was vastly over blown. 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.
It's still 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 often shoot faster than compound bows.
But at the end of the day, I still say they qualify as archery equipment because you're hurling an arrow, albeit a shorter version of one, at your target. You 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.
I've heard many a hunter complain that crossbows are as powerful as firearms, which is just plain silly. The fastest crossbows on the market can shoot 400-450 feet per second. Here in southwest Michigan, we're limited to shotguns, straight wall pistol cartridge rifles, and muzzleloaders for firearm deer hunting season. My 12 gauge Remington 870 can throw a slug at a deer at 100 yards at 1,800 fps. There is simply no comparison between the two in terms of speed or range.
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 more stealthy to bring a crossbow to your shoulder than it is to come to full draw with a compound on a spooked deer.
In the end, I think most anti-crossbow hunters feel the weapons give some kind of unfair advantage over more traditional types of archery.
Use what you are comfortable with
In my opinion, far too many hunters are concerned with non-existent style points. At the end of the day, every hunter should use a weapon they are confident in. It doesn't matter if you are hunting big game in Texas or migratory game birds in Wisconsin. Your number one priority should be a quick, humane kill every single time.
For me, this quick anecdote is one of the biggest arguments for crossbows. Last season 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.
As I was writing this story, my uncle did it again. This time he took down a wide 9-pointer with the crossbow. His shot was a clean passthrough and the buck traveled less than 50 yards before falling.
The entrance and exit holes on this buck were most impressive, and it's pretty clear the deer didn't suffer. Again, this is what we all should want.
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 the 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 there are plenty of other hunters who have had similar experiences.
Shaming others doesn't help hunting as a whole
I've written extensively in the past about how hunters are our own worst enemies. The sportsmen who are anti-crossbow are just another example of this. Hunter numbers are already declining, and people want to bash something that gives hunting opportunities to people who might not have tried bowhunting otherwise?
Nothing scares someone away from something new quicker than a snobbish, elitist view that I've seen some hunters have about crossbows. Though I wouldn't necessarily participate in a deer drive, I'm not going to put down others that do. As long as it enables a hunter to make an ethical, clean, and legal harvest, we shouldn't 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.