How long should it really take for a new hunter to kill a deer with a crossbow?
Crossbow hunting has always been something of a hot topic, but the debate has calmed down a bit in recent years as more states have relaxed their previously stringent rules on using them during regular archery seasons.
Yet I hear far too often from many deer hunters that "crossbows are too easy," and myths about their maximum effective range.
Hearing hyperbole like that, some people might get the idea that crossbow deer hunting might be easy for the new hunter. But is that really the case?
Where do misconceptions on crossbows come from?
I've always thought people got the wrong idea about crossbows for two reasons. The first is their design. You've got a butt stock, pistol grip and fore grip: all things people associate with firearms. Many hunters then get the wrong idea that these things shoot like a firearm.
In my opinion, the second thing that contributed to negative connotations on crossbows is how heavily restricted they once were. For instance, here in Michigan, the use of crossbows used to be reserved only for hunters who could prove a certain element of disability that inhibited their ability to draw a recurve or compound bow.
Most hunters seemed fine with those rules and crossbows, until non-disabled hunters wanted to start using them. I'll never forget the uproar when Michigan legalized them for everyone. Many hunters started complaining that the woods would be overrun with people who previously only hunted during firearms season.
I read posts on Michigan hunting forums where bowhunters were complaining that gun hunters would be intruding on "their" time in the woods. It's a snooty opinion of the natural resources we all share, don't you think?
In any case, similarities to firearms and associations with disabled hunters seem to have many people believing anyone using a crossbow is taking the easy way out.
Could a hunting deer with a crossbow really be easier for a beginner?
Could a new crossbow hunter be successful with a crossbow more quickly than a traditional vertical bow? Well, crossbows do have a huge advantage over vertical bows in terms of speed.
High end compound bows are now capable of 300 feet per second, but some of the new crossbows, particularly the reverse-limb bows, are flirting with 500 feet per second these days. However, most are going to fall in that 350-400 fps speed range.
Still, that's a huge advantage in the deer woods, increasing both accuracy and range. The heavier draw weights mean you've got more foot pounds of energy behind the bolt, meaning they hit harder than traditional arrows and penetrate deeper.
From my experience, I would say that crossbows are more effective in humanely killing a deer than other forms of archery equipment. But that doesn't necessarily mean a beginner is going to have an easy time with one. I'll outline more on that below.
Advantages and disadvantages of crossbow deer hunting for newer hunters
For a newer hunter, the biggest advantage is being able to simply shoulder and sight down on the animal without a lot of complicated draw movements. Just pick your spot, aim and squeeze the trigger. Beginner hunters can make things even easier on themselves with the use of shooting sticks or a shooting rail in their treestand.
Learning the movements, stances and knowing when to draw and when to release with a compound bow are much more difficult to learn. It can take years for some people. Almost anyone can learn to shoot a rifle or shotgun in an afternoon, and it's not much different with a crossbow.
I already talked about things like speed and power, but I didn't really touch on range. To be honest, I don't see this as a huge advantage to a newer hunter.
Sure, it's been proven time and again that crossbows can be effective out to 100 yards, but I'm of the firm belief that much of the accuracy depends on the experience of the shooter. I don't feel most newer hunters would be able to make that shot on their first deer.
X factors will determine everything in crossbow deer hunting
Too many hunters disparage crossbows as being too easy while forgetting that the weapon is only one element of the hunt. Truth be told, I think it's all the little things that will determine how quickly a beginner is able to harvest a deer with any weapon, not just crossbows.
For instance, is the new hunter familiar with the outdoors, or did he/she grow up in a hunting family? Are they being mentored by someone with experience? Or do they have no help? Are they a stone cold rookie who is the first in their family to even consider heading afield?
In the former's case, I see no reason why a new hunter couldn't harvest at least an antlerless deer on their first hunt ever. If they fall in the latter group, it may take years.
Has the beginner already harvested a deer with a different weapon like a shotgun or rifle? Or is this their first hunting experience ever? Again, for someone taking on a new weapon, there's no reason they couldn't harvest something immediately.
But a rookie with no help will likely have some trials and tribulations. Not that some total noobs haven't been able to go out and harvest the buck of a lifetime with no help from others, but it's far more likely they've got a long road ahead.
Realistically, a lot is also going to ride on the quality of hunting area. A new hunter sitting in prime habitat on private property in central Iowa is likely going to harvest a deer with a crossbow quicker than someone sharing space on public land in Michigan.
When talking about how long it takes someone to take their first deer, everyone is different. My dad hunted for almost 15 years before he finally bagged his first buck with a shotgun. On the flip side, I shot my first deer three years into my hunting career.
Almost everyone knows some hunter at the opposite end of two extremes. There is the kid who shot the buck of a lifetime on their first hunt ever and then there will be the guy who waits years, or even decades before shooting his first. There are so many variables going on here that it really is impossible to determine exactly how long it should take a beginner to harvest a deer with any weapon, let alone a crossbow.
I do think newer hunters have a slight advantage with a crossbow over more traditional archery gear. But it isn't by much. They still must wait for the animal to get in range, they still must wait for the perfect shot. They still must hope a thousand little things don't negatively affect the hunt like a shift in wind direction or an unseen branch in their shooting lane.
Ok, but how long?
If there are any rookie hunters reading this, maybe you're still wanting me to give you a timeline. I think the only thing I can say is, that depends entirely upon you.
Hunting is a lot like many things in life. You get out of it what you put into it.
If you don't do much preparation or put in a lot of practice, expect to be waiting a while, maybe years. If on the other hand, you practice consistently, learn everything you can about deer before entering the woods and make smart decisions on things like stand placements and hunting the wind, there is no reason you can't harvest your first deer with a crossbow this year.
Good luck to all the new hunters out there!