Here's everything you need to know about the pros and cons of crossbow hunting.
Though crossbow hunting was once primarily reserved for disabled hunters, many states, like New York, Wisconsin and Texas, have recently changed their regulations to permit using crossbows for hunting big game by the general hunting population.
Some states currently permit the use of crossbows in certain locations or during a specific crossbow season, others only allow the use of crossbows during the general firearms season and still others permit crossbow hunting during archery season.
This is welcome news for some hunters, especially children and those looking to expand their hunting opportunities. However, certain hunters (mainly bowhunters) don't welcome these expanded crossbow hunting opportunities, particularly the fact that some states now permit hunting with a crossbow during archery season. Their arguments center on the idea that a crossbow gives a hunter significant advantages over a recurve or even a compound bow.
As I'll discuss later in this article, to a certain extent, they're right. That being said, it's not all sunshine and rainbows for crossbows, and they also have a few inherent disadvantages when compared to a modern compound bow. So, before you decide which weapon to use when you hit the woods for hunting season, make sure you're familiar with the pros and cons of crossbow hunting.
One of the biggest advantages of using a crossbow for hunting when compared to a regular bow is that, once the crossbow is cocked, keeping the crossbow at full draw does not require any energy or effort from the hunter. The hunter may then concentrate fully on aiming and simply squeeze a trigger when ready to shoot. For this reason, young or disabled hunters who may have difficulty drawing a regular bow can use crossbows without trouble.
At the same time, crossbows are aimed in the same manner as a rifle, which also makes them easier to shoot from the sitting or kneeling positions than a compound bow. Hunters may also shoot crossbows from a rest, which greatly enhances accuracy and precision in the right hands. This makes them an excellent option for beginners over other types of bows. Additionally, crossbows also work quite well with telescopic sights. These factors make crossbows an easy platform for hunters experienced with shooting rifles and shotguns to learn how to use.
Additionally, crossbows have extremely heavy draw weights. Most hunters use a draw weight of around 50-80 pounds with a compound bow; crossbows usually have draw weights in excess of 100 pounds and sometimes even 200 pounds that necessitates the use of a cocking device to draw. Though velocity depends on multiple factors in addition to the draw weight, crossbows can still typically shoot projectiles noticeably faster than a compound bow.
While the exact velocity varies depending on the draw weight, draw length, and the specific arrow and accessories used, most compound bows shoot arrows at about 250-330 feet per second. Crossbows, on the other hand, typically shoot bolts at higher speeds. At this point, 350-450 fps is not out of the question for many modern crossbows. This additional velocity translates into slightly longer effective ranges, flatter trajectories, and more kinetic energy from bolts hitting the target. That means cleaner and more ethical kills than a longbow, recurve bow or a compound with high let-off.
Keep in mind, though, all types of crossbows are still relatively short-range weapons. As you can see from this crossbow ballistic calculator (it's about 3/4 down that page), even the most powerful crossbow cannot hold a candle to the velocity, energy, and flat trajectory of a centerfire rifle. Yes, they still generally shoot a little flatter than compound bows, but precise range estimation is still very important.
All things considered, 40-50 yards is probably the maximum effective range for most deer hunters using a crossbow. If we're being honest, this is not much farther than the maximum range of most compound bow-armed deer hunters.
Perhaps one of the biggest cons of hunting with a crossbow is the fact that crossbows are significantly larger and heavier than compound bows. While most recurve and compound bows weigh in the neighborhood of 3-4 pounds, a typical crossbow weighs around 6-7 pounds. Their bulky shape also makes them more difficult and awkward to carry. This extra weight can also make them difficult to accurately shoot without a rest of some sort. However, using a rest comes with a whole set of challenges.
In the video below, Zach was attempting to shoot his first deer with a crossbow. That experience taught him the importance of clearing obstructions from around the crossbow before shooting. Unfortunately this is easier said than done. In this case, one of Zach's crossbow limbs struck the corner of the blind, which likely caused him to miss.
From tears of disappointment to “Daddy, I did it!”, this hunt will take you on a 5-minute emotional roller coaster as Big John’s brother, Zach, takes his first ever buck!
Posted by Big John Outdoors on Thursday, June 9, 2016
Another disadvantage of hunting with a crossbow is they're much slower in reloading than a compound bow. This is due partly to their heavy draw weights and partly due to their overall size and bulk. Obviously, this makes it much harder to take a fast follow-up shot as it is slower to crank that bowstring back than it is to simply draw on a traditional bow.
Finally, crossbows are often noticeably louder than recurve or compound bows when shooting. When hunting game at short range (and yes, crossbows are still short-range weapons), minimizing noise is paramount. Noisier bows create a greater risk of the target animal "jumping the string."
Even though crossbows typically shoot at slightly higher velocities than compound bows, the increased velocity isn't enough to completely prevent this from happening.
This crossbow deer hunt by Kinion and Tanya from Southern Boyz Outdoors demonstrates this point. Kinion estimated the range at around 50 yards, which is near the upper limit for hunting deer with a crossbow. True, she ended up dropping the doe on the spot. However, this happened mainly because the doe was slow in reacting to the noise. Even so, the doe moved enough that the shot hit her in the spine instead of the shoulder.
Watch the buck, though. He reacted quickly enough that the bolt probably would have sailed over his back if Kinion had been aiming at him.
If you're considering hunting with a crossbow, take a hard look at the pros and cons of crossbow hunting. While they do have certain advantages over other archery equipment, crossbows don't guarantee a sure thing. Just ensure that you're prepared to deal with the inherent disadvantages of hunting with one.
Like what you see here? You can read more great hunting articles by John McAdams on his hunting blog. Follow him on Facebook The Big Game Hunting Blog, Twitter @TheBigGameHunt and on Instagram The_Big_Game_Hunter.