Crossbow hunting was once primarily reserved for disabled hunters. But 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 permit crossbows in certain locations or during a specific crossbow season. Others only allow the use of crossbows during the general firearms season. 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, some hunters (mainly bowhunters) don't welcome these expanded crossbow hunting opportunities, mainly because 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.
To a certain extent, they're right. But it's not all sunshine and rainbows for crossbows. They also have a few inherent disadvantages 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.
Pro: Easier To Shoot
A significant advantage to using a crossbow for hunting 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 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.
Con: You Best Not Miss
Another disadvantage of hunting with a crossbow is they're much slower in reloading than a compound bow. This is partly due to their heavy draw weights and overall size and bulk. This makes it much harder to take a fast follow-up shot as it is slower to crank that bowstring back than to draw on a traditional bow simply.
Pro: Stronger Draw Weights
Crossbows have hefty draw weights. Most hunters use a draw weight of around 50-80 pounds with a compound bow. Crossbows usually have draw weights over 100 pounds and sometimes even 200 pounds, which necessitates using a cocking device to draw. Though velocity depends on multiple factors and 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.
Remember, though, all types of crossbows are still relatively short-range weapons. As you can see from this crossbow ballistic calculator, even the most powerful crossbow cannot hold a candle to a centerfire rifle's velocity, energy, and flat trajectory. They generally shoot flatter than compound bows, but precise range estimation is still fundamental.
A range of 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 full range of most compound bows.
Con: Crossbows are Heavy
Crossbows are significantly larger and heavier than compound bows. While most recurve and compound bows weigh 3-4 pounds in the neighborhood, a typical crossbow weighs around 6-7 pounds. Their bulky shape also makes them more complex and awkward to carry. This extra weight can also make it challenging to shoot accurately without rest. However, using a rest comes with a whole set of challenges.
In this video, a kid attempted to shoot his first deer with a crossbow. That experience taught him the importance of clearing obstructions around the crossbow before firing. Unfortunately, this is easier said than done. In this case, one of the kid's crossbow limbs struck the corner of the blind, which likely caused him to miss.
Pro: Great For Beginners
At the same time, crossbows are aimed like rifles, making them easier to shoot from the sitting or kneeling positions than a compound bow. Hunters may also shoot crossbows from a rest, enhancing accuracy and precision in the right hands. This makes them an excellent option for beginners over other types of bows. Crossbows also work exceptionally well with telescopic sights. These factors make crossbows an accessible platform for hunters experienced with shooting rifles and shotguns to learn how to use.
Con: Crossbows are Loud
Crossbows are often noticeably louder when shooting than recurve or compound bows. Minimizing noise is paramount when hunting game at short range (and yes, crossbows are still short-range weapons). Noisier bows increase the risk of the target animal "jumping the string." Even though crossbows typically shoot at slightly higher velocities than compound bows, the increased speed isn't enough to prevent this from happening altogether.
This crossbow deer hunt by Kinion and Tanya from Southern Boyz Outdoors demonstrates this point. Kinion estimated the range at around 50 yards, near the upper limit for hunting deer with a crossbow. True, she ended up dropping the doe on the spot. However, this happened 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 have advantages over other archery equipment, crossbows don't guarantee a sure thing. Just ensure you're prepared to deal with the inherent disadvantages of hunting with one.
This post was originally published on September 10, 2021.
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 Instagram, The_Big_Game_Hunter.
Enjoy the outdoors?
Sign up for daily stories delivered straight to your inbox.