With regulations regarding the use of crossbows changing on a yearly basis, now may be just the time for you to take a closer look at one of the fastest growing trends in the outdoor hunting community. If your state doesn’t already allow the use of crossbows in one season or another, chances are, it soon will. What used to be regarded as a means for older or disabled hunters to enjoy the deer woods has now turned into a state by state explosion giving more hunters the opportunity to extend their time in the woods, regardless of age or physical ability. Crossbows can give the gun hunter extended days afield by now being able to take advantage of lengthy archery seasons. They also provide an effective means to harvest game for those vertical bowhunters that have been swallowed up by work and family, leaving less time to practice. Crossbows can also provide an opportunity to recruit new hunters to the woods. Whatever your reason is, the good news is you now have, (or will have soon) the opportunity to hunt with a crossbow the next time you go hunting.

In recent years, there have been many changes to hunting laws and regulations. Every year, it seems three or four new states are recognizing the crossbow as a worthy means of harvesting game, and are addressing their game laws accordingly. Not all states allow the use of the crossbow during archery seasons. Some states have age requirements or require a doctors note confirming limited physical abilities. Some states have designated a “crossbow season” requiring a specific “crossbow stamp” or permit. Others only allow crossbow use during firearms seasons, and others don’t allow it at all. The good news is that state department of natural resources agencies are changing the way they look at crossbows. What used to be viewed as a “poachers tool” is now being seen for what it is, and that is a viable weapon to effectively harvest deer with. So why now? Why are states finally addressing the controversial issue? Well for starters, we are loosing hunters every year. States are looking for new ways to increase hunter participation. The opportunity to hunt with a crossbow brings something new and exciting to hunters. Not to mention that age does not really have any bearing on well you can shoot one. Accurate data and statistics regarding crossbow hunting is another major reason that crossbows are becoming so popular as a deer management choice. For years there have been arguments both for and against crossbow use, with both sides not really having any factual data to back it up. As more and more states started allowing crossbows into hunting seasons, more and more data has been collected and recorded. This data shows that crossbow hunting does not have a detrimental impact on deer numbers. Having up to date factual data makes game commission decisions easier when met head on with anti crossbow hunting organizations that use speculation and raw emotion to combat the advancement of crossbow hunting. Revenue is another factor when states address regulations regarding the use of crossbows. Not only does more hunters equate to more licenses sold, but it also helps to grow any business that relies on hunter participation as a part of its income. Another reason is because of increasing deer herd numbers. With hunters numbers declining, it only makes sense that deer numbers are increasing. Allowing the crossbow into archery seasons can help keep deer herd numbers in check instead of skyrocketing out of control.

So how many states are really allowing hunters the opportunity to hunt with crossbows? At the time of this article, seventeen states now allow hunting with the crossbow during the general archery season for all to enjoy regardless of age or physical abilities. Twenty states allow the use of crossbows for all, during specified parts of the hunting season. Thirteen states offer crossbow hunting for disabled hunters only, and the remaining states do not recognize them as a legal hunting weapon at all. The trend however as of recent, is that state DNR’s are looking at crossbows in a positive light.

With hunter numbers dropping nation wide at an astonishing rate each year, there has never been more important time to recruit new hunters so that we can preserve Americas oldest recreational pastime. And what better tool to achieve this goal than the crossbow? The crossbow provides children with an opportunity to enjoy the outdoors at an earlier age. With shorter learning curves than tradition archery equipment, children can quickly gain the confidence needed to successfully harvest game using a means that provides a higher successes rate earlier in their young hunting careers. Achieving success early is key to keeping the interest of the outdoors in our youngsters while other kids are sitting in front of their favorite video game. In Ohio where crossbows have been legal for 35 years, we have a mentor program that allows children to hunt with an adult at a very young age. It is very common to start these children out hunting with the crossbow until they have achieved some success afield. This early success can be the spark that ignites the eternal flame of passion that burns true in every hunter’s chest.

Let’s not forgot women either. Just as crossbows are exploding, the growth of women in the outdoors is rapidly growing too. What used to be considered more of a “man” sport is now showing an influx of women joining the ranks. The lightening of crossbow regulations can be directly related to the growth of women hunters. By eliminating the draw weight factor and minimum peak draw weights criteria set forth by many state DNR’s, the crossbow has opened up the deer woods to many women that have been previously restricted to firearms season. Or maybe if your better half is intimated by the kick of a gun, the crossbow may be just the thing to get her involved in the great outdoors.

So what should you expect while hunting horizontal? Well for starters, remember you are still bowhunting. It’s still about getting close to the animal. The same bowhunting strategies should apply. Both crossbows and verticals bows are shooting broadhead tipped arrows at about the same speeds, using hemorrhage (not shock) to effectively harvest game. Crossbows are much louder than your average vertical bow. With deer reacting to sound the way they do, you really shouldn’t be shooting your crossbow any further than you would a compound bow. Just because a crossbow uses a scope for a sight doesn’t mean you can shoot it at shotgun distances. Weight is one of the biggest disadvantages. A fully loaded crossbow with scope and quiver can weigh in at nearly double the weight that your vertical bow does. Crossbows are often large and cumbersome making carrying them afield feel a bit awkward. While the argument has been made many times by anti-crossbow organizations that they are “easier”, this doesn’t mean if you pick one up that you’ll be killing trophy bucks in no time. Bowhunting is about getting close enough to the animal you’re hunting so that you can take the highest percentage shot you can. The only real hunting advantage a crossbow has over conventional vertical bows is that you do not have to draw the bow back in the presence of game. You don’t automatically become a better hunter if you choose the crossbow. Other than that, both bows are really on the same playing field as to what kind of performance and accuracy you can expect.

The Future Looks Bright:

It has never been a better time to be in the crossbow business. Manufacturers can’t make crossbows fast enough to keep up with the demand. Every time another state changes its hunting regulations, an influx of new crossbow enthusiasts is born. This means tens of thousands of new crossbow hunters will be researching the crossbow market, hoping to take advantage of a wide variety of bows offered by a growing amount of crossbow manufacturers. Because of this demand, we now have choices that until even a few years ago weren’t readily available. This new demand in crossbows is also resulting in manufacturers devolving new technologies while using state of the art materials to do so. We now have recurved, compound and even reverse draw limb configurations. Front of cam engineering to increase longer power strokes without increasing the overall length of the crossbow. Even carbon rails and risers in order to provide excellent strength while reducing the overall weight of the bow. Anti dry-fire mechanisms to provide greater safety, and even rifle like triggers. The crossbow your grandpa had 20 years ago is a thing of the past. Today’s bows are producing astonishing speeds and kinetic energy. But it’s not only crossbow manufacturers that are reaping the rewards of this boom. Non-crossbow related companies are riding the wave as well. We are seeing more and more arrow manufactures offering crossbow specific arrows. Broadhead manufacturers are making new heads that are also crossbow specific. Target companies are now offering targets that have the ability to stop arrows with the massive amounts of kinetic energy crossbows are able to produce. There are even vanes that we fletch arrows with designed solely for crossbows, and the list continues. The entire outdoor industry will benefit from the growth of the crossbow market. And growing it is. Talking with a few of the national sales representatives from some of the fastest growing crossbow manufacturers, it was no surprise to hear the sales are rapidly increasing. While nobody wanted to offer specific figures, almost all said that sales where “dramatically” increasing and manufacturers are seeing “substantial growth”. “We are seeing solid growth” and with every new state “we are gaining market share”. And there is plenty of market share to gain. In a state like Ohio that is considered to be a “mature” crossbow market, over 40% of the states total hunters hunted with crossbows during some part of the hunting season. In 2006, with an estimated total hunter participation of 325,000 hunters, 140,000 of them used a crossbow. When you compare these statistics to states that do not allow or have only recently allowed crossbow use, it is easy to see that potential for growth is very significant.

Just as inline muzzleloaders have become so popular in the past decade, the crossbow will be soon to follow. I think something that appeals to hunters about both weapons is the simple fact they are just plain fun shoot and they provide a user experience that has come to be something different than the “norm”. Even if hunting wasn’t part of the equation, simply shooting either will bring a smile to your face. Just like the inline muzzleloader brought something new and exciting to the hunters across the nation, crossbows will too. And much like the inline muzzleloader in its infancy stages, I also think that crossbows will take awhile before they are considered socially acceptable. Crossbows have had a bad rap for so long that they just aren’t excepted yet in hunting circles the way the should be. If you visit your local archery club, or frequent any of the online forums, you will quickly find that many so called “traditional” bowhunters despise the thought of sharing the woods with a crossbow hunter. It’s funny to me to hear the arguments from these guys because it wasn’t too many years ago, the same thing was happening when the first compound bow came along and all the stick bow shooters were expressing the same concerns. But like the modern muzzleloader of today, the crossbow will gain traction and become more socially accepted. And just as many shotgun or rifle hunters have traded their guns in for inline muzzleloaders, some of you vertical bowhunters will trade your equipment in for crossbows. Even if you don’t, it will be nice to know you at least have the option when you get to that point in time when your body doesn’t quite work the way it used to.

Crossbow hunting won’t be for everyone. There will be some that adamantly refuse to ever use one, claiming that they would rather give up bowhunting than to ever hunt with one. While other hunters will praise their existence for giving them a means to continue onward with their passion for bowhunting. Either for them or against them, the crossbow is coming. Choosing to ever hunt with one will be a personal choice made by each hunter. Having the choice to hunt with one should be an opportunity for every hunter.