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 with Rob Miskosky

Crossbow: Friend or Foe?

With fear the Alberta Bowhunter’s Association (ABA) would rather have me as the son of William Tell, and it would probably be fitting as such, but I doubt so as the original and so-called “real” William Tell was a marksman with a crossbow—yes, in legend Tell used a crossbow to split the apple on his son Walter’s head, as forced by overlord Hermann Gessler who Tell later killed with that same crossbow—I will continue with this column bearing such in mind. I would also at this time like to express my admiration for an organization that works hard to protect much of what is important to hunters and hunting in this province. But, that Granny Smith may still adorn the top of my head when I am done. I hope not, because I offer only reasoned judgment, as appears to me through the realms of various literature I have read on the subject. Maybe I need to be further educated, but I reason not.

My son Dakota cut his teeth shooting a crossbow. At a time when he was too young or my trust too little for “plinking” with the .22, he was able to shoot a crossbow. Simply propping the cumbersome weapon up on his knee allowed him stability that in turn gave way to a small semblance of accuracy. In time, he became stronger and better at shooting arrows from his newfound arbalest. If it had not been for that crossbow he may not have captured the interest in hunting that he did. I tired of retrieving arrows and re-cocking that dang thing long before he tired of shooting it. But tire of shooting it he did; guns go bang and for the vast majority of 13-year olds “bang” means a whole lot more than “phweet”.

Let’s quickly dispel some of the more common rumors regarding the crossbow.

First and foremost it is not a gun. It does not use a system of ignition and doesn’t kick when the arrow is released. In fact; the crossbow lunges forward and outward from your body. Many anti-crossbow hunters characterize the crossbow as a gun; this kind of mentality is generally reserved for those who have never used a crossbow, or simply feel threatened by their existence.

Secondly, crossbows do not have an effective range any further than that of a compound bow. They have an accurate and effective range of 30 to 40-yards, the same as a compound bow. Because the arrow launched from a crossbow is much shorter than a standard arrow, it loses its energy much quicker; therefore, tales of 100+ yard shots at game are simply that… tales.

Third, it is easier and faster to become proficient with a crossbow than a compound bow. Yes, that is definitely true, but that advantage can only be construed as a good thing. Suggesting it isn’t is asinine. Put in good hands both the compound bow and crossbow are effective, accurate tools. There is no distinct advantage of one over the other and effectiveness and accuracy is what we all strive for in our hunting weapons.

Fourth, there is suggestion that crossbow hunters are more effective at killing game than compound bow hunters. With an effective range out to 40-yards, the crossbow hunter still has to maintain the same stealth as any compound bow hunter to get close to their quarry. Throw in the sheer size and weight of a crossbow and maneuvering it can be a real challenge. In fact; I submit that stalking game with a crossbow is much harder than it is with a compound bow. Put a big, heavy “Tee” across your back or in front of you and see how well you can keep it concealed, or better yet, keep it from hanging up on the understory. Crossbows are no more effective than compound bows when it comes to killing game.

Trying to find the differences between a crossbow and a compound bow is a real challenge. Do they look differently? Absolutely, but the similarities are astonishing. They both have an assembly that launches an arrow nocked against a string that is thrust forward by a set of bent limbs. Even the type of broadhead used at the end of the arrow is the same. However, it is the manner in which those limbs are released that the ABA unequivocally reasons the crossbow disqualifies from being considered archery tackle—the crossbow can be cocked and loaded and held at the ready without being held back by arm strength. Even though modern compounds are released with mechanical triggers and are held back with great ease, many believe that this is an unfair advantage for the crossbow hunter. It is also suggested that the motion required to draw back a compound bow is movement that is easily picked up on by the archer’s quarry, something the crossbow hunter doesn’t have to contend with. I beg to differ, or at least offer that other disadvantages of the crossbow render these points mute.

Let’s look at the crossbow’s design. Its limbs are to the horizontal and not the vertical, which requires the crossbow hunter to take greater care in ensuring that upon arrow launch, the limbs of the crossbow remain free from obstruction. This means a greater “open” area is required for the crossbow hunter to use his bow. There is no secretly holding tight to a tree because the crossbow hunter must step forward or aside of any obstruction that might otherwise be used as cover. Should the crossbow hunter err, the result could be a broken jaw. Not a pleasant thought, especially if the hunter is in a treestand.

And as I mentioned earlier, stalking an animal with a crossbow in hand or on back is no small feat and stalking with a loaded crossbow is an eerie feeling at least; an accidental release could mean a limb upside one’s head. Extreme care must be taken when hunting with a loaded crossbow and all safety precautions must be considered. I also have to point out that after the crossbow hunter launches an arrow, there is no opportunity for another shot. Cocking and loading a crossbow requires a tremendous amount of time and movement, far more than any compound bow hunter would ever have to use to nock another arrow. It truly is a single shot tool.

I concede that a crossbow can be rested on some form of cradle as long as the limbs are free from obstruction. I will say though, that holding a crossbow at full ready without support, perhaps in a stalking situation, would be equal to that of holding a compound bow at full draw, maybe even tougher. My crossbow weighs a solid 10-pounds. In the only instance I used my crossbow where an actual kill took place, I stalked my quarry and held firm my crossbow without support—an equal task to holding my compound bow at full draw. The big difference was my cover was less than perfect and only because of the weapon I used.

So, what is it that the ABA and others fear from the allowance of crossbows in the archery season? Well, the fear is that archery seasons would be shortened and more archers would have to apply in the draw system for tags that are currently available free of the draw. The reasoning is that, according to the ABA, “The number of hunters in archery seasons would jump by 18,000 if crossbows were allowed in archery seasons.” The ABA also believes that those who would join their ranks with crossbow in hand would just be crossover rifle hunters and there would be little or no recruitment taking place. An argument that crossbow enthusiasts use regularly.

The ABA also argues that if their fears come true, then tags would have to come from somewhere to replace those lost during archery season to crossbow hunters. The ABA says “fair is fair” and those tags should come from the general season and the general season should then be shortened so the length of an already generous archery season can be maintained.

Once again I offer this. If we take into consideration the city bow zones, WMUs 248 (Edmonton) and 212 (Calgary), it is well known that their game populations are increasing and the current bowhunting fraternity have been unable to curtail these populations. When Parkland County tried to initiate a primitive weapons season to lower deer and moose numbers, similar to Strathcona County, the ABA fought vigorously and successfully to stop its implementation. However, the problem still remains—wildlife populations are increasing while bowhunting numbers remain consistent. I suggest that these two zones would remain as they are with far more tags available than filled each year regardless of whether or not Joe Crossbow shows up.

According to Ohio’s wildlife management chief Dave Risley, as quoted in an article in Outdoor Life, “Every game agency across the nation is lamenting the loss of hunters and license revenue. By embracing crossbow shooters, Ohio has managed to get and keep hunters, and as a result I’d say the archery hunters in this state have more credibility and clout than ever.”

It should also be noted that, besides Ohio, Arkansas and Ontario have allowed crossbows during archery season for nearly 30 years. Wyoming, British Columbia and the North West Territories for about twenty years. Indiana, Georgia, Alabama, Maryland, Tennessee, Kentucky, South Carolina, Quebec, Florida, Virginia, Louisiana, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Michigan and Texas have given approval during the last few years. Hunter participation, budgets and increasing wildlife populations are all reasons why.

As stated earlier, the ABA claims the number of hunters in archery seasons would jump by 18,000 if crossbows were permitted in their season. I highly doubt there are 18,000 crossbows that could be found for sale in Alberta, let alone in all of Canada, and the average cost of a crossbow and accessories would probably run you anywhere from $800 to $1500, not cheap. I highly doubt that 20% of Alberta’s hunters would be running out to buy crossbows. I and many hunters I know would find it hard to give up November deer hunting to battle flies in September and October. November deer season, cold weather and the rut are sacred. At least for me.

For every study that shows crossbows don’t fit in archery seasons, there are an equal number of studies that show they fit quite well and in fact “enhance archery seasons where they are allowed because they promote hunter recruitment and retention.” And this is where most take umbrage with the Alberta Bowhunters Association (ABA). They do not want an increase in participation in their bow seasons. If we were talking about an influx of 18,000 compound bow hunters would the ABA suddenly take change and welcome the insurgence with open arms, or would they suddenly include proficiency tests or other means to limit the number of users to their seasons? One would hope they would welcome new members with open arms, but would they?

I understand the ABA’s concerns and wonder how I might feel were I as entrenched to the bowhunting community as many so against crossbows are. Would I feel threatened? Maybe. But I don’t care who you are; if you look at where the crossbow fits, it is within archery season because it is archery equipment. Arguments to the contrary just don’t hold weight. And no I do not receive free product from any crossbow manufacturer. I do own a crossbow, but I also own a compound bow as well as several rifles. Would I suddenly take up my crossbow and join the ranks of the ABA if it was allowed during archery season? Probably not—I’m just not sold on warm weather hunting, but that’s just me.

Since April of this year four more states have given the green light to crossbow use during archery seasons. Like it or not, the crossbow is slowly being accepted as a management tool by wildlife managers across North America for obvious reasons, including hunter retention and recruitment. I’m still not sure why the ABA would be so against that? ■

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