While it isn’t burning as hot as it was a decade ago, the crossbow-versus-vertical-bow debate is still a hot-button issue. Even though the arguments are pretty played out at this point, there are still plenty of folks ensconced on both sides.
While there are several points of contention between both sides, one that isn’t easily answered asks, is crossbow hunting really archery hunting? To start to suss out the answer, it’s best to acknowledge the function and performance of both weapons.
Regarding the latter, the pro-crossbow side likes to argue that the performance of their weapons is, at best, similar to a modern compound. The anti-crossbow side disagrees. In some ways, both are right.
I’d argue that hunters in both camps generally stick to ranges of sub-40 yards. Now, I know you can go to YouTube and watch folks shoot 100-plus yards with both styles of weapons. But they are outliers (at least, I hope they are).
A truly competent shooter with either weapon can pop a balloon a football field’s distance away, but most folks won’t even practice that far. And most, wouldn’t dream of trying to shoot a deer that far away. In this aspect of performance, it seems like we are almost self-policing. Anyone with a few deer seasons under their belt usually understands that what can go wrong, will. This happens often enough at 20 yards to make most ethical hunters pretty cautious when ranges get doubled, tripled, or even longer.
The real difference between the weapons here is not what they’re capable of, but how quickly the average shooter can be capable with them. Show me someone who can shoot tight-ish groups at 100 with a modern compound, and I’ll show you someone who has spent some real time at the range with a well-tuned setup. The same can’t be said for crossbows because the ease of accuracy and gun-like platform shortens the whole process of becoming really deadly.
At sub-40 yard ranges, that difference still exists, but the requisite time of getting good is subdued. Still, the advantage goes to the crossbow shooters here.
My twin daughters turned 11 last December, and the last two seasons they’ve crossbow hunted in Wisconsin. Between them, they have killed two bucks and four does. If they had to use vertical bows the score would be zero, because they wouldn’t have been able to pull enough weight to even hunt.
Some say that’s an argument against crossbow inclusion, but I disagree. Probably because I’m biased toward being able to hunt with my kids. The truth is, functionally, crossbows are a hell of a lot easier to use than vertical bows.
But does this matter when it comes to hunting strategies, tactics, and styles? Not really. There isn’t a huge advantage to being a crossbow hunter as far as what you have to do to get a deer in front of you. It’s when the deer are there, in range, that the real difference shows itself.
When my daughters sit in a blind with me, they have a crossbow locked into a tripod. This means that when it’s go time, they barely have to move to shoulder it, aim it, and fire it. Anyone who has been busted drawing a vertical bow on a close-range deer knows how much of an advantage that is.
When it comes to the moment of truth, there’s no real comparison. A crossbow requires far less movement, and movement when a buck is in the red zone has left a lot of archery tags unfilled.
For vertical bowhunters, when to draw is the dominant thought in their mind when a deer approaches. Even if it isn’t accompanied by any noise (drawing a bow often is), it still guarantees movement. It’s also a commitment to something that will eventually require a decision. You can’t hold at full draw indefinitely, so you’re going to have to let down or let an arrow fly.
A crossbow on a good rest alleviates the hunter of this issue, and it’s a big advantage. Aside from minimizing the need for range time, it’s probably the biggest.
The big question is, does any of this really matter? I’d argue, in a lot of cases, probably not. Unless there is a significant impact on the wildlife resource that can be attributed to one weapon or another, it’s probably not worth losing sleep over.
It’s also true that crossbows are easier to use, and hunters like easy. We all do. If you don’t believe that, take a look at your hunting gear choices. Consider your clothing, broadheads, or whatever. They probably offer you an advantage you don’t actually need. Or maybe you lease ground, instead of hunting public land. Ask yourself, why. It’s probably not because you want the hunt to be harder.
We all draw our own lines in the sand, and we should be honest about them. Is a crossbow the same as a modern compound? Nope. A modern compound isn’t the same as recurve or longbow, either. Or a high-caliber rifle, for that matter.
No one would argue that hunting deer with a recurve is the same as hunting with a .308, because that would be stupid. Hunting with a crossbow isn’t the same as hunting with a vertical bow, either. Arguing that it is doesn’t make sense. Especially since widespread adoption is here to stay, and as long as the resource doesn’t suffer, it probably doesn’t matter much overall.
It is, however, an interesting topic to argue about.