Accept efficiency of crossbows and stop infighting

Ross Bielema
Leader Columnist

Have you been shooting your bow or crossbow yet? July slipped away amid a series of rock concerts and a major windstorm. Like Dorothy, I awoke from my dream and discovered I had landed at home, although it was now August. The archery opener is now about six weeks away.

I’m a sucker for outdoors magazines, and when picking up a few groceries at Festival Foods, I had to stop at the magazine stand. Two came home with me: the 30th anniversary issue of Traditional Bowhunter and a Wisconsin Game and Fish series called Crossbow Revolution. Although I love my Barnett FX Raptor crossbow, I keep thinking I need a faster model.

Some bowhunters have to have the latest bow every season, and that gets expensive. Crossbows can rival or surpass the price of high-end compound bows (one Ravin crossbow model retails for $2,500, the price of a decent semi-custom hunting rifle). I can’t see spending that much on a bow, crossbow or rifle. The deer I’ve shot with my $400 Barnett are just as dead as those shot with a $1,000 Matthews Vertix or a $2,000 Ravin crossbow.

Just as crossbow seasons have expanded nationwide (only Oregon does not have some sort of crossbow deer season, and 43 states allow crossbows during all or part of the deer season), so have the number of crossbow models expanded. There are now more companies making more “horizontal bows” than ever. Speeds have topped 400 feet per second. These efficient deer slayers still require the same hunting skills as ever, but it is possible to make an accurate shot out to 100 yards with the high-end models. Crossbow bolts tend to lose energy faster than longer, heavier vertical bow arrows, so attempting shots beyond 50 yards or so could lead to a wounded deer, something none of us want.

I’ve become a strong proponent of crossbows for so many reasons. Probably the best reason for loving this ancient weapon (they date back to the 5th century BC) is because it is such an efficient killer.

I grew up with recurve bows, starting with a 45-pound Bear Grizzly in 1974. Although I’ve bagged small game with it and shot plenty of carp with other recurves, I have never bagged a deer with a traditional bow. I also have to admit that I’ve missed some cleanly and made a couple poor hits, too.

The compound bow changed archery forever. I shot my first deer with a bow around 1979, and that was with a laminated wood Browning Nomad compound. When a buddy’s Browning compound self-destructed as he was shooting it, I switched to Martin compounds, then Hoyt and finally Elite. The Elite Hunter that I bought around 2013 has a smooth draw and solid stop wall, but also a long area of forgiveness if I have to let down slightly on the string.

While a compound bow allows the hunter to remain at full draw for many seconds as the deer walks from behind a tree, for example, it still requires a lot of hand and arm movement to make the shot. In a ground blind, this may not be a big factor, but in the open, it can be a deer-spooker. The crossbow shines in the ground blind because it’s so compact, but in the open, it really requires no more movement than shooting a rifle.

The crossbow also doesn’t require as much practice as the compound bow, and neither requires as much practice as a recurve or longbow. Most of us are just too busy with life to spare an hour a day flinging arrows, although I will say that shooting a traditional bow is much more fun than shooting a compound. Crossbows have allowed more young hunters to enjoy the archery season and older hunters to return to the sport they love. We need more hunter recruitment, and the crossbow does that well.

I recently sent an email to the editor at Traditional Bowhunter magazine, asking to write a pro-crossbow story in response to an anti-crossbow article they ran that said crossbows should only be allowed during rifle season, not archery season. Such infighting among hunters delights the antis and suggests that some of us are just plain selfish. We want to keep “our” deer to ourselves.

The same arguments that crossbows are too easy to use and somehow unfair to fellow archery hunters were used against compound bows in the 1970s. Now most of us embrace that technology (although many of the hunters writing in Traditional Bowhunter do not). The editor made it clear that the magazine does not support crossbow use during archery seasons, which is a real shame. It’s also a shame that wounding deer is an almost inevitable part of most traditional hunters’ history, and the magazine does detail some of these stories (I’m OK with that, but overlooking the inherent humane advantage of both compound bows and crossbows is to overlook something important to hunters and non-hunters alike).

If you want to revisit a nostalgic hunting era, increase the challenge of your deer hunt or just have fun without too much bother field-dressing and dragging out deer, take up a traditional bow. They are a blast.

If you want to fill your freezer with venison, help control the state’s burgeoning deer herd, reduce the spread of chronic wasting disease and make more humane kills, the compound bow’s an excellent choice and the crossbow’s even better.

Let’s stop the infighting and recognize that we all need to kill more deer and have fun pursuing them. Nobody benefits from arguing against crossbows — least of all the hunting community.

Ross Bielema is a freelance writer from New London and owner of Wolf River Concealed Carry LLC. Contact him at