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A Question of Crossbows
Should crossbows be allowed during archery season?

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The question of whether or not to allow the use of crossbows for hunting during the archery hunting season is a debate that often rages in the hunting community. Some think it's a great idea, while others consider the notion to be heresy. I, for one, don't see a problem with crossbows being used alongside longbows, compound bows, and recurves. What does it hurt?

I've discussed this with some hunters here in Florida, where there's talk of allowing hunters to use the crossbow during our archery season. Some hunters are rabidly against it, others are unsure, and still others don't see anything wrong with it.

I confess that in the past I've argued otherwise in similar discussions regarding the use of modern inline muzzleloading rifles during muzzleloader season, but my reasoning was a bit different. That, and I've changed my thinking on some things during the years since. At any rate, I'd like to look at some of the questions regarding crossbow use and effectiveness, and present my own views on it, along with some good old-fashioned numbers. Looking at some of the main arguments against the crossbow seems like a good way to do this.

Crossbows Are Too Efficient
Some hunters say the crossbow is just too efficient a tool to be allowed in the woods alongside other bows, like recurves and compound bows. They point to other states, Ohio being a favorite because they have allowed crossbows to be used during their archery season since 1976. Looking at certain trends can be alarming, I'll grant -- if taken on their own, without any other information.

Some figures, presented by none other than a group calling itself a "National Anti-Crossbow Committee," are obviously designed to frighten hunters into believing that the presence of crossbows in the woods will lead to a drastically increased deer kill, and cause them to believe that the resulting larger take will require a reduction in the length of the season, or decimate the deer population, or both. Below are some numbers as presented in one piece of anti-crossbow propaganda. They are said to be "statistics from Ohio DNR publication #166."

Yearly Harvest by Weapon Type

Hand-Held Bow

This certainly shows an increase in the number of deer taken with crossbows as opposed to other bows, but so what? What it doesn't tell us is how many crossbow hunters were in the woods vs. the number of other bow hunters. If more hunters use crossbows, then it stands to reason that there will be more deer taken with crossbows. Those numbers, however, are not included, and without them the crossbow can certainly be made to look like a much more efficient hunting tool than other bows.

The increase in the overall kill is not explained, either. Is it due to increased bag limits, more hunters in the woods, a longer season, bigger deer herd, or what? We don't know, and one can't logically assume it's attributable to the crossbow, since the take with other bows continued to increase as well.

In a more recent news release, found on the Ohio DNR's Web site and dated March 6, 2000, the numbers still reflect an upward trend in crossbow kill, compared with that of other bows. The 1999 season numbers say that 16,940 deer were taken by use of crossbow, while longbow hunters archers took 12,364. They also state that "More deer have been taken during the archery season with crossbows compared to longbows each year since 1989."

This certainly indicates that crossbows are a highly efficient hunting tool, right? Well, maybe not. I can see how anyone looking at the first two sets of numbers above could believe that the crossbow is a deer-slaying tool of the highest order, but a closer look reveals that, in the case of the state of Ohio anyhow, that's just not true. More current information obtained from the Ohio Department of Wildlife (ODOW) for the year of 2001 says this:

"Of the 155,000 archery participants, 70,000 used a crossbow, 55,000 use a vertical bow and 30,000 used both. Of seniors who apply for and receive a free license, 4,000 used a crossbow, 1,000 used a vertical bow and 1,000 used both. Success rates for 2001 were identical for crossbow hunters and vertical bow hunters at 14%."

Identical success rates! I wouldn't have thought so, really, before reading the above statistics (which are, however, obviously estimates rather than hard numbers). I've often heard that crossbows give a huge advantage over other bows. I don't tend to believe everything I read or hear, and I figured the success rates were in fact much closer than the nay-sayers would have us believe... but to find that neither tool outperformed the other, well, that's a real eye-opener. The increased crossbow kill -- which concerns so many -- seems to be simply a side effect of more hunters using them in the woods.

A friend took some of ODOW's total kill numbers for the 2000-2001 season and went to work on them. Using them alongside the numbers listed in the quote above, he determined that something, somewhere, is amiss... the numbers don't reflect identical success rates, and the rates indicated are higher than the estimate above. He determined that the provided numbers indicate a 23% success rate for crossbow users and a 21% success rate for other bow hunters. This is more in line with what I would expect, that crossbows are more effective than other bows... but not by much.

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