The Utility of Crossbows

A hunter aims his crossbow out of a blind.

Crossbows benefit three distinct groups of hunters and provide all an excellent option for big game hunting

Crossbows get a bad rap. 

That statement shouldn’t shock anyone. Just join any bowhunter Facebook group or talk to someone who’s been running a compound for the last few seasons, and the topic will come up. 

Some people will say it’s “cheating;” some will say they should be allowed, but during gun season or in a special crossbow season. Others may fully accept them as a viable option for big game hunting and support their use during the entire course of bow season. 

I’m part of the latter camp, at least for now. I see technology advancing at a ridiculous rate, and while a lot of those innovations are good for hunters, some aren’t. But that’s the topic of a future column – I’m here to argue for the use of crossbows. 

Full transparency, I worked with TenPoint this past year to test out its RDX-400 model while providing them with stories for the Dominion Post and the Appalachian Hunting Journal. It was a great time, and I learned a lot about crossbows, who they benefit and how they are a viable option for anyone willing to explore them. I also learned that, in most situations, I’d rather have my compound in hand as I enjoy ground hunting and lugging around a crossbow can be annoying. 

If you’re too young to remember or don’t know, in the early days of West Virginia’s crossbow legalization, you needed proof of injury preventing you from drawing a bow. Since then, the use of crossbows has become more accepted, and for the fourth deer season in a row, crossbow kills have surpassed compound and traditional bow kills.

And while crossbows still provide access to injured or disabled hunters, through my time with the RDX-400, I learned that crossbows can greatly benefit two other specific groups of hunters as well: the youth and elderly.

Let’s face it: at some point in our young lives, we shot a gun that potentially left the wrong impression in our head (or in our shoulder). Maybe it didn’t impact us to the point of quitting hunting or shooting, but it may have others. I don’t remember who we were with or where we were, but I remember two specific instances in my young life that if I hadn’t already been introduced to shooting and loved it that I might have never explored it further. The first was shooting a revolver – I believe a .357 – that scared me half to death; the second was a 12-gauge side-by-side that rocked my shoulder beyond belief. And while it didn’t stop me from shooting, I could never fault someone for being hesitant.

But before I get off track here, firearms with larger calibers can scare some children before they ever enter the woods in search of big game. The answer to that is to introduce them to a crossbow. Some are easy to load, and with the correct instruction, you can spend hours working on target practice in areas that guns aren’t viable. Then, when the time comes, they won’t have trigger scare and potentially mess up a shot. 

Elderly folks are another sect of hunters that benefit from hunting. A cruel reality of life is that, at some point in our lives, we’ll get too old to hunt the way we’ve been doing it for years. It may be that you can’t sit in a cold tree stand anymore or pull back your compound. 

Someone I look up to in the hunting world is Dave Samuel. Dave is a well-known bowhunter and wildlife biologist. He’s also a well-decorated member of the outdoor media world, writes the longest-running column in Bowhunter Magazine history and is the author of multiple books. He also gifted me the compound bow I’ll still be using this year, a Hoyt Katera XL. When we were talking one day at his house in the first few months of the COVID-19 pandemic – well-distanced, of course – he mentioned to me that when he was unable to pull back his compound with the required weight to ethically kill a deer, he would stop hunting entirely. He further said that he’s not interested in crossbows. 

Truthfully, I could never do this myself, but I do respect Dave’s decision. He’s dedicated his life to bowhunting and has high expectations for what bowhunting is, so I will never fault him for hanging things up. But I do believe that crossbows are a great way for older folks to keep hunting. As noted for children, the ease of cocking and de-cocking some crossbows is phenomenal. It takes little to no strength to do, and some models have anti-reverse cocking technology so if a hand slips off the crank the string won’t unwind and hurt the user or break. And while the bows themselves tend to be heavier than a compound or traditional bow, as well as most rifles, it isn’t burdensome to carry them from the house, truck or UTV to a treestand or blind. 

Overall, there are still many questions I have about crossbows that I need to discover the answers to on my own. However, I hope even the most “hardcore” bowhunter can take a step back and realize the benefits this platform has for two groups of people we need to get and keep, respectively, in the woods. 

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