Crossbows

Summary

Over the last decade, many states have expanded opportunities for archery hunters wishing to use crossbows. Incorporating crossbow hunting opportunities into game management may increase hunter recruitment and retention, and crossbows can be valuable tool for controlling game populations, particularly in suburban and urban areas.

Introduction

Over the past decade, more states have eliminated restrictions on using crossbows for hunting. While one state (Oregon) still bans crossbows entirely, most others (28 states) now allow unrestricted crossbow use throughout all big game seasons.[1] Still other states choose to allow crossbows only in certain seasons. For example, some states ban the use of crossbows in archery-only seasons, while allowing them to be used during firearms seasons. Incorporating crossbows may increase hunter recruitment and retention by potentially offering another facet of bow hunting; a report released by the Michigan Department of Natural Resources titled “Crossbow Deer Hunter Survey (January 2013)” supports this claim. The study found that "about 19% (18,731) of the hunters using a crossbow in 2011 in Michigan had never hunted with anything other than a firearm prior to the expanded use of crossbows."[2] Further, crossbows, like other archery equipment, are also a useful tool for the management of deer populations in suburban and urban areas where the concerns of human-wildlife conflict, damage to property and the environment are particularly high.

The increasing trend towards the elimination of crossbow restrictions has been a source of controversy among some traditional bowhunters. These traditional hunters contend that crossbows provide some hunters with an unfair advantage. However, when observing the harvest rates of crossbows and vertical bows in various states, it appears that the rates are similar. In North Carolina, for example, from 2012 to 2019, crossbows accounted for an average of 4.17% and vertical bows accounted for an average of 6.94% of the total deer harvest annually.[3] In Wisconsin, the crossbow harvest was less than the vertical bow harvest and success rates were relatively similar. Crossbows accounted for 11% of the deer taken in 2015, whereas regular bows accounted for 17% of deer taken. Also, the observed success rates for crossbows in the state in 2014 and 2015 were 25% and 26%, respectively. Standard bows had a success rate of 25% each of those years.[4] Additional debate on this topic has surfaced regarding wounding rates of various bow types. Some members of the conservation community feel that crossbows may wound more deer than traditional archery implements such as the compound, long, and recurve bows. To date, there has been no statistically rigorous study conducted that support these claims.

Points of Interest

  • Crossbows may be a useful tool for certain sectors of the population, who for physical reasons (such as age, disabilities, etc.), may be incapable of using a traditional bow.
  • Crossbows are a useful implement to consider when evaluating suburban/urban deer management scenarios.
  • A peer-reviewed study found that both hunters and homeowners support the use of crossbows for suburban/urban deer management.
  • A dramatic decrease in the archery hunting population has been shown to occur as people grow older. According to license data in Wisconsin, between the ages of 40 and 50, the total number of archery hunters will have been reduced by half. Once that same age group of hunters turns 60, their numbers will only be 40% of what they were at age 50. In areas where the crossbow debate is particularly contentious, allowing hunters under the age of 15, or over the age of 55, may prove to be an acceptable compromise.
  • 25 states, most recently Connecticut, Kansas, and Mississippi, now allow for the full-inclusion of crossbows.
  • Many arguments used by crossbow opponents today are the same arguments used to oppose the inclusion of compound bows during archery seasons in the 1970’s, despite changing demographics of hunters and advances in technology since that time.
  • In 2016, through the bill NH H 1388 New Hampshire expanded crossbow hunting into muzzleloading season.
  • In 2016, Vermont enacted VT H 570 making it illegal to transport a cocked crossbow in any motorized vehicle.
  • As noted above, a 2013 study from the Michigan Dept. of Natural Resources suggested that allowing the use of crossbows for hunting may increase overall participation in archery hunting.
  • In 2019, LD 27 allowed in Maine the use of crossbows for spring turkey season, fall turkey season through 2022, and deer during open archery season through 2022.
  • In 2019, Kentucky increased crossbow deer season by roughly 50 days, reserving two weeks in September for vertical archery hunters. Youth crossbow deer season was also expanded to be fully concurrent with vertical archery season.

Moving Forward

There is a high level of variability in the way states have chosen to regulate crossbows. Some states choose to allow for liberal usage in most of their seasons, while others restrict them to firearm-only seasons (with exceptions for seniors or disabled persons, and in some cases youth). Only one state has banned the use of crossbows altogether. Ultimately, whether to allow crossbows for hunting continues to be a state issue, and it is recommended that policymakers lift restrictions for disabled persons and explore easing restrictions for crossbow use in consultation with the state fish and wildlife authorities in each state.

Contact

For more information regarding this issue, please contact John Culclasure at jculclasure@congressionalsportsmen.org

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