In the spring of 2020, the contentious issue was raised to limit crossbow use for whitetail hunting in the state of Wisconsin. The Wisconsin Conservation Congress again took up this matter, which now seems like an annual event to reign in the use of the crossbow, which continues to grow in popularity. The 2014 hunting season was the first to see the use of a crossbow granted to any hunter, regardless of physical condition or age. Prior to this, the privilege was reserved for hunters age 65 and older or those with a physical disability. A subsequent crossbow season was created to run concurrent to the bow season. This caused both crossbow and crossbow license sales to soar.
However, an unintended consequence of these actions was the creation of a rift between bowhunters and those opting for the crossbow. An issue that rears its ugly head seemingly every year, advanced by those with personal agendas and only self-interest in mind. This begs the question, why the hate for the crossbow?
It was mid-afternoon on November 7th when that five-and-a-half-year-old buck stepped out from behind a short pine tree. He was a mere 22 yards directly in front of my tree stand. I had captured only one blurry night image of this brute about a week earlier. This as the rut had taken hold of him. Now he stood directly facing me as I surveyed him through the scope mounted on my crossbow. I was intensely focused on his vital area and not the hardware on his head. But I knew he was big.
Just minutes ago, I had released one solitary deep grunt as I glimpsed him pushing a doe across an open field. The wind was in my favor this day. I had intentionally positioned this stand at the edge of a thick impassable marsh. TAll this in an effort to keep wary bucks from circling downwind of me. It was all coming together.
This beast and I locked into a stare down for what seemed like hours. I needed him to take one more step to his left to open up a high-percentage shot behind his right shoulder. In my mind, I was pleading with him to step out from behind that pine tree. I also intentionally slowed my breathing in an attempt to minimize my movements.
The Wise Old Buck
With a sudden snort, the wise old deer came to his senses as the desire to fight left him. He took a hesitant step back and began to turn toward the way he had come. At this moment, with only a brief window opening, I move the sights to the area slightly behind his right shoulder. I depressed the trigger and heard the tell-tail ‘smack’ of the 125-grain broadhead locating its minuscule target as the wise old buck ran off.
Waiting as long as I could, I soon climbed down from that tree stand, trying to calm myself. I quickly located the blood trail and minutes later, found this magnificent beast as he had expired under an old oak tree. As I approached him, I noticed the dark chocolate-colored staining of his antlers. He was far and away the largest buck I have ever had the fortune of harvesting. I said a quick prayer thanking the Lord for this great blessing and got to work.
I had hunted with a compound bow for years prior to this fateful day, with moderate success. However, without the accuracy provided by this crossbow, I would not have had the confidence to take this shot on a true trophy. Thus I was able to effectively and ethically harvest the largest buck of my life. Something I will always cherish.
The Story by Numbers
An examination of the most recent whitetail harvest numbers, in the state of Wisconsin, tells a story. The 2019 hunting season resulted in a significant drop in the total harvest numbers. A number which had been steadily increasing since 2014, the inaugural crossbow season. In this five-year window, the 2018 season peaked at 336,464 but dropped 14% in 2019 to 291,023.
Of these totals, gun harvests continue to dominate by more than 300%. Comparatively, bow harvests have shown a steady decline as crossbow harvests have nearly doubled. The 2017 season marked the point wherein crossbow harvest numbers eclipsed those of bow and continue to climb. This despite the decline in total harvest numbers for the 2019 season.
However, this information does not tell the entire story. The total number of annual license sales, specifically bow versus crossbow, is not factored into this statistical analysis. A possible explanation of the increase in crossbow harvests is that a significant number of bow hunters have migrated to crossbow hunting. This would explain the decline in bow harvest numbers and the increase in crossbow harvest numbers- a dual effect of inverse proportion.
For a more clear picture, statistics like success percentage should also be analyzed, specifically bow versus crossbow. However, the noted database provided by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources does not include total license sales figures or state-wide success rates.
And the question still remains, why the hate for the crossbow? With an overall decline in the total harvest numbers in 2019, is the crossbow truly having a tangible effect on the success rates of the bow or the gun? There is much more information need before a final conclusion can be reached.
The Heart of the Issue
The increase in crossbow harvest numbers has also resulted in an increase in buck harvests through this method of hunting. Perhaps this is where the heart of the debate lies. For those who are not sustenance hunters, a trophy whitetail harvest is the ultimate accomplishment. For bow hunters who spend countless hours practicing, scouting, clearing trails and shooting lanes, the crossbow may be seen as shortcut to the same end.
It is undeniable, the crossbow holds certain advantages over the compound and longbows. It eliminates the need to draw and hold a draw on target. The crossbow adds the advantage of optics as well as increased distance and arrow speed. As opposed to the compound or longbow, there is much less practice required to become proficient with a crossbow. If you are familiar with the operations of a long gun, the crossbow can be an easy transition.
Conventional hunters may look to the use of a crossbow as a further move away from traditional hunting, much like longbow hunters did when the compound bow made its entrance onto the scene. As is apparent, the compound bow has become the industry standard. Yet there remain the dedicated hunters who insist on keeping the time-honored tradition of the longbow alive. Will time eventually mend these fractured relationships? Will bow and crossbow hunters ever come to a mutual understanding, as was done years ago, with those choosing the new compound bow over the longbow? We shall see.
Perhaps the Real Issue
In the end, all whitetail hunters have similar goals. We strive to enjoy the outdoor resources Wisconsin has to offer and pass these traditions on to the coming generations. It is for these purposes it only benefits all hunters to respect one another. And to respect the methods each chooses to ply their skill. As long as we act in a legal and ethical manner, there is ample room for both bow and crossbow hunters to thrive. With this unity, there is strength to stand against those who would look to divide. And unfortunately, this seems to be the case.
Perhaps, the real affair lies with the Wisconsin Conservation Congress and their annual attempts to stoke the flames of dissension. This state-mandated body of elected officials holds only advisory authority and is tasked with the representation of its constituents. Yet repeatedly, attempts continue to be made to introduce strict and incongruous limitations on the use of the crossbow. This has left many hunters feeling targeted and frustrated. And not only is the use of the crossbow in the sights of the Conservation Congress. More recently, the Conservation Congress has also raised the idea of expanding and modifying the nine-day gun deer season to the point of non-recognition. A move that strikes at the grand traditional we have come to love. Thankfully, common sense prevailed and much of the state hunting regulations remain unchanged for the following year.
There is truth in the old adage, leave well enough alone. If the members of Conservation Congress would set aside personal agendas and faithfully represent the people of this great state, the rift between bow hunters and crossbow hunters would mend and we would no longer have to ask the question, why the hate for the crossbow?