Why I Use a Crossbow to Hunt
December 16th, 2023
6 minute read
2023 brought a substantial amount of change to my life; some significant and some, although minuscule in the big scheme of life, was largely unexpected.
On March 1st, 2023, I retired from the military, which was the sole full-time employment of my entire adult life. I found new job opportunities as a freshly minted civilian to fill gaps in a refreshing schedule based around catching up on two decades of procrastinated projects and mundane tasks that were continually delayed.
Typical of a recently retired veteran, I grew a beard — another first after two decades of a cleanly shaven face and biweekly haircuts. My past motorcycling passion was rekindled this year, along with trading in a manual transmission Jeep for a full-size truck (all I’ve owned and driven since early 2004 after returning stateside from OIF-1 were stick-shift Wranglers a Gladiator).
My wife and I purchased our “forever home” this year, complete with a private shooting range and enough additional acreage to hunt our own small parcel just a short walk from the back deck. The 2023 hunting season to this point has treated me fairly with deer tags filled in two additional states that I hadn’t previously visited.
None of these events were too shocking to many in my close circle, but when pictures of deer harvests from the first two states I hunted this year circulated, I received many text replies questioning a new tool in the photo. Yes, I switched from a compound bow to a crossbow for 2023.
I had regularly shot a compound bow in both local 3-D archery and informal indoor leagues as a teenager in the 1990s, with a lengthy pause between archery endeavors. Pennsylvania began allowing crossbows with a magnified optic in the standard archery season around 2009. That was what ignited my interest in getting back in the fall deer woods after a pause spanning 15 years.
The crossbow was the way to quickly gain equipment familiarization and head into a stand. Enjoying that fall season and harvesting a few Pennsylvania whitetails are what led me right back to a vertical bow a few winters later, giving plenty of time to build shooting form before another archery hunting season began.
Being a recreational traditional shooter with an aluminum riser recurve bow and a devout modern compound bowhunter since then, several in my circle of hunting pals were more than surprised that I made a big change for the 2023 deer seasons.
Without going into the details, the use of a crossbow was a personal necessity this season due to the simple crank design for cocking and overall ease of shooting. Simply put, the change was primarily caused by a bum shoulder, and secondarily from reduced practice time with a vertical compound this past year.
History and the Current Trends
The modern crossbow is useful as a hunting tool today for the same reasons they were developed for battlefield use many centuries prior. The crossbow became a common weapon on battlefields close to 1,000 years ago as it allowed a new user to develop quick proficiency compared to a vertical longbow.
Without question, the design and its simple operation are the reasons that crossbows have been increasing in popularity and hunting across the United States. A total of 29 states currently allow use of crossbows during all archery seasons, and more allow restricted use depending on season and disability status.
As an example of growth, the Pennsylvania Game Commission reported 277,602 resident archery permits and 11,812 nonresident archery permits sold in 2010. The latest published data (2022) showed sales of 335,960 and 19,353. Additionally, approximately one third of the deer killed in Penn’s Woods now fall to an arrow, with an overwhelming majority reporting the harvest was taken with a crossbow.
Advantages in Drawing and Trajectory
I stated above that crossbows are easier to use than a vertical bow. However, the reader and potential hunter should know that the crossbow is not a tool that can be used without appropriate familiarization and practice to learn safe methods of operation, along with its capabilities and restrictions.
I’d especially like to mention this for any hunters that have not previously used archery equipment in a hunting capacity. From the release of string to recovery of the game, placing a broadhead behind the shoulder of an animal is quite different than using a bullet. These tools are spectacular for chasing game, but one must know and understand the limitations.
The greatest advantage of a crossbow is evident when taking the first step to shoot. This is the ability to cock the bow upon entering the hunting stand, rather than having to draw on an animal that is likely already within archery distance. The bow that I used this year, a TenPoint Viper 430, does have a cocking mechanism integrated into the bow.
Modern crossbows provide considerable speed. TenPoint’s lineup for 2023 doesn’t list a bow under 370fps. However, the added velocity of a crossbow does not negate the need for a reliable rangefinder. The trajectory is flat compared to an average vertical bow allowing tighter pin gaps, but knowing the distance is still paramount.
Again, it’s important for a new user to fire the bow at various yardages after zero is complete to verify drop at odd distances and to also understand how high or low the shot will be if there is an error in rangefinding. I found that the 30 yard dot of the optic would allow me to comfortably shoot from low-20s to the high 30-yard distances without rise or fall outside of the critical vital area of a mid-sized whitetail. Your mileage will vary depending on bow velocity, weight of arrow and size of game. This crossbow did group well under 3” at 50 yards, yet I still wait for shot opportunities that I’d take with a vertical bow. Know your limits!
One more for the uninitiated to hunting with an arrow — allow time for the game to expire based on location of the shot. I’ve communicated with too many newcomers that immediately tracked an arrow- hit deer and bumped into it before it expired.
The TenPoint Viper 430 and 100-gr. Rage Hypodermic Crossbow NC broadheads served me well this season. The combination resulted in two filled tags; a 10-point whitetail buck in South Dakota and a healthy Illinois doe.
The South Dakota buck did not have the absolute ideal shot placement, but the deer bedded quickly and was found a relatively short distance away, thanks to some assistance from two hunting buddies that shared camp. It was a 40-yard shot and quartered to me a touch more than expected when the broadhead was sent on its way.
The doe this year was so close it filled up the field of view of the optic, giving me an easy shot and quick recovery. Regardless of crossbow capabilities, I still desire a close shot that leaves minimal room for unexpected error or deflection of the arrow.
I will be using a crossbow in Pennsylvania’s late season beginning after Christmas through January. It will be a great fit for the cold season where heavier clothing can obstruct the string of a vertical bow on draw and release. I’m also looking forward to some spring turkey hunts with the crossbow in lieu of shotgun.
I believe many hunters would enjoy the challenge that still exists — getting close to game for a responsible shot. Speaking of challenges, a buddy suggested that I get a low poundage recurve out for a few hunts next year, so don’t assume that I’m continually progressing with the equipment.
Best wishes the remainder of this hunting season, and those to come.
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