Crossbow: Fact, Fiction and History

Before you head into the field with a crossbow, understand the rules defining its lawful use in the state you’re hunting.

Crossbow: Fact, Fiction and History

The rules and regulations regarding the use of crossbows in North America ranges from an outright ban to equal status with other archers. It is a contentious issue in many regions of the country, so let’s look at the facts to try and determine the wide discrepancy between crossbow myths and the truth. 

A Brief Crossbow History

The crossbow probably did have many advantages back in 1139 AD, when Pope Innocent II forbid their use by Christian against Christian, saying they are “Deathly and hateful to God and unfit to be used among Christians.”

English longbowmen — that required up to a year of training to build muscle and gain accuracy — resented the crossbow at inception. And for good reason; the longbow-shooting English archers were a formidable force until the crossbow came onto the scene. Although the crossbow did not provide the range of the longbow, it took only weeks of training to send recruits into battle.

More resentment surfaced, when for centuries, English archery seasons were established and crossbows were not included as legal weapons. The old English laws carried forward to modern times, and the misconceptions of crossbows continue. Old English law traditionally decided against the use of crossbows and in favor of longbows.

Traditional vs. Compound vs. Crossbow

Unfortunately, when it comes to the tool of choice, hunters do a great job of dividing and conquering themselves.

Crossbows are not conventional archery equipment and therefore are not for everyone. They may not be as challenging, since one doesn’t have to draw a crossbow at a critical moment, but that doesn’t mean one doesn’t need great hunting skills to get close to the game in the first place.

The debate about unfair draw comparisons often extends into other realms of the archery world. Draw a 50-pound traditional bow and see how long you can stay at full draw compared to a state-of-the-art compound with 80-percent letoff. Is that a fair comparison? Or, is it more a question of individual challenge and enjoyment from what they are doing? Yes, you may not have to draw your crossbow just before you take your shot, but you still must use your hunting skills to get very close and to have spent many hours practicing to ensure shot placement will dispatch the animal quickly and effectively.

Again, it’s a comparison of individual wants and needs in terms of challenge and enjoyment. With that in mind, here are a few questions to ponder.

Crossbow Questions

Is it a gun or a bow?

There is a consistent argument that crossbows cannot be compared to any vertical bow. And, for that reason, they are usually compared to a rifle. After all, it looks more like a rifle than a bow. So, it must perform more like a firearm, right? I don’t think so. Limbs and strings make it a bow, especially when it doesn’t include gunpowder.

Bill Troubridge, founder of Excalibur Crossbows, may have described the dilemma best when he was forced to defend the crossbow with politicians wanting to restrict their use and ownership. When asked, “They say this is more like a gun than a bow?” Troubridge responded, “The same way a calculator is like a mobile phone. They both have buttons that you push. They have different purposes; they do not react the same.”

Do crossbows compare to guns that shoot bullets rather than a vertical bow’s arrow?

Anyone wading into the crossbow debate should look up the statistics of arrow trajectory, kinetic energy and other important factors that show a crossbow doesn’t have an unfair advantage over vertical bows. The data will show the modern compound bow has the advantage in speed, accuracy and range. Most of the high-tech vertical bow manufacturers are producing impressive speed bows, which can easily shoot around 350 fps. To achieve the same type of speed and energy crossbow enthusiasts would have to shoot a crossbow with a 225-pound draw weight.

A crossbow shooting a 448-grain arrow at 450 fps still has an incredible arc to hit a target at 100 yards, which can make it seem somewhat medieval. TenPoint’s new Nitro XRT, shooting 470 fps, still recommends a maximum hunting range of 60 yards. Crossbows are capable of shooting much farther, but there are too many variables that make shooting at greater distances unethical.

Comparing a crossbow that shoots a 20-inch arrow to a compound bow with an average draw length of 29 inches, it isn’t hard to see why modern vertical bows have an advantage in distance and accuracy — long, stable arrows do make a difference. Crossbows are forced to shoot heavier arrows for stability and energy transfer and to reduce noise, which quickly reduces their effective range.

In which hunting seasons should crossbows be allowed?

Unfortunately, hunting seasons for crossbows aren’t being established for reasons of hunter satisfaction. It’s difficult to determine why crossbows are allowed or not, within the different states and provinces and the arguments being used contradict themselves terribly. It’s a darn mess, and misinformation and jealousy seem to be the top reasons why crossbows aren’t more accepted across our nation.

Crossbows are much closer to vertical bows than a rifle, so it only makes sense if they don’t have their own season, then they are included in archery seasons, but that’s not the case throughout most of North America.

Should all hunters promote hunting regardless of the tool?

At a time when most hunting communities are screaming to recruit more participants, the crossbow may be a great tool to bring back old participants and encourage new ones. With high game populations and expanding urban areas, there are more restrictions on hunting all the time. Limited-range tools are required for safety, but in most areas we need to harvest more game.

Why hunt with a crossbow?

Hunting seasons are set for biological reasons and to provide opportunity for hunters. The regulations, or rules, set and used for hunting ensure safety and facilitate enforcement. As far as I know, seasons aren’t set anywhere in North America based on the challenge of any hunt. And if the crossbow is truly comparable to the modern compound vertical bow, why wouldn’t they be used in the same seasons and situations?

Crossbow Statistics

According to TenPoint, crossbow use in different states and seasons are as follows:

  • 26 states: Legal in archery season
  • 11 states: Legal in firearm season
  • 6 states: Legal for physically challenged hunters during archery season
  • 2 states: Legal during a portion of archery season
  • 2 states: Legal for hunters over a certain age
  • 1 state: Legal for use in archery season with a planned review after 3 years
  • 1 state: Legal for use in archery season-private land only
  • 1 state: Illegal hunting equipment
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