Are Crossbow Hunters Bowhunters?

Do we need more division in our ranks? One dedicated hunter says no.

Are Crossbow Hunters Bowhunters?

I’m proud to say that I’m a hunter and never make excuses about my passion to pursue game and use it to feed my family. In fact, hunting has become a lifestyle for me, a lifestyle I truly believe is healthy for both mind and body. Being a true jack of all trades, I hunt any way I can to spend more time in the field. I love bowhunting and the inherent challenges that come with it.

The first big-game animal I harvested last fall was a bull elk. After just three days of hunting the early archery season, I made a perfect shot with my Bowtech Prodigy at 54 yards. The bull ran less than 20 yards before falling over stone dead. The feeling was euphoric, knowing I took an animal at close range, legally and with hard work. Ethics are a personal thing, but I knew I’ took the animal using the morals and integrity any hunter would be proud of.

I also shot a bull elk in Montana last year after waiting for a coveted draw in a quality hunting area. I took my biggest bull ever, shooting it with a .300 Mag at 170 yards. I climbed mountains, followed fresh tracks and worked my tail off in order to even get an opportunity, but it all worked out in the end. Once again, I knew I took the animal with the morals and integrity any hunter would be proud of.

Here's the conundrum — what if I had shot that first elk of the season with my crossbow? I recently read an article in the e-newsletter for the Pope & Young Club. It was penned by Executive Director Joe Bell. The further I read into the article titled “Thoughts on Fair Chase Bowhunting…” the sadder I got. The article drew a distinct line in terms of how a bowhunter is defined, and it went as far as questioning ethics if you don’t use specific equipment.

I try to understand protecting turf and looking at the way things used to be, but nothing in life is static and that holds true in the hunting world, too. Bell made a clear statement for Pope & Young when he wrote, “This is why the Pope and Young Club does not accept a crossbow as a real archery tool. For this reason, we are against them for use in archery-only hunting seasons. Are we against the person using the crossbow? No, absolutely not. This is foolishness. We are simply against the ‘tool’ for use during archery-designated seasons.”

Do all Pope & Young members feel this way? I know there has been division within the organization in the past when it comes to what tools should qualify for their records program. If a bow has too much letoff, should it be recognized?

My first-ever crossbow column in this magazine stressed the point that I’m a hunter first and foremost and the importance of recognizing, in some way, that all hunters need to be on the same team. We have enough factions working to stop us from hunting in any manner that we shouldn’t allow division and fighting within the fraternity. I’ve always stood by these statements and know there are groups fighting for the same cause.

I could see the Pope & Young statement coming out five or more years ago when the debate still raged over allowing crossbows in archery seasons. But, with more states allowing them than not, it is a statement that divides instead of unites.

I discussed the issue with the Sportsmen’s Alliance, and Brian Lynn, vice president of marketing and communications, summed it up well when he said, “As hunters, we need to be inclusive of all types of methods — bowhunting, hounds, bait, crossbow, trapping — because the Humane Society of the United States and other animal-rights organizations are trying to destroy all of us. They don’t care about the nuances between them. If it results in the death of one animal, they’re going to try to stop it. Today it might be hounds, bait and traps, but tomorrow it will be bows, crossbows and muzzleloaders. If we hope to survive death by a thousand cuts, we need to stick together regardless.”

There are dangers in drawing lines in the sand, and with growing numbers of crossbow hunters comes a bigger voice. If they’re not allowed in archery seasons, we may see archery seasons shortened to allow for a separate crossbow season. On the other hand, think of the strength of the voice if vertical and horizontal bowhunters were to work together?

Bell’s closing statement was, “So, remember, whether someone chooses to bowhunt old style or a bit more new age, let ethics and Fair Chase be the definition of what you consider to be a true bowhunter. Don’t ever isolate a fellow bowhunter, and especially a Club member, whose conduct is admirable, who may choose to hunt or shoot a different way.”

Crossbow hunters are not included in the “old style or a bit more new age,” and to question the ethics of a hunter based on the tool in his hand simply isn’t warranted.

Maybe I’m dreaming, but I still see better opportunity and future for all hunters if we find ways to work together rather than divide. The archery industry as a whole has embraced crossbows, as seen at the recent Archery Trade Association Show. There were more new crossbows and gear than ever before. And major bow manufacturers were scrambling to get in on the windfall of new archers using crossbows. I don’t believe for one minute that all the corporate partners of the Pope & Young Club agree with the statements made in Bell’s article, and that makes it that much more dangerous for the historic organization. They’ve been a strong proponent for archery seasons over the decades and a voice that is needed within the hunting community. I want the Pope & Young Club to be around just as much as I do any other group that promotes hunting for the right reasons.

I think it’s clear that we will see more crossbows across North America, and if it means we have more hunters, more participation, and more funds for conservation and habitat management, we all win.

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