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The Great Crossbow Debate
Field & Stream is running a beginner’s guide to crossbows in its August issue, and the editors want to hear your opinion on where the weapons belong in the hunting landscape. Should they be considered just another bow? Or should they be banned from archery seasons? Read David E. Petzal and Anthony Licata's positions (below), then tell us what you think.
Crossbows, Compounds ... Who Cares?
By Deputy Editor David E. Petzal
This blog is supposed to be about guns, but a good argument is a good argument, so why not?
The crossbow was invented in China, certainly by 200 B.C., and possibly as early as 600 B.C. Like gunpowder, its use eventually spread to Europe, where people used it to shoot each other. The first person who really didn’t like crossbows was Pope Innocent II. In 1139 he and the Lateran Council outlawed the use of the crossbow (except on non-Christians) declaring that skill with it was a “deadly art, hateful to God.” In 1146 it was outlawed throughout Europe, but then, as now, people paid no attention to weapons bans.
Crossbows were for short range only, and their rate of fire, compared to the longbow, was very slow. But their advantage was that the average ignorant dung-encrusted peasant required little training in order to use one, while it took a lifetime of practice to produce a competent longbowman. Firearms made the crossbow obsolete as a military weapon, but it remained popular for hunting.
People still hate crossbows because, compared to a conventional bow, they supposedly require little skill; and they remove the single greatest handicap of the conventional bow by letting you keep an arrow “cocked and locked” indefinitely. Users of stickbows and compounds brood on this and become enraged. “Unsporting,” they bellow, and demand that crossbows be outlawed for hunting.
This is pretty thin logic. If you compare a crossbow to a compound, there are two differences. One is the stock. The other is, you can put a scope sight on a crossbow. But how much advantage is a scope over fiber optic sights? A crossbow is still a 40-yard tool, just like a compound. Is the stock that big a deal? I tend to doubt it. A lot of animals are taken each year by hunters who have to draw their bows just before they shoot, so really, is it that hard?
Unless you want to limit people to stickbows and flintlocks, drop the hypocrisy. A crossbow is just a bow, albeit one with a handle, and it belongs in archery seasons as sure as any modern compound does.
Crossbows Are Great, But They’re Not Bows
By Deputy Editor Anthony Licata
I think it’s ridiculous that in 22 states crossbows are either completely illegal for hunting or an option for handicapped hunters only. There is no logical reason for this third-rate status. But there is a time and place for everything, and while crossbows are a fine choice for any general hunting season, they do not belong in archery-only seasons.
First, some simple facts. Crossbows and modern compound bows are so similar in ballistic performance that they are both 40-yard weapons. A Crossbow is easier to fire accurately because of its sights, stock, and ability to be braced during the shot. But to be fair, with advances in design, components, and mechanical releases, modern compounds are getting easier to master as well.
There is one essential difference between the two. Because you can cock and load a crossbow, you eliminate what any bowhunter will tell you is the sport’s biggest challenge: drawing an arrow undetected on an animal standing within 40 yards.
Some say, so what? Isn’t it better to do anything that gets more hunters in the field? They claim that by banning crossbows from bow seasons, we’re dividing our hunting fraternity and playing right into the hands of antihunters.
Forgive me for not following the party line, but the idea that setting separate seasons for different types of weapons somehow makes us vulnerable to antihunters is foolish and paranoid. In fact, I think that primitive weapons’ seasons actually help hunting.
To me, the whole point of primitive seasons is to acknowledge and reward the idea that hunting should be hard. In our daily lives we welcome every technological advancement that helps us do things easier and faster. But don’t we hunt to get away from all that? Hunting is about using ancient, primal skills in a way that respects nature and the animals we pursue. Once we accept technology over competence and instant gratification before sacrifice, we forfeit what makes hunting so much more than a pastime or hobby. The biggest threat to hunting isn’t division within our own ranks--it’s the ethic that considers more hunters killing more deer as the ultimate end, no matter the means.
Certainly the advances in modern compounds and in-line muzzleloaders have eroded some of the meaning of primitive seasons. But let’s try to preserve what is left of their spirit. If you’re a junior hunter or an injury prevents you from pulling back a compound, then I think a crossbow is fine during bow season. Otherwise, work on your skills, and let’s keep our archery seasons for bows that you actually have to draw before you shoot.