« Quote of the Day | Main | The Anaconda Principle »

June 08, 2007

This page has been moved to http://www.fieldandstream.com/blogs/gun-nut

If your browser doesn’t redirect you to the new location, please visit The Gun Nut at its new location: www.fieldandstream.com/blogs/gun-nut.

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.


TrackBack URL for this entry:

Listed below are links to weblogs that reference The Great Crossbow Debate:


Clay Cooper

Between WaltSmith, Mark, Dr. Ralph and John B.
They said it all.

I know for a person to get a crossbow permit; even a handicap permit of any kind is a pain in the but and makes the individual to stay home. And a some waked out “PINHEAD” with false pride and drinks there own bathwater gets some vision beyond comprehension wants you to live up to there whatever ness.

The more bows and crossbows are used the prices comes down and quality goes up drawing more people to enjoy the sport. This puts more tax money into Game and Fish of that State projects to enhance Turkey, Elk and Moose population to name a few.

I don’t see any outright advantage of a crossbow over a bow of any kind, unless the person has medical restrictions. PERIOD!

If you want to be primitive, just get totally but naked with a loincloth and a spear and just go for it! And you must use a sharp rock for a knife to gut you game. Nothing that is factory made and/or made from modern materials can be used in the hunt, this includes matches, cigarette lighters, flash lights, game boys, cell phones, canned, processed goods or water canteens to name a few. O’ya, NO SMOKING!

Go gettem their Cro-Magnon Man!
AKA: edo edi essum Odocoileus virginianus guano

Dr. Ralph

It doesn't matter if you develop a bow that kills caribou instantly at 700 yards?

Hey I want one of those! LMAO!!!

Chris S.

What we really need to do is look at the states that tried different approaches for different types of weapons and talk to avid hunters and scientists about the results. This should give all the states a good idea about which season to place a weapon in based on clear differences and similarities in how the weapons function or perform. And also what impact that might have on the harvest of animals. Having said the above, I have tried very hard my whole life not to hunt animals with a scope on my weapon. I hunt mostly with a compound bow but recurves are also in my arsenal. Sorry guys, I think you get nearly the same rise out of the latest video games as you would out of shooting a white tail from your heated, elevated blind at 300 yds. Those who are very young or handicapped are welcome to use a crossbow during bow season--although I would ask them to leave the scope at home. If you wanna solve the debate, shorten the rifle season and add a crossbows-only season following rifle season--once again, no scopes. Maybe some of the fellas will actually have to get out of their trucks and heated blinds to get within 30 yds and feel what it is like to really hunt. Scopes with today's rifles make for "killing" not "hunting." Maybe that is what we should be debating?

Clay Cooper

scope on a crossbow is better?

Clay Cooper

If putting a scope on and using a magnum, tell me why I did better on the 1000 yard line with my M1A with open sights over the majority of the 300 magnum shooters

It's not the arrow, it's the INDIAN!

Brett in VA

Why do i need to give up my time to hunt with a rifle because someone wants to use a crossbow. Why can't they just use it during rifle season?

I personaly would never hunt with one, but to each his own.


I fit into the physically challanged category due to nerve damage as well. The compound bow is not an option anymore. I don't feel the crossbow gives much of an advantage over traditional bows anyway. You still must rely on great hunting skills and become thoroughly familiar with the proper way to use the crossbow. To each thier own. I actually have a bigger problem with the new dot scopes out for firearms. The point of hunting is to learn how to hunt, not just make it easier to kill something.

John Grunwald

I live in the South where box stands and tree stands are used extensively by both bow and long gun hunters. A crossbow in this type of stand is no different than a modern "long bow" especially in the same stand. I see most states now allow both kinds of hunting from a stand so what is the beef?

Jim Orth

In my state-ND, they issue multiple extra licenses for does to try and control the population so we don't harvest quite so many with our pickups and cars. I say if people would rather eat the delicious creatures than see them rotting in the ditch, what's the harm? By the way, I am a member of PETA. . . People eating tasty animals.

SD Bob

4 years ago I lost my left hand while topping a big maple. Before that I bowhunted very successfully for 20 years. It amazed me the great joy all my friends felt for me because now I was the lucky one who gets to hunt with a crossbow. For two seasons I did and 5 deer rode him with me. Without a doubt getting the shot off without being detected wasn't an issue. I can't put it any other way: it was easy! I sold the crossbow and now I have a piece of dog leash attached to a string loop and shoot my bow by biting down on this leash and pushing the bow out versus pulling the string back. Crossbow's are not for me but I couldn't care less if that's what a guy chooses . If you want users of this tool to have their own season then I say when? There is nothing to gain but lots to lose by playing the elitist card.

Clay Cooper

I got a great idea!

Lets pass a federal law that all hunters must pass a competency test.

With a firearm they must be able to hit a target at 100 yards and archery at 40 yards the size of a CD disk 8 out of 10 shots with the 2 misses no farter than 3 inches.

Handicap hunters are excluded!

Clay Cooper

by the way all shots must be standing position and NRA rules apply!

Tom Fowler

Amazing stuff, these discussions. Some quote Latin, some nonsense, and some good, sound hunting logic. I have to notice a couple of things throughout, however:
1. everyone seems to be charitable towards the handicapped shooter...the older shooter might be included there too, after say, 65?
2. there is a theme of letting the state tell us what hunting is, or is not. I don't know how to get away from that, completely, but I can sense a real ethical dilemma between what some of us call 'fair chase' and some do not.
3. Diversity. We have it brought before our eyes 24/7, and almost rammed into the national pledge...why is hard to ask for the 'state' to work with us to honor the various kinds of sport hunting? The state does well...the longbowman does too, and most all of us cheer on the handicapped hunter who CHOOSES to hunt with a legal advantage.

I have to confess something here...when Pennsylvania finally came across with a muzzle-loading season, they limited it to flintlocks, and I wondered if they weren't being a bit TOO primitive, discouraging people from taking up muzzleloading. Now, I have to say there was some wisdom in it...but what's to say there is not some wisdom in allowing another season for the modern muzzle-loader, with scopes, sealed breeches, and shotgun primers?

I do believe that a little flexibility, honoring all kinds of sport hunting is good---and, it sells licenses and equipment, and that goes back into helping hunting. [And, you still aren't quite sure what I hunt with...right?]



To anyone who would completely ban crossbows for hunting, I say "WHAT THE F*CK IS WRONG WITH YOU???!!!" A weapon is a weapon is a weapon, and allowing a rifle or a shotgun or a muzzleloader is no better or worse than alowing a crossbow. STUPID to think of a rifle or a shotgun as sporting, but a crossbow as non-sporting. Just simply incredulous. At a minimum, allow crossbows to run for a limited time DURING the bow season, or even give it it's own season, since it probably is easier than a regular bow. And so are rifles and shotguns, so why not allow a weapon that is mid-way in difficulty between regular bows and firearms? Damn, stupidity just pisses me off so much.

Clay Cooper

Mr Tom Fowler

As you noticed, I tossed a stink bomb in for a hunter competency test. My experience ranges from being an avid hunter to Military Game Warden to Arkansas Hunter Safety Instructor to NRA Firearms Instructor and much, much more. There is in fact a dilemma here. Were do you draw the line. Sir Tom, you pretty much nailed it along with a few other folks.

Several things must be considered here.

First and foremost safety.
How safe is the equipment being used.
Safety of that hunter, the other hunters and the general population of others in the area.

Second, This includes how easy the operation of the equipment being used and this relates back to the safety issue. To build interest in that discipline and category of that sport. Just because somebody likes to play Baseball doesn’t mean they don’t like Football and believe that Football should be done away with. I don’t watch any ball games on TV. Super bowl weekends is to me the best time to be in the woods! There for I WANT MORE SUPERBOWL WEEKENDS! YA’BABY!!!!

Third, keeping the discussion on crossbows with or without scopes. The use of scopes goes both ways, both in accuracy and safety. Even in archery season being limited to less than 40 yards, another hunter is mistaken for game and unfortunately becomes a hunting accident. Staying on the same side of the coin, how many deer are shot and a banded due to mistaking it for a legal game such as bucks. The use of a scope will help to identify what might be legal game or another person. The bottom line is, the use of a scope when safety is concerned, this mater alone out ways the restriction of it.

Fourth, the person medical condition. Can they pull and hold a string back long enough to get a safe and accurate shot or not pull the string back at all.

There are Wildlife Management Units in every State. That WMU can have a special season and what limitations of equipment to be used.

I am not convinced that the restriction of the use of a crossbow and the attachments require the removal of choices to a hunter.

Without interest in one sport, how can anyone justify another?
If I cannot do that, the way I want to, then why can you justify doing it your way because we defer in opinion. Is it really that serious of an issue or is it just plane ignorance? This goes back to HUMILITY!

Ralph the Rifleman

I think crossbows should be allowed, and follow the same rules for archery season.

Clay Ccoper

Ralph the Rifleman


Clay Cooper

Mr. David E. Petzal

Thank you for giving us the opportunity and privilege to discuss this crossbow dilemma.

It’s obvious to me that you will not find a better cross section and a finer group of “True Sportsmen” that truly care than here and to defend the freedom of others.

Field and Stream, Gun Nuts!

How we hunt and the methods are like how we dress and the language we speak. You’ll find acceptance and intolerance the same way as you would find in any multicultural relations.

Loving to hunt and being handicapped, not able to pull a regular bow back, my cross bow with a wind pull back(cocking device) gives me a few extra days in the woods before it gets really cold. Only difference I see in a Cross Bow and a regular bow is the cross-bow is just a short range rifle. I suppose they need to come out with a rifle that only shoots out to 40-50 yds, then it would replace the CB.

Clay Cooper

by Larry Kaniut
Alaska BEAR tales
Many bears have gone to bear heaven because someone misinterpreted its false charge, and there are many men who have been chewed on by bears because they assumed the bear was only bluffing.
During my 4-year tour (1986-90) at Eielson Air Force Base Alaska, I’ve been asked how many bears have I taken. I had hundreds of chances. I had my crosshairs on many with a round in the chamber of my 338 Win Mag with Nosler 250 grain partitions loaded at 2800 fps and a harvest ticket in my backpack. An easy one shot clean kill everyone. I never pulled the trigger though.
Why you ask?
The beauty and respect of one a Hunter to the other (the bear) perhaps? Most of all the cost of having it mounted I couldn’t afford and I knew in the back of my mind that if I did pull the trigger, the hunt was over. I wasn’t ready for the hunt to end, never. I wanted more days to hunt, just to be out there. Even if I came home empty handed, it didn’t matter. The awesome power, to watch a Grizzly role rocks the size of my ATV like a basketball, hunting for rodents. I never have taken a bear until I moved back to Arkansas 4 years ago.
Most of all, being on a mountain ridge, setting on a giant rock overlooking the endless landscape where perhaps no man ever walked.
To watch a snow flurry on a far mountain ridge and feel the Lord setting next to me enjoying what God has made.
I may have came home empty handed,
but my mind is full of awesome memories
It is a experience, I’ll never forget!

Isn’t this what hunting is all about?

Clay Cooper

J. Claussen

Hey Anthony, do you take a horse and buggy to get to the woods as well?

Suppose you had 100 voters.

And the vote was, what’s for dinner.

Of the 100 voters, 99 are wolves and one sheep.

What’s for dinner?

The United States was founded on the principles of the Constitution, not on Democracy.

If you want to be primitive, just get totally but naked with a loincloth and a spear and just go for it! And you must use a sharp rock for a knife to gut you game. Nothing that is factory made and/or made from modern materials can be used in the hunt, this includes matches, cigarette lighters, flash lights, game boys, cell phones, canned, processed goods or water canteens to name a few. O’ya, NO SMOKING!


Clay Cooper

Using game feeders to draw in game is far more devastating to the game population than using a crossbow or any other method. To me this is equal to or perhaps more devastating than poaching!

Ozark Hillbilly

Ozark Hillbilly

Clay u so right it aint funny!

U got d wrong job!

X Ring at 9

Is there any study on the use of crossbows? Never heard of one but I can say using one is not as easy as one think. I rather use a compound bow and Mr clay has a good point and says it all.

Our Blogs