Are Crossbow Hunters Bowhunters?

And should crossbows be permitted during archery season? Here’s my opinion. Let’s hurt some feelings.

I’ll give you, reader, the answer to the test – most folks that take a crossbow into the woods are not bowhunters. I’ll get into the reasons why in a moment, but first I need to put this disclaimer on my argument: if you use a crossbow SOLELY because you have a physical limitation that precludes you from shooting a compound or traditional bow, this article is not about you. I’ll dive into that a little bit more later, but I wanted to get it out of the way now.

And, before we get too far down the road, let’s define what bowhunting is. Above all else, bowhunting is an ethos. Oxford Languages defines ethos as “the characteristic spirit of a culture, era, or community as manifested in its beliefs and aspirations.” The characteristic spirit of the bowhunting community is, I believe, accepting the challenge of becoming a predator. The idea is to get as close to the animal as possible, undetected, and make an ethical shot with a bow and arrow.

Bowhunters embrace the difficulty that comes with navigating the learning curve around the bow and arrow – everything from tuning to shot placement and stealthily drawing back on a critter. There’s nothing easy about becoming proficient with a bow, whether it be a modern compound or a traditional variant. Before you trad folks start looking down at the rest of us, just know you could take all of the money you save on taxidermy and use it on extra tags. Just sayin’ ;).

Conversely, the typical crossbow hunter is determined to remove as much of these challenges as possible. They don’t want to have to get close to animals. They don’t want to take the time to learn how to shoot a bow effectively. They’re often inherently lazy individuals who want all of the benefits of an archery season without any of the speedbumps. Crossbow hunters users are quickly becoming a pockmark on the bowhunting landscape. Many advertisements for crossbows make the subject look like the first door-kicker in a stack – it’s hilarious, but it ain’t reality.

That said, I do not want to see crossbows outlawed entirely because I believe there are some folks that genuinely have no other option. And, these folks – at least in my experience – would prefer to use a compound bow if they could. Perhaps they have a disability. Perhaps they’re getting older and can no longer draw a bow at an adequate weight for hunting. Maybe they’re a 12-year-old hunting with their dad for the first time. These are all acceptable reasons, but being lazy isn’t. A good friend once told me, “you can’t legislate morality,” and that’s no more apparent than it is when we talk about crossbows.

There’s this bullshit narrative floating around the hunting community that says all types of legal hunting must be celebrated because “we’re all on the same side.” I’m sorry, but I don’t have to celebrate your legal right to be a piece of shit. Am I going to take the equivalent of Custer’s last stand and die trying to outlaw crossbows? No, but I’m not going to rejoice over their existence, either. And, what someone does on their own property is their own business, but I’m tired of seeing that garbage on public lands.

The whole point of an archery season is the idea that there are low success rates and everyone is going to be so close to the critter they’ll know exactly what they’re shooting at. It’s why you don’t see hunters’ orange requirements during archery season in most places, but do me a favor and Google “crossbow hunting accident” – you’ll see why I don’t feel all that safe around Fudds with a crossbow.

Crossbow users will often say there’s little difference between their weapon and a modern compound bow. They’ll tell you compound bows have become so advanced they’re practically the same thing. In reality there’s about a 200 feet-per-second difference – crossbows are now capable of shooting over 500 fps and your typical compound hunting bow will hover well below 300. Crossbows come with powered optics, for Christ’s sake. There’s also no drawing back with a crossbow, which is a relatively significant amount of movement that has cost plenty of bowhunters the animal of a lifetime. Just ask any whitetail hunter – drawing on an animal is a skill, and crossbows are the opposite of skill.

I had to shoot my bull elk at nearly 11,000 feet this past year. Not because I wanted to, but because a chain-smoking, 380-pound bowl of melted ice cream with a crossbow blew everything out of the area I’d planned to hunt. I understand I’m not entitled to a damn thing on public land, but I’ve never seen a true bowhunter act with such wonton disregard for the environment or the animals that live there. I discovered cigarette butts at least a quarter mile up the trailhead and beer cans surrounding his camper. To be honest, I’m surprised that jackass made it a quarter mile without dying from cardiac arrest.

Now, I understand this article might come off as a bit (or very) pretentious, but please know that isn’t my goal here. Rather, I’m simply highlighting the difference between two very different forms of legal hunting and hoping I might convince one person to put down their crossbow and pick up a real bow. Shooting a compound or traditional bow is a much more rewarding experience. The sense of accomplishment you’ll feel when taking an animal with one will be well worth the challenges you’ll face along the way. If you do decide to continue hunting with a crossbow, I simply ask that you remember what bowhunting is all about.

6 thoughts on “Are Crossbow Hunters Bowhunters?

  1. I believe crossbow shooting is _A_ skill, but it is more akin to the skill of the rifle shooter. And don’t get me wrong, I own and shoot and like rifles, but they don’t belong in bow season!

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  2. Mr Angry B.

    You are dead on with this article. Bow hunting as a young man in PA back in the 80’s & 90’s was such a pleasure. You rarely saw other hunters during the early rut in late October. Speaking with old friends still there now …..every lazy marshmallow is out there now with those cross guns screwing things up. I now live in Colorado and absolutely love archery elk season here. The state does not allowed cross guns whatsoever. 🤠👍.

    Hey all you marshmallow out there. You want to really be called a true bow hunter ? Get off your backside and get in shape and try to hunt elk out west with a compound or recurve. That is a true test. !!! Your hunting at least 6000-7000 ft. so the air is thin. Your up and down mountains all day long. Not sitting in a box blind or tree stand all day with your thermos of coffee and donuts only 200 yards from the truck.

    Hopefully the Game Comm. will make a separate season for cross guns moving forward. I good time would be late January for one week at the most.

    Thank you.

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  3. I agree with most of this, especially continuing to allow folks unable to use anything other than a crossbow to use one. In Wyoming when special archery pre-seasons were developed, compound bows did not exist, the number of participants was low and success was low. Not so anymore. There are lots of participants, parallel limb compound bows capable of arrow speeds over 300 fps are common, laser rangefinders are available and pin stacks to 130 yards are out there. 80% let off lets you hold until things are just right. Camo, calls and scent control has never been better. Scouting cameras are everywhere. Google Earth and OnX improve success. Archers kill the biggest and best bulls in many areas. Moose Area 1 and Elk Area 38 are prime examples. Sucess rates must not be too bad for some BOW members as they are in the magazine every year with multiple bulls and bucks from several states. Granted, they have skill, but great equipment too. Modern crossbows probably belong in the rifle season for most users. But most of are are not wearing solid color wool and hunting with Grandad’s Kodiak Magnum anymore.

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  4. Wrote a similar story a few months back for a local hook and bullet publication and go emails calling me every name under the sun. Want to hunt with them fine, shouldn’t be allowed in the general archery season.

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