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Crossbows -- is it time?



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August 01, 2007
Currently under Michigan law the use of a crossbow to hunt whitetail deer is limited to only those who have a documented, by a physician, physical disability of at least 80%. There are several hoops that individuals must pass through if they hope to use a crossbow as a deer hunting weapon during the general bow season. The topic of liberalizing these requirements and streamlining the process was discussed at the May meeting of the Natural Resource Commission, the body that is charged with overseeing MDNR policy and regulations.

Is it time for Michigan to step away from a limited use of crossbows during the general bow season and legalize its use for anyone?

This very question will raise hackles of ire in some individuals and groups including Michigan Traditional Bowhunters, Michigan Bowhunters, as well as the Pope and Young Club. However, anger and indignation should not be the determinant of whether a policy or regulation should be implemented. Neither should social issues be a factor in setting seasons, fish and game limits, and other such matters.

Forty years ago, when the development of the compound bow was in its infancy, many of these same groups and individuals rose in protest at the introduction of modern technology to "their" sport. The basic problem was, and remains, that it isn't "their" sport to begin with. It is the sport of all those who wish to participate. When we discuss natural resources, in this case whitetail deer, it is vital to keep in mind that these are public resources, not private property.

As is the case in any situation where groups oppose certain concepts and activities "truisms" are touted by those who are against the liberalization of crossbows. Keep in mind that many of these individuals would prefer if the use of a crossbow were banned altogether let alone be legalized for use by anyone over the age of 65 and, heaven forbid, their use by any deer hunter during the general bow season. In listening to some of the discussion, the words unreasonable and usurping come to mind.

Let's look at some facts about the use of crossbows in hunting whitetail deer:

The U.S. government says that crossbows are archery equipment. The Internal Revenue Service, the Fish and Wildlife Service consider crossbows, the arrows they use, and accessories as archery equipment and define them as such. Crossbows are archery equipment based on United States laws passed by Congress and codes and regulations issued by the IRS since 1975.

Crossbows--Tools of Poachers

During a five-year period in the 1990's, 633 hunting implements used during the commission of wildlife violations were seized by wildlife officers in Ohio. Firearms accounted for 95% (602); vertical bows accounted for 2.7% (17); and crossbows accounted for 2.2% (14).

Like vertical bows, crossbows are short range weapons, too cumbersome to discharge from a vehicle, and kill by hemorrhage rather than shock. If they were indeed an efficient poaching tool, their use would already be widespread. The poacher's choice of weapon is still the .22 caliber rifle.

Crossbows Are Easy To

Shoot and too Accurate

Experienced rifle hunters can indeed achieve tight arrow groups on targets with a crossbow. For many, a crossbow does make sighting in a bit easier. Is this bad? It would seem that accurate shot placement would be the goal of any ethical hunter and if a crossbow can achieve this, that is a huge positive. Keep in mind, that in order to be successful any bow hunter, whether they prefer a long bow, compound bow, or crossbow must master the similar skills and use the same tactics.

If the use of a crossbow can decrease the sometimes appalling stories that are passed during every archery season of wounded deer that were not recovered, then state agencies would be negligent if they did not immediately allow their use.

Crossbows Create Controversy

Where they are allowed crossbows create no controversy at all, but are widely accepted by hunters. The controversy stems from the emotional outpouring of protestations from those who see the use of crossbows as an "evil" and a usurpation of "their" sport and these individuals are in a minority among deer hunters.

Crossbows Are Not Hand-Drawn

The fact that crossbow are not hand-drawn and released, which makes it closely comparable to a firearm is a smokescreen is nothing more than an apples to oranges comparison. The vertical archer, if they are a sportsman/woman, will spend the hours necessary to prepare themselves physically for the effort required to draw, aim and shoot their bow.

There is nothing mystical about this, just physical effort and a willingness to prepare oneself. Once the season starts the act of drawing, aiming and shooting is no more difficult for a vertical bowhunter than a crossbow hunter. Movement is required by both in order to get the weapon into shooting position, to attain the target in the sights, and to release the arrow. This is especially true with the high let-off compounds and the utilization by the hunter of a trigger release.

Hunter Numbers Will Increase

Presently new hunter recruitment is sinking. License sales are dropping every year for a wide variety of reasons. It would seem logical that if the legalization of crossbows brought new and enthusiastic deer hunters into the fold that would be a huge plus for our sport.

The Ohio Experience

The state of Ohio has allowed the use of crossbows since 1976. They are well versed as to the use of crossbows and its effect on the deer herd and deer hunters. Below are some statistics, facts, and concepts that they have derived after thirty years of crossbow use. The following was prepared by Michael J. Tonkovich, wildlife research biologist, and Patrick Ruble, of the Bowhunting Preservation Alliance.

1982 - Crossbow season was expanded to four months to coincide with the existing archery season. Crossbow hunter numbers increased dramatically as did harvests. Since that time Ohio's deer population continued to expand and there was a corresponding increase in harvest by all types of deer hunters as their success rate continued to climb.

2001-2002 - Crossbow hunter numbers climbed to an estimated 106,000. During the season an estimated 1.8 million hunter-days of opportunity was experienced with nearly 15% of crossbow hunters being successful. Vertical bow hunter numbers increased to 88,000 with the same 15% being successful.

Today - Contrary to claims by anti-crossbow groups of herd decimation and severe restrictions on hunting opportunity and harvest, Ohio has never modified regulations governing crossbows or adjusted harvest regulations because of the crossbow. The crossbow has never had a significant statewide impact on the management of the deer herd. Ohio's experience has shown that the crossbow is not an unsafe, hyper-effective hunting implement rivaled only by a firearm. Hunter success rates are no higher than those for vertical bow hunters.

Back to Michigan

Currently the Southern Lower Peninsula is seeing a continuing expansion of its deer herd. It seems that a saturation point has been reached in regard to deer harvested with our current regulations. Some way needs to be found to manage the deer herd more effectively and one way to do this is by providing as much opportunity as you possibly can. Legalizing the crossbow would also work well! Hunters have to be in the woods to kill a deer. Therefore, you do whatever it takes to put guys in the field for as many days as possible and give as many weapon choices as possible!

Legalize crossbows for use during the general deer season? The time has come.n

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