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Crossbow hunting in Michigan: to do, or not to do?


May 01, 2009
The thick dictionary I frequently use succinctly defines a crossbow as: "a weapon consisting of a bow fixed transversely on a stock, the string of which is released by a trigger mechanism."

I've often heard the crossbow described as a bow attached to a gunstock. To be historically correct, a gun is actually a barrel attached to a crossbow stock. Crossbows have been around for a very long time, much longer than firearms. They have even been demonized at times. Way back when, the Pope at the time decreed it was a sin to kill a Christian with a crossbow, but fine to kill non-Christians with one.

This relates much to the fact that it took time to create a highly skilled archer in Medieval times, which in the case of an English longbowman, required years of practice from childhood on. He was a specialist in his field, wielding a longbow the average person couldn't even pull back due to immense draw weights. The average person however, could easily use a crossbow, and in a very short time with minimal training become reasonably accurate with it. In the class system at that time, this meant a lowly peasant thus equipped with a crossbow, could easily plink an upper crust knight right out of the saddle, if the shot was placed right. Not good form at all for the upper crust and about as chivalrous as dying from snakebite.

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The author attempts his first shot ever with a crossbow.

Like most baby-boomers, I began my bowhunting adventures with a recurve bow. It was during the mid-1970s that all my bowhunting friends began to convert to a new outfit called a "compound bow." I can remember some dyed in the wool bowhunters thinking the new compound with all its wheels that made drawing and holding the string back much easier, was going to be the ruination of bowhunting. Personally what my hunting buddies used was no concern of mine, but when they switched to compound bows, I went to a longbow and stuck with it for 35 years, even on caribou hunts in the Arctic, with the belief that if it works, don't change it. I must admit, that I did in good-natured fun, kid my buddies about using bows with "training wheels." Then arthritis came along, to my left shoulder (the arm holding the bow, being right handed). Training wheels didn't look too bad at all then.

This occurred almost three years ago, and I must admit that I looked at the crossbow, which was allowed for hunting with a special permit according to physical limitations, and I even picked up an application from the DNR. However, I discovered that I could readily use my son's compound bow (that I discovered I could draw back with calculated care, and used it to bag a buck that fall). I then went full tilt the following spring and went to my own compound bow. My choice was simple, I could readily remember my buddies raging about their Darton compounds in the early days, and for a fact the Darton SL-50 put compound bow technology on the bowhunting scene and paved the way in marketing compounds for the archery industry. Besides all that, Darton is a made in Michigan product.

My choice was a Darton Pro 3000, which with a 55 pound draw weight worked fine for me. I quickly discovered that when going from instinctive archery to using sights and a release that the quality of the release makes or breaks accuracy capabilities. Just like having the right trigger pull on a firearm. I took my best buck ever with a bow the following fall using this system, at 39 yards, a distance I probably wouldn't have tried with my longbow. In my case, I know for a fact that using the quality compound bow, carbon arrows, sights, and a fine (Scott Saber-Tooth) release, increased my range capabilities in the hunting field.

It was during this past December, that I realized my shoulder was giving me some more trouble, and I had Jeff Trepkowski, owner of Wild John's Party Store near Cass City, drop my draw weight another seven pounds on my Darton bow, thus resolving my issue for the time being.

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I was fully aware of the ongoing debate about crossbows being legitimized for deer hunting in Michigan, but must admit I didn't get too involved with it. I for a fact have bowhunting friends that think crossbows are an abomination in general.

Then in early March, the NRC passed the new crossbow regulations for Michigan, quite frankly surprising the daylights out of me, as well as many others. For some it was a cause for utter dismay and for others an absolute delight. Being in the 50 and over group, as well as a hunter in Zone 3, I looked at the positive side. It was a new law of the land with a three year experimental window, and I decided to check it out. Personally I like shooting all types of hunting arms including bows, handguns, rifles, shotguns, and muzzleloaders. Ultimately I am a hunter, and not just a bowhunter or gun hunter.

Naturally I thought of Darton, they've been making crossbows since 1996, and Darton owner/innovator Rex Darlington has been in the family archery business since 1958. I recently traveled to the Darton factory located in Hale, Michigan to check out their two crossbow models, the Blazer, and the Lightning. The Lightning model has all the bells and whistles, and this is the one I test fired in the indoor range with the assistance of Darton sales manager Ted Harpham. I will never forget my first shot with a crossbow ever, on the Darton range. When the crosshairs of the scope settled on the one inch diameter bullseye at 20 yards, I eased back on the Lightning's three and a half pound trigger. Crossbow's aren't silent by any means, and the abrupt "whump" made by the Lightning despite all its sound depression aids, was near identical to the report from my Gamo air rifle. This isn't ear shattering either (why I like the Gamo for squirrel hunting), and isn't going to be heard from any great distance. But if you miss, the game animal in question is going to know for sure it has been shot at.

It also takes awhile to reload, on about the same timeframe as stoking a muzzleloader, and maybe longer. I reviewed the hand-cranking winch that removes all the stress out of cocking a crossbow, but such takes more time than the cocking rope that has two T-handles and removes half the effort of bringing back the 175 pound draw weight.

However, right upon hearing the whump, I also heard the "bolt" (the name for the arrow-like projectile for crossbows) hit the target with a loud smack, testifying to some rather fast velocity. I was pleased to see I had hit the bulls-eye near dead center. I repeated the process to make sure the first shot wasn't a fluke. This not only impressed me but let me know that if you are relatively good at shooting a rifle, it certainly doesn't take long at all to achieve the same shooting skill with a crossbow. Personally, I don't have a problem with that.

Needless to say, I bought a Darton model Lightning crossbow. This was done after some serious pondering, I must admit, because quality crossbows aren't cheap to buy. In fact they run along the same price figures as quality firearms, and no doubt you get what you pay for.

Due to the hard hitting and deep penetrating factors of the bolts from my new crossbow, I knew I would need a target to handle the task including broadhead use as well. For this I opted for the Rinehart "Eighteen to One", and it is a very portable and tough archery target that fills the bill entirely, bolt after bolt.

Besides selecting the cocking rope, I also opted for an electric "red dot" sight that features three dots per varying elevation, an attached (5-bolt) quiver, and a carry sling. One of the bolts in the quiver will always be tipped with a judo-point for de-cocking the crossbow when required, as the only way to do so is by firing it. A feature that sold me on the Darton Lightning is that it comes with a dry-fire prevention mechanism. Dry-firing any bow is not a good thing as the arrow (or bolt) acts as an important shock absorber. All Darton crossbows come with adjustable butt plates for a custom fit, which I fully appreciate.

As I'm just now getting used to all the ins and outs of crossbows, I can't be all that enlightening as to the Darton Lightning's handiness in the field. I know I'm excited about trying this new avenue, and it is what I'll be using for spring turkey hunting soon, and it is what I definitely plan on using for local whitetails this fall during the bow season. The proof as to whether it was a good decision will be in the pudding, and I want to find out firsthand.

For more information on Darton crossbows, go to

www.dartonarchery.com.

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