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Allowing crossbows does not mean you are forced to choose it as your weapon


Dear Woods-N-Water News:

The legal use of crossbows to hunt deer and other game animals during the open seasons as established by law came one step closer to reality on June 19th. This historic measure garnered eye-opening support from both Republicans and Democrats in the Michigan House of Representatives after a grass roots movement of Michigan deer hunters and generated by a desire to see full crossbow inclusion as an archery weapon rather than being limited to use only during Michigan's firearms deer season began to present their case to individual legislators as well as at a hearing of Representative Joel Sheltrown's (West Branch, and committee chairman) Committee on Tourism, Outdoor Recreation, and Natural Resources held on June 10th.

The issue of using crossbows during archery seasons has been a controversial one. Visions of some sort of super weapon that would lay waste Michigan's deer herd as well as the dire consequences of adding "hundreds of thousands of firearms deer hunters to the archery season." have been touted by the opponents of crossbow inclusion for many years. The experience of states such as Ohio and Arkansas, both of which have had crossbow inclusion laws on the books for over 30 years, as well as Georgia, Kentucky, Tennessee, Alabama, and Virginia disprove the claims that border on the prophecy of doom and gloom if crossbows were ever legalized for use during Michigan's bow season.

Certainly Michigan does have more deer hunters than those states, but even when data is put on a per capita basis no such demonizing scenario is shown to be possible.

Crossbows are an archery weapon that uses the stored energy supplied by limbs that are bent and held in place by a bowstring that is taut and propels an arrow with a shaft, fletching, and a broadhead to take game animals just as any other bow. There are three major differences between this bow and other bows such as longbows, recurve bows, and compound bows. These latter are held vertically and must be drawn in the presence of game animals. While vertical bows must be held out in front of the archer crossbows have a stock that is similar to that of a rifle or shotgun and held against the hunter's shoulder.

The ballistics of each is similar as has been well documented for many years and sound scientific data, as supplied by various state fish and game agencies, have shown that the success rates of crossbows is similar to that of vertical bows.

Crossbows do have two major advantages over vertical bows. They are easier to learn to shoot and they do not have to be drawn in the presence of the game animal being sought. Is practice required to maintain these skills? That certainly is the case as it is with any hunting weapon. That practice might not be as long and intense as that with a vertical bow, but it is still a required part of the process for any ethical hunter seeking to harvest a game animal. Crossbows, being a short range weapon whose optimum shooting distance at game is similar to that of any vertical bow, still requires the hunter to use stealth, concealment and cunning in order to get within killing range. The same hunting skills that every vertical bowhunter must apply holds true of the hunter who chooses to use a crossbow.

Yes, crossbows may be used from a resting position and this does offer an advantage. However, if this makes it easier for the hunter to make a quick, clean, humane kill with a short range weapon how can that be seen as a negative? Most hunting situations, especially from treestands, do not present themselves with a ready made rest.

In the past decade, including the season of 2007, Michigan has seen a drop of over 80,000 bowhunters as shown by Michigan Department of Natural Resources data. This represents a huge loss of revenue for an already strapped agency as well as an economic loss for the state in revenues affected by equipment sales and other items related to hunting trips such as food, lodging and transportation. Crossbow inclusion would help stem this flood of hunters who are leaving the sport. Would it stop it altogether? That is very doubtful, but it would help.

Who would take up the crossbow?

Opponents of their inclusion would have us believe that only the lazy, inept, and ignorant would do such a thing. Quite frankly this would mean that the many vertical bowhunters, who, again according to data from states with experience in crossbow inclusion, would choose to give crossbows a try, were "lazy". I doubt for a moment that these vertical bowhunters would fit this description of the typical crossbowhunter. They would merely, as the law would give them the opportunity to do so, be choosing a different type of archery weapon.

One of the major influences pointing to the logical inclusion of crossbows is hunter retention. Data from Minnesota, a state without crossbow inclusion, demonstrates that bowhunter numbers peak at about the age of 40. From that point on these numbers begin a steady decline until in the late 40s and early 50s the drop is precipitous. These are vertical bowhunters who have been dedicated to their sport, but for a variety of reasons, no longer get out into the woods. The Georgia Wildlife Resources Division has kept close track of the effect crossbows have on hunter retention.

Figure I above right shows the age structure of Georgia vertical bowhunters in 2002-2003. Figure II shows the age structure of Georgia crossbowhunters in 2002-2003. The comparison of the two graphs clearly demonstrates the ability of crossbows to keep bowhunters in the field as age begins to take its toll.

Those who oppose crossbow inclusion claim that they are, among other things, protecting Michigan's bowhunting heritage and I am certain they are sincere in that belief being the honorable gentlemen that they obviously are. However, the bowhunting heritage, as is the same with any belief whether it be bowhunting, trout fishing, or any other activity with a long and storied history, does not depend on what equipment others may use. This is a very personal thing with each individual. The bill allowing crossbow inclusion does not force anyone to choose a crossbow as a hunting weapon. Each of us can hold onto and treasure the traditions and practices that help make up who we are as sportsmen and women who revel in our love of Michigan's outdoors.

Milton F. Whitmore
July 23, 2008

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