Non-hunters might not realize it, but plenty of controversy rages within the community of deer hunters. Some of the hot topics are antler restrictions, herd reduction, wildlife management units and baiting.
But in a state as traditional as Pennsylvania, few topics are as divisive as crossbows in the deer woods.
Not wanting to speak where I have no experience, I've refrained from commenting on crossbows.
Until recently I had never shot a crossbow, so my thoughts are based on my own limited experience, the experiences of people I know and common sense. Hunters offer a variety of reasons why they're against the use of crossbows. Many crossbow opponents are archery hunters who argue that a crossbow has too great a range. But when I watch the arc of a crossbow arrow in flight, I don't see how it significantly extends the range of a bow. And the arrow (some call it a "bolt") is subject to the same limits any arrow has.
That's why the great majority of deer shot with a crossbow are well within the range of traditional archery shots.
Some of the most fervent opponents try to associate crossbows more with modern firearms than with archery tackle. That's why they label them "crossguns."
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But the comparison to guns is neither fair nor historically correct. In the history of weapons, crossbows preceded firearms by hundreds of years. Crossbows were widely used more than a thousand years before firearms were invented.
The only similarity is that a crossbow is a shoulder-fired weapon. But the crossbow isn't a bow turned horizontal and adapted to a rifle stock. If there's a relationship, the rifle borrowed from the crossbow, not vice versa.
It would be more accurate to call a rifle a miniature cannon mounted on a crossbow stock.
Some object to crossbows because they think they're the ideal poacher's weapon. Yes, a crossbow's silence is an asset for the lawbreaker, but a compound bow or traditional bow is silent too. Besides, any weapon that shoots an arrow isn't an efficient poaching tool. An arrowed deer might involve hours of tracking and increase the odds of getting nabbed.
As I see it, a .22 rimfire makes a far better poacher's weapon. Aim for the deer's head and get a bang-flop, then recover the deer as soon as possible after the shot.
Some people say that the crossbow manufacturers are the only ones pushing crossbow use. But, some of the biggest names in vertical bows are manufacturing crossbows - PSE, Horton, Parker and others.
Last season one of my friends, Mark McInturff (originally from Pennsylvania but now living in Ohio), shot his second consecutive wallhanger buck with a crossbow. November 14, 2008 and 2009 were his lucky days. (I know where he'll be on November 14, 2010.)
Mark is a lifelong hunter and he's been using a crossbow for perhaps 15 years. Never before has he had an opportunity at anything like these bucks.
Does his experience show that the crossbow is unfair?
What it shows is that they grow 'em big over in the Buckeye State and that if you hunt long enough sooner or later you'll tag one.
Another friend, Tom Pisarchick from Brockway, shot a huge whitetail with a crossbow on public land in the first half hour crossbows were legal in Pennsylvania last fall. It taped 181 gross inches on the Boone & Crockett scale. Isn't that evidence crossbows are unfair?
Not if you know the details.
Pisarchick, who is also a dedicated hunter with a vertical bow, wasn't choosing the easy way. He scouted that buck all year, had a very good idea where it would be on opening day, and shot it from a ground blind at 20 yards.
The crossbow isn't the cheater that anti-crossbow hunters think it is. Like regular archery tackle, a crossbow is a single shot. It can't be fired without movement, or re-fired without lots of movement.
Crossbows aren't taking over the woods because they're cumbersome to carry and need as much attention to tuning as vertical bows need.
I'm not ready to run out and buy a crossbow yet. For one thing, I like my compound bow. But as I age, if a crossbow keeps me in the October woods for a few more years, I'll probably someday be hunting with one.