By Crossbow Magazine Staff and Bill Hilts Jr.
If you have never used a crossbow for target shooting or for hunting big game, you owe it to yourself to at least give it a try. Crossbows are fun to shoot, can be extremely accurate, and provide another way to get back out in the field (especially if you can’t pull your vertical bow back any longer). Crossbows also offer a great way to get our youth involved in archery.
It was 1990 when I shot my first crossbow. That was in a hunting camp in Ohio. One shot and I was hooked! The misconceptions I carried all the years before that easily melted away. I was excited to climb up into a treestand and give crossbow hunting a try.
Since that time, it has been an uphill battle using crossbows in the Empire State. In the early years, crossbow use was extremely restrictive. In fact, one of the testing mechanisms used to determine if you qualified for a permit was whether you could move your trigger finger. If you could, you didn’t qualify. Jeff Lucas, who was physically challenged and confined to a wheelchair (at 90 percent quadriplegic), served as a consultant to the proposal. However, when the final legislation was drawn up, even he didn’t qualify! It made no sense.
In 2010, Assemblywoman Francine DelMonte of Niagara County introduced new legislation, but that was also cut way back. It did allow for the use of crossbows during the regular season (any legal hunting implement) for two years. However, it would have eliminated the youth deer season when additional changes were made, and crossbow users lost 2013 completely.
It wasn’t until Gov. Andrew Cuomo included crossbow allowances in his 2014 budget that the first significant movement for crossbow advances occurred. That was at least a step in the right direction and a foot in the door. Along the way, the formation of the New York Crossbow Coalition (NYCC) became one of the catalysts to help state legislators get the ball rolling and to start lobbying for crossbow changes in the state Department of Environmental Conservation regulations. It’s been a tough fight on this, to say the least.
This brings us to the status of new crossbow legislation in the state. The biggest proponent for changes is NYCC. The group is lobbying in Albany with members of the Senate and Assembly, as well as the governor.
“This past year was another disappointing year for crossbow expansion,” reflects Rick McDermott, president of the New York Crossbow Coalition. “We will never give up the fight for crossbows to be classified and accepted as archery equipment, for starters. There was no movement on any of the legislation affecting crossbows. Both Assembly proposals A1102 and A9724 would have eliminated the arbitrary restrictions on width and draw weights of crossbows, as well as classifying crossbows as archery equipment. Both were voted to be held in committee by an 18 to 10 margin.”
The current crossbow specifications have been in place for several years in New York. Many believe that the industry standards have changed and that it is time to update the requirement. For example, a crossbow must have compound or recurve limbs with a minimum width of 17 inches and a minimum overall length of 24 inches from the butt of the stock to the front of the limbs. It must be able to launch an arrow/bolt at least 14 inches long, with a minimum/maximum draw weight of 100 to 200 pounds.
If you hunt with a crossbow and you have completed your Hunter Safety Certification on or after April 1, 2014, you are good to go. However, if you have not (but you did complete everything earlier than that date), you must complete the Crossbow Certificate of Qualification form on page 23 of the Hunting Regulations Guide and carry it with you when afield.
If you are planning on using a crossbow in either the archery or muzzleloading seasons, you must have a muzzleloading tag/privilege in addition to your regular hunting license. An archery privilege does not allow you to use a crossbow.
“Going forward, it is all dependent on what happens during the elections,” says NYCC’s McDermott. He continues to push to make changes. He says that in the past, hunters have worked with politicians to draft proposals that would allow extended crossbow use through full inclusion in the early archery season for senior citizens and youth. They have also pushed to let the Department of Environmental Conservation manage all aspects of the crossbow, effectively keeping it out of the hands of politicians in Albany.
“As we prepare for the 2023 legislative session, we must continue to grow our membership and collect additional video testimonials. Links to sample videos and instructions on how to upload them can be found on our website,” McDermott adds.
The current crossbow rules still allow for some great opportunities for big game hunters.
“Crossbow season is located at the best time of the year for deer hunters,” insists Jeff Pippard, proprietor of Niagara Outdoors in North Tonawanda. “Days are getting shorter, and the deer are seeking and trailing one another. Is your crossbow rig ready?”
He suggests making sure that your crossbow has the proper maintenance performed on it and is sighted in properly before you head out into your tree stand or ground blind. Don’t wait until the last minute, especially if you must replace any parts, Pippard says. “In our world, there is no replacement for poor shot placement,” says Pippard. “If you want to punch your tag, fill the freezer and maybe put a nice rack on your wall at home or in camp, get your crossbow prepared for the season by doing a full checkup every year. You can take it to your local archery pro shop for a checkup. Or if you feel confident as a do-it-yourselfer, run a full check on everything.”
A rule of thumb for everyone, according to Pippard, is that if your crossbow has a 200-pound limb or greater, change your strings and cables every year. “Check over your limbs for fractures or cracks, do a flex check to all your arrows (bolts) and check your broadheads as well,” he says. “Next, check your cocking system for any issues. When it’s time to start your training, be sure your ranging sight system matches your rangefinder. Know your trajectory. That goes for drop rate as well as wind drift. It is important that you train with the actual broadhead you’re going to use,” Pippard continues.
He also advises that if you are shooting out of a pop-up blind and you have a screen window system, test your broadheads to see if they pass through without deploying on contact with the screen. Also, your practice target should be in top condition to stop that fast-moving arrow, otherwise, your arrow will pass through it and ruin your fletching and the arrow, he says.
“After shooting and feeling confident of your accuracy, you should also feel that you can perform your full cocking and loading procedure in stealth and quietly, even in the dark. You will be in some very low-light conditions while executing this work. You don’t want to get hurt by this procedure. Be safe and shoot straight,” Pippard adds.
There are a few other common-sense guidelines to follow when using a crossbow, such as making sure you keep your fingers below the shooting rail. It only takes once to have that happen; that’s called learning the hard way. Never dry fire a crossbow (shooting it without an arrow in it). Never keep an arrow in place with a cocked crossbow when walking through the woods or climbing into a tree stand. Only put the arrow in place when you are ready to start hunting.
Join NYCC and get involved with advocating for crossbow changes in New York State. In the meantime, take advantage of the existing seasons in the Empire State.
New York Crossbow Coalition: JOIN HERE
New York Resident, click here to join the petition.
Non New York Resident, click here to join the petition.