More involved than a firearm and less involved than a compound bow, crossbows are perhaps the ideal bridge between the two and a solid fit for lighter-framed hunters.
The globe teems with way too many hunting opportunities to count, but there are only a handful of weapons to humanely hunt with: bows, cross- bows, firearms, spears and blowguns. Blowguns and spears aren’t practical for most, so that fundamentally narrows things down to bows, crossbows and firearms.
I have absolutely nothing against firearms; I own a nice lot of guns and hunt with them whenever the opportunity presents itself. But, in mentoring others and introducing them to hunting, I’ve noticed that there are pluses and minuses with handing one to a newcomer, especially youths and women. It would seem, then, that the compound bow is the obvious alternative. In some cases, it is. But, we must remember that not all are committed enough, especially right out of the gate, to become proficient with a compound bow, and the last thing a new hunter wants to experience is wounding an animal.
That leaves crossbows on the list to discuss. Like the other two options, they have a few negatives along with the positives, but they’re perhaps the ideal bridge between firearms and compound bows and an ideal fit for youths and women for several reasons. Let’s discuss those now.
1. QUIETER AND LESS INTIMIDATING
Any way you slice it, firearms have a loud report, and for someone who’s never hunted or shot firearms, it can be very intimidating to be handed a rifle, shotgun or handgun. Most folks have seen firearms portrayed in different ways in movies and on TV shows. Especially in action films, rarely are firearms portrayed as a tool for just anyone. Usually, they’re used by skilled folks to take down all of the bad guys or something along those lines.
See where I’m going with this? Maybe you grew up shooting firearms at targets and even hunting and are perfectly comfortable with handling and shooting them. But, someone who has little to no experience with them might find them extremely intimidating or downright scary for no other reason than their lack of experience and exposure.
That’s why starting them out with a crossbow makes good sense. Yes, crossbows are a bit more involved, but the report is nearly nonexistent. With a gun, the loud report creates anxiety and anticipation for some folks, and that can cause them to develop flawed shot execution complete with trigger-punching. With a crossbow being so much quieter, a lot of that anticipation goes away, and they can focus on squeezing off a quality shot.
2. LESS RECOIL
In teaching others to shoot firearms, I’ve found that they go into the first shot not really knowing what to expect. I typically have the individual dry-fire the gun several times while aiming at a target before I have them actually shoot it. My goal is to get them to squeeze the trigger while visually burning a hole through the target. I want them to master shot execution.
Things can head south after they fire the gun for the first time. It’s crucial to start a beginner with a light-re- coiling firearm, but even then new shooters sometimes develop anticipation and flinching as a response to the incoming recoil. Some new shooters acclimate quickly, but others just can’t overcome their jumpy behavior.
That makes a solid case for a crossbow as an alternative. Even today’s most powerful crossbows have minimal to virtually zero recoil. I find that shooters have some anticipation going into the first shot, but after the first shot, they realize that it isn’t going to hurt them.
3. ACCURACY WITH LESS PRACTICE
Now that I’ve compared crossbows to firearms a bit, let’s transition and compare them to compound bows. To be truly lethal with a compound bow requires tons of practice and dedication. Sure, someone like me who grew up with a bow in my hand can shoot quite well out to 40 yards with little practice, but someone who’s trying it for the first time has so many things to learn and form to develop.
When you consider the fundamentals of shooting a compound bow, it seems unbelievably easy: nock an arrow, draw back and let go. It is that easy, but repeat- able accuracy that will duplicate in a hunting situation requires greater attention to every little aspect.
Some folks would love to hunt but simply don’t have the time, mindset or dedication to becoming lethal with a bow. I immediately think of mothers who have an incredibly full plate and nonstop distractions. Some find ways to become deadly with a compound bow, but most just can’t dedicate the time to it. Likewise with kids who’re scheduled to the max with school and sports.
For those who desire to hunt but struggle to find time to shoot or who just aren’t dedicated enough to become lethal with a compound bow, a crossbow is a viable alternative. Yes, a crossbow must be sighted in. Yes, it must be shot occasionally to make sure it is still zeroed. And yes, a hunter should shoot it occasionally to practice proper shot execution. But, for most folks, being lethal with a crossbow requires nowhere near the time and commitment of a compound bow.
4. EASIER TO SHOOT IN COLD WEATHER
Some of the best hunting opportunities occur when temperatures are cold. Shooting a compound bow accurately becomes increasingly difficult the colder it gets and the more bundled in warm clothing you are. Being cold and stiff makes drawing back difficult, and shooting with good form with bulky clothing is another challenge. And, the bowstring slapping the coat sleeve is a valid possibility that can throw the arrow of course.
Being that a crossbow is shouldered and shot like a firearm, it is far easier to hunt with in cold weather. You’re not required to draw back with cold, stiff muscles that have been virtually inactive for hours. You don’t need incredibly consistent form as required with a compound bow. And, you need not worry about the string slapping your coat sleeve. Simply shoulder the crossbow, acquire your target and squeeze the trigger.
5. MORE POWER WITHOUT THE EFFORT
Many women and kids can pull the minimum draw weight — with a compound bow — required by the state or province they’re hunting. But, some struggle, and the difficulty multiplies when they’re in a treestand and/or dressed for cold weather. This could cost them opportunities. Either they won’t be able to reach full draw, or the movement it will take them to hit full draw will spook the animal.
Most can cock a crossbow outfitted with a crank, even if they’re not very strong. And, if someone can only handle, say, 30 pounds of draw weight, they’d have very minimal power with a compound bow. Even though the effort of cranking a crossbow is minimal, they’ll get a ton of power, in some cases enough to blow right through a buck’s front shoulders.
ALL THINGS CONSIDERED
While crossbows have their place and make great alternatives in a lot of instances, I often try to sway folks toward a compound bow if the above issues aren’t con- cerns. I’m passionate about teaching folks archery and bowhunting, largely because it becomes a lifestyle more than a hobby due to the involvement required.
We need to invite more women and youths to try hunting, but we must understand that firearms often make newcomers jumpy, as well as that not all will have the dedication or strength required to be deadly with a compound bow. In those cases, crossbows are simply great for youth and women hunters.