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To Crossbow or Not to Crossbow

January 2024
Author: Logan Hedges

“What the hell is that thing?” was the thought that ran through my mind as the Pennsylvania hunter set down his crossbow in the gear pile to be loaded on mules for the 28-mile journey into the Teton wilderness. I was a 19-year-old know-it-all kid who thought he was the best elk hunter west and east of the Mississippi. This would be my first, but definitely not my last, hunting experience with a crossbow. I would say my first impression was not a positive one. Heavy, awkward, and noisy, like a .22 mag going off is how I would describe that first crossbow. Not to mention my feeling that it wasn’t real archery hunting using a crossbow. I had a pretty negative attitude heading into that hunt.

Seven days later with over half a dozen close encounters, my hunter, Al, and I walked up on a beautiful 6-point bull that he had sent a bolt through 30 minutes earlier. I witnessed the raw emotion on Al’s face that day as he laid hands on the trophy he had been dreaming about since being shipped to Vietnam some 30 years earlier. Al was a veteran of this great country, not to mention an amazing human being, and after spending the last week with him, my perspective on several things had changed, including crossbows. Being wounded in Vietnam had left Al with a shoulder and arm that only functioned at 50% of what it had previously, and without that crossbow, Al would never have been able to chase bulls during the September bugle. To this day, I am still grateful that I was able to experience that September week with Al and all the highs and lows that came with it. I grew up a lot that week hunting with and listening to Al’s stories of war and life, and for that, I have a crossbow to thank.

The debate on crossbows and if they should be allowed during the archery seasons has been going on since as long as I can remember. In the last few years with big jumps in crossbow technology and capabilities, the debate has really revved up. We all have our personal feelings and ethical values when it comes to archery hunting, but the more I discuss it with fellow hunters, the muddier the water seems to get. I personally have never been a big fan of them being used during the archery season. However, without being too hypocritical, I have guided several guys who choose to use a crossbow and I have even allowed my boys to use them. In Al’s case and several other hunters who have physical limitations, they would never be able to enjoy archery hunting without the use of a crossbow.

We could debate that that is just life and the luck of the draw, but should someone really be penalized for their physical limitations if they want to archery hunt even if it’s with a modified weapon? One argument I hear on this all the time is guys take advantage of state regulations that allow crossbow use with a doctor’s note. Seems like a few guys are faking injuries or just getting a doctor buddy to write a note so they can take advantage of using a crossbow. Where this is probably a small percentage, it still adds fuel to the crossbow debate.

Another situation I could argue for use is for youth hunters. I have been fortunate to take several kids archery hunting, and a crossbow is a great equalizer when you are a little smaller. With all the distractions kids have out there today, I believe any opportunity we have to get them in the outdoors we should take advantage of. I will always advocate for youth hunter opportunities. My sons have hunted with a crossbow in our home state of Wyoming (where crossbows are allowed) until they were strong enough to pull 55 pounds with their compound bows. The knowledge and experience they were able to obtain for those few years were priceless, not to mention it has made them that much more dangerous in their future hunts.

Whether you are OK with the use of crossbows or absolutely despise them, don’t be too quick to judge or criticize that hunter out there with one in their hands. Take a step back, lace up his or her boots, and walk a few miles. Maybe, just maybe, you will come back with a different perspective on the subject. Regardless, we as hunters need to stick together and compromise a little, even if we don’t always see eye to eye.