Whatever you want to make of the crossbow trend, it is growing fast. 

Reminds me of a decade ago when it seemed all of sudden that women were taking up deer hunting for the first time, and I noticed a definite increase in the numbers of young ladies attending hunter education classes I was teaching. 

They universally indicated they were interested in deer hunting and I would ask why. Their answer was generally the same: 

“If I ever want to see my husband (or boyfriend in many cases attending the class, too), I knew I had better learn to deer hunt.” 

It was a great trend that has really benefitted our hunting ranks

But, now what about this thing with crossbows?

Reasons to go crossbow

I met Gerald Moore of Madison over a decade ago at an organizational meeting of Mississippi’s first chapter of the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation in Jackson. I got to know him well, and we turkey hunted together many times. I learned Moore is an exceptional deer hunter. 

Last deer season, I was surprised to hear he was trying out a crossbow. I wanted to know more, since Moore had always been a big-time gun hunter and just had a custom muzzleloader built to hunt trophy bucks in Illinois. 

“Well, you know I am always looking for a new challenge,” he said. “I was in the bow shop at Van’s in Brandon and started looking at crossbows and found a Ten Point model they set up for me. My main reason for going to a crossbow was to hunt the six or seven weeks before the gun season opened. Bucks are still running together then and if you find a good food source, you can be right on top of them. 

“I wouldn’t admit that age and health is part of my decision to try a crossbow, so I would just say I was intrigued by the whole thing.”

Intrigue turned quickly into interest.

“Once I got mine set up and started shooting it, I found that it was a heck of a lot of fun,” Moore said. “This thing is accurate, too, and I feel real confident that I can take a buck with it, out of a well-hidden ground blind. The crossbow I have can shoot accurately to 60 or 70 yards.” 

“Another reason that encouraged me to go this route was that my grandson was becoming a real deer hunter and he wanted to try the crossbow, too. So, it was an excellent time to get him involved. The companionship element is great, having an extra reason to spend time with him and just having him along to hunt with.”

Grandkids! I think we can all agree that, in itself, is a good reason. 

Other hunters and archery dealers see the trend to use crossbows primarily coming from two groups of hunters.

First is the older class of deer hunters.

Second is the group that can no longer pull a traditional mechanical bow due to a shoulder injury or other medical reasons. 

The two are not always the same. Many younger hunters with job related injuries, arthritis or other issues are turning to crossbows so they can hunt during the archery deer seasons. 

“I am seeing a lot of folks using crossbows, but it is hard to quantify,” said Lann Wilf, the deer program leader for the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks. “The range advantage is not that great it seems to me and the cost is about the same as a good compound. I think the main advantage is that they are just plain easier to shoot and hunt with and don’t require as much practice.”

Acceptance of as well as the legalization of crossbows came slowly. Traditional archers and many members of the Mississippi Bowhunters Association, a strong lobbying group, opposed crossbow use during archery season. To use one, a hunter had to provide a letter from a doctor to the MDWFP to obtain a special permit. 

In recent years, that changed, and for the good of the hunting overall. 

Now any hunter just wanting to deer hunt with archery gear, primitive weapons, or crossbows can get a hunting license and do just that.

Otherwise buying the very desirable Sportsman License permits hunters to gun and archery hunt including the use of crossbows for deer hunting. For further information on all hunting licenses, rules, regulations, seasons, bag limits and other information visit www.mdwfp.com

Techniques and accommodations

“Using a crossbow to deer hunt is like nothing else; it takes some getting used to handling one effectively and efficiently in the woods,” Moore said. “When I went to get my crossbow, I told the bow guy just what I wanted.

“I wanted a crossbow capable of hitting out to 50 yards, not 100 like some guys. He set up my rig just right and it is so accurate it is hard to believe.” 

It may seem to the non-oriented hunter that a crossbow is cumbersome and unwieldy, but that is not the case, at least not after you get one in your hands and get used to shooting it. It does require some accommodations from a hunting standpoint, which becomes evident quickly.

A crossbow is horizontally oriented, meaning the bow limbs are side-to-side not up-and-down. The axle width from cam wheel to cam wheel has to be considered in how you set up, hunt and shoot.

“I use my crossbow out of an enclosed ground blind tent,” Moore said. “I sit in a comfortable chair where I can aim out a window. I use a Caldwell shooting tripod support to make the bow easier to move around, aim and more accurate.”

Typically crossbows are front heavy because all the mechanism weight is up front, requiring hunters to get used to the balance. 

Also, “charging” the bowstring, which must be locked into the trigger system, requires positioning a foot to counteract the pull of the cocking rope action.

It takes some getting used to, and that means ample practice. 

Crossbows can be used from elevated stands, ladder stands or climbing stands, and, as with any other weapon, the use of a haul rope to lift the bow is a good idea. A stand with a shooting rail would be a good idea, but having a shooting stick that will work on a stand platform is an option.

As with shooting a rifle, a crossbow can only be as accurate as the resting shot and the shooter’s experience.

“Another thing that has helped me tremendously is the optical sight on my crossbow,” Moore said. “It is an illuminated model with the capability of lighting the ranging reticles in either red or green for changing daylight conditions. It really makes a huge difference on cloudy days or at dusk when trying to see the crosshairs on the scope. I recommend getting one of these on any crossbow.”

Moore said another accessory is essential.

“I think every crossbow hunter needs a rangefinder,” he said. “With aging eyes and/or darkening woodland shadows it is tough to estimate the range of a deer even ones seemingly standing close to your stand.

“My rangefinder has saved me many times in making a better shot. Knowing the range is critical.” 

Transitioning from a traditional vertical bow to a horizontal crossbow is no big deal for an experienced archery hunter. It might take a gun hunter some getting used to, but at least with a trigger being used, it is easier.

The cocking process has to be practiced for sure. Once you get accustomed to the balance and weight of a crossbow, the rest will all fall in place in due time. 

Crossbows are definitely growing in popularity and for good reason. They can be extremely accurate, easy to target deer especially with a scope, and with modern broadheads and strong bolts are just as capable of taking a deer as with any regular bow.

Going horizontal this year just might be a new challenge you might want to try. I’d start shopping now.