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Crossbows versus Compounds....whats the difference?

The Crossbow Controversy
by Darrin Bradley

The sun tickled the treetops of the Western horizon, as the timbered funnel between the two cornfields began to darken. I had already taken a 150 class ten point a couple weeks prior to this evening’s hunt. Now I was desperately trying to accomplish my second Pope and Young harvest of the season. A doe and two fawns arose from their beds in the thicket, and passed noisily within bowrange of my position in the fallen leaves. The doe came to full alert, and began staring east of me into the eiree Illinois timber. A large racked eight point was traveling straight for me just as I had planned. The animal began to close the distance and had worked within twenty yards of my location. I carefully positioned my crossbow snugly against my shoulder, and prepared for an easy opportunity. Moments later, I disappointingly had my head between my knees, wondering how I had missed such a simple shot. I had blown it.

Upon returning home from the hunt, I phoned several friends to tell them of my misfortune. The first companion asked, “How could you miss with a crossbow?” The second friend stated, “I can’t believe you missed. You shoot a crossbow.” The third response I received was, “How could you miss with a crossbow? That’s just like shooting a gun. There’s no difference.” Those responses were all the motivation I needed to write a my thoughts on crossbows.

The crossbow is quite possibly the most misunderstood tool available to today’s hunter. It is my premise, that the crossbow provides only one advantage over the traditional bow and arrow in the woods. With a crossbow, the archer does not have to draw the weapon when he/she desires to shoot. This advantage decreases visual detection of the hunter by the game he is seeking. Although this advantage is present with a crossbow, most archers who utilize traditional bows do not draw when game is looking in their direction anyway.

Prior to my permanent shoulder disability, I shot a compound bow, throughout archery season. I sometimes practiced at long distances with a conventional bow, but I seldom attempted a big game harvest at any distance which exceeded thirty yards. This same principle is also true of crossbows. Only someone with no knowledge of crossbows would suggest they shoot faster or further than compound bows. Comparative tests show that the ballistics of crossbows and compound bows are nearly the same. The crossbow uses a shorter and lighter arrow, however, it does not perform quite as well down range as the longer and heavier compound bow arrow, losing velocity and kinetic energy faster. The difference is minimal but, nevertheless measurable. The crossbow ballistics are virtually identical to conventional bows. Its effective range is also virtually identical.

Buckmasters Whitetail Magazine, October 1996, published the following crossbow/compound bow comparison:


Compound #1 525.93 grains 248 fps. 239 fps 232 fps
#70 Peak Weight 71.84 ft. lbs. 3.6% velocity loss 6.5% velocity loss
66.73 ft. lb.. 62.87 ft. lb.
7.1% energy loss 12.5% energy loss

Compound #2 557.68 grains 205 fps. 197 fps. 195 fps.
#70 Peak Weight 52.05 ft. lb.. 4% velocity loss 5% velocity loss
48.07 ft. lb.. 47.10 ft. lb..
7.7% energy loss 9.5% energy loss


Crossbow #1 497.88 grains 228 fps. 218 fps. 212 fps.
#150 Peak Weight 57.48 ft. lb.. 4.4% velocity loss 7% velocity loss
52.55 ft. lb.. 49.70 ft. lb..
8.6% energy loss 13.5% energy loss

Crossbow #2 473.58 grains 242 fps. 230 fps. NA
#150 Peak Weight 61.70 ft. lb.. 5% velocity loss (Unable to produce
55.64 ft. lb.. a reading at this
9.8% energy loss distance.)

Although our state offers disabled persons the opportunity to use a crossbow in place of a conventional bow, there is no such opportunity available to individuals who are simply too weak to use a compound bow. As a result, many people will never be able to enjoy this wonderful sport.

Some would suggest permitting crossbows to be used during bowhunting season would decimate the deer population. Statistics from Ohio, Arkansas, and Wyoming, the states that have concurrent bow and crossbow archery seasons, show the deer herds are healthy and growing. Additionally, their respective departments of natural resources control the number of deer taken by issuing permits. By allowing archers to utilize crossbows during the archery seasons, it is only sensible to expect an increase of hunters in the woods. This would afford individuals who aren’t capable of drawing conventional bows to participate in the sport. Some archers who use compound bows are opposed to this idea. They think more hunters in the woods may mean a decreased opportunity for harvest per hunter. I don’t agree with this belief. I would never deny anyone the right to bowhunt, in an attempt to increase my odds for success. Ohio allows the use of crossbows during archery season. Ohio statistics show the number of deer harvested to number of permits sold ratio has improved since crossbows were first legalized in 1976. Back then, one deer was taken for every six permits sold. Today, one is taken for every three permits sold. The ratio has consistently improved since 1976 and has never once reversed its trend. In most states archery hunting does not represent the major component of the states deer harvest. Firearms hunters are responsible for the major component.

Prior to Indiana allowing crossbow usage during a portion of the archery season, an “anti-crossbow” campaign suggested crossbows were the preferred weapon of poachers. There is no known evidence to suggest that crossbows are a desirable poaching tool. Further implications of the “anti-crossbow” campaign suggested that by allowing crossbows during the archery season, the State of Indiana would experience an astounding rise in poaching. This concept is ridiculous. Whether the crossbow is legalized for archery season or not, it is still readily available to the public for sale. Poachers can obtain crossbows for poaching purposes at any time. This is not dependent on ethical hunters taking them to the timber each fall for recreational purposes. The crossbow kills by causing hemorrhaging as does a compound. With ballistics virtually identical to conventional bows a poacher would have no advantage in choosing a crossbow over a compound. In reality, the 22 caliber rifle is the preferred weapon of choice for poachers. If the anti-crossbow campaign wishes to disallow the usage of crossbows during archery season, it would only make sense if the same principle applies for 22 caliber rifles. This mindset might just as well suggest 22 caliber rifles be banned for hunting purposes. What a ludicrous thought. The same mindset might also suggest all firearms be banned as they could be used for poaching purposes. Is not this mindset a form of gun control?

Recently, I was featured on the front page of our local newspaper. I was recognized for the success I have been fortunate enough to reap as a result of my outdoor writing. Preceding the article, was a photograph of me sitting in a deerstand with my crossbow. I was approached by a co-worker the next day at my jobsite who said, “Everyone I talked to about your newspaper feature said they could also shoot whitetails as big as you do if they could use a crossbow.” After hearing those comments, I turned to him and said, “I can’t shoot any farther with a crossbow than you can with your compound. I never shoot over thirty yards in the timber. I still have to do my homework. I still have to position my stand locations the same way. I hunt close to 100 times a year in a “shotgun only” state. I do extensive scouting. I keep a game diary. I work hard to harvest animals. It takes the same abilities to harvest big bucks with a crossbow as it does with a compound.” As I was walking away, I turned back to him in a nonchalant manner and asked, “How many Pope and Young Bucks have you successfully placed yourself within thirty yards of in the past five years?” With a dumbfounded look across his face he responded by saying, “None”.

Darrin Bradley

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