I’ve had my crossbow for just a few seasons.
It’s a Ten Point Titan Xtreme, and while it is made with steel and, I guess, Space Age plastic and aircraft-quality aluminum — what isn’t? — it is essentially the same tool as those made of wood and bone and sinew that ancient Chinese and Medieval European soldiers used.
I have yet to hit or even shoot at a deer with my crossbow. I had a chance at a very nice buck two years ago. He was beyond cautious, and he didn’t like what he was feeling at all as he made a slow, wide semicircle around the front of my stand and then back behind me. He did offer a couple of possible shots, but I was extremely unsure of my capabilities and those of the crossbow at the time. I tried to wait him out until he moved closer and I knew I could hit him for sure, but after locking up for what seemed like forever, he put his nose down into my boot prints and bolted.
Boy, I wished hard for a do-over on that one.
When exactly and where the crossbow was invented is open to question. It is a pretty simple idea that might occur to more than a few people, although we know that a lot of simple ideas weren’t thought of until surprisingly recently.
The most famous crossbowman of all time was William Tell, the early 14th century Swiss national hero. Once a familiar figure but rarely mentioned today, Tell was celebrated for shooting an apple off his son’s head under orders from the Austrian tyrant Albrecht Gessler, then later killing Gessler and inspiring Swiss independence.
Crossbows did not become legal hunting implements in New York State until 2014. They can be used during the last two weeks of the Southern Zone regular bow season (Nov. 2-Nov. 15 this year) and last 10 days of the Northern Zone bow season (Oct. 16-Oct. 25), and during the regular and muzzleloader seasons in both zones.
Nearly every state allows some form of crossbow hunting, although many of them set restrictions, such as use only during firearms season or use only by physically challenged hunters.
I never took up the bow myself. I’m not sure why. It just never happened.
Which is not to say that learning to use a crossbow is easy. Are they easier to learn than a compound bow? Having shot both quite a few times, I’d say, no question. Some find crossbows to be intimidating. Once you crank that string back — and, by the way, the crank snapped back on me the other day and hit me in the stomach with the force of big, old mule, leaving a cut and a great looking bruise — you are holding a package of extreme, explosive, barely contained power.
You can feel it, as if it is alive, far more so than you would with any rifle, shotgun, or bow.
What are the advantages of a crossbow over a compound or other bow?
Greater range, many say, although if so, the difference is minimal, from everything I’ve read. And energy delivered to the target is comparable. Some say crossbows are more accurate, but I think that depends on the shooter. Older or physically limited hunters who can’t readily pull a bowstring anymore can use them, which I’d say is a good thing.
Once drawn, crossbows always are "loaded," and that means you really have to pay attention all the time. They also are heavy and cumbersome. They make more noise when released than a bow does, or so it seems. De-cocking a crossbow is problematic, too.
And, you get one shot. Miss with a bow, and you might be able to nock another arrow if somehow your target deer is not startled.
That’s why crossbow units in ancient armies sometimes used the countermarch — a squad would fire, then retreat and reload while the next squad moved up, fired, and repeated the process.
I’m not going to tell you crossbows take as much talent and practice to master as a long bow, recurve or compound. I don’t believe that. But, you have to work at it to be good.
What impact crossbow hunting has had or will have on other forms of hunting, I don’t know. Here are the numbers since legalization, which, obviously, can be affected by numerous factors, including herd size, weather, and licenses and permits issued: In 2013, the season before crossbows became legal in New York, bow hunters took 36,636 deer. In 2014, they took 35,388, and hunters using the now-legal crossbow took 5,535. Since then, the numbers have been 37,697 and 7,469 in 2015; 46,735 and 9,439 in 2016; 43,708 and 11,758 in 2017, and 43,832 and 10,829 in 2018.
Write to John Pitarresi at 60 Pearl Street, New Hartford, NY 13413 or firstname.lastname@example.org or call him at 315-724-5266.