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Crossbow Debate Still a Hot Topic

By: Eric Sharp, Detroit Free Press

DETROIT (MCT) - A lot of archery hunters who oppose liberalizing the use of crossbows may not realize that a compound bow is pretty much a vertical crossbow minus the stock.

At least 98 percent of today's bow hunters use compound bows, yet how many realize that the compound was illegal in nearly every state when it was introduced in the 1970s? And that the arguments they use against crossbows were used by stick bow hunters who tried to ban the use of compounds?

Crossbows have been around for at least 2,500 years, so they aren't a newfangled innovation. By contrast, the compound bow was developed by Missouri archery hunter Holless Allen only 40 years ago.

The compound was popularized in the 1970s by Tom Jennings, then technical editor of "The Archers' Magazine," a bowyer who made longbows and recurves and was so enthused by Allen's compound that he started a company to build them.

Many stick bow manufacturers had rejected Allen's offers to build his bow, among them Michigan archery legend Fred Bear, who rejected it with the comment: "It looks like the Mackinac Bridge." Compounds went through a decade of evolution before settling on the basic design most hunters use today.

Jennings thought the most important thing about the compound bow was that the effort required to hold it at full draw was reduced by about 50 percent compared to a longbow or recurve. This made it a lot easier to shoot, and it wasn't long before states began legalizing compounds in response to demands from hunters who were dealing with exploding deer populations across the country.

Recognizing it was more difficult to shoot a deer with a bow than with a gun, most states used archery as another deer management tool and gave bow hunters much longer seasons than firearms hunters. Through a couple of decades, that bred a group of passionate archery hunters who seem to view the woods as their personal fiefdom from October through January, with a brief respite for the gun hunters.

Many archery hunters have screamed "foul" at the suggestion of allowing more people to take part by legalizing crossbows, or taking time from their present 72-day Michigan archery season to create a separate crossbow season.

But now the state's Natural Resources Commission is seriously considering proposals that would do either or both of the above, and from the e-mails and telephone calls I'm getting, it's generating a lot of comment on both sides.

Much of the drive to legalize crossbows comes from manufacturers and from outdoors retailers who see a chance to exploit a new market. With the average crossbow going out the shop door at about $500 or more, you can understand their interest.

Opponents say that commercialization shouldn't be a reason for game management, and I agree. However, I also agree with allowing the use of a weapon that will get more people in the field.

Among the arguments that today's bow hunters put forth against allowing the use of crossbows are:

- A crossbow isn't a real bow because it doesn't require the hunter to hold the bowstring back with his arms. But today's compound bows use a mechanical cam system that reduces the effort to hold the bow at full draw by as much as 80 percent, so what we're talking about is really a difference of degree. And the mechanical releases most compound shooters use aren't any different than the trigger on a crossbow.

- Crossbows will encourage hunters to take unethically long shots at deer simply because these bows can throw a bolt 100 yards or more. But a compound bow will shoot just as far, and once they learn the crossbow's capabilities, I suspect the number of hunters who take long shots will be about the same as those who would do so with a compound.

- Crossbows will attract a lot of incompetent yahoos who would never take the time to learn how to shoot with "conventional" bows. That's an argument that stick-bow shooters used against the introduction of the compound bow 30 years ago, and you know what? They were right.

But over time, the yahoo segment was reduced as hunters learned the capabilities of the new compound bows, and the same thing would happen with crossbows.

As I said in a previous column, I don't have any use for a crossbow and would never buy one unless physical infirmities prevented me from using my longbows and compounds.

I've killed two deer with crossbows in states where they were legal, figuring that, if I was going to write about crossbows, I should know how to shoot one.

The deer were shot at 19 and 24 yards, and both bolts hit where I was aiming and passed through the animals. In some later tests on a target using an open sight similar to those on some rifles, I was able to shoot groups at 50 yards that were about as good as I'd achieve with a muzzleloader at that same range.

It showed me that any problems with crossbows didn't lie in the hardware but in the people shooting them. And that's true for hunting with any weapon.

Photo from Wikipedia

 

© 2008, Detroit Free Press.
Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.

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