Thu, 27 Jun 2013 16:48:55 EDT
Today’s Michigan Crossbow Hunting
By Tom Lounsbury
The crossbow is certainly here to stay. According to a recent crossbow deer hunter survey conducted by the DNR, the number of people participating during Michigan’s archery deer season has increased 13% statewide since crossbows were allowed. The proportion of archers using a crossbow in Michigan increased from 19% in 2009 (when the new law took effect) to 37% in 2011, with the number of crossbow archers more than doubling between 2009 and 2011. By 2011, about 74% of the crossbow archers had experienced bowhunting opportunities prior to 2009, and about 25% of crossbow archers were new to the bowhunting experience.
Also according to the survey, 65% indicated crossbows improved the quality of their hunt, and 88% indicated hunting with a crossbow met all or most of their expectations. About 96% plan on using crossbows in future archery seasons.
I began my crossbow hunting adventures when they were first allowed in 2009, and since then have taken several deer with a crossbow in a very efficient manner. I found out right away that if you are familiar with hitting your mark with a rifle, it doesn’t take long at all to learn to hit your mark with a crossbow, which certainly ups the confidence level when hunting deer during the archery season. I’ve used a crossbow to bag local whitetails from as close as only 12 feet and the longest out to 42 yards, with the majority of deer being taken in the 20 to 30 yard range.
I believe I could have taken most of the deer with regular archery tackle, but by using a stabile rest, which a crossbow easily allows (typical archery tackle is always fired offhand), I possessed a high confidence level in hitting my mark where it really counts, which certainly ups the ante in the field. Crossbows can also be fired from the stabile (lying down) prone position.
A couple of examples where using a crossbow gave me a real edge were a large 8-point buck at 42 yards, and a plump doe at 40 yards. The buck was in the open, but right next to some really nasty cover he had been bedded in, and I intentionally high-shoulder shot him to anchor him on the spot, which I did. I had the confidence in my Darton “Lightning” crossbow to get complete penetration through both shoulders at that range and it did so admirably. That buck now adorns my den wall.
The doe was a real tricky shot in heavy brush during a rainstorm. I was in a Lucky’s Ground Blind and braced on shooting sticks. The doe was the largest of several passing by me to go into bedding grounds and get away from the nasty weather. The doe stopped in a small hole in the brush and I had to perform a shot I like to refer to as “threading the needle”, something I highly doubt I could have done with typical archery tackle. My Darton Lightning crossbow has a pretty flat trajectory out to 40 yards and I had the confidence level to pull that shot off. The bolt (the technical term for “arrows” aka projectiles shot from crossbows) hit the crease right behind the left shoulder and made an exit out the crease behind the right shoulder, and then the carbon bolt retained enough energy that when it connected with a sapling on the other side of the doe, it completely shattered into bits. The doe, needless to say, didn’t go far, and turned out to be real tasty.
I must admit here that using a crossbow also gave me a certain edge on the near point blank range shot of only 12 feet. I dearly love using various deer vocalizations to call deer into range and the fact is that the majority of bucks I have bagged and tagged during the last decade or so have met their demise responding to my calling efforts. This large (2 and a half year old) 7-point buck was thoroughly miffed when he appeared out of nowhere and was ready to slap the young “punk” buck around that was courting a hot doe that should be his. The buck’s ears were flattened against his skull and his back hair was standing straight up, which was a distinct clue he meant business. By being able to be locked and cocked with my crossbow, I blew that buck a sudden kiss he never recovered from. I have doubts I would have been able to draw an arrow back with any conventional archery tackle at that close range without blowing my cover.
There is a distinct learning curve to using a crossbow, and it pays to seek some expert guidance in this avenue instead trying to go cold turkey. Ted Harpham of Darton Archery showed me the ropes before I set out and I’ve never regretted his expert tutoring or advice. Even so, there is a transitional period I went through when I began using a crossbow in the field. One of the first was the cocking procedure. I’m sure there are some muscle bound types that have no problem using their hands to draw up and cock a 185 pound draw weight but that can actually affect accuracy when fingers might roll the bowstring unevenly during the process.
I used a cocking rope for the first couple seasons, but didn’t like the fact it was touchy business to use in a tree-stand environment, such as maintaining my balance on a small platform during the process. There was also the time I went afield with insulated boots that didn’t allow me to insert my foot fully into the crossbow’s cocking stirrup. When my toe slipped out at half-cock the crossbow launched up into my chest and left a bruise that clearly defined the buttstock pad’s dimensions, including the writing on it. I have since gone to a cocking winch with no regrets, and it is a safe and very efficient way to go, and without any real effort (it is an effective manner for slightly built folks or those with physical limitations, or like me who want it to be just plain easier).
I also prefer a crossbow that has an anti-dry-fire device that causes it to function only when a bolt (arrow) is properly in place against a cocked bowstring, and I only un-cock my crossbow by firing it into the ground using a blunt-tipped bolt, or at a target. Dry-firing any bow generally strains everything because the arrow actually acts a shock absorber.
I also have switched from an electric red dot sight to a low power scope for better definition during low light conditions. The key here is to select optics designed for crossbows because those designed for firearms can come apart from the shock created by a crossbow releasing its bolt (arrow), although there is no felt recoil on the shooter’s shoulder because they are really very mild (and fun) to shoot.
Last year I switched from using shooting sticks to having my crossbow equipped with a monopod to have a constant and stabile rest available. It can even be used for stabile offhand shooting by bracing the end of the monopod against the shooter’s midsection. It works for me anyway.
When shooting a crossbow it always pays to be aware of the bowstring and its associated bow limbs extending off each side of the stock. It is easy to injure errant fingers of the hand holding a crossbow’s forestock. The extended crossbow limbs can also connect to nearby branches in a tree-stand or the side of rigid blind windows with shattering results. It pays to always remain aware of such matters even when focusing your sights on a target or deer.
When I first went crossbow shopping in 2009, there weren’t many sitting around in sporting goods-related stores, but that has all changed today, and there are a lot of quality brands to choose from.
Like all hunting arms it is a matter of individual selection for someone electing to venture into crossbow hunting. It pays to actually handle one to see what fits that person, and above all else, get proper instruction in how to use a crossbow.
They truly are very effective close-range hunting tools.
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