There’s no greater joy for hunters than that first day in the field, when they escape the rigors of modern life and return to their roots. At one Michigan company where I worked, the first day of deer season was a holiday. As it should be.
Now, thanks to an expanded crossbow season that includes much or all of the weeks allotted to archery and firearm hunting, that special day can come a bit sooner for many of us.
But the advantages of crossbow hunting go well beyond a longer hunting season. Rob Bluthardt, a Michigan hunter who has been harvesting bucks since he was a kid with both firearms and conventional bows, has been shooting with a crossbow for several years. “The main reason I love crossbow hunting is you get the challenge of bow hunting but the reliability and accuracy of hunting with a rifle,” says Rob.
Hunters haven’t always held crossbows in high regard. Bow hunters thought them to be a cheat, and complained that the archery season was no longer theirs alone. Firearm shooters considered crossbows inefficient. But most have come around. Many bow hunters have seen that a crossbow enables accurate shooting while preserving the silence and challenges that distinguish archery season. And firearm shooters now recognize that today’s crossbows are accurate weapons that can both extend the season and fill the freezer.
Crossbows offer advantages over conventional bows. A crossbow can be armed in advance, so you’re ready to shoot when opportunity presents itself. Pre-arming also enables shooting from a relaxed position, allowing accuracy at close range. A safety device helps prevent accidental discharge.
The downside is limited range. While a firearm can bring down a distant deer, crossbows are restricted to about 40 yards. That means no yapping in the deer stand, and factors like wind direction become critical. Plus you get only one shot. Second shots are usually not part of the program. But accuracy and stealth are skills every hunter should develop, so hunting with a crossbow can make us better.
The Modern Crossbow
While state regulations that encourage crossbow hunting are new, the weapon is an ancient one that was used by Chinese and Mediterranean civilizations prior to the first century. Early crossbows were conventional bows fitted with a trigger device. Today’s recurve crossbows are similar in concept. They’re quiet and light, but power and range are limited.
The majority of current crossbows are of a compound design. The draw is shorter than that of a conventional bow or recurve crossbow, so a cam system is used to enable plenty of draw weight and optimize delivery velocity.
Cocking devices are available for most crossbows. The mechanism pulls the string into a loaded position and can enable those with strength limitations to join the hunt. However, many able hunters employ a cocking device, as it makes loading more precise.
The Barnett Ghost 410, which is available at Dunham’s, is a great example of a modern compound crossbow. With a draw weight of 185 lbs., it can generate 149 ft. lbs. of energy and deliver a 22-inch arrow at a velocity of 410 feet per second. Yet it weighs only 7.2 lbs. That minimal weight is the result of a design that employs advanced carbon construction.
Dunham’s also offers less expensive crossbows. For example, the best-selling Barnett Wildcat C5 is a reasonably priced weapon with a draw weight of 150 lbs. That’s sufficient to deliver a 20-inch arrow at a speed of 310 feet-per-second. The SA Sports Ambush Crossbow is very affordable and is a good entry-level weapon. The Titan Extreme by Ten Point is a medium-priced alternative. With 180 lbs. of draw weight it can deliver an arrow at 333 feet- per-second. A built-in crank cocker reduces the cocking tension to a mere 5 lbs. Dunham’s sales consultants are well educated in crossbow technology and can help you choose a bow that’s right for you.
Getting to the Point
Crossbows fire arrows, called “bolts,”are similar to those used in conventional bows but shorter and heavier. Extra heft means they hit the target with plenty of force. The best bolts are made of carbon fiber and can retain more velocity downfield than less expensive aluminum bolts.
At the business end of the bolt is the penetrating broadhead. Available in various configurations and weights, it must be matched to the game to achieve a quick, humane kill. A lighter broadhead can achieve greater speed but won’t hit with as much force as a heavier one.
Fixed-blade broadheads require some preparation before going out in the field. Because broadheads differ in flight characteristics, scope adjustment and bow tuning should be worked out on the target range. Retractable blade broadheads, which expand only on impact, fly true and are a good solution for hunters who can’t put in time on the range. The blades of all broadheads should be sharpened every time the arrow is fired to ensure maximum effectiveness.
Deer season is upon us. See you in the field.
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