When Michigan archery deer season opens October 1, it will be the fourth season that deer hunters legally can use crossbows in the state. While the objections of the traditional archery crowd are still out there, it would seem the bow-and-arrow brotherhood is becoming more accepting of guys who use the horizontal bows with rifle stocks.
Many of the objections from archers took this kind of tone: early season is best because fewer hunters are out in the woods and we bowhunters deserve this privilege because we practice our sport with true dedication.
That’s true for most, but certainly not all. Archery shop owners will tell you the horror stories of guys buying used bows the night before the season opened. One shop owner told this writer of a fellow who wanted to buy a used bow and one arrow.
Of course this sort of inexperience and bad planning will be traits of some crossbow hunters, too. For crossbow hunters, just like their traditional brethren, practice makes perfect—or at least good enough to cleanly kill a deer. Crossbow proficiency, however calls for less practice, which is one reason crossbows have gained so much popularity so fast. But with archery season just a couple weeks away, crossbow shooters do need to practice shooting, keeping several key factors in mind.
Mark Kruizinga, who has owned and operated Kruizinga’s Archery in Mattawan, Michigan for 19 years, said crossbow sales have been booming since the weapons became legal, and enthusiasts come from all walks of life. He said this year’s hottest seller is a model designed for kids, with women also a large market.
“The older crowd that used to bowhunt but maybe had a bad shoulder but were too proud to apply for a special crossbow permit are coming back and getting crossbows, too,” Kruizinga said.
What all these new crossbow hunters have in common is a need to practice, and Kruizinga outlined several steps that will help put venison on the table.
First, start shooting with a bench rest to get the feel of the trigger. Kruizinga said the trigger pull is different from a firearm, causing some shooters to flinch and miss the target altogether. (Side note: This writer, who got a crossbow two years ago, completely buried two bolts—what a crossbow’s arrows are called—in his backyard by starting out freehand.)
“That’s probably how most deer get missed,” Kruizinga said. “Guys will get comfortable shooting from a bench, but then get out in the field and haven’t practiced enough freehand.”
Third, shoot it from an elevated stand—preferably your actual deer stand.
“You don’t want your first shot from a stand to be at a deer,” Kruizinga said. Another reason to shoot from your actual stand is to determine if there are any obstructions to your bow limbs.
“That’s how most crossbows get broken,” Kruizinga said. “A guy will rest his bow, aim at a deer and not realize a tree branch is in the way. They got to give the crossbow room to work. It flexes and hits that branch and everything goes haywire.”
Kruizinga advises hunters looking to buy their first crossbow to avoid getting a cheap one.
“In my opinion, you get what you pay for,” he said. “Sure, some are overpriced, but cheap ones break easier and more often than better ones.”
A big decision for new crossbow hunters is the selection of a broadhead, the business end of the bolt.
“You’re talking Ford versus Chevy there,” said Kruizinga. “I advise getting the broadhead that the crossbow manufacturer used in its testing.”
Another Ford-versus-Chevy choice is whether to select mechanical broadheads or a fixed head. Mechanicals have blades that spring out upon impact. No matter which the hunter chooses, he or she should take some shots with that head. Kruizinga said mechanical heads generally come with a practice head that is the same shape and weight as the hunting heads, but it doesn’t expand upon impact with the practice target. With fixed heads, he advises having some practice bolts with those heads and some identical hunting bolts reserved for shooting at game.
Although some bowhunters still hold crossbow hunters in low regard, if a crossbow allows someone to get out and enjoy a day afield with the chance of cleanly killing a deer with less intense practice—then what can be wrong with that?
As long as crossbow hunters practice correctly to hit what they’re aiming at.
Images courtesy Dave Mull