Crossbows have been around for hundreds of years, but it wasn’t until recently that they really took off in the hunting world. Crossbows used to be just something for a very small amount of hunters, and now it seems that everyone is using them.
As with any hot-ticket item, advancements in crossbow technology have added fuel to the fire. And it’s not just the crossbows themselves either. The accessory market is just as hot, with new products coming out all of the time.
The only thing people are talking about regarding crossbows more than the technology involved is the controversy over whether or not they should be allowed. Proponents of “traditional” archery say it’s an unfair advantage. This is funny, considering traditional compound bows faced the same reaction from recurve and longbow shooters decades ago.
Just recently, I was talking to a fellow hunter and mentioned that my wife prefers a crossbow.
“That’s cheating,” he said. “Only lazy hunters use those things. It’s no different than using a rifle!”
I dropped the subject rather than argue, but that is a common misconception about crossbows. Yes, I used the word misconception. Crossbows don’t offer much in the way of an advantage over a modern compound bow from what I’ve seen. There, I said it. Cool your jets for a minute and we can talk about this.
Yes, it is much easier to teach someone how to use a crossbow than a compound bow. I can take a completely new shooter and teach them to hit a bull’s-eye with a crossbow faster than with a compound. There are still things to take into account, however. You still have to train yourself to shoot properly.
You also have to condition your muscles to pull the bow back, unless you’re using a cocking crank. If you don’t draw the bow right, you’re not going to shoot straight. End of story.
Accuracy and range are dead-even. Weight advantages go to compound bows. Lethality is another dead-even area, pun intended. You still have to get the bow up and make the shot. Movement is movement. When you’re cold and tired, it is easier to pull a trigger than draw a bow. I’ll give you that. But if you’re too cold and too tired to draw back a bow, maybe you shouldn’t be hunting?
Let’s end the fighting and bickering. After all, it’s getting someone out hunting. A hunter is a hunter, and we’re all brothers and sisters in the same fraternity.
The geek stuff
The first crossbow I ever shot was a recurve model. Yes, just like vertical bows, there are recurves and compounds. Recurves have some advantages over a compound bow. There are fewer moving parts, and the bow never goes out of tune. They can be lighter in weight.
The Kodabow uses a split-limb design, like many compounds, yet is a recurve, so it is quieter. The Kodabow sports parts similar to those on an AR-platform rifle, including an adjustable stock and a better trigger system. There are a lot of nice features, too, such as being able to swap out strings easier.
Compound crossbows are popping up all over. There are traditional archery manufacturers producing really nice crossbows, and other companies that are specific to crossbows that have had a strong foothold on the market for years.
The boom started back around 2005 and really kicked in a few years later, said Philip Bednar of TenPoint Crossbow Technologies.
“I would say the crossbow boom really began taking off when Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Texas adopted full inclusion in 2009,” Bednar said. “It has continued to grow ever since.”
Bednar’s company has been right there at the top of the technological leap. The bows are getting quieter, faster, and more compact every season.
“The larger market has created more competition,” Bednar said. “The competition and increased opportunities have driven the innovation. Crossbow companies believe they have to continue to innovate in order to retain/grown their market share.”
Other crossbow manufacturers, like Barnett, continue to push the speed envelope, with bows that break the 400 feet-per-second speed mark. That need for speed is very similar to what was going on in the vertical bow market just a few years ago.
According to Mathews Archery’s Director of Product Development and Business Planning, Jon Dumars, the company’s founder, Matt McPherson, always had crossbow designs on-hand—he was just waiting for the right time.
“Once our retailers began asking for a crossbow from Mathews, Matt knew he had to enter the market. It became apparent the industry was accepting of the category when large bowhunting states like Pennsylvania and Michigan allowed unrestricted use of crossbows—it was a matter of time before the category would spread, forcing our retailers to support crossbows.”
Other companies that more traditionally known for making archery accessories have jumped in to the crossbow market—some more successfully than others. Carbon Express, a Michigan-based company widely known for carbon arrows, introduced a line of crossbows a while back that have been a steady player in the market. The Carbon Express bows quickly earned a reputation for decent speed and excellent durability.
No thumbs up
There’s one thing that crossbow users all over North America figured out pretty quick: keep your thumbs down! A case of crossbow thumb happens when you inadvertently hold your thumb a little too high and the string comes along at a rather quick pace to remove whatever part of your hitchhiking tool happens to above the whacking line.
The result, from the manufacturers, was to add warning labels and guards to keep you from doing this. Carbon Express offers vertical fore grips on some of their bows, much like a tactical grip on a modern sporting rifle. They have been doing this for years and it’s a nice touch. I noticed TenPoint bows now come with a rubber flap at the top of the grip area that keeps your digits safe.
The best way to make sure you keep your thumb attached to your hand is to use that thing attached between your shoulders. Accidents happen, but it’s always best to prepare and practice doing things the right way.
Just like with anything where there is a lot of money flowing, there are going to be new products to make things better, right? It didn’t take long for advancements in archery to adapt to crossbows too. Easton’s Full Metal Jacket arrows were soon adapted to bolts, as were the lighted nocks that have become widely used in bowhunting.
There are also many new crossbow optics available. Bushnell makes one of my favorite crossbow scopes, the Trophy XLT DOA. Even cooler is the 512.XBow sight from EOTech—and I’m barely scratching the surface of all the cool new things coming out for crossbows and crossbow shooters.
When will it end?
Like anything, as long as there is an interest, there will be a market for innovation. Right now, hunters are a little divided on the use of crossbows, which creates a buzz. That buzz has companies trying to outdo each other with newer, faster, quieter, and cooler new toys.
Crossbows are here to stay. They attract new hunters and giver other hunters a new lease on hunting, extend others’ seasons, and in general are great for the sport. My wife is a huge fan of crossbows. I use them as well as vertical bows and find them to be just another tool for enjoying my time in the great outdoors. As crossbows evolve, it strengthens the outdoor industry and that is a very good thing.
Images by Derrek Sigler