The new year had barely begun when seemingly out of nowhere, up popped a piece of legislation with the potential to be quite contentious – or not. As proposed, it would allow the use of crossbows during the regular archery season. Archery seasons are something of a sacred cow in Maine and efforts to impinge upon them are typically rebuffed expediently.

I queried a group of 34,000 Maine deer hunters for their opinion. Roughly 10 percent responded, and response ran about 2-1 in favor. Most folks were OK with crossbows in general, though some thought they should only be permitted during archery season for disabled or youth hunters, as is allowed now. Proponents seemed fairly indifferent, mostly expressing an “I don’t have a problem with it” attitude.

Some offered that in the face of declining license sales, if such a change put more hunters in the woods, that would be a good thing. Others suggested it wouldn’t make much difference. Studies from states like Ohio show strong evidence for crossbows as recruitment tools for young hunters and retention tools for older hunters. Both are important with fewer youngsters taking up hunting and the hunting population aging. There’s also evidence of crossbows serving as a gateway for new and young hunters who later switch to compound bows.

A fair contingent of bowhunters believe crossbows just don’t belong during archery seasons. Some claim that allowing them will destroy traditional archery.

Much the same was said about compound bows when they were introduced, but that’s what most people use now, and refer to as “traditional archery” when opposing crossbows. Others claim they’re not bows. One need only look at the basic physics: Both types of bows use an assembly of limbs, string and wheels to propel an arrow. Neither uses gunpowder.

Some critics say crossbows are too easy. They are certainly easier to pick up and learn to shoot effectively than compound bows. Whether that’s good or bad is a matter of perspective, but they’ll likely encourage more participation. For many, bowhunting is about serenity, getting out when the woods are less crowded and the deer are still following natural movement patterns. Adding more hunters will certainly affect that.

Others warn that crossbows are too effective, offering an unfair advantage over compound bows. Multiple studies have been conducted and continue to be carried out, comparing crossbows and compounds, and except for not having to draw a crossbow just before shooting, the studies have found little difference.

On average, crossbows fire arrows about 20 feet per second faster than compounds. Yes, that’s an average and there are exceptions, but most hunters shoot average equipment. The biggest advantage is the arrow reaches its target faster. However, the arrow is still slower than the speed of sound by roughly half, and crossbows are considerably louder than compounds so any advantage there is probably a wash.

Those familiar with bow physics might presume a faster arrow also means flatter trajectory, and less margin for error in estimating range. That can only be viewed a positive as it also means more accurate shot placement.

In terms of general trajectory, no appreciable difference exists between compounds and crossbows. Both have the same effective range, though because of its heavier weight, a crossbow arrow drops more quickly at longer ranges. Given that, the compound may actually hold a slight advantage past 40 to 50 yards. Crossbows, on average, impart 40 more foot pounds of kinetic energy on target at modest ranges. If your goal is a quick, clean kill with reduced wounding loss, that’s a plus for the crossbow.

Finally, some opponents feel crossbows are “too deadly,” and would lead to devastation of our deer herd. Personally, I don’t believe the number of Maine deer killed by hunters should go up. Apparently Maine’s deer managers disagree because they increased any-deer permits by nearly 30 percent last year.

In 2016, bowhunters killed 469 deer during the statewide regular archery season and 1,267 during the expanded archery season. The combined kill in 2017 was 2,099. The state didn’t even separate out the regular season bow kill by season, but it’s reasonable to assume proportions were similar, making it in the neighborhood of 500 deer. That’s a pretty lonely neighborhood. Even if allowing crossbows resulted in quadrupling the bow kill, it would still total only 2,000 deer.

In 2018, IFW issued 84,745 any deer permits. Figures are not yet available, but that probably resulted in about 21,000 deer killed. Reducing any deer permits numbers by just 10 percent (which is still 10 percent more than were issued in 2017) would more than compensate for the additional mortality from crossbows.

It will be very interesting to see how this all shakes out. Opposition to crossbows in Maine had, for the longest time, been staunch and passionate. In 2013, the Legislature passed a bill allowing crossbows for just about everything except deer hunting during archery season, and they did it with barely a feather ruffled.

Bob Humphrey is a freelance writer, registered Maine guide and certified wildlife biologist who lives in Pownal. He can be reached at:

[email protected]

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