Walter Selens gives a demonstration of shooting a crossbow during a break at an education class at Buxton-Hollis Rod and Gun Club. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer Buy this Photo

 

HOLLIS — Andrew Goode has been using a compound bow to hunt deer for 35 years. But earlier this month, the bowhunter attended an education class at the Buxton-Hollis Rod and Gun Club to learn more about crossbows now that a new state law allows them to be used during more hunting seasons.

Walter Selens uses a rope to cock a crossbow while giving a demonstration during a break at an education class at Buxton-Hollis Rod and Gun Club. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer Buy this Photo

Halfway through the class, it was clear to Goode that he soon would be purchasing a crossbow, which provides greater accuracy while being physically less demanding than traditional bows.

“I’ve had three shoulder surgeries, so I was heading in this direction anyway,” said the Freeport resident. “With a crossbow there is a little more advantage. You don’t have to move while holding it. There’s less disturbance to the animal. And crossbows are more accepted in other states. Maine is a bit late to the party in allowing them.”

Starting this year, crossbows can be used – in addition to the usual compound or recurve bows – during the regular archery season for deer, giving crossbow hunters an extra month to hunt deer. Previously, hunters could only use them in the firearm deer season in November. The new law doubles the amount of time crossbow hunters can spend stalking deer – and offers them a hunting method that is not as physically challenging as a traditional bow.

The law will be in place for three years and then evaluated by the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife. All crossbow hunters must have a valid hunting license, complete the crossbow education course and obtain a crossbow hunting permit – cost is $26 for residents and $56 for non-residents.

Walter Selens teaches an education class at Buxton-Hollis Rod and Gun Club. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer Buy this Photo

Hunters – even longtime bowhunters like Goode – are eager to try crossbows because they allow a hunter to shoot with greater ease. Crossbows demand less arm and shoulder strength, and provide far greater precision. And a more accurate shot means a more humane kill and lowers the risk of losing a wounded animal.

Crossbows, like all bows, use the same principle of sending the shot (the arrow or bolt) flying by pulling a string back. However, the crossbow is held like a rifle, with a stock and trigger and a locking system to hold the string back. The trigger releases the bowstring and, with that, the bolt (which is similar to an arrow).  It also allows the shooter to hold the shot for much longer, which increases the chances of a perfect kill shot.

Finally, crossbows let a hunter draw the string back with a stirrup – using their foot and legs, rather than only their arms and shoulders.

Bowhunters typically use traditional longbows – which are, as the names says, very long – or recurve bows, which are often used in archery competition, as well as the more-modern compound bow which has a pulley system that helps mechanically pull the string back. The compound bow takes some of the work of holding the string off the bowman – but not all, as with the crossbow. Once the string is cocked on a crossbow, there is no effort involved by the shooter to maintain the tension of the bowstring.

Many instructors say crossbows are easier to learn than shooting a rifle.

“Because a lot of crossbows are drawn mechanically it makes it easier. They are just incredible,” said Steve Dunsmore, owner of Lakeside Archery in North Yarmouth for the past 30 years.

Even before the new law, there was a dramatic increase in the number of hunters obtaining the state’s special crossbow permit. In 2009, 326 hunters got a crossbow permit. In 2019, that number jumped to 1,168, according to IFW.

“A lot more people who have health issues and can’t shoot a regular bow have been getting the special permit. But changing the law has certainly increased its popularity. I’ve got a waiting list for classes,” said Dunsmore, who teaches crossbow education classes now required by the state.

Shawn Sage, president of the Buxton-Hollis Rod and Gun Club, said his email box has been “blowing up” with requests to take the crossbow class.

“It is crazy. And it’s a sport you can get into for under $100. Crossbows range from that to $400 to $3,000. But you don’t have to spend a lot,” Sage said.

Walter Selens, who teaches a class with Sage, said he thinks Maine’s deer harvest will increase dramatically as a result of  the many new crossbow hunters – which is also something state biologists want.

“I’m on Facebook on all the bowhunter sites in Maine. And everyone is talking about crossbows,” Selens said.

The fact the easier-to-use bow means a better chance of harvesting a deer is one big draw for many hunters.

“Obviously, I want to hunt with a crossbow to improve success,” said Joe Hlastawa of Sanford, a hunter of almost 50 years who came to take the crossbow class in Hollis.

“I’ve bowhunted off and on. The closest I ever came was when I shot at a doe, and it heard the string snap and it jumped. I ended up shooting its tail off.”

Nelson Begin of North Berwick – another hunter of 50 years – mostly hunts for sport, not meat. If he doesn’t harvest a deer, he’s fine with that. But Begin, at 69, said switching from a firearm to a lighter, more accurate crossbow that will allow him to get closer to the deer makes for a more appealing hunt.

“I’m getting older. Things are not working as well. I like that it’s easier and the shot is more ethical,” Begin said.


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