The Crossbow Conundrum: A Spirited Debate

The Crossbow Conundrum: A Spirited Debate

‘Crossing’ The Line:

A guy, known only as ‘Bro’ or ‘Brah’ to his meat-headed friends, leaves the woods with his bow after having a particularly challenging season. Cloaked in Axe body spray, and exhaling pungent tilapia breath, wondering when the DNR will 'finally do something about the low deer numbers'. Pissed that he missed the only buck he did see all season and still reeling about the other two deer he wounded with his compound and never found.

The next morning is the opening day of rifle season. From the comfort of his Grandfather’s land and his father’s box blind, he thumbs his phone and opens up Insta. The Mouth-breather, trolling and scrolling finds a popular feed, now viral:

The post depicts a cross-bow hunter hunting public land and in a tree stand open to the elements, toughing out an all-day sit in the snow. The post is jovial, references seeing and passing on a few small bucks that morning, and poking fun at the possible delirium of a 12hr hunt in the bitter temps.


Here is what the self-proclaimed ‘real-hunter,’ and ‘real-man’ had to say:

  • “shoot a bow, be a man…”
  • “crossbows are for handicapped and elderly. and morons…”
  • “…every half-slow hunter i run into ( uses a crossbow ). others like me will understand your level of IQ, as soon as we see a crossbow in your hands.”
  • “ body who shoots a cross bow can call themselves a real hunter lol, especially one with a crossbow in his profile pic.”
  • “y’all mfs keep shooting yalls handicap bows.”


These are actual quotes. You can’t make this stuff up. And, as easy as it would be to reduce these childish retorts to ashes with clever and humoristic quips of logic that avoids ad-hominem pitfalls; or by simply replacing the word ‘crossbow’ with ‘rifle,’ that’s not what we believe.

It also doesn’t matter who this person is or where he’s from. Why it doesn’t matter is because this attitude towards crossbow hunters seems to be everywhere. Crossbow shaming (as we’re calling it), just like small-buck shaming, has become ubiquitous in the hunting world.

Crossbow shaming is a shame. In many states you can’t legally hunt with a rifle until you’re a teenager. Which leaves bow hunting as the only viable option to introduce young people to the sport. Show me a 10yr old who can draw a long-bow and successfully harvest a deer and I’ll show you a future Olympian archer. It’s simply not practical for most youth to shoot traditional and find success early on.

It’s not only our youth who can and who are successfully filling tags with crossbows either. It’s adults who are new to the sport of hunting. In a sport where the numbers have been on a rapid decline since the early 80’s. We see these declines over the past four decades in terms of both total numbers (from nearly 17 million in 1982 to right around 15 million in 2022) as well as in the percentage of people who hunt (7.4% in 1982 and now only 4.5% in 2022).

The Crossbow debate is not only shameful, it's also a sham. It’s a false dichotomy that would have you believe it’s a choice between one or the other. That’s simply untrue. Avid sportsmen can and do hunt with the weapon of their choice if and when the stand, location, and circumstances call for it.

Take saddle hunting for instance. When we’re saddle hunting it’s really a better setup to be using a compound bow. Compare that to using a climber with a wrap-around front bar, which is much better suited for either a crossbow, rifle, or shotgun/straight-walled round. Compare both of those setups to partaking in a deer drive during archery season where it’s tough to argue that using a recurve and shooting instinctively isn’t the best option for an ambush position with deer on the run.

In an effort to walk the line between making a point about this debate and granting blow-hards any more exposure than is deserved we’re hoping it’s not a disservice to establish a baseline of where things currently stand. Hence the social media quotes above. So we’re left to ask ourselves, does it really matter? Well, does it?

Does the Fly-fisherman silently or sanctimoniously scoff at the spinning reel. Does the spinning reel lament the age of the baitcaster. Or the cane pole angler ridicule the fly-fisherman. Does it matter?

Does the recurve archer silently or sanctimoniously scoff at the compound bow. Does the compound bow lament the age of the crossbow. Or the longbow hunter ridicule the recurve. Does it matter?




Respectful Counterpoints:

Ah the Crossbow debate. Cross-gun, Bow-rifle, Cross-bow, call it what you may, it’s a not so modern, modern hunting marvel. Here’s the thing though; is it a bow if it doesn’t fling arrows? Is it a firearm if it lacks a firing pin? Or, is it a lethal hunting apparatus unto it's own.

What’s not been left for speculation is the contempt the mere mention of the word ‘Crossbow’ can create. Some staunch, if not begrudging, archery folks can get downright ‘cross’ over the topic ;). Tropes aside, let’s start by getting down to the nitty-gritty details shall we. Afterall. Details matter.

We’ll be the first to admit it. Strictly speaking the use of a crossbow is not a form of archery. According to (and many other similar sources), archery is the practice, art, or sport of shooting with a bow and arrow. Crossbows use ‘bolts,’ not arrows…or do they.

Wait, wait wait, not so fast. Stop to first consider, is that actually true? If you shoot a compound bow with a 30” draw length your arrows may be somewhere around 29” long. But, if your draw length is 27” (which is the average draw length of the average adult male) and you add a 4” overdraw rest, what then:

With an overdraw system the average draw length for men, using the Archery Direct draw length calculator, equates to an average arrow length of 22”-23.” The average draw length for women, also using a 4” overdraw, equates to an average arrow length of 19.5”-20.5” (23.5”-24” without).

Much appreciation to Andrew McKean who in 2013 interviewed Phillip Bednar, director of marketing for TenPoint Crossbows. Here is what he had to say about the matter. “If it’s under 16 inches, it’s a bolt…Sixteen inches or more is considered an arrow. We shoot 20- and 22-inch arrows.”  Article: Bolts or Arrows: Which is Correct for Crossbows?

Both the Archery GB, aka Grand National Archery Society (GNAS) and the World Crossbow Shooting Association (WCSA) tend to agree. The maximum allowable bolt length under GNAS rules is 15” whereas 18” is the maximum bolt length under WCSA guidelines.

There's more. The ATA (Archery Trade Associate) of which we proudly call ourselves members would also agree. Look no further than their list of 2023 exhibitors who all manufacture and sell crossbows: Axe, Darton, PSE, Bowtech, Barnett, TenPoint, Excalibur, and yes, Bear Archery…



Map courtesy of


So, we’ve now established that the vast majority of modern crossbows use arrows. And, we’ve always known that crossbows, like compound bows, are a type of technologically advanced bow. So what’s the real difference? Could it be that the crossbow can be drawn prior to seeing the game animal. Is that really the gripe here?

If the discontent really comes from the ability to pre-cock the weapon then all we really have to say here are two things: 1.) tell that to your 50%, 70%, 90% let-off cam, axle tech, and parallel limbs. Drawing and holding a compound bow is nothing like drawing and shooting a recurve bow. Which is nothing like drawing and shooting a long bow. They are night and day differences, both by degrees of difficulty. 2.) tell that to the lockadraw tech where your compound bow can now stay in the ready (fully drawn) position. For the record, we love the ingenuity here.


If the difference between the compound bow and the longbow or recurve is just as big (or even bigger) than the difference between the compound bow and crossbow, then what gives. Why so much animosity. It can’t be the trigger. We’ve been using trigger releases and then thumb releases for decades. The same technology exists for both brands of bow hunting.

Wait…wait a minute, it must be the scope. That’s the only thing left right. Oh, the scope…and the speed maybe?

We’ve got two words for you, Garmin Xero. We’re still stuck in the past on how cool the whisker biscuit rest and pendulum sights are. Meanwhile, Garmin invents the equivalent of the red dot scope for the compound bow. Before you say the Xero isn’t a scope, stop. It is. It’s a $1,000, range-finding, badass bow sight, and it’s cool as f*ck.

Speed, That’s the other item. It’s true that the newest reverse limb crossbows are pushing past 500fps. We won’t bore anyone explaining why the actual fps in the field with broadheads and FOC (front of center) heavy arrows aren’t coming close to those speeds because within the next few years they will be.

Instead, we would like to point out the following: Youtube videos that some archers may lear at with envy showing crossbows knocking repetitive bullseyes at 100 yards are pretty unrealistic in the field and while chasing moving, wild game.


Technically and federally speaking (nevermind some local jurisdictions across the US), for the purposes of hunting, crossbows are not firearms either. Crossbows do not use combustion to launch their projectile. Nor do you seek out a firearm instructor to learn how to shoot a crossbow.

Important to note: In those jurisdictions where crossbows are considered ‘firearms,’ we could not find any jurisdictions where the definition of bow and arrow was not also considered a ‘firearm’ for the purposes of legal issues that may arise locally. 

Being a bowhunter means getting up close and personal with these animals. That’s true regardless of what type of bow you’re hunting with. What makes it challenging is precisely because it’s not firearm hunting.

Don’t get us wrong, we like deer hunting with a rifle or muzzleloader as much as anyone, but the fact is they are wildly different pursuits. If a deer is likely to see, or hear, or smell you before you ever notice them coming, those are the hurdles that make bow hunting challenging.

When you can scope-out and reach-out and knock down a deer at 200 or 300+ yards without the deer even having the chance to bust you, it’s still challenging, but not for the same reasons and not to the same degree. And degree of difficulty may be at the core of this discussion.

A crossbow may have a scope, it may or may not be fast, and it may be pre-cocked and ready for use. But anyone who’s used a crossbow in the field knows you’re still only going to consistently take animals out to around 40 yards…and most of your shots, especially if you’re hunting in thick cover where old bruisers live, are going to be +/-20 yard shots.

A final note here. You can also find plenty of Youtube videos in so-called ‘fairy-tail’ states where real bucks are being shot with compound bows at 70+ yards with their heads down in a pile of carrots.

Fred Bear is another great example for this discussion. Besides, how can you have a comprehensive discussion about archery without mentioning the Grandfather of modern archery. Fred is well recorded in the annals of history as consistently taking game with his feather fletch recurve at well over 50 yards.



What Have We Learned:

Suffice it to say that a ‘cross-bowman’ may not be a ‘bowman’. And they [we] may also not be archers (unless they/we also fancy shooting bows and arrows, which many of us do). Instead, wielders of the crossbow are ‘cross-bowmen’. And in many states, twenty nine (29) and counting to be precise, any cross-bowman can practice the art, or sport, of shooting with a cross-bow and arrow while simultaneously chasing wild game .

Probably the most fascinating thing about the crossbow debate is what it’s not. The crossbow debate is not a political debate at all.  Here in 2022 you may be hard pressed to find many other debates that are not wrought by political divide. Yet here we are with crossbow enthusiasts and detractors alike reaching across the aisle and shaking hands with one another. United by either common interests or by common gripes.

Where crossbows are legal to hunt with (during archery season) varies widely across political and state boundaries as well. Red states, Blue states, Purple states, have all loosened regulations on crossbow hunting.

As far north as Wisconsin and Michigan (lower peninsula); as far south as Texas and Florida (private land); as far east as New Jersey and Maine (for a portion of archery), and as far west as Colorado. In fact, there are only eleven (11) states where a crossbow can only be used during rifle season, and only one state (Oregon) where using a crossbow is not permitted during any season whatsoever.

My husband shot his first bruiser at seventeen (17) years old. He did it with a compound bow that, in hindsight, was not properly tuned, and he did it without much of a care in the world about politics. He lived to hunt and to play sports. To climb up in the stand an hour before first shooting light and to wait. And wait he did. He started bowhunting at the age of twelve (12) and had waited five (5) years before he would get his first real chance at an old wiley buck. 

The rack wasn’t much to look at, a wide-beamed, pale-tined 7pt. The taxidermist said the deer was older than dirt based on the tooth erosion. Before him, the butcher said he was riddle with old wounds from previous deer seasons and based on the calcification of the front shoulder blades had more than likely been in a deer-car collision when he was very young.

When the brute stepped into his shooting lane several minutes before his sights were even visible through his new fangled peep sight, all he knew was that he was one smart animal. His timing. His pace. His size. The morning was cold. Below 32 degrees. He had never thought to go sit at the shooting range for an hour in freezing temperatures and then start target practicing once the cold sets in (who does). He tugged at his string in one fluid motion. He couldn’t pull the old bow back.

All those years in the weight room. All those practices on the grid-iron, and on the court, in the ring, and on the mat. Every year he would increase the poundage on his bow hoping for an advantage. Here he was and it seemed like his undoing. He pulled at the old compound again hoping, struggling to get to the let-off on that second generation bow with its Bear archery logo.

The cables rounded and gave but his sights were blacked out. He let rest the silhouette of his sole 25 yard pin and let slip the stranded braid. Double pass-through, double-lung, the buck was his forevermore.

The bruiser ran up rut's ridge not 70 yards. He laid down and expired on the steep terrain not far from the highland and pinch-point that funneled him down to where he was hunting between two blueberry marshes. It was there that my husband admired him. It was there that he gutted him. It was on rut ridge where he made his coming of age story come to an abrupt end.

Taking a trophy, taking a deer, that’s a right of passage. Whether that right of passage comes from hunting with a rifle, or with a bow, well, that’s up to you. That’s the great part of being a part of the community of hunters. We all make our own choices. We all get to decide what we consider to be challenging.

My first deer didn’t die over a pile of bait with a crossbow either, but if yours does, that’s cool. I’ll say this much, if mine had I certainly wouldn’t have been any less proud of the accomplishment. My first buck also wasn’t shot with a rifle at 200 yards. But, if yours did, congrats. And my first deer certainly did not take his last breath because he was expired with the aid of a long-bow. But there again, if yours did, that’s a job well done.



The Anecdote:

I read this story once published in a well-known hunting magazine. It was about this gentleman who wanted hunting whitetail to be more of a challenge. So a challenge he set out to create for himself. As the story goes he proceeded to purchase 18 acres of property. From this land he chopped down a tree. From this tree he fashioned both his own handmade bow and handmade arrows. He made his own string, and fletchings, and broadheads too. With this DIY tool he shot himself a nice buck and the buck he shot was on the same land that he had bought, and not far from the tree he fell to fashion his bow.

The story is so compelling and so incredible that it almost sounds like a fable. There are few individuals on the planet capable of one-upping a story like this. The moral of the story is this: This individual set out to create a ‘challenging’ scenario for themselves. And that’s what they did. They accomplished their goal. But that was their journey. Not yours. It was theirs' and theirs' alone.

So what if you can’t afford property. So what. Go hunt public land. So you can’t pull a traditional bow back. So what, get really good with a crossbow or rifle. So you don’t think hunting over a bait pile is sporting (or it’s not legal in your state). So what, learn how to read deer sign and find rut funnels. Can’t gut a deer, skin a deer, quarter or process a deer.

That’s right…so what. Find someone to hunt with and help you. Watch Youtube videos, make mistakes, and learn from those mistakes. You do you. And if that involves a crossbow because that’s the way you’re comfortable hunting, or because you have a family that enjoys your company, or because you're short on vacation days and want to increase your odds, that’s not unsportsmanlike. That’s smart-like.

We’ll leave you with this quote from Bear Archery. A quote from a company who builds, brands, and sells bows and crossbows to the masses. A company greatly influenced by the Grandfather of modern archery himself, Fred Bear. If ever there was a creed to follow, a moral capstone, this is the one, 'this is the way'.

“At Bear Archery, we promise to never forget the principles our brands were founded on - to create utterly reliable, intensely lethal archery equipment, capable of harvesting any game in a quick and ethical fashion. We are Bear Archery. This is The Fred Bear Way.”

Good luck and happy hunting,

Dr. Jennifer Hiller

HangryBrand Co-Founder



“shoot a bow, be a man”

  • Response: ‘I’m a woman.’
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