Hunting Weapons Are A Matter Of Choice

Over the years, the choice of hunting weapons has changed immensely. Back in the day, we had basic decisions and they were governed by season. It was pretty simple: If you hunted with stick and string, we used a recurve bow, and when it came to gun season the choice was shotgun.

When it came to bow it was really basic. We could either use a double or single blade. The first broadhead I used and killed a doe with was a broadhead that was heavy by today’s standards, but had a replaceable razor blade-style insert. The main part of the broadhead needed to be hand sharpened. The combination was a deadly one and it never failed to deliver, but it required maintenance.

Shotgun-wise there weren’t rifled barrels, because only a few companies offered rifled slug, which was must-have. To this day, I don’t understand the logic behind a rifled slug running down a smooth bore, but we all paid the extra to get the “best.” Optics was something that wasn’t common, and if somebody showed up to a turkey shoot with a scoped shotgun the majority of us who didn’t have scopes knew we were in for a long day.

Over the past couple decades, our sport has made leaps and bonds in regard to the choices we have in how we pursue our passions. From the compound bow to rifled barrels to crossbows and rifles, today’s deer woods are a far cry from our grandpa’s.

Some would say that we have taken the sport out of our sport, but we’ll argue that if one so chooses. We can choose to use those weapons, but we all have more exciting choices. Today we are going to look at some of those choices. Thanks to the season changes and laws,we all have the option to choose from a wide array of weapons.

Everyone seems to have their preference. Why do some prefer one to the other? What are the pros and cons of each? Which one costs more time and money?

Let’s start our journey with guns. What is the best hunting gun? I would say it depends on the hunter and is different for everyone.

Even after we were allowed to use rifles in the deer woods, I preferred my inline muzzleloader. It wasn’t until the past few seasons that carried a rifle. My decision to carry a muzzleloader was made because I was comfortable with that weapon and knew it would kill anything within 125 yards, plus I enjoy the one-shot theory. Again, it was my choice, one which I still make today.

Due to the ease of use, hunters who don’t have a lot of time prefer rifles, as it doesn’t take as long to get proficient with them. The longer range is also important as it means rifle hunters don’t have to worry as much about being stealthy, like bowhunters. A rifle hunter can take out a deer – depending on caliber – from a couple hundred yards away while a bowhunter has to get within about 40 yards.

Some folks choose to hunt with a handgun. This, in itself, in my opinion, is a different world. While some would say that handguns are in the same line as rifles, I have done my fair share of handgun hunting and have never killed a deer with one. Maybe that is because I don’t feel comfortable with a handgun, but I do know many who spend time working with their handgun who are very successful and it truly opens a new window of which weapon we should take to the woods.

It’s also worth mentioning that using a rifle is actually cheaper than using a bow. On average, it’ll cost a hunter a few hundred dollars to buy a usable rifle and all the necessary accessories for it. A bow will end up costing twice that when you consider that not only will you have to buy a working bow, but you will also need things like scentless clothing and camo to get within range of the deer you plan to hunt. Rifles are superior to bows as weapons, in my opinion, although many choose to hunt with bows for other reasons.

Something that surprised me is that research shows 75 percent of bowhunters also use rifles. In most cases, they started hunting with rifles first then decided to switch to bows later. When I asked why they switched, most of them told me it was because of the sense of accomplishment they felt. It takes years to become proficient with a bow, and most of them feel a great sense of confidence wielding a weapon it took them so long to become good with.

Another thing I found was that many of them said that bowhunting makes them a better hunter. Taking a deer with a bow is an adrenaline rush and, like I have said for years, if you don’t get worked up killing a deer within a few yards of you with archery equipment, it’s time to case a little white ball around a cow pasture. While a rifle may technically be a superior weapon to a bow, it doesn’t seem to give the same experience.

Now I’m not going to argue the different types of archery equipment, but we have a choice, whether it’s a recurve, long, compound or cross bow, each sportsman can make that decision himself.

Ultimately, each weapon is different, and which one people prefer depends on a number of factors. Whether it’s convenience, tradition, or looking for a thrill, people will pick up a bow or rifle depending on which one better fits their needs.

Allegations that the crossbow is deadly-accurate out to a hundred yards, making it nothing less than a rifle that shoots arrows are still common place among the uninformed. It has also been claimed that the crossbow is unsafe, too easy to shoot and more efficient than compound bows. If all these assertions are indeed true, then it would seem that the crossbow does have a distinct advantage over its vertical brother.

Those of you who shoot and hunt with a crossbow on a regular basis are fully aware that these claims are a frivolous attempt to discredit and ban a very practical hunting tool that has been proven to be a great asset to our hunting community. Firsthand experience has taught you that the crossbow is very comparable to a compound and, in some situations, not up to par with the vertical bow.

The ballistics of the majority of vertical bows are superior to the majority of crossbows. The mystical ingredient is the power stroke. Even though a crossbow has a heavier draw weight, the power stroke is much shorter. It is the power stroke that generates the kinetic energy that is stored in an arrow as it is launched at its target. Kinetic energy is the fuel that delivers the speed, range and impact to the arrow. The average power stroke on a crossbow is 14-inches compared to 25-inches on a compound. With the string pushing the arrow for an extra 10-11 inches, the vertical bow is delivering maximum kinetic energy far superior to that of a crossbow.

Another claim made about the crossbows is that it is less safe than a vertical bow. The truth of the matter is that crossbows are just as safe as vertical equipment, if not more so. Our neighboring friends in Ohio have had a crossbow season for 33 years. The fact is that there are more crossbow hunters in Ohio than there are vertical bowhunters, yet the documented injuries from each bow are virtually the same. Each has approximately the same number of fatalities and approximately the same number of injuries based on documented history. How then, can anyone claim that crossbows are less safe than vertical bows? It would seem to me that those making such claims are either afraid of crossbows or ignorant about them, perhaps both.

Another area of difference that keeps surfacing is the fact that crossbows are too easy to shoot. If, by easy, one means easy to learn the basic mechanics of the tool and to become comfortable with using it, I must agree with the claim. That is one of the redeeming things about the crossbow. In a half hour to an hour on the range, anyone should be able to have the basic mechanics down and be shooting tight groups at 20, 30 and even 40 yards. At that point, there will still be many rough edges to file down, but the shooter should have a firm grip on the basics.

However, if “too easy” means it is too easy to use in the field and from the stand, then the person making that statement has never had a crossbow in his hands. The crossbow is heavy, cumbersome and awkward to handle in the stand compared to a vertical bow. The physics of the crossbow make it difficult to steady when shooting, which makes the crossbow less accurate than the vertical bow. Documented final scores turned in on the range at IBO and NFAA tournaments (both allow the use of crossbows in their national competitions) by the pros definitely prove that the vertical bow is more accurate than the crossbow when shot freehand.

Maneuvering a crossbow in the stand is another big disadvantage. A cocked crossbow is uncomfortable to hold on your lap because of its shape, extra bulk and weight. Because it is front-end heavy, it is more difficult to hold steady when shooting. Without a rest to steady the shot, the crossbow is not as accurate as a vertical bow. Scores shot by the pros at IBO and NFAA tournaments document that fact because crossbows scores are lower than those shot by compounds.

The “less accurate” fact is also why the claim that crossbows are more efficient is also untrue. The more efficient of the two is definitely the compound bow. When it comes to exhibiting a high ratio of output to input, the crossbow falls behind its vertical brother. With a vertical bow, second and even third shots are commonplace, but not with a crossbow. Greater distance, flatter arc and less kinetic energy are all reasons the crossbow is less efficient than the modern compound bow.

The similarities of the two, however, are very easy to see when one looks at the other side of the coin. They both shoot an arrow and they are both short-range weapons- for most users 40 yards or less. They are both fun to shoot, bringing big grins and great adventure to those who are devoted to them. They both play a key role in recruitment of new hunters of all ages and both sexes worldwide. The bottom line is that whether you are into vertical archery or horizontal archery, they are both archery.

Whichever is your choice, remember after years of hard work by many folks that have long since passed, we as hunters in New York State have the choice to use whichever weapon in the approximate season that we want to.

One last point: Remember whatever weapon you choose to take in the woods this season, we are all sportsmen and we should treat each with the due respect we all deserve.


Today's breaking news and more in your inbox

I'm interested in (please check all that apply)