The Ethics of Crossbows
Beginning several years ago, interest in hunting with crossbows was on the rise. There has been more than a bit of controversy surrounding their use as more states allow more opportunities to hunt with them.
Among the debate there are general points of agreement. Few people seem to mind crossbow use during a firearms season. Even the most impressive crossbow can’t compete with the range and accuracy of rifle, shotgun or muzzle loader, let alone the quick-killing shot a bullet tends to impart. For those with disabilities who wish to hunt, most states allow crossbow use with the appropriate documentation. Again, no one is interested in challenging this exemption. The contentious point is whether or not they should be legal during archery season, and this is huge.
I am of the opinion that crossbows have no place in an archery season. My objection is not so much a matter of range; I think this point has been largely exaggerated by crossbow neophytes. The anchor point on a compound, recurve or longbow (collectiveley known as “vertical bows”) tends to be variable until the archer has undergone considerable practice. Even then, one’s anchor point can still shift slightly, with significant results. These can cause flyers, or groups to open up. Crossbows don’t have this issue. The anchor point is highly consistent, making consistent shooting comparable to that of a rifle. This creates the illusion of greater range. Bolts are grouping nice and tight at ranges in excess of 40 yards, while arrow groups tend to open up around that range. There are, however, several forgotten factors at these greater ranges, including velocity, energy, and noise.
Some crossbows, like some verticals, can deliver enough speed to make a kill beyond 40 yards. Speed and energy go hand in hand, with the latter also being effected by mass. Arrow heads, unlike bullets, are not as dependent on energy to kill since they have sharp points with razor-sharp blades to cut through tissue. Still, if an arrow or bolt is not moving fast enough and isn’t massive enough to push through enough tissue to hit vital organs and sever blood vessels, it cannot kill. The noise factor is often overlooked by those delving into crossbows for the first time. They tend to assume they are just as loud as compounds, when they are actually quite a bit louder. This makes string jumps much more likely, also limiting effective range.
I will readily admit that I have no hands-on experience with a crossbow. I have, however, read many articles by people who know, and have spoken to several people who do hunt with crossbows. They all agree that 40 yards is generally the maximum effective range.
The real issue with crossbow ethics is ease of shooting. As with a gun, firing a crossbow is simply a matter of bringing the stock to the shoulder, aiming and firing. Crossbow hunters often argue that their chosen implement is heavier and much more cumbersome than people think, certainly more so than vertical bows, even when stand hunting. I don’t doubt this, but it is common practice for bow hunters to use hangers to keep their bows readily at hand without getting uncomfortable to hold. It stands to reason that the same could be done with crossbows. Coming to full draw takes time and involves a long range of motion. This greatly increases the likelihood of game spotting the hunter. After achieving full draw there is still the issue of holding draw until an appropriate time to shoot, which requires strength and stamina while maintaining focus. This is the core of what makes bow hunting such a challenge. These demands are fully mitigated with a crossbow.
After considering several aspects of the crossbow/vertical bow debate, it seems that crossbows are not an ethical option for archery season. There are many who point out their drawbacks, almost implying they are more ethical than verticals. The fact that they have surged in popularity speaks otherwise. When using a bow mimics using a rifle, the advantage becomes clear.