Losing the Heart and Soul of Hunting with the Bow and Arrow

By Bob Radocy
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Paging through the November/December 2012 issue of Archery Business, I was struck by the prevalence of crossbow pictures, promotions, ads and related crossbow articles. Twenty-six pages of this 68-page industry magazine had a picture or image of a crossbow staring out at me in some fashion. Then, in February 2013 I read the editorial, by the editor and publisher of ArrowTrade, related to the history of crossbow hunting in Michigan. Crossbows were introduced into the regular archery season in Michigan in 2009. Some of the related statistics are: archery season participation increased 13%; the proportion of archers using a crossbow increased from 19% to 37% from 2009 to 2011; 25% of the crossbow archers in 2011 had not hunted during the archery season in the three years before; 19% of the crossbow hunters in 2011 had never hunted with anything but a firearm prior to crossbow legalization; 77% of crossbow hunters agreed that crossbows were easier to use, it took less time to be proficient with crossbows, and they were more accurate with crossbows. Finally, 52% of crossbow hunters would not hunt in the archery season if crossbows could not be used!

Archery Business and ArrowTrade are two of several established (not popular) trade magazines distributed to qualified vendors, dealers and manufacturers in the archery and bowhunting industry.

I bring these facts and data to light, not as a criticism of these trade magazines, but as an observation from an archer and bowhunter, and bowhunting equipment accessory manufacturer, of the growing trend to insert crossbow technology into the regular bowhunting seasons. The trend, in fact, is gaining momentum and might even be viewed as a rising tidal wave that, in my opinion, will eventually destroy the heart and soul--the spirit and essence--of hunting with the bow and arrow.

That spirit, that essence, is the unique excitement and challenge of using stealth to close in on a large, wild game animal, then using skill to, without detection, pull back a bowstring and launch a hand-drawn, hand-held arrow through space to a target. This basic, instinctive, primitive human interaction with the bow and arrow and wild quarry duplicates in our modern human spirits what our Native American brothers experienced before the advent of firearms. This hunting, this killing with the hand-held, hand-drawn bow and arrow is an integral part of and essentially the heart and soul of hunting as it began for mankind. Man-hunter and wild animal-prey reduced to basic levels of instinct and survival. Bowhunters have respect and love for the type of hunting where the wild animal is on more equal ground and probably gets away as often as it is taken.

The stalk, the concentration, the silent effort, the melding and blending, the patience and timing, and finally the casting of the arrow accurately to kill is bowhunting. True bowhunting relies on the skill of the hunter, not the level or sophistication of the technology.

Have we, as ethical sportsmen and dedicated bowhunters, reduced ourselves to defining a bowhunter as simply someone who is capable of killing an animal with an arrow? Virtually anyone with minimal instruction can kill with a crossbow. That cannot be said, nor is it true, of modern bowhunting technology in general, and absolutely is not true with traditional or primitive bowhunting equipment.

Can you imagine crossbow gatherings and jamborees occurring in the future, similar to the hundreds of archery shoots and bowhunting gatherings all over America each year? Absolutely not! Why? Because there is no camaraderie involved, there is no basic commitment and skill required to shoot a crossbow…it is simply another shoulder-fired, killing instrument. Killing by a machine, not by a human.

Crossbow proponents argue that the technology helps recruit hunters--expands bowhunting to seniors, women and young adults--but it simply doesn't because it IS NOT BOWHUNTING! In the 1960s, during the advent of the compound bow, bowhunters who favored traditional bowhunting gear began to voice the same general arguments, frustrations and thoughts being voiced here about that more modern technology. Some will argue that bowhunting was impacted positively by the compound bow. Bowhunting certainly was not destroyed. Bowhunting was not destroyed because the compound bow still maintains the basic attributes of bowhunting and the required skills involved in shooting an arrow with hand-held, hand-drawn equipment. Human powered technology.

In retrospect, now fifty-plus years later, the reality is that the advancements and developments in compound bow technology have opened the door to the modern crossbow. Most modern crossbows are modified versions of compound bows designed to shoot horizontally on a rifle-type, shoulder-mounted stock or support system.

The trend in crossbows is happening to a great extent because the Archery Trade Association (ATA), comprised of manufacturers and dealers, has bought into the technology and its profitability. Crossbows are profit driven technology designed to sell more hardware, especially to non-bowhunters. Grow the market by attracting firearms hunters familiar with shoulder-fired equipment by making the transition easy, and be damned with the impact on the quality of the archery hunting seasons and the impact on the wild game resource.

Even the National Rifle Association (NRA), which usually has their efforts well directed, have gotten into the fray. The NRA supports the use of crossbows in the regular archery seasons. The NRA has no business lobbying non-firearms, non-2nd Amendment rights issues. The NRA has been pro-hunting, but now they promote polluting bowhunting. The NRA needs to keep their business out of bowhunting!

Colorado, as recently as September 2012, fought off--for a second time in thirty years--a crossbow hunting petition. The petition would have allowed crossbows in the regular archery deer and elk seasons. The Colorado Bowhunters Association (CBA) made a sound case against that petition and the effort was defeated for the time being.

Crossbows create a blur in the minds of non--sportsmen, non-hunters and even, to some extent, hunters who are not bowhunters. They do not see the distinction that we more conventional bowhunters observe, and they do not understand the implications to bowhunting's future and the threat to the heart and soul of hunting with the bow and arrow.

A bicycle and a motorcycle are both two wheeled vehicles, but they are technologically quite different and provide for different levels of performance and capability. We allow bicycles access on paths and trails and into specific other limited areas because they are human powered. These are areas and access where we prohibit the use of motor powered cycles.

Crossbows have now evolved to be outside the realm of human power. Pneumatic, electronic and motorized arrow loading and "cocking" systems make this technology little more than a firearm that shoots arrow-like projectiles. In these new systems there is no longer any significant human "work" (Force (F=MA) x Distance) required to energize the arrow. Crossbows have become "arrow guns."

Archery and bowhunting with the hand-held, hand-drawn bow have never been, and will never be, for everyone. That is OK by me. In fact that is sound and good for bowhunting and for the wild game resources that we seek to preserve. There are a lot of things that are not for everyone, like technical rock climbing, car racing, water skiing and skydiving. Bowhunting is simply not for everyone!

Hunting with the hand-held, hand-drawn bow is still the essence of bowhunting. It embodies the spirit and soul of the sport and pursuit. It is now up to dedicated bowhunters, who believe that bowhunting is special, to fight for its very life and spirit. Preserve conventional and traditional hunting with the bow and arrow for ourselves and secure its future for our children, so that they can experience true hunting with the bow and arrow and in some small way relive the vital, primitive, experiences of mankind's past.

Keep crossbows out of the regular archery seasons.

Let us not lose our soul!

Author Notes: Bob Radocy is an ex-officer of the Colorado Bowhunters Association and current President of Gamelines Archery Club in Boulder, CO. He also manufacturers a small line of archery accessories under the name SRT. He is physically challenged, missing his left hand, and therefore qualifies medically to use a crossbow in Colorado in the regular archery deer and elk seasons. He chooses instead to shoot conventional archery gear. He can be reached by email at bob-trs@att.net.