The debate over crossbow hunting has been around for a while. Some feel crossbows shouldn't be allowed during archery season, other hunters say, "why not?" Regulations vary from state to state. In Iowa, only those age 70 or over, or those physically incapable of pulling back a bow may apply for a crossbow license. Those who are physically challenged in some way must have doctor’s verification.
According to the Iowa DNR, the number of crossbow licenses sold in Iowa has risen continuously the past five years.
Bass Pro Shops customer and avid sportsman, John McMahon, made the crossbow hunting transition just a couple of years ago.
"Crossbows were a rarity to me until about the last ten years. Nobody had one, nobody really knew about them. Maybe you’d see one in an old Robin Hood movie."
McMahon says for over 40 years, he shot recurves, long bows, and numerous compound bows to harvest small game, including upland and waterfowl. He killed black bear, elk, antelope, mule deer, and whitetail throughout Iowa and the Midwest, Wyoming, and Canada and made his own arrows, with flu-flu fletchings, including empty .38 caliber casings for blunts.
"I was the purist of all…an instinct and finger release shooter. However, I didn’t look down on those who used sights and mechanical releases, and never have."
"When there started to be more of them in use, I, like so many, criticized the fact that they could be used during the archery season. Because, with the scope and rifle-shaped configuration, it was like using a firearm that shot an arrow. In my mind back then, it was cheating, not true bow hunting."
He became more familiar with crossbows by selling them. He also began to understand their importance to a growing population. Many years in an action-packed law enforcement career gave McMahon many injuries, including damage to both his of shoulders. He gave up bow hunting for about two or three years, because he couldn’t pull a bow of sufficient poundage. Three years ago, learning about the crossbow gave him a new lease on hunting life.
"Old hunters like me don’t quit…they simply adjust their weaponry."
McMahon says he believes that the actual release of the arrow by a crossbow does require less skill. However, he also believes that for the love of the sport, the crossbow provides those who are physically challenged and still wanting to pursue the love of bow hunting an opportunity to do so.
McMahon says the challenge is absolutely the same, it’s only taking the actual shot that’s easier.
"You still have to:
- Know your prey and how to avoid, or entice, their superior senses of smell, sight, and speed.
- Know how to scout and the importance of the territory
- Know signs of hormonal changes and how they affect movement.
- Know diet at different times of the year.
- Know effects of weather and moon phases.
- Know where to place your stand or blind and how to disguise it
- Know how to hide your tracks, in general.
- Understand bedding areas.
- Know how to track before and after the kill.
McMahon says it’s simply the pull of the trigger that sets the crossbow users apart. So the next time you see someone carrying a crossbow, don’t roll your eyes…stop and ask them how the hunt goes."