Crossbow Deer Hunting
The crossbow… this powerful, seemingly simple, and silent weapon has such a long history and an incredible story of evolution. Today, they are so perfectly designed using the latest technology in light and strong materials, as well as the very intentional consideration for both effective and safe hunting. They are ideal for whitetail deer archery hunting here in Ohio, or where ever you choose to hunt deer.
The origin of the crossbow dates back to the 5th century BC for warfare in Europe and China. However, some loose archaeological evidence suggests the existence of rudimentary crossbow parts as early as the year 650 BC. Regardless, the concept has always been the same, simple concept – a gun-like device with a cocking and trigger mechanism combined with a cord drawn to tension to project an arrow. With the advent of lightweight but strong materials like fiberglass, carbon fiber, and strong metal compounds, the crossbow became more powerful and accurate. Add in modern advances like very accurate scopes and surgical-sharp broadhead points; the crossbow has now evolved into the fastest-growing segment of hunting weapons. Make no mistake, today’s popular crossbows look and function nothing like those original weapons, but like everything, we had to start somewhere…
Let’s start with the basics… and we’ll focus on Ohio since our preserve is located here, Logan County, Ohio to be specific – home to some massive mature whitetail. Archery season – both longbow and crossbow – is September 25, 2021, to February 6, 2022. This long season will provide you ample hunting time.
As defined by Ohio’s Division of Wildlife, a hunting crossbow must have a draw weight of at least 75 pounds. The bolt (arrow) tip needs a minimum of two cutting edges, which may be exposed or unexposed and a minimum 3/4-inch width. Expandable and mechanical broadheads are legal in Ohio. A crossbow with a draw weight between 75 and 125 pounds is quite adequate for whitetail hunting. The higher that number, the greater distance, and accuracy. Further, you will want to get that bolt traveling at a minimum speed of 250 feet per second for both accuracy and distance. Other crucial factors to consider are ease in cocking, scope quality, and of course the bolts – usually made of aluminum or carbon fiber. The bolt tips, or broadheads, are crucial as well and come in various tip patterns and blade configurations.
Since there are so many factors to consider, we won’t go into all of those details here. Rather, we strongly recommend you contact a respected hunting weapon retailer who can enlighten you about the key components and bow choices. Their staff are often seasoned hunters who will steer you in the right direction. Do some online research for crossbow basics and features. Further, there are some great blogs and resources out there online that provide some real unbiased information.
Let’s ask some experts their thoughts about crossbow hunting… Here at Briarwood Sporting Club, we are fortunate to work alongside some experienced and dedicated whitetail hunters and professional hunting guides who specialize in archery hunting; Josh Iman, and Brennon Lump, as well as a college buddy of mine and lifetime whitetail archery hunter, Denny Thomas. Recently they shared their wisdom with me through an interview of each…
What is the most exciting aspect of hunting deer with a crossbow?
Iman: The accuracy at a distance is amazing. This comes from years of technology advancements, including very high-quality scopes and the use of tripods or hunting sticks to improve steadiness. The modern crossbow stock is super helpful since it offers support, grip, and steadiness like a rifle.
Lump: For me, it is simple. Knowing you can accurately shoot about 60 yards further with a crossbow than a normal bow is amazing. It is a great feeling and confidence booster for sure. The speed of the bolt is incredible.
Thomas: For me, I have to narrow it down to two things, plain and simple. The accuracy of my Ravin crossbow at distances far superior to compound bows, and the thrill of hunting archery style, especially with the advancements over the past 40 years I have hunted whitetail.
What are the best advantages of using a crossbow for deer vs a compound bow?
Iman: Well, bottom line, a gun is best – but you have the recoil. But comparing the crossbow to a compound bow means a world of difference. The accuracy and compact size combined with the ability to cock and ready your crossbow before you get in the stand or blind are huge advantages. Consistency of the crossbow’s strength and accuracy is a major factor.
Lump: Josh nailed it – the process of having your bolt preloaded and cocked/ready when you get into your tree stand is just a massive advantage. So this means your movement in the stand is minimized. And the technology of the crossbows being made more and more accurate and stronger gives you that confidence to get off a great shot.
Thomas: That’s a simple question. First, the sighting systems now available are awesome. So accurate and easy to keep sighted in. Second, there is a big advantage of cocking your bow in advance and having it ready to go when that magic moment happens. And lastly, and probably most importantly, the speed of the bolt travel can be as high as 425 FPS (feet per second). A high-end compound bow shoots at about 250 FPS.
How about disadvantages?
Iman: If you need to reload to get in a quick second shot, that will take some time and likely create noise and movement enough to startle the deer. Like a loaded gun, you have to be careful of course with a cocked crossbow.
Lump: Agreed – if you need to get off a second shot, that will be tough. Today’s powerful crossbows usually require a crank-based cam cocking. The time, noise, and movement are tough to overcome in that shot moment.
Thomas: They can be a bit clunky and not reliable unless you spend the money to get a top-notch model. There still tends to be some negative stigma around the crossbow, like you are cheating when hunting with one. I don’t pay attention to that any longer. I have proven my skills with the bucks I have taken and the single and deadly kill shots. Just have to mention that. Lastly, there are more things to go wrong with today’s modern crossbows – especially when they are under such high tension. But again, spend more the first time after you do your research.
What are the top features in a crossbow that are most important?
Iman: In priority order – foot-pound per second (FPS) shooting speed, brand name (can’t go wrong with Ravin), weight, size, and the price for the recommended bolts. The bolts can be as much as $60 each. Do your research – talk to other crossbow hunters and hunting gear retailers who sell crossbows in your area. They will know. Tell them your plans and budget – they will direct you.
Lump: Look for a high FPS rating and look at the weight. It could shoot great but if it weighs a lot, you will be at a big disadvantage. Also, look at the cocking mechanism and scope options. Both are critical as well. You cannot go wrong with a Ravin brand crossbow or even a TenPoint brand.
Thomas: I had to think about this but I can pinpoint it with three things although there are about 5-7 other important features. Powerful and high-resolution sights, the cocking system (and to me the hand crank/ratchet system is the only way to go), and lastly the draw weight – that figure in foot-pounds to flex the bow limbs and create that accurate and strong ready-to-fire power.
Before and during the hunt, what are your best tips for crossbow hunting?
Iman: Practice and practice some more. Make sure you practice at different distances and know exactly where that scope is calibrated. Sighting in that crossbow is as critical as any sighting in you will do in hunting. Also, be sure not to jerk the trigger rather slowly squeeze it – it can throw off the aim of the bolt significantly.
Lump: Be well prepared and practice shooting at distances further than your normal comfort level. Today’s crossbows can shoot up to 130 yards accurately and you may have to take that long shot. Also, when in your blind or stand, have your shooting sticks set up and the crossbow set in place. This minimizes shot moment movement. And before any of this, make a checklist of everything you need to take with you and double-check when you arrive – especially bolts and the cocking crank.
Thomas: Sight it in and test it before each hunt. You don’t want to miss that desirable buck just because you skipped this easy step, even just a few inches. I made that mistake more than once as a younger hunter. And you most likely can’t get off a second shot due to the time it takes to reload, not to mention the noise. Also, be aware of where those limbs of the crossbow will be at their widest once fired. That can be a costly and potentially dangerous mistake if they hit something like a blind wall, or a tree stand support. Be aware of your surroundings. Pair your rangefinder and scope. Be sure they are calibrated to share the same measurements, or if not, know how they measure to one another in advance of your hunt. And one other thing, crossbows can be front heavy, be sure you have a steady rest like shooting sticks or a solid tree limb or other rest to steady your shot. This is not a must-do, but very, very helpful for sure.
And finally, we must remember safety – can you share your guidance?
Iman: Like a gun, always know the status of that safety switch – keep it on until that shot moment or just before when you see your target. Otherwise, keep the tip pointed away from you, including your feet when you are in a hunting position. Keep your hands away from the bow’s action areas. Know the bows travel and backstop area as those can strike anything around you like branches, the tree stand, or the wall/window of a blind. Take great care in removing a cocked bolt and disengaging your crossbow.
Lump: Never place any part of your hand above the rail – that is where the tension of the cocked crossbow creates a dangerous situation based on the powerful release. And personally, I think it is foolish to climb a tree into a stand with a loaded crossbow, but people do it for some reason.
Thomas: Treat this like a gun. Like a gun, when your crossbow is cocked and ready to fire, be sure of your safety switch setting and be sure to keep all body parts away from the moving parts, especially the limbs and bolt (arrow) rail. Most people also forget just how sharp the modern hunting broadheads are. They are literal razor blades. Keep them from your hands and legs, and watch your aim when in a stand or blind – people carelessly point them down at their feet, and I have even seen people rest them on their boots, loaded and cocked.
A big thanks to Josh, Brennon, and Denny for sharing their insights and experiences. Here’s to successful and safe crossbow hunting!
Briarwood Sporting Club, located in Bellefontaine, Ohio is home to a pristine Whitetail preserve that hosts the perfect natural habitat of food plots, thickets and natural hardwoods. Several years have been invested compiling the industry’s best genetics to provide our clients with the largest whitetails in North America. On our guided whitetail deer hunts, one can expect to see several whitetails in excess of 200″ and have the opportunity to harvest the “Buck of a Lifetime.” Briarwood also offers open range Whitetail and turkey hunts throughout Logan County, Ohio. Our open range properties are meticulously scouted and prepared to allow the hunter the best opportunity to harvest a mature Ohio whitetail.
For over 40 years, Briarwood has also been a private fishing club boasting 19 species of fish, including trout, in 126 acres of streams and lakes. Rustic but modernized lodges provide comfortable accommodations for anglers and hunters alike.