The Crossbow Impact

Published: Jan. 1, 2019 at 11:06 AM CST
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Later this month -- with the exact date depending on the county -- deer hunting will officially close for the season in Wisconsin.

This marked the 5th year all hunters in the state could use a crossbow during archery season, so we're looking at the impact crossbows have had on the annual deer harvest.

But first, one must acknowledge the trend that began more than two decades ago in Wisconsin's woods.

"More of the harvest shifting to the archery season and out of that 9-day traditional gun season," says DNR Regional Wildlife Biologist Jeff Prtizl.

That trend peaked in the mid-2000's when bow hunters harvested more than 100,000 deer in three different years.

Then, from 2008 to 2013, archery hunters harvested between 99,000 and 83,000 deer, depending on the season.

In 2014, the use of crossbows became legal for all hunters statewide.

"There are certain trends that we're capturing now that we're five years in," says Pritzl.

According to Pritzl, license sales data reveals the number of hunters pursuing deer during the archery season has stayed about the same since crossbows became legal, but the choice of weapon continues to shift.

"For the first time in 2017, actually, more animals were harvested with a crossbow than a vertical bow, just barely, and this year, we're not finished yet, but that trend is running about 54 percent crossbow, 46 percent vertical bow across the board, all deer."

As for the crossbow impact on the overall statewide harvest during the archery season, it's very little.

In fact, between 2008 and 2013, the average annual archery harvest, with vertical bows only, was 90,000 deer.

From 2014 through 2017, with crossbows included, the average harvest declined to 87,000 deer.

This season, through December 18, bow and crossbow hunters combined bagged just over 82,000 deer.

While some in the hunting community feel crossbows give hunters an unfair advantage at harvesting trophy bucks before the gun season, Pritzl doesn't envision any sweeping changes involving the use of crossbows moving forward.

"I think ultimately what we understand is that these are based on values and attitudes and those shift or move slowly, so I don't anticipate anything radical happening in the near future. These things tend to, if you look back, they've adjusted over time. Those adjustments will continue in the future, and it tends to happen pretty slowly," says Pritzl.