Crossbow hunting making comeback

Just the basic measures of his buck – 15 points on its sweeping antlers, 10th-largest in the Pennsylvania record books – are impressive.

Even more striking is that Chris Jones killed his trophy at 10 yards with a crossbow, an ancient weapon whose reemergence is so recent that records of its use are scarce.

Even in deer hunting’s heyday a quarter- or half-century ago, when forests were teeming with whitetails, Pennsylvania was not known for producing great racks.

Those that did qualify for the prestigious Boone and Crockett Club’s Records of North American Big Game were invariably taken with shotguns or rifles at hundreds of yards.

“Chris’ deer was by far the biggest I’ve ever scored from Pennsylvania,” said Steve Keithley, a certified measurer in Dunkirk, Md., whose calculations resulted in a score of 197 inches, which was accepted for the all-time records category in June.

It was big enough to land Jones, pictured with his buck in November, on the cover of July’s North American Whitetail magazine.

Crossbows are making a stunning comeback. Demonized for centuries and not on anyone’s radar screen when bowhunting laws were written, they are now allowed in some form throughout most of the country.

Crossbows are sometimes called “horizontal” bows because of their shooting position. They are easier to use than traditional “vertical” bows and require far less practice.

A decade after many states permitted crossbows for disabled hunters who have difficulty drawing and holding traditional bows, the industry believed it could expand in what it saw as a huge market of aging hunters.

It began lobbying to permit the use of crossbows during archery seasons, which are lengthy because success with a handheld bow takes time.

Despite opposition from traditional bowhunter groups, at least eight states now allow crossbows in all seasons.

Several others are considering it. Inability to keep up with demand, said Daniel James Hendricks, publisher of Horizontal Bowhunter magazine, is the manufacturers’ greatest fear.

Jones tried a crossbow three years ago, when Pennsylvania relaxed restrictions for December’s two-week rifle season. Last fall, the state allowed crossbows during all seasons in hard-to-hunt urban counties, where deer managers have been unable to stem the herd’s growth.

“People that have never seen guns and hunters before are moving out here, and they don’t like it,” said Jones, who lives in Audubon. “I think crossbows are a good compromise for places that don’t want the noise, don’t want the danger of a gun.”

The buck Jones killed Nov. 8 most likely is the biggest ever taken with a crossbow statewide. It is impossible to know for sure because the type of weapon has never been key to record-keeping.