With a fast-paced job and a house in the suburbs of Columbus, Dave Risley is a quintessential Ohio deer hunter. He’s surrounded by an exploding whitetail herd, and hunting seasons are long and generous. But he has little time to get out in the field and even less to devote to his first love, bowhunting.
So Risley hunts with a tool that—with relatively little practice or alteration—allows him consistent harvest success during Ohio’s four-month archery season. Like 140,000 fellow Buckeyes, Risley hunts with a crossbow.
What makes him different is that he is also Ohio’s wildlife management chief, and it’s his job to balance hunting opportunity, wildlife populations and regulation of hunting implements. And Risley is an unapologetic fan of crossbows.
“Crossbows allow hunters to get out in the woods more often, and allow them to be more successful hunters,” says Risley. “For wildlife managers trying to kill as many deer as possible, crossbows have become a necessary tool.”
Crossbows have been legal in Ohio’s archery season since 1984. Every year they grow in popularity, and in the past decade the number of archery hunters who used a crossbow has been about the same as the number who hunt with compounds, recurves and longbows combined. In Ohio’s 2007–08 deer season, crossbow hunters harvested more than 42,000 whitetails, more even than “vertical” bow hunters, who took a record 36,347 deer. In all, archers accounted for more than a third of the state’s 233,000 deer harvested.
More meaningful than their success is crossbow hunters’ participation, says Risley. “Every game agency across the nation is lamenting the loss of hunters and license revenue. By embracing crossbow shooters, Ohio has managed to get and keep hunters, and as a result I’d say the archery hunters in this state have more credibility and clout than ever.”
Ed Wentzler couldn’t disagree more. The legislative director for United Bowhunters of Pennsylvania, Wentzler considers crossbows an unwelcome abomination, and he’s especially rankled that the implements were approved in January for inclusion in the Keystone State’s six-week archery deer season. This fall’s season will be the first to include crossbows, and even before the first bolt is launched, Wentzler is concerned that archery harvest will increase so sharply that gun hunters will lobby to shorten the season to leave more deer for their ranks.
Besides, says Wentzler—a longbow shooter whose last few deer were taken with stone points that he knapped himself—crossbows simply are not bows.
“Archery equipment should be defined as implements that are held by hand, drawn by hand and released by the motion of the hand in the presence of game,” he says. “If you are shooting a crossbow, you are not drawing the string in the presence of game. That alone gives crossbow shooters an unfair advantage. It is not bowhunting.”
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