Minnesota’s first-ever crossbow season is off to a roaring start, as evidenced by the nearly 800 deer that crossbow hunters have harvested since the archery opener on Sept. 16. The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources shared this statistic with Minnesota Public Radio News Sunday, pointing out that those 790 deer comprised around 40 percent of the archery deer harvest so far.
Prior to this fall, only hunters over the age of 60 or those with disabilities could legally hunt with a crossbow during archery season in Minnesota. MDNR announced the change, which happened during the 2023 legislative session, on June 6. Crossbows are now legal for spring turkey hunting, too.
Minnesota is the latest state to make this change. Northeastern states like New Jersey and Connecticut—which the National Deer Association says routinely lead the nation in percentage of deer hunters who archery hunt—legalized them over a decade ago. Some states have legalized crossbows in hopes of increasing deer harvest amid ballooning populations, although that strategy has varying degrees of success, MDNR big game program leader Barb Keller tells MPR News.
“I’m really not anticipating that our overall or total deer harvest is going to change substantially due to this. And that’s based on what other states have seen that have made this change,” Keller said. “I do expect that we’re going to have a higher archery season deer harvest, but many of those will be potentially people moving over that were traditionally firearms deer hunters, deciding instead to partake in this earlier season.”
That shift could result in a skewed antlerless harvest this year. Based on Minnesota’s current permit allocation model, archery hunters have more access to antlerless permits than gun hunters do. That means wildlife managers will be on the lookout for a higher number of does harvested than usual, Keller said.
As of 2019 crossbows accounted for more than half of the archery harvest in 11 states, C.J. Winand told OL contributor Patrick Durkin. Winand, a Maryland biologist who tracks bowhunting data, has recognized a trend over the years, and one that Minnesota might be on the forefront of right now: Crossbows usually become the archery “weapon of choice” within the first three years of legalization in a given state.
Where does this surge in popularity come from? First and foremost, crossbows usher in a diverse user group, experts say. They make hunting more approachable for young kids, older outdoorsmen and women, hunters with disabilities, and new hunters who lack familiarity with or comfort around guns. Similarly, for seasoned gun hunters interested in transitioning into archery hunting, crossbows offer a familiar feel: a stock against the shoulder, a trigger under the finger, and a view through a scope.
Despite popular opinion, our testing shows that crossbows are not more accurate than top-end compound bow at distances of 50 yards. Crossbows do, however, have an edge at greater distances. It’s also generally easier for someone with little to no experience to grab a crossbow and shoot accurately; a compound bow usually requires consistent practice to maintain accuracy.
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Thanks to the new regulations, more hunters can hit the woods earlier in the calendar year, in warmer weather, for a longer season, as Keller points out. This irritates the more traditional archery crowd who insists that crossbows don’t belong in regular bow seasons. But MDNR is preparing for an onslaught of crossbow hunters in the next few years, and doesn’t expect a disproportionate impact on the state’s deer herd. Such dire predictions from anti-crossbow hunters have not come to pass in states that have allowed crossbows in their archery seasons.
“We expect it to grow in popularity,” Keller said of crossbow hunting in Minnesota. “We’ll see an increase in the number of people that are participating in that season over time.”