ABA Response to “What’s Wrong With Crossbows?” Editorial

Following my editorial in the Sept/Oct issue of Sportsman, I received this measured and thoughtful response from Brent Watson, president of the Alberta Bowhunter’s Association.

While I don’t personally agree with many of Brent’s points and I certainly take issue with his conclusions and certain data points, I always encourage open, two-sided debate. (Although you will find that the ABA and I do agree on one point — the main reason for the ban of crossbows in the archery season of some provinces is to keep more tags in the hands of conventional bowhunters. We just have differing thoughts about this concept.) All I can say is — crossbow hunting in archery season seems to work just fine in most other provinces, why won’t it work in AB, SK and MB?

Now, I will leave it to you — the reader — to read carefully and decide.

The following was submitted on September 6, 2011:

Dear Mr. Webb:

I was sent a copy of your editorial by one of your (past) subscribers (and an ABA Life Member) regarding “What’s Wrong With Crossbows?” in the latest edition of the Western Sportsman magazine.

I read it with interest and find it somewhat disconcerting that once again editors of magazines (along with many outdoor writers) would print something that is full of half truths and one sidedness.

It has been my goal as president of the Alberta Bowhunters Association (and the Association as a whole) the last seven years to gather information on this issue, educate ourselves and also others (government officials, bowhunters, non-bowhunters, other stakeholders, outdoor writers, magazine editors, anyone) who would then take the time to look at the information and make an informed opinion.  Hopefully with some of the information I will give you, it will help educate yourself on many things you fail to point out in your editorial.

There are indeed some familiarities between the conventional bows/archery equipment and crossbows but it is the differences that separate them.  They share similar efficiencies and effective range (although that is being changed as several manufacturers, PSE being a leader – are advocating 3” groups at 100 yards with proficiency obtained in a matter of minutes – comments from PSE reps at the ATAA show and Shot Show this spring) but it is the fact that they do not have to be drawn in the presence of game and can be held fully loaded forever that really starts to separate them.

You don’t think that there would be an influx into the archery seasons if crossbows were allowed but yet, in every other jurisdiction that has allowed them, that indeed has happened.  So much so in fact that many states/provinces now have more crossbow hunters than conventional archery hunters in their “archery” seasons.  Sales of the crossbow outnumber that of conventional archery tackle.  It may not be a “mad rush” to buy a crossbow but it is a “rush” nonetheless. Yet, there is no real increase in hunter numbers – just rifle hunters taking advantage of a new weapon (that requires much less if any practice before heading afield, effective range increasing rapidly) to use in a new opportunity (to them).

You say that “hunting tag allotments are based on biology, not cliques” but that is definitely NOT the case in some areas – Alberta especially.  Our bowhunter numbers have increased from 13266 in 2007 to 16634 in 2010 – over a 20% increase in just 4 years.  Our current harvest share is limited to 15% of the overall harvest based on our ratio to the overall hunter numbers in Alberta.  When bowhunters kill more than 15% of the total harvest allowed, we are put on draw, have seasons shortened.  Has happened in the past and at the present and will into the future as we have been told at EVERY meeting that we (ABA) have had with our Alberta F&W senior personel (and other stakeholders) the last four years, that if crossbows are allowed into Alberta archery seasons and the harvest rate and/or the success rate goes up, bowhunters of Alberta WILL see more draws/shortened seasons. NOT based on biology at all!!  (The Saskatchewan Bowhunters Association were told by their F&W department that if the same happened in Saskatchewan, bowhunters would just be lumped into the general season along with everyone else – no biology there!!) We have suggested that if crossbows are allowed and this harvest/success rate does go up, the overall hunter numbers in our archery seasons also go up (to say 30000 from our current 16634) then we need to see a corresponding increase in our harvest share to say, 30%.  This share would have to come from the general licenses – from the rifle hunter as there is only so much pie out there and it is all divided up now.  You suggest it is time for us to share – would the rifle hunters think the same when we come knocking on their door to now “share” more with us when crossbow hunters boost our numbers/harvest rates?

You suggest that allowing crossbows in archery seasons would give a boon to retailers in this bad economy – this issue has been based on money right from the start.  Across North America it has been a push by manufacturers, dealers to create a market that they will certainly fill with NO regard for the history and traditions of archery/bowhunting.  NO regard to how it will affect bowhunters across the continent.  Markets/economies are constantly changing and in flux – quick bailouts as you suggest are not the answer. To increase hunter numbers, get more people out in the field, increase opportunity, sell more,  we should maybe allow night hunting, drop seasons all together, no harvest requirements (like current full curl for sheep, 3 or 6 point for elk), sell licenses for a $1, no Hunter Education requirements.  “Wild ideas” for sure but when you start looking at the reasoning and ramifications to hunting and the resource, they turn out to be just that, “wild ideas”.

Bowhunters in general (and myself and the ABA in particular) do NOT demonize the crossbow user – there are plenty of opportunities to use a crossbow in Alberta (and across North America).  In primitive seasons and in the general seasons – where they belong.  It is hard for manufacturers/dealers to convince the rifle hunter to put down his rifle and use a crossbow in the general season however.  BUT if they can infiltrate the archery seasons, their eyes light up with $$ signs as these hunters will certainly pick up a crossbow before they buy a conventional bow – is a much closer weapon to their rifle in physical features, much less of a learning curve, very easy/quick to become proficient with.

In Alberta, the ABA did a survey (2010) of bowhunters as to their thoughts on allowing crossbows into the archery seasons.  They were supplied with the information given to us by our F&W department as to the ramifications etc – not surprising 97% of respondents (926) were against the idea.  Furthermore, our F&W department added a similar question to their 2010 online Game Harvest Survey which went out to app 55000 email addresses and out of the app 12000 respondents 44% were “against”, 37% “for” and 19% “undecided”.  It is very apparent that the average hunter also does not think they belong in the archery seasons.  The only ones who seem to want it are manufacturers/dealers of crossbows, those wanting advertising dollars for their magazine or television shows, those who want free product or fees to “endorse” that product.

I have attached our “ABA Position Paper” that we did up on this issue.  It has a bunch of information in it, adding to some of the things I have outlined above.  I suggest you go to the North American Bowhunting Coalition website as there is some information there too – we are a member of that organization as well. I would hope it helps you in broadening your knowledge of this issue – too bad it was after you went to print though.

Yours truly in “true” bowhunting,

Brent Watson

Note: Brent encouraged me to pass along the ABA’s “official stance” document, which can be downloaded HERE.

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