By Josh Boyd
As hunters, we tend to be a passionate breed of folks. While all areas of our lives seem to reflect this underlying trait in abundance, few circumstances exude this passion with such prevalence as those pertaining to our outdoor pursuits.
We fine-tune our equipment of choice in every perceivable way, study our quarry to an almost scholarly degree, and strategize with the precision of a war-time general, all in the name of efficiency. We thrive upon our own endless journey to perfection.
With this enormous input of time, labor, and energy, all in the name of continual improvement, it is of little wonder why we strive to extend the longevity of our time spent afield. We wholeheartedly understand the therapeutic qualities that only nature can provide, and value every available second spent in the tranquility of the outdoors.
For this reason, many hunters jump at the opportunity that is afforded by the extension of varying seasons. Luckily for many deer hunters who are eager to extend their seasons, a multitude of states have implemented such policies in recent years, especially in terms of increasing windows pertaining to particular weapon usage.
Across much of the nation, the most wide-sweeping of these regulation changes have come in the form of crossbow season reforms. Many states have seen the advent of dedicated crossbow seasons where none were previously present. Some states have even seen crossbow seasons extended to run in parallel with the entirety of all open archery seasons.
This has created a significant increase in available hunting opportunities for hunters in a multitude of states. While a number of states offer somewhat extensive firearm seasons, many others do not. In these states, hunters who did not participate in archery hunting were relegated to a relatively small window of time in relation to the overall duration of season in which they could be afield.
These hunters are now able to enjoy various portions of season that they have otherwise not previously experienced. These extended opportunities allow a hunter to experience different phases of seasonal whitetail behavior, all of which offer their own set of unique circumstances and appeal.
Perhaps one of the most compelling and beneficial aspects of the current national trend toward lengthening crossbow seasons, is the leveling of the playing field across varying age groups of hunters.
Crossbow season extensions have provided yet another opportunity for early recruitment of youth into the outdoors, and prolonged retention of elderly hunters among our ranks.
Prior to crossbow season extensions, in many states, youth hunters who were unable to adequately master the usage of a vertical bow, were limited in their potential time afield.
Although many states feature youth firearm seasons in conjunction with their preexisting general gun season, these seasons still typically encompass a relatively limited portion of the outings afforded to adult hunters, who are of physical capacity to participate in archery season.
Likewise, extended crossbow seasons allow for a vast increase in opportunity for aging hunters who are no longer able to participate in general archery season, due to the physical capabilities required to shoot a vertical bow.
Many of these hunters have been regular participants in archery seasons of the past. Unfortunately, the aging process that we all must inevitably face, has made the use of a vertical bow impractical, thus robbing these hunting veterans of their ability to enjoy much of the season, as they once had.
However, as with any impending change, the ever increasing trend toward crossbow season extensions have been met with much debate and opposition among many camps.
A number of hunters fear that extended crossbow seasons will lead to a downward trend in deer numbers, directly correlated to increased deer harvests. The jury is still out on such matters, but thus far, the majority of states that already feature all encompassing crossbow seasons, have seen little in the way of detrimental effects to overall deer herd numbers.
It is undeniable that states where such seasons exist, have seen extensive shifts toward higher ratios of crossbow harvests in relation to vertical bow harvests. In fact, Wisconsin has seen the number of yearly crossbow harvests exceed the number of deer taken by vertical bow in recent years.
However, what is often overlooked is the fact that overall archery harvest numbers, combining both crossbow and vertical bow kills, have remained relatively steady, showing only modest increases. Furthermore, the combined number of crossbow/vertical bow harvests reported in Wisconsin still account for only a small fraction of the state’s annual deer harvest.
With such miniscule discrepancies between the pre-crossbow season extension era, and the current crossbow inclusive archery seasons, it is of vast importance to weigh the pros and cons of such a situation.
If crossbow seasons of increased longevity continue to be common place, and the subsequent variation in overall deer harvest numbers continue to prove insignificant, but lead to increasing opportunities for hunters young and old to go afield, does anyone really lose in such a situation?
The truth is, many states have been experiencing downward trends in license and permit sales for some time. As hunters, our numbers continue to dwindle with each passing season. For this reason, the significant need for hunter recruitment has never been as prominent.
Faced with these current circumstances, it is of great value to seize upon any available opportunity to keep the elderly among us in the field longer, and recruit the successive generation of youth into hunting at as early of an age as is practical.
If the advent of extended crossbow seasons satisfy both of these goals simultaneously, while also re-energizing the exuberance of those that have waned in their interest toward archery, are we wrong to deny such an opportunity?
No matter your stance on the issue, it is important to recognize that we, as hunters, are all on the same team. No matter your weapon of choice, we all harbor the same passion for the game we hunt, our time spent afield, and our hunting heritage that we hold so dear.