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Comparing your bows
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A recent question among hunters who favor bow and arrow as their weapon of choice in the field is the debate concerning the differences between compound bows and crossbows. Although both are legal in Georgia each has its supporters and detractors. In truth both can serve hunters admirably depending on your particular situation and how you like to hunt.

It should be noted that in some parts of the country there is a movement to disallow the use of crossbows during bow hunting season. The irony of that idea is that versions of the crossbow have been around for nearly two thousand years but compound bows only a few decades so I’m not sure which would be considered "traditional". At any rate the following thoughts should give you some additional information on these two hunting weapons.

Compound bows use a cam and pulley system to create stored energy when drawn that is capable of shooting arrows at a higher rate of speed than longbows or recurve bows. The cam system on a compound bow is designed to allow the archer to hold the bow at full draw for a longer period of time than is possible with either a longbow or recurve bow.

By comparison the crossbow has some obvious differences. A crossbow, when fully drawn makes use of a locking device to hold the string in place. This design allows the hunter to concentrate all his or her effort into the aim point and erases the factor of draw time. Crossbows are held and shot from a horizontal position as opposed to the vertical shot from a compound bow. Crossbows are equipped with a stock that rests on the hunter’s shoulder and can have a scope mounted on it.

Compound bows shoot traditional arrow shafts typically made out of aluminum or carbon whereas crossbows shoot what is usually called a bolt. A bolt is basically a smaller version of an arrow but typically has the same effectiveness as an arrow shot from a compound.

When comparing the accuracy of the two weapons the discussion usually revolves around the fact that the crossbow has the advantage of a scope and better internal ballistics. Compound bow hunters however can make use of excellent, if not as sophisticated aiming systems such as peep sights and optic sight pins. There is a fair consensus that the effective outside range of both bows is around forty yards although most game taken by either is at a much shorter (usually ten to twenty five yards) distance. Both weapons deliver their arrows at approximately the same velocity (around 325 to 350 feet per second.)

Studies by the International Bowhunting Organization have been conclusive in proving that both bows shoot arrows at about the same speed and with similar degrees of accuracy.

Crossbows are a good weapon of choice for young hunters, older hunters, those with shoulder injuries and others that have a disability which lessens strength and / or mobility. These bows can be locked in place and negate the difficulty in holding a full draw in place for an extended period of time. Errant shots and accidents are more likely to occur if a hunter with limited strength tries to hold a compound in place for too long.

On the other hand compound bows have a significant advantage in balance because crossbows tend to be front heavy. If a hunter has to hold a crossbow in place for a long period of time the tendency may be for the weapons weight to cause muscle fatigue and result in a poor shot. An aiming error of only a sixteenth of an inch can result in a six inch difference over a distance of twenty yards.

Another consideration when comparing the two weapons is the movement involved by the hunter when he draws a compound bow. It is a fine line knowing when to do this because on one hand you realize that if the draw is made too soon you may have to hold it too long to insure an accurate shot. If the draw is made too late in the sequence a wary deer may pick up on the movement and get spooked before a shot can be made. With crossbows this is not a big problem because the bow can be cocked well ahead of time if need be. With crossbows however getting re-cocked after a miss is noisy and problematic.

There are certainly other factors that could be included in this debate but there are also a few other general points that should be considered. There are all kinds of hunters with differing philosophies and preferences regarding their sport. That is not going to change. We should realize however that no one has the perfect answer because each hunter has a different set of circumstances.

One bit of common ground all successful bow hunters (whether they be proponents of the compound or crossbow) have is that they consistently put in the time and effort to figure out how to regularly get close enough to a white-tailed deer to take them at short range. In other words they are all great woodsmen.

This debate will continue, but just being in the woods, enjoying the day and being involved in fair chase hunting is still the bottom line. If you don’t get that then you have missed the point.


Articles and columns by Alvin Richardson about hunting, fishing and other outdoor sports appear weekly in the Statesboro Herald. Richardson can be reached at