Outdoors column: ‘Deer wars’ won’t be averted by shorter crossbow season

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Ross Bielema

The Wisconsin Natural Resources Board member who authored a spring hearing questionnaire question suggesting a shortened crossbow archery deer season said he’s trying to be proactive to prevent “a further breakdown of Wisconsin’s deer hunting traditions.”

Greg Kasmierski, a Natural Resources Board member and owner of Buck Rub Outfitters archery shop in Pewaukee, said crossbow deer hunters now have an unfair advantage in technology that is giving their users a nearly 50 percent greater chance of harvesting a buck over compound bow or even gun hunters.

“The crossbow bill was never vetted by the public,” he said. He has fielded complaints, although I’ve personally never heard anyone complain about crossbow use until reading his question on the non-binding ballot. Kasmierski claims he is trying to head off “deer wars” between the various hunting factions by being proactive.

In 2014, the state legalized crossbows for all deer hunters (previously it required the hunter to be age 65 or older, or have a physical handicap that prohibited use of a vertical bow). Many other states have done the same thing.

With dwindling hunter numbers nationwide and a burgeoning deer herd, the crossbow allows increased hunting opportunities for the young, old and everyone in-between. As a ground blind hunter, I find the crossbow to be perfect for shooting through small windows without the draw interference I had with a compound or recurve bow.

Wisconsin archers embraced the crossbow, with sales soaring and statistics showing about 38 percent of all archery deer hunters now using crossbows. Last year — for the first time in state history — crossbow hunters killed more deer than vertical bow hunters.

Kasmierski claims the crossbow has increased the buck harvest for crossbow shooters at a higher percentage than either gun or other archery (vertical bow) users.

“It’s just a more efficient weapon than a bow.”

I’ve shot one small buck in four years, and have not seen any more deer than before I carried a crossbow. Most crossbows remain a 40-yard weapon, because the shorter bolt of a crossbow has less mass (weight) than a full-sized vertical bow arrow, and therefore carries less energy at longer distances.

He disagrees, claiming crossbows are more efficient and their technology continues to advance (hand-drawn compound bows have reached the maximum efficiency they can achieve, he says).

The DNR posted statistics last week on its website that compare the various deer hunting weapons and harvest data. Kevin Wallenfang, the DNR’s big game biologist, noted that Kentucky is one of the few remaining states with a limited crossbow season and they are in the process of changing to Wisconsin’s system.

I would encourage you to read the very interesting comparisons before the April 9 public hearings: https://dnr.wi.gov/topic/Hunt/documents/WeaponUseReport.pdf

Hunter numbers nationwide have been dropping for many years, and Wisconsin follows the trend, losing .25 to 1.5 percent of the total per year, averaging about 650,000. The total number of licenses has been stable or even increasing the past 10 years, at more than 800,000. So many hunters are buying more than one type of deer hunting license (bow, crossbow and gun).

Crossbow hunters had a 23.7 percent success rate in bagging a buck in 2017, gun hunters had a 17.7 percent chance of dropping a buck and conventional archers had a 15.8 percent chance, the DNR statistics show.

Bowhunters and crossbow hunters are also spending more time in the woods than gun hunters. The 9-day gun season is seeing fewer hunters and shorter periods of time hunting, while the longer archery season and the nature of the different hunting styles means bowhunters and crossbow hunters are logging more hours afield.

Kasmierski claims most crossbow hunters are pursuing bucks during the rut and before gun hunters can get their chance at those bucks. Again, what is to stop those buck-hungry hunters from buying a crossbow? He believes that is altering the historic gun season (one that is financially important to restaurants, bars, motels and other businesses). But archers (bow and crossbow) have to eat, drink and sleep, too.

Are the archery shops now trying to sell more vertical bows after selling plenty of crossbows in recent years?

“It’s not really going to do anything for my business because we sell both,” Kasmierski said.

Most archery shops sell both because customers want both.

It seems doubtful that some groups of hunters will ever stop fighting each other. Many private-lands hunters routinely lock up their lands to other hunters (which is certainly their right), but contribute to herd overpopulations by refusing to shoot does. Trophy hunters, and many others, would love a big buck for the wall, but we meat hunters often settle for a small buck or fat doe. Venison is delicious no matter what the package it comes in looks like.

My issue is those arrogant hunters who want to control not only their methods of hunting, but others, too. Wisconsin has come to realize that it matters very little whether you carry a stick bow, wheeled bow, crossbow, pistol, muzzleloader or centerfire rifle. The weather on opening weekend of the gun-deer season will determine the overall harvest more than anything. The archery harvest (bow and crossbow) is still only about 30 percent of the overall harvest.

Let’s send a message that says crossbows are here to stay, just like cellphones, computers, automatic transmissions and a few selfish hunters.

Ross Bielema is a freelance writer from New London and owner of Wolf River Concealed Carry LLC. Contact him at Ross@wolfriverccw.com.