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Hunting Crossbows

By Gibbs Milliken

A medieval weapon has become a high-tech hunting device.

Hunting crossbows offer no advantage over conventional bows in terms of range. The outer limits of both are about 40 yards. But crossbows do have some advantages over archery equipment, and hunters who are thinking of making the transition from rifles to primitive sporting arms will want to consider the latest advances in crossbow technology. A word of warning, though: a good crossbow costs about the same as a good rifle.

Crossbow handling and sighting are similar to shooting a rifle. The stock, trigger, and sights will be familiar to most hunters. Many crossbows use crosshair or red-dot scopes for sighting. These allow good target acquisition and, in some models, compensate slightly for trajectory. And like rifles, crossbows are equipped with safety devices to keep them from being fired accidentally.

Because the crossbow is pre-drawn, it offers hunters a significant advantage over conventional archery. Unlike the conventional archer, the crossbow hunter does not have to draw back the string just before shooting, a movement that might spook game, especially turkeys.

Cocking is the most difficult process in using a crossbow. It requires pulling back a heavy-duty string on a short bow with a draw weight of 150-200 pounds and, at the same time, centering the string on the trigger for shooting accuracy. A strong archer can do this, but most will want some sort of mechanical cocking device: either a rope-pulley or winch system. The rope-pulley is lighter and less troublesome to use in the field, but hunters with physical disabilities may prefer a winch.

Today’s hunting crossbow arrows — still sometimes called bolts — are 20 inches long and made of either aluminum or carbon fiber. They take interchangeable screw-on points for target or field use.

As a hunting device, the crossbow is as effective as archery equipment and is legal in Texas for game animals and non-migratory game birds during the general season. (They’re illegal for migratory game birds.) Archery can be a great choice for hunting feral hogs and other exotics that have no closed season. During the archery-only season for deer and turkey, however, a crossbow hunter must purchase an archery stamp and also carry a physician’s letter indicating that he or she has an upper limb impairment that would make it extremely difficult to draw a conventional bow.

The best of crossbow technology is found in high-end models, which use the latest bow technology, scope sighting, and safety-first trigger designs.

One of the finest is the Ten Point Stealth X2, which offers excellent construction, speed, accuracy and redundant safety features. If extra weight is not a concern, this bow, combined with AcuDraw winder-winch mounted in the butt, is one of the easiest bows to cock. A secondary release button on the forearm, which keeps the shooter’s fingers well below the flight deck and string path, must be kept depressed to shoot an arrow. Also a dry-fire inhibitor prevents the bow from being accidentally released without an arrow in place. This is perhaps the safest handling of any currently manufactured crossbow and the easy-to-use cocking aid makes it an ideal choice for anyone with a physical handicap. ($979, 185#, kit including AcuDraw and red-dot scope, Ten Point Crossbows, (330) 628-9245, www.tenpointcrossbows.com)

Many crossbows use compound technology, which employs pulleys or cams to make the string easier to draw back. The Excalibur Exomag keeps things simple by using a magnum-strength, 200-pound recurve rather than a compound bow. It delivers blazing arrow speed and eliminates the need for cam adjustments or tuning sometimes required of compound bows. The Excalibur can prove less troublesome in the field than a compound bow because worn strings are easily changed without professional assistance. Designed and manufactured by crossbow hunters, this bow comes with an excellent trigger system, comfortable synthetic stock and is exceptionally well constructed, consistently accurate, and very reliable. ($800, kit with cross-hair scope, Excalibur Crossbow Inc., (800) 463-1817, www.excaliburcrossbow.com)

The widely available Horton Hunter Elite is a sturdy, compact, fast compound bow. This popular model offers an ergonomic stock, is very comfortable and has a positive, textured grip surface and distinctive camouflage pattern. The excellent 4X32mm Multi-A-Range Horton scope is waterproof and fogproof, and has an elevation adjustment integrated into the stock. The Hunter Elite shoots only Horton arrows, which are equipped with "moon nocks" designed to assure that the arrow is loaded properly for maximum safety and accuracy. (Under $600, 175# kit with cross-hair scope, Horton Crossbows, (330) 633-0305, www.hortonmfg.com)

The crossbow kits described above are all excellent combinations. Whether one is shooting a flat target, roving a field course or hunting big game, these top-model crossbows deliver quality construction and shooting performance.

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