DULUTH, Minn. — Crossbow use by deer hunters continues to grow in both Minnesota and Wisconsin, outdoor retailers say. Both states have relaxed regulations on crossbow use in recent years.
The devices, which shoot arrows — called bolts — accurately at high speeds, appeal especially to hunters who have difficulty drawing back compound bows. With a crossbow, the hunter cocks the weapon, and it holds the arrow in place until the hunter pulls a trigger to release it.
"It's probably 30 to 40 percent of my sales," said Randy Graber of Custom Archery and Outdoors in Superior.
John Chalstrom of Chalstrom's Archery north of Duluth said his crossbow sales are increasing, too.
"Years ago, we'd sell one crossbow a year," Chalstrom said. "In the last five years, we've been selling probably 15 crossbows a year. There's a lot more interest among people."
Mike Lemay at Sportsman's Choice in Superior has seen the same trend with crossbows.
"When they legalized them (in Wisconsin) it was really good," he said. "It's still pretty good, actually. I've sold more crossbows than bows in the last couple years, but bows are starting to make a comeback."
Harvest figures from the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources bear out the growing popularity of crossbows. In Douglas County, 58 percent of the total archery kill in 2016 was done with crossbows. And statewide, 45 percent of the archery harvest in 2016 was with crossbows.
Recent innovations in crossbow technology, particularly in the Mathews Mission crossbows and the new Ravin crossbow made in Superior, are helping drive interest in crossbows, retailers say.
Minnesota changed its crossbow regulations in 2014 and now allows any hunter over age 60 to use one, as well as people of any age who have physical limitations verified by medical authorities.
In Wisconsin, following a rule change in 2013, any properly licensed hunter may now use a crossbow. The use of crossbows is unlikely to outstrip use of conventional compound bows, but crossbows appeal to a certain demographic of hunters.
"The guys I have shooting crossbows, most of them are over 60 or have (disability) permits," Chalstrom said. "A lot of these guys over 60 are getting into crossbows. They may have been compound guys in the past, but not the recent past."
If Minnesota follows Wisconsin's lead and opens crossbow hunting to all hunters, regardless of age, that could change the market even more, he said.
"We'd probably sell three times as many," Chalstrom said, "but we'd just be replacing the compound bowhunters."
Graber says older hunters are driving demand for crossbows, but most of his customers are not necessarily switching from compound bows.
"Guys who have been hunting for years, they're still (compound) bowhunters," Graber said. "The crossbow thing is all new guys. ... For the most part, it's guys 45 to 50 and older that are buying them. When Minnesota switched to 60-and-over, we're now getting Wisconsin people and Minnesota people. And another thing — I'm seeing some older women, too, in their 50s."
Crossbows also appeal to some hunters who don't have the time to put in the regular practice sessions that shooting a compound bow accurately requires. Crossbows, like compounds, come in a wide range of prices, from $300 to as much as $2,000.
In addition to the market among older hunters, some hunters buy crossbows for their kids, local retailers say. Young hunters who might not have the strength to draw back a compound bow are able to use a crossbow.
Who can hunt with a crossbow?
A person may hunt with a crossbow under the following conditions:
• Big game and small game by special permit issued to hunters unable to hunt by archery because of a temporary or permanent disability. The disability must be verified in writing by a licensed physician or chiropractor.
• A licensed hunter age 60 or over may use a crossbow during the regular archery deer season with the respective archery license.
• A licensed hunter may use a crossbow for bear or deer with a regular firearms license or a crossbow disability permit and an archery license.
• To hunt with a crossbow during the crossbow deer season, a hunter must purchase a crossbow-specific license. However, if the hunter wishes to use both a crossbow and archery equipment, he or she must purchase the crossbow or archery license and the bow/crossbow upgrade. The first license will be sold at the regular price and the upgrade costs $3. Use of a crossbow is included with the Conservation Patron license.
• Crossbows and bow and arrows may be used by any person hunting under the authority of a gun deer license during any firearm (gun deer or muzzleloader) deer season. Note: when hunting under the authority of an archery license, only bows are allowed. (See regulations for further details.)