Crossbow Hunting

January 3, 2011 by  

Doug Leier

For most of us, crossbows are not a real common topic in hunting discussions. You’ve probably seen them on an outdoors television program or maybe in person at a trade show or other event, but overall use of a crossbow is not that common around the country, most likely because they are not legal equipment during the archery or deer gun season.

Crossbow HuntingHowever, more than 1,600 people in North Dakota alone have a director’s permit that, with medical verification, does allow use of crossbows during archery season. Most other states also allow hunters with disabilities to use crossbows during archery season.

Across the country, about 35 states currently prohibit use of crossbows during regular archery seasons. Of states close to North Dakota, Wyoming is among the 15 states that do allow crossbows during regular archery seasons. Nebraska will join that list next year.

Minnesota, South Dakota, Iowa and Wisconsin have rules similar to North Dakota. Montana is among the states that permit use of crossbows during gun seasons but not archery seasons, and a few states allow hunters older than age 60 or 62 to use them during regular archery seasons.

Crossbows did get a bit of press earlier last fall when the North Dakota Bowhunters Association, in its September newsletter, published an editorial and a position statement regarding its concerns about any future action that would lead to making crossbows legal during North Dakota’s archery season.

The NDBA’s official position on allowing crossbows in the regular archery season includes the following points:

The present archery equipment restrictions are designed to present a greater challenge resulting in increased hunter days afield with a more limited harvest potential.

A crossbow is a shoulder-fired device that is out of place in a season designed for more primitive equipment.

In all fairness, some of the points considered in states where crossbows are allowed in regular archery deer seasons include:

Since crossbows have been around for nearly four millennia, they are no less primitive than a modern compound bow.

In some other states, hunters using crossbows are not substantially more successful than archers using traditional bows.

Because they are less physically demanding, crossbows would encourage more women, children and elderly hunters to take an interest in archery.

The North Dakota Game and Fish Department also considered crossbow hunting in its October 2010 issue of North Dakota Outdoors magazine. Fair and equitable allocation of licenses is an issue the Department would likely need to address if crossbows were allowed and a significant number of hunters bought them and started hunting during the archery season over and above the current level.

Options might include some type of lottery for archery buck licenses, either within units in the same way gun licenses are issued, or statewide licenses that have a cap on the number available.

Another option would be some type of buck license, issued by drawing, that could be used in any season, but a hunter could receive only one per year.

Given current or higher deer populations, archery licenses – with or without crossbow hunting – would have to increase perhaps by several thousand before any changes were warranted. However, if the statewide deer population were to decline significantly, even the current level of archery licenses – more than 16,000 in 2009 – might require some attention.


Leier is a biologist with the Game and Fish Department. Contact him via email:[email protected]


4 Comments on "Crossbow Hunting"

  1. Dr. Robert E. Rolfes on Sat, 16th Jun 2012 5:30 pm 

    Here in Ohio, it has been found that none of what you state in your position is true. Please make an INFORMED decision, not one based on prejudice and hearsay evidence. Contact the Ohio DNR and they can send you a list of studies done here, and the success of the crossbow experience here.

  2. Brian Buschmann on Thu, 23rd Aug 2012 3:27 am 

    I agree with Dr. Rolfes above. In Michigan and Ohio my crossbow experiences have been fantastic. I just don’t get all the backlash and negativity about the crossbow. Why are we hunters always deviding and conquering ourselves. Safe and thoroughly studied methods of hunting should be explored and expanded and we as hunters, conservationalists, outdoorfolks, should embrace it. It is simply another way to enjoy hunting.

  3. Mitch on Tue, 11th Oct 2016 5:01 pm 

    I feel like the main thing keeping people from using crossbows are the very selfish and elitist bow hunters who want the woods to themselves. It’s all about “THEIR” woods and not letting anybody else in.

    Also, anyone who uses anything other than a hand made recurve or longbow has no dog in this fight as far as “sportsmanship”, “woodsmanship”, or any other “purist” type mentality goes.

    I’d be willing to bet that these same people are the ones using Knight muzzle loaders with sabot bullets and high powered scopes during muzzle loader season. Selfish hypocrites. That’s all they are.

  4. Jack on Wed, 23rd Aug 2017 4:30 pm 

    This is rediculous, ND has a real rifle season (you can use a 30-06 or a .243), and during the muzzleloader season you can only use a one power scope (1x) or open sights. PLEASE WORRY ABOUT YOUR OWN STATES HUNTING LAWS

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