W.Va. Bowhunters Association raises concern over crossbow harvest figures

LOGAN, W.Va. — The President of the West Virginia Bowhunters Association believes there is a storm brewing on over the use of crossbows for deer hunting in West Virginia.

“This is the storm in the distance. It’s sunny now, but we hear the thunder in the distance,” said Rusty Reed.

Reed asked members of the Natural Resources Commission in October to consider requiring a breakout in the DNR’s data. He wants the agency to separate the number of whitetail deer killed in West Virginia with crossbows and those taken by other forms of traditional archery equipment. Currently deer killed with both are lumped into the same figure, although they are not actually the same season.

“Crossbow hunting season is a separate season from traditional archery. However, they are concurrent they go from the beginning of October until the end of the year,” Reed explained.

Crossbows were legalized by the Legislature back in 2015 after years of opposition staged mainly by the Bowhunters Association. Since then, Reed said his organization has posed no formal opposition to using crossbows for hunting in West Virginia.. He indicated crossbows are now considered just another platform for hunting in West Virginia. But, the concern for Reed and the Bowhunters, is the effectiveness of the crossbow, which is starting to be noticed.

“The last four yeas, crossbows have increased the (archery) harvest well above and beyond what we had with traditional archery equipment and we worry in the future this may have a biological impact that will need to be considered by the Commission,” he explained.

Most archery equipment is effective out to about 30 yards, but modern crossbows have the capacity to be accurate out to 100 yards. The efficiency significantly increases a hunter’s odds of success, particularly during the rut when archery season and for now crossbow season, are both underway. Reed’s concern, and that of the Bowhunters Association, is whether the harvest of bucks during the peak of rutting could potentially remove too many bucks from the population and result in a reduction in reproduction.

“Crossbows are very efficient , so their kill is higher each year. At some point the game commission is going to realize, and actually they do already, that this is consumptive,” said Reed.

According to DNR data, the 2020 crossbow/archery harvest was 31,564 deer. The 2019 harvest was 29,508 deer. The 2018 harvest was 26,613 . The harvest in 2017 was 26,206. The bow and crossbow harvest for 2016 was 28,808 and in 2015, the first year crossbows were allowed the harvest was 32,540 deer. Although there was some fluctuation year to year, the crossbows have accounted for a higher average for the overall archery harvest. The 2014 archery harvest, the last year crossbows were illegal ,the archery kill was 21,653.

A press release from the agency in 2016 which accounted for the 2015 data did indicated crossbows in that first year accounted for 37 percent of the total crossbow/archery harvest.  Since that time there has been no separation between the two seasons in annual harvest reports.

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