The western states offer some great opportunities for crossbow hunters, but regulations vary widely from state to state. If you're planning to hunt the West with a crossbow, knowing those regulations will help determine where you may wish to hunt. Here are our picks for the best states for crossbow hunting in the West, but first a little background.
Let's shrug off the controversy, ethics discussions, and self-righteous indignation and look at some cold, hard crossbow facts. In many states, debates aside, your decision to hunt with a crossbow often hinges on legalities that are out of your control.
If you get past that and find that you are indeed qualified/allowed to hunt your chosen destination, then it's time to look at practical facts, performance, and challenges.
For instance, in my native state of Utah a hunter may use a crossbow only during archery season, after applying for and obtaining a disability exemption. That disability must be obvious or accompanied by a physician's statement. Dig deep within the mysterious regulation descriptions and non-disabled hunters will discover that they may use a crossbow only during the "any weapon" season while other folks tote rifles.
If you qualify, it's time to consider practical aspects, such as effective crossbow range, packing a crossbow (managing a cross-shaped assembly of cables, strings, loaded limbs, and sharp broadheads while plowing through oak brush on a steep slope in hot pursuit of elk is an endeavor best saved for the very stubborn), and so forth.
Let's dive in and examine crossbow-friendliness across the West. Because we hunters live by priorities and not conventions, let's start with the most important states, alphabetical order be durned.
Montana is of critical importance courtesy of outstanding opportunity coupled with great trophy quality, even for nonresidents. Unfortunately, this magnificent state stands hard and fast against crossbows; they may be used only during gun seasons, end of story.
Notable as the elk destination of the West, Colorado provides literally tens of thousands of archery elk licenses to hunters each year. Crossbows are legal during all gun seasons, which doesn't help anybody but the true fanatics among us, and for handicapped hunters during archery season.
While I personally rate this state No. 1 for resident hunting opportunity and quality, it's understandably more difficult for nonresidents to obtain tags. On the plus side, crossbow-infatuated hunters may hunt standard archery seasons, providing their crossbow draws at least 90 pounds, bolts are 16 inches minimum, and draw length is 14 inches minimum.
Idaho is a state every ambitious hunter should apply in each year. It's one of the few states left that employs no bonus point system in the lottery for coveted species such as bighorn sheep and Shiras moose.Assuming a hunting license and appropriate tag, a crossbow may be used during gun season by any hunter and by handicapped hunters by special permit during archery season.
A generation ago, seeing a crossbow while hunting would have been about as common as seeing a knight of the Round Table in full armor. Today, things have changed dramatically. With legalization in most states, special hunting seasons in some, and a general overall acceptance of horizontal hunting, crossbows are becoming commonplace. If you are interested in giving it a try, but haven't shot one yet, where should one begin? The first thing prospective crossbow hunters will discover is quality crossbows don't come cheap. Expect to pay as much as a high-end hunting rifle in many cases. However, with a little research, an American-made quality crossbow (avoid Chinese knockoffs like the plague) at a reasonable price can be obtained.
Our advice is to start with a complete package made by a reputable manufacturer. The Wicked Ridge Invader G3 is an excellent example of such and, in fact, has previously won the Petersen's Hunting "Best Value Award." Boasting 330 fps, the Invader comes complete with a TenPoint 3X scope, cocking device (choose between TenPoint ACUdraw or Wicked Ridge ACU-52), three-arrow quiver, carbon arrows, field points, and an instructional DVD. Screw on your favorite broadheads and hit the field. The best part: it is affordable at around $500.
New Mexico offers plentiful opportunities for mule deer, coues deer, elk, black bear, and mountain lion and is a top state for pronghorn antelope. Plus, it allows the use of crossbows during all gun seasons — including muzzleloader hunts — unless otherwise noted in the regs. Certified Mobility Impaired hunters may use crossbows during all hunts.
My beloved home state offers unequalled trophy quality — if you can draw a tag. Getting lucky has become difficult and rare. Even residents can expect to draw a general-season mule deer tag for a good zone only every three years. Crossbows are legal for use during any-weapon (gun) seasons and by disabled hunters during archery seasons.
Zane Grey's adoptive homeland is known for big desert elk, monstrous pronghorns, and jaw-dropping giant muley bucks. Plus, it's arguably the best coues deer destination north of Old Mexico. Of course, it's a draw state and a tough one. Crossbows are legal during general firearms seasons and for handicapped hunters — assuming they meet very rigorous qualifications.
Although Nevada is best known for coyotes and gambling, it is a real sleeper in terms of giant elk, deer, sheep, lions, and so forth — if you can pull a tag, of course. Unfortunately, crossbow restrictions are tight. While they may be used during "any legal weapon" gun seasons, there is no provision that allows crossbow use during any archery season.
Outside the borders of Los Angeles and San Francisco, the Golden State is full of hunters. Coastal blacktail and wild hog meat graces many a California country table, and it's the only place where the lucky hunter can pursue tule elk. Crossbows are legal for all during gun seasons, and by providing a physician's letter to the California F&G — and carrying a copy while hunting — disabled hunters may legally use a crossbow during archery seasons.
Although Oregon offers some pretty darn good elk, mule deer, black bear, mountain lion, and turkey hunting, crossbows are illegal. Period.
Washington offers Roosevelt elk opportunities, and residents also find good black bear and mule deer hunting. Crossbows are tightly controlled. Hunters with "permanent non-operable upper extremity impairment" may apply for a special permit to use a crossbow during archery seasons. Crossbows are legal during certain restricted-area gun seasons.
— MODERN crossbows are being engineered with more weight distributed rearward, making a more balanced design that's easier to hold steady.
— CROSSBOWS are still somewhat inefficient. As a result, they're noisy. High-speed cameras are helping engineers create more efficient crossbows, translating into models with lighter pull weights, more speed, and less noise. Bolts are trending heavier with emphasis on increased FOC balance, leading to better accuracy, greater efficiency, and quieter shots.
— BOLT VEIN material is becoming more sophisticated and stiff in order to adequately stabilize higher bolt speeds.
— WITHIN reasonable distances, greater energy enables hunters to get more penetration with larger broadhead cutting diameters with a crossbow.
— AN INTERESTING study indicates that fewer fathers are taking kids hunting than in the past, and grandfathers are stepping up to the plate and filling in. Crossbows benefit both aging and beginning hunters by offering an easy-to-master, ethically powerful hunting tool that requires little physical strength to put into action.