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The Fight for Archery Goes On

There really is a lot that goes into winning the hearts and minds of people when it comes to challenging long held paradigms. Just think of the work that went into convincing Americans to simply wear their seatbelts – an idea still contested by some in the face of graveyards full of evidence to the contrary. Folks in the hunting world are not strangers to such struggles for good ideas whose times have come. For years and years, the crossbow and crossbow hunters have been vilified by vertical bow hunters as pariahs who are using novelty tools for hunters who don’t deserve to hunt in the “real” archery world. Slowly attitudes toward crossbows have evolved into general acceptance. Most states now allow crossbows to be used during archery season by any hunter.

But cast your gaze across the pond and you’ll see that many European hunters cannot legally hunt anything with a bow - vertical, cross, or otherwise. These same outdoorsmen and women can slap a can on their high-powered hunting rifle for a fully legal sound suppressed hunt, but cannot pull a string back for a red deer. Yes, there are some European countries where bowhunting is legal, but in places like Germany, Norway, Sweden, Poland, Austria, Italy, and Romania, bowhunting - a practice that has essentially existed for thousands of years globally - is forbidden.

Modern Archery Equipment Delivers Indisputable Power

If anything, modern technology in the form of vertical bows, crossbows, and, “stringless” pneumatic bows have demonstrated that archery equipment is still, in this wild modern age we live in, very well-suited for humanely harvesting large game. Power output from a modern bow is not even a consideration. Or at least it should not be a consideration. Take a look at the table below that demonstrates arrow energy for various archery devices that hunters have relied on for the past few decades.

Device Arrow Weight Velocity Energy
Bear Kodiak 45# Recurve 390 grains 188 fps 30.7 ft-lbs
PSE Stinger ATK 350 grains 310 fps 74.7 ft-lbs
Matthews Phase 4 29" 375 grains 340 fps 96.3 ft-lbs
Barnett XP 380 380 grains 380 fps 122 ft-lbs
Umarex AirSaber 376 grains 430 fps 154 ft-lbs
English Longbow 170#* 986 grains 210 fps 96.3 ft-lbs

*The English Longbow is a weapon of war and was only included for sake of power comparison across a wide variety of archery tackle.

Here in the United States, archery hunting is widely accepted, but pneumatic archery hunting is only legal for large game species in a very limited number of states. The question of capability is certainly answered by the above table showing the abundance of power produced by the pneumatic platform. What is more interesting is a recent study conducted by Finnish veterinarian doctoral student Mikaela Sauvala. Her study compared the effectiveness of both rifle and archery platforms in harvesting whitetail deer. Mikaela’s research sampled data from 100 deer harvested with rifles and 130 harvested with archery.

The key metric, for those concerned with humanely harvesting an animal (and that should be everyone) was how far the animal ran from the point it was shot until it expired. What Dr. Sauvala discovered is that there was less than one meter difference in distance traveled between the two manners of harvest. This study has put a scientific stamp of verification to what tens of thousands of hunters have observed in practice anecdotally and that is archery is a perfectly acceptable and humane way to harvest game.

President of the European Bowhunting Federation, Anders Gejer, stated in his press release on this exciting paper, “This study is a significant milestone in the hunting community, as it demonstrates in a scientific and well-controlled manner the effectiveness of a modern hunting bow.”

He continues, “The study also highlights the suitability of the bow and arrow for the regulation of wild boars, particularly in urban and peri-urban areas, due to the quiet nature of the bow and its short range, making it an extremely safe and effective method."

Why Use an Arrow for Hunting

Reasons for archery hunting are as varied and plentiful as there are hunters. Among those reasons is, as stated by Mr. Gejer, urban or near-urban hunting. It is in these populated areas where archery hunting really shines. A device with a limited range and quiet sound output is crucial for successful hunting in these areas. Both in terms of safe and successful hunting for the hunter and from a public relations standpoint.

However many hunters move towards archery hunting simply for the challenge posed by mastering the ancient hunting skills needed to be successful with a device that requires you to be very close to your quarry. Rifle hunting carries with it a substantial (usually) sound signature and can be done with great accuracy out to hundreds of yards from the game animal. While this is still a challenge, it pales in comparison to stalking game to “rock chucking” distance.

Hunting for Accessibility

But there are other extremely compelling reasons for archery hunting, particularly via the use of crossbows and air bows. Both crossbows and air archery devices have minimum recoil. People with shoulder injuries, back injuries, or who are confined to a wheelchair can easily shoot these types of devices with no discomfort or risk of further injury. Veteran and outdoorsman, Chris Turek, has advocated in his home state of Michigan for such accessibility. As a result of PTSD, Chris discovered that he wasn’t comfortable with firing a traditional hunting rifle, but could use an air rifle without creating any anxiety or discomfort. When he came back from Iraq, airgun hunting became a tool Chris used to get help get himself back into fully enjoying civilian life again.

If there was any singular reason that could be used to argue for the use of a pneumatic bow or even a big bore air rifle, accessibility is certainly it. Among the options listed above, the pneumatic bow is the most adaptive option available to hunters who need a low recoil, lower noise, and easy-to-use platform for their hunting adventures. Since the air tank, the device’s power source, is pre-filled to a suitable pressure, the hunter can then load the arrow onto the barrel and be ready for the hunt with a relatively lightweight and extremely accurate pneumatic bow.

Here in the states air archery hunters are facing similar challenges that our European brethren are in getting a proven method of harvest approved by the various governing bodies. It is certainly a challenge that is worth undertaking. Sometimes it's as simple as demonstrating the power of air to the right people, but on other occasions, a little more effort is required. To this end, the Airgun Sporting Association, a group made up of representatives from the airgun industry and sporting goods retailers is diligently working for recognition of the capabilities of these new airgun technologies. It is their hope that the body of both scientific and anecdotal proofs for the effectiveness of air archery hunting grows in the next few years to prove, without reservation, that air archery is as effective as a rifle in the minds of hunting regulators all over the globe. With the publishing of this eye-opening Finnish study, another “arrow” is in the quiver for the air archery movement here in the States.

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