The crossbow has been used for hunting and in warfare for thousands of years. Archery hunting with crossbows is making them new again.

"There is nothing new under the sun, but there are lots of old things we don’t know.” So said author Ambrose Bierce about 100 years ago.

The crossbow has been used for hunting and in warfare for thousands of years. The Chinese were using them in 600 B.C. The Greek and Roman armies used crossbows in their ancient conquests.

Archery hunting with crossbows is making them new again. Established vertical bow manufacturers have included crossbows in their product lines. Even Winchester, the gun maker, has started making crossbows.

Studies show that experienced bow hunters leave the sport after age 50 because of the physical demands of drawing a bow. Hunting with a crossbow allows archery hunters to keep hunting because they don’t have to draw a bow.

In Illinois, once you hit 62 years old, you can hunt with a crossbow during all archery seasons. You do not need a special crossbow permit. Any hunter unable to hunt with a conventional bow due to a “permanent physical impairment,” can apply for a crossbow permit. This application includes a section that must be completed by a licensed physician.

Because it has a stock and can be fitted with a red dot sight, or a scope, some contend hunting with a crossbow is only a short step away from hunting with a gun.

It’s true that learning to shoot a crossbow accurately is easier to master than shooting a vertical bow. In the Middle Ages, peasants were trained to shoot crossbows and sent to battle the following day. The crossbow projectile, called a bolt, doesn’t fly much faster than a standard carbon arrow, and the bolt quickly loses energy. Therefore, crossbows have an effective range similar to that of a vertical bow.

The disadvantages to hunting with a crossbow are that they are heavy and hard to reload. One writer says a crossbow is “as loud as a slammed door” when you shoot it and nearly impossible to reload without scaring away game if you miss your first shot. In the majority of crossbow hunting scenarios, one shot is all you are going to get.

Crossbows are front-heavy. Experienced crossbow archers say to shoot off a rest, or take along shooting sticks to help steady your aim. It may have a rifle stock and a trigger, but a crossbow isn’t balanced like a rifle or shotgun.

If you are eligible to hunt with a crossbow and are interested learning how, study up on it. It’s going to cost between $500 and $1,500 to get outfitted. Take some shots with one before you invest in equipment. See if you can rent one, along with some instruction, at an archery range. Or do some target practice with a crossbow hunter, and ask them how they sorted through all the equipment choices.

The basic design is thousands of years old, but new and improved crossbows are coming on the market practically every day.

Contact George Little at ccmglobal @aol.com.