The legalization of general use of crossbows during archery seasons in Illinois is the most significant change in Illinois hunting in years.
Opinions still vary. I expect that to continue. The statistics available so far also show a varied portrait of an impact.
I’ve taken a preliminary look at the impact of that change so far through a chat with two of the most important independent outdoors retailers in Illinois–Presleys Outdoors in Bartonville and Freddie Bear Sports in Tinley Park; and through a look at some of the early statistics available from the Illinois Department of Natural Resources.
Kelly Presley reached for an analogy to explain crossbow sales.
‘‘It is most comparable to selling lots of guns when people fear they can’t buy guns,’’ he said. ‘‘That is what it is most like.’’
The spike in gun sales comes from fear; the spike in crossbow sales comes from excitement. Illinois opened in-season bowhunting to general use of crossbows this year.
Presley, the owner of Presleys Outdoors, noted: ‘‘It was a very, very good increase [in crossbows]. It has taken archery to a new level and broke into a new [area].
‘‘I would say 40 percent of the crossbows are to new hunters. That gives us a chance to build long-term relationships with new customers.’’
I called venerable Chicago-area archery expert Fred Lutger, the owner of Freddie Bear Sports. He had an old-school take.
‘‘We sell a few, but we have always sold a few,’’ he said. ‘‘People are not rushing in to buy them.’’
Even at 70, he’s not a big advocate of crossbows.
‘‘To me, it is harder to practice with them because you have to cock them,’’ he said. ‘‘If you hunt out of a tree stand, they are awfully hard to cock in a tree stand. You almost have to go down to the ground.’’
Cocking involves stepping on a front piece, then pulling back with a rope.
‘‘Bowhunters are more fun,’’ Lutger said. ‘‘Start out with a bow and shoot arrow after arrow without cocking. I am not seeing that crossover.’’
STATISTICS SO FAR
Harvest during Illinois’ archery season has spiked. Though Sunday, harvest was at 27,703 deer, compared with 22,985 for the same period in 2016. Rut signs also have risen. Males jumped to 64 percent of the harvest last week.
There has been some impact so far on harvest numbers, though, frankly, some expected even more of an impact.
The Illinois Department of Natural Resources pulled together some preliminary numbers for me.
Through Monday, 28.91 percent of successful hunters in archery deer season were using a crossbow. Crossbows accounted for 28.86 percent of the archery harvest.
For successful hunters using a crossbow, 11.83 percent were a new hunter (a new hunter is one without a permit in the last three seasons). For successful hunters using a vertical bow (compound, long or recurve), 7.55 percent were new hunters.
There are a few other statistics I would like to see, but may have to wait until later.
One is just how many more archery permits will be sold this season as compared to 2016-17. Obviously the corollary question (to be answered in a few months) is how much the harvest increases over the archery season in 2017-18.
Second, I hope there is some way to figure out what percentage or raw number of bowhunters was who shifted from vertical bows to crossbows.
All in all, this is most significant change in Illinois hunting in years. I am fairly certain there will be tweaking of deer-hunting regulations off the impacts of crossbows as more is understood about what that impact means.