Crossover movement: Illinois archery hunters adapting to law allowing them to use crossbows

By Herald-Whig
Posted: Oct. 6, 2017 7:50 am

ATLAS, Ill. -- Bryce Jeffcoat felt his arsenal lacked something.

"I went through everything I packed for my first hunting trip of the fall and I had everything there -- camo clothes, camo boots, hunting knife, flashlight, etc.," he said. "There was the gnawing suspiscion I was forgetting something."

Nonetheless, he gassed up his truck and headed for the Pike County property he has leased for the last 10 years.

"On my drive, I kept thinking I had forgotten something. I just knew I had," said Jeffcoat, who lives near Carbondale, Ill. "Then it hit me. I didn't pack my bow. That's a weird feeling to be heading out for archery season without your bow."

Jeffcoat did so with good reason.

He's trying his hand with a crossbow this fall.

When the Illinois archery season opened last Sunday, it ushered in a new era of legal hunting as well. In mid-September, Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner signed a bill that amended the Illinois Wildlife Code and wiped away the restrictions regarding crossbows. They now can be legally used by anyone with a valid hunting license and deer permit during archery season.

Previously, hunters age 62 and older and those with physical disabilities were the only ones allowed the use of crossbows for archery hunting.

"I always wanted to use one, but I had no reason to buy one," Jeffcoat said. "I finally have a reason now, and I'm excited to see what I can do with it."

Jeffcoat decided to leave his compound bow in Carbondale this week to force himself to use the crossbow, even if he missed.

Yet, after three days of hunting, he hadn't had a shot.

"What I didn't want to do was get a big buck in my sights, shoot and miss and then go back to the compound bow," Jeffcoat said. "I didn't want it to be a crutch. I want to use the crossbow, get a feel for it and hopefully have success with it."

There is a lot of intrigue that comes with the crossbow.

It feels and shoots like a gun. It can be steadied on a rest. And it gets cocked like a gun, so hunters don't have to worry about draw length or draw weight. Hunters who aren't comfortable with drawing a bow, especially while in a treestand, now have an alternative.

There are some drawbacks to the crossbow, too.

Crossbows come in the same size and can't be custom fit for the hunter. They take longer to reload, especially if you haven't practiced enough to become comfortable with the cocking aid.

"I've shot crossbows over the years just to familiarize myself in case I hunter anywhere other than around here, but I think I would struggle reloading it with a deer in range," said Gage Johnson, a professional hunting guide who works in Calhoun and Pike counties. "There's a natural motion most hunters have and understand about pulling an arrow from a quiver and getting it on the bow.

"It seems to be a little more mechanical to do it with a crossbow. That could be a challenge."

Jeffcoat hopes to find out.

He hunted each of the first three mornings of the archery season and two afternoons those days. He saw one trophy buck about 150 yards from his stand and otherwise has had a few does feeding into the field in front of him.

There hasn't been a deer in shooting range.

"As much as I want to put food on the table and venison in the freezer, I also want to see if I can be proficient with a crossbow," Jeffcoat said. "Can I lock and load it quickly? Can I be accurate? Can I kill with it? Those are questions I need to answer.

"Thankfully, the archery season is a long season and I'll be back up here as much as I can. My goal is to kill something with my crossbow."

And he doesn't want to head home every time feeling he left something behind.

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