By Ashley McGee
Previously reserved for hunters who could prove they were disabled and unable to hunt with a vertical compound bow, the stigma surrounding crossbows seems to be dissolving as more states make changes to their hunting regulations to allow their use.
In some states, crossbow hunting is still limited to disabled hunters or hunters of a certain age — but the vast majority of the country now allows crossbows to be used during part or all of hunting season. Depending on the state, this can mean during archery season or during rifle season.
Primarily used to hunt whitetail deer, crossbows are also legal in some states for hunting bear, turkey, alligator and other game species. All this is to say crossbow hunting is on the rise, providing a lucrative opportunity to establish or expand your current archery offerings.
The hunting landscape is changing to retain
existing hunters while also attracting new ones. The
fact of the matter is crossbows can do both.
In Missouri, it wasn’t until three years ago crossbows were made legal for use for anyone during the state’s whitetail archery season. In the first year, crossbow hunters took 30% of all archery deer in the state.
“We used to stock maybe three to five crossbows and around 50 compound [vertical] bows,” said Ben Minkel, owner of Bonne Terre-based Cedar Falls Tactical. “Now, it’s more like 40 crossbows.”
With sales of vertical compound bows remaining steady, Minkel expects his sales this year to be a 50/50 split. However, he expects the current growth to level off over time and anticipates a shift back to traditional compound bows.
“There’s a market out there for everybody,” he added. In his experience, customers interested in purchasing a crossbow are almost always already a hunter.
“For our hunters, we often a see a progression from rifle to archery, but as they age draw strength issues force them to either pick up a crossbow or give up bowhunting altogether,” Minkel observed. “We also have a lot of customers who want to purchase a crossbow for their wife or child, which was something we didn’t expect.”
With an easy-pull device and a much quieter fire, crossbows eliminate the most common barriers to entry for archery hunting and allow a hunter to fully concentrate on aiming and squeezing the trigger when they are ready to shoot.
“If someone comes in or brings their wife or child and isn’t quite comfortable with the idea of shooting a rifle or compound bow, a crossbow could be a good fit for them,” Minkel relayed.
Regardless of rifle or archery, vertical compound or horizontal crossbow, their sales approach is the same.
“None of our staff gets paid commission because our number-one priority is to inform customers and help them make an educated decision,” he said. For archery, this often means encouraging them to try different options on the store’s indoor range.
Draw Customers In With Events
Each July, Cedar Falls Tactical hosts a “Big Bow Bash” event that’s great for seasoned, novice and prospective bowhunters. Factory representatives are on-site with testing lanes available for customers to try out the latest bows and accessories. Free barbecue food, in-store specials and giveaways draw 500–600 attendees.
“Archery hunters want shorter, narrower,
lighter crossbows that shoot faster, and
fortunately we’re starting to see better
technology at a lower price point.”
Ben Minkel, Owner
Cedar Falls Tactical
Bonne Terre, Mo.
Their first year hosting the event, a representative from Ravin Crossbows brought their R10 crossbow — a first-of-its-kind compact crossbow. Despite its price tag ($1,549.99–$1,649.99), they sold four that day. More importantly, Minkel learned there’s a market for high-end crossbows — even in rural Missouri.
“Once people shot it, they could no longer doubt the performance and how easy it was to use. It basically sold itself,” he recalled.
No matter how narrow, lightweight or fast the Ravin products are, the reality is they are not affordable for every hunter.
Top Brands, Key Selling Points
Other bestsellers for Cedar Falls Tactical include the Bear X Karnage Apocalypse ($299) whose stock and grip are interchangeable with AR-15 parts and the Excalibur 308 Short ($749.99) which is great for those who are shorter in stature or in tight spaces like ground blinds and treestands.
To round out their selection, Cedar Falls Tactical also carries crossbows from TenPoint Crossbow Technologies and PSE Archery. Recently, they added a few Killer Instinct Crossbows to their lineup.
“We’re seeing the majority pick up the smallest crossbow first and rarely look at the others unless there are features to draw their attention,” noted Minkel. “Archery hunters want shorter, narrower, lighter crossbows that shoot faster, and fortunately we’re starting to see better technology at a lower price point.”
Mission Crossbows is another company at the forefront of this segment, according to Minkel.
“Mission Crossbows are lightweight, compact and one of the quickest on the market. Not only are they a leader in terms of technology and customer care, but being backed by Mathews makes them an attractive choice for archery hunters crossing over from traditional compound bows,” he stated.
In order to offer their customers a wider product range at the best price points, he acknowledged the most beneficial thing has been joining a buy group. As an independent dealer, especially one located in a rural area, group buying has given them more purchasing and negotiating power. Both their customers and their bottom line have benefited.
A Different Picture
In Alabama, where crossbow hunting has been legal for more than a decade, Ben Cox, archery manager at Hoover Tactical, paints a slightly different picture of the crossbow market.
Vertical compound bow sales outpace crossbows four-to-one. Cox attributes some of this to the stigma in the archery community that crossbows are considered “cheating.” While they do have a longer maximum effective range and often shoot faster than vertical compound bows, you still have to locate a deer and stalk it within relatively close range.
“We do get a few guys purchasing crossbows for their wives, but almost all of our crossbow sales are to rifle hunters who have never archery hunted before but want to extend their season because archery season starts a month earlier than rifle,” he said.
For these customers, speed is the biggest selling point followed by the crossbow’s size.
To cover all price points, Hoover Tactical carries products from TenPoint, Excalibur and Wicked Ridge Crossbows. In the months leading up to deer season, they typically stock 20–25 crossbows.
Crossbows from TenPoint and Wicked Ridge can be ordered equipped with the ACUdraw cocking system integrated into the bow, reducing the effort required and room needed to operate — ideal features for shooting from a ground blind or deer stand.
Customers can try them out on Hoover Tactical’s indoor 3D archery range. It includes seven lanes (including one elevated lane) across a 50-yard range allowing multiple archers to shoot at once. Each lane has three targets at various distances. It’s the only 50-yard archery range in the state. Alongside the 3D range, they also have a 25-yard dot range ideal for beginners or testing a new setup.
This year, Alabama legalized the use of crossbows for turkey hunting, but Cox said it didn’t appear to have an immediate impact on sales — though time will tell.
Gateway To Archery Profits
If your store doesn’t already carry archery products, crossbows are a great option to start. If you do, don’t feel like it has to be an either/or. Even though many bowhunters are traditionalists, and you may hear some grumbling, the hunting landscape is changing to retain existing hunters and attract new ones. The fact of the matter is crossbows can do both.
As technology improves and legislation adapts, it’s becoming more evident crossbows aren’t just for youth, female, elderly or disabled hunters. They’re for every hunter.