Detractors argue that because an arrow shot from the compound has more speed, a flatter trajectory and greater accuracy than one from the longbow, the compound should be placed in the same category as a firearm.
"Several of my friends who are bow hunters," says Mike Kennedy, ex-sports editor of the Anchorage Daily Times, "argue that the compound bow takes much of the sport out of hunting, that it has increased tremendously the number of game animals killed, that the compound bow is attracting people to the sport who are more interested in the kill than in primitive hunting."
Increased kills, many feel, will lead to shorter bow hunting seasons. Jay Massey of the Alaska Department of Fish and Game says. "With hundreds of thousands of bow hunters taking advantage of modern technology and using modern, more efficient weapons, should bow hunters be given the advantage of special hunting seasons not available to other types of hunters?"
"The time one spends hunting with a bow and arrow is basically recreational time," says Dr. Barry Wensel of Whitefish, Mont. "If a bow hunter didn't want to do it the hard way, he would hunt with a rifle."
"The comparisons with firearms are utterly ridiculous," says Bill Wadsworth, who heads the bow hunting division of the National Field Archery Association and is chairman of the National Bow-hunter Education Foundation. "Sure, arrows propelled by a compound bow travel faster, but only about 8% to 10% faster. And sure, they have a flatter trajectory than those shot from stick bows, but you can kill a deer with a rifle and scope at 250 yards, and there is no way on earth to do that with a bow, compound or long. In the Eastern U.S. the average deer taken with a bow is shot between 17 and 21 yards from the hunter. The average range is only 10 or 12 yards more in the open country of the West. And remember, only the best archers ever take game at all with a bow—so it is clear that even those of greatest skill do not shoot, or try to shoot, at ranges competitive with firearms.
"I hunted with a longbow for 30 years before the compound came along," adds Wadsworth, "so I have no ax to grind either way. I think the bad publicity the compound has received is way out of proportion to the number of people who object to it. Unfortunately, the segment that does—only a handful of archers—has been very vocal. The inconsistency is that until modern technology made it possible to laminate fiber glass to wood—the first real breakthrough in archery—the sport was as dead as a dodo. You won't find many of these purists in the field with a bent hickory stick and a linen string."
Purists notwithstanding, some of the compound's bad publicity was engendered by the archery industry itself. Because archers tend to be more conservative than other hunters, they didn't take up compounds as fast as the manufacturers had predicted. In desperation, the industry decided to seek out the non-archer, promising in their ads instant hunting success. It doesn't matter that the ads were written by people who probably had never been in the woods, or who presumably had never considered the philosophical aspects of bow hunting. What does matter is that hunting guides in Montana, Oregon and Wisconsin, to name a few places, read the original ads and believed them. On that basis they had every right to raise questions about the compound. Although most have since revised their impressions, the ads are still being quoted.
Special bow hunting seasons are among the most productive ways of providing maximum recreation for hunters with minimum depletion of natural resources. The compound bow, rather than changing this, has brought the point home more strongly. Yes, there is reason to believe that the success ratio is up slightly since the compound became popular, although there are as yet no statistics to substantiate this. But the same educated guesses also suggest that the amount of game wounded and not recovered by archers is down.
Bow hunters cite reasons other than the compound that might also be responsible for slightly improved success ratios. The most significant of these is the dramatic increase in bow hunter education courses, now being conducted in 47 states, many of which require the six-hour course before the issuing of a license.
"The goal of our courses," says Wadsworth, "is first to produce good sportsmen and second to produce good bow hunters who can handle themselves in the field. What a lot of people have found out is that the compound bow may make shooting easier but the man behind the bow is still the key to performance."