A look back: Navigating my first archery season with both a crossbow and compound

I was sitting in a tree stand during the last week of Maryland’s muzzleloader season when I finally cracked: I needed to get into bowhunting. It wasn’t because I was cold, or because I had poor luck in both my West Virginia and Maryland rifle and muzzleloader seasons; I felt like I had little time to accomplish big goals. 

Some folks love that, trying to kill a big buck in a short period of time, but I don’t. I like having time to survey the deer herd. Plus, my job demands I spend a lot of time sitting at my desk writing stories like this, taking me out of the woods for a large chunk of the year. Maybe coincidental, that was also the same day I decided to turn my focus towards delving deeper into this outdoor writing world which has given me way more time in the woods and plenty of content to share. Getting into archery was also incredibly successful, as I logged my first deer and, with that, my first buck – a nice 10-point. 

But let’s back up. Because the journey is almost as sweet as the reward. 

After deciding to take the plunge into bowhunting, I began researching what would be the best platform for me. I knew I wanted to get a compound bow, mostly due to the negative attention crossbows had by my friends and colleagues. After a lot of searching, watching YouTube reviews and skimming forums, I finally found a bow I wanted to commit to in late February, a Diamond Edge SB-1. It was a package deal for a solid price of around $400 at my local bow shop, and they even were willing to let me pay in installments and were willing to set it up to my draw length. There were a few other selling points that stuck with me, so I said I would return later in the week to put down the first deposit. 

Then, the COVID-19 pandemic hit West Virginia. Whatever thought I had of getting a bow left my mind, as I didn’t want to spend any large amount of money for any reason during those first few months. I didn’t know if things would begin collapsing due to our response to the virus, so I closed my wallet and saved my cash until mid-summer. I slowly began opening up to the idea of buying a bow again, but instead of running out and buying a bow, I heard from a story contact that some companies might be willing to work with me for the trade-off that I write stories about their products. 

That’s when I came into contact with Bryan Zabitski, marketing coordinator for TenPoint Crossbow Technologies. He’s the guy you might see on some of the company’s promotional videos, or the tagline for its blog posts. It was a relief he was willing to work with me, and since then has been integral in helping me with any questions I have about the company or its products. The company sent me a full package: An RDX-400 with a scope, three bolts with field points and other necessary attachments, as well as two packs of extra bolts, a pack of mechanical broadheads and some nock lighting pins. 

About that same time, I reached out to a colleague of mine, Dave Samuel, to talk about his thoughts about crossbows. I visited him at his home, and we talked about his many hunts, whether in the United States or abroad, as well as his thoughts around crossbows. He was quick to quiz me: “Are crossbows bows?” 

Though a pointed question, we disagreed. I heard him out, and I respected his thoughts around it. This was the man who owns the longest-running column for Bowhunter Magazine, a world-class bowhunter and a well-respected leader in the hunting world. He’s also become a great mentor and, what I would consider, a friend. After that meeting, he passed down his Hoyt Katera XL compound bow to me. He couldn’t use it anymore and thankfully trusted me enough to use it. 

And use it I did. I had already become comfortable with the crossbow, something that requires a decent amount of practice but definitely not as much as a compound. I spent hours a day getting used to the Hoyt, honing my shot. I started with 30 arrows downrange, then 50, then 75, then 100. For about a month (August to September), I put 100 arrows downrange at 25 yards. As our whitetail archery opener approached, I gave myself a break and dropped down to 50 arrows a day for a week, then 30 from the second week of September to the opener in the last days of the month. 

For the first two months, I only used the Hoyt. It was easier for me to carry around through the thick brush and briar patches in northern West Virginia. I did take out the RDX-400 a few times, but each hunt ended nearly the same: Only does, or, if a buck showed up, he was too far out of range. Then, one day in early November, I remembered my brother, Kenny, had an older model TenPoint from when he injured his shoulder and couldn’t draw back his compound. 

“This would be a great story,” I remember thinking. 

A trio of crossbow bolts rest on a table in a permanent blind. (The Appalachian Hunting Journal photo)

So I reached out, set a date to go to my home county and see if we could each get a deer. 

As fate would have it, we had to change our plans. The original date got scrapped for some reason, and on the follow-up date, Kenny had thrown his back out. But, he was still willing to go out and see if we could ambush one each. Once again, fate would have it that only one deer showed itself that day – the 10-point I shot – but it still turned out to be a great day, and a great story. 

Truth be told, I would have been able to make that shot with my compound. It was a 35-yard shot, one that I had practiced plenty. I would have had to tweak my approach (we were in an enclosed, permanent blind), but the result would have been the same. I did take the RDX-400 out that day for a story, yes, but the entire trip wouldn’t have been much different. It was definitely easier for me to kill the deer with the crossbow – it has a lot more power and is faster than the Hoyt – but the result was an ethically harvested deer.

At the end of the day, the meaning of that hunt remains the same. I was able to harvest my first deer, a beautiful buck at that, next to my brother. I know the importance of both platforms and respect them both equally. Crossbows do have a certain draw to them, though. On my drive back to Morgantown, with the deer in my cooler, I put myself in others’ shoes. I’m not disabled, but what if I was and just wanted to enjoy a quiet afternoon hunting? What if I was a young teenager trying to kill my first deer and not a 25-year-old who passed on plenty of nice deer over the years? What if I was in my brother’s position, watching his little brother kill his first deer no matter what was in his hands? 

The truth is, I was blessed to have both a compound and a crossbow to use in my first archery season. Both made it special in wildly different ways, and both have their pros and cons. I’ve already logged them for future stories, trust me on that. Yet, for this one story, I just wanted to share the special parts that helped a reactivated hunter put an exclamation on his first archery season.

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This is the first in a monthly series about crossbows and their roles in the hunting world.

Andrew Spellman

A West Virginia University Reed College of Media alum, Andrew has a deep passion for his field of work. He is currently a sports and outdoors writer for The Dominion Post in Morgantown, WV, and a current issues and affairs writer for Project Upland. He also runs his blog, Hill & Holler, on the side.

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