Archery license sales have increased in each of the last nine years, yet Wes Waldron feels like he is part of a dying breed.
Waldron, who serves as the Legislative Committee Chairman for the United Bowhunters of Pennsylvania, has been an archery hunter for nearly 59 years, pursuing whitetails with either a laminated longbow or self bow.
His excitement for the sport hasn’t waned, but Waldron’s preference for bows has him feeling like an outcast in the sport he loves.
“I’m part of a generation of hunters that are going away,” the 73-year-old said.
Waldron harbors such sentiment because more archery hunters are moving away from traditional bows and even compounds and carrying crossbows into the field. The increased popularity of crossbows among archery hunters is reflected in the annual harvest.
According to data from the Pennsylvania Game Commission, those using crossbows accounted for 51 percent of the archery harvest during the 2013-14 season. That percentage has increased every year, and last archery season 61 percent of the harvest was from hunters using crossbows.
Still, PGC spokesman Travis Lau said agency surveys don’t indicate that archery hunters using crossbows hold a distinct advantage over those using vertical bows.
“Their success rate in taking antlered deer is about the same,” Lau said. “While crossbows are accounting for a larger portion of the archery harvest, the archery harvest more or less has held steady.”
The PGC board approved the use of crossbows for all hunters in 2009 and archery license sales increased every year since, with the exception of last season when the figure of 339,600 represented a 0.6 percent decline from 2016-17. In 2008, before crossbows became legal across the board, archery license sales totaled 271,023 for residents and non-residents combined.
Waldron said the UBP was opposed to across the board legalization of crossbows in 2009 because such a move was unprecedented.
“This was the only game management movement the (PGC) board ever made that was carte blanche. Everything else was implemented slowly,” Waldron said. “This went in as everything legal right away, and it worried us.”
Still, the UBP has accepted the fact that crossbows are here to stay even though the playing field compared to compounds and traditional bows isn’t level, according to Waldron. He said crossbows hold a distinct advantage because they can shoot much faster — more than 400 feet per second compared to 335 fps for the fastest compound bows — and they can be outfitted with scopes.
That means hunters using a crossbow don’t have to practice as much and can shoot faster, more accurately and even farther than a compound bow.
“The challenge is fading from the sport, and that’s what annoys us the most,” Waldron said.
He added that crossbow hunters are welcome to join the UBP and many members do use crossbows. But Waldron said the organization likely won’t back any push by crossbow hunters for a longer season, such as an extension into the third week of November.
This year’s fall archery season begins on Sept. 29 and concludes on Nov. 12 — a day longer than last year due to the PGC board adding Veterans Day, which is a Monday, to the mix.
“There’s always people who want more time, but there’s a point where you become greedy,” Waldron said. “We don’t want to appear that way. We already have a long season.”
Lau said there has been nothing introduced to change the length of archery season due to crossbows, and the agency’s Deer Hunter Survey indicates any restriction on crossbows wouldn’t be popular. According to the survey, only 15 percent of respondents stated crossbows should no longer be legal for archery hunting, while 72 percent said they should remain legal. Also, in the 2016-17 survey, 33 percent of responding archery hunters indicated they started or returned to the sport because they could use a crossbow.
“These numbers considered, if there’s any social push regarding crossbows, I’d think it would come from the other direction, in support of preserving crossbow opportunity,” Lau said.
While he may not like the direction that archery season has taken since it was first held in the state in 1951, Waldron said one constant remains.
“This will be my 59th year and I still get excited. Nothing has changed in that regard,” he said. “The changes do somewhat annoy me, but I’m out there hunting the way I want to.”
Reach Tom Venesky at 570-991-6395 or on Twitter @TomVenesky