On Sept. 17, 2010, Gov. David Paterson signed a hunting bill allowing hunters — regardless of their physical abilities — to hunt with a crossbow. For years, advocates of crossbow hunting had voiced a desire to legalize crossbow hunting in New York, and they got it.
However, what they got was not what was originally asked for in the proposed bill. This new regulation, which was instituted this fall, only allows the use of a crossbow during big game (bear and deer) season and only during the firearms seasons. What this means is that crossbow hunters have to compete with gun hunters, which is not much of a contest.
And more importantly, senior citizens or anyone who is no longer able to pull and hold their compound bows still is not able to continue to enjoy the regular bow season. What they expected was an exemption to use a crossbow during the regular bow season if they had a doctor’s note verifying their disability. Obviously, they, along with many of us, were not very happy with this new regulation.
One of those seniors very disappointed with the new crossbow regulations was my good friend, 77-year-old Dante Ronca of Schenectady. An avid bowhunter who began launching cedar-shafted arrows at deer in the mid-1950s from his no- sights Bear Grizzly recurve, Dante has spent more than five decades of bowhunting seasons sitting in tree stands 15-20 feet above the ground. To say he loved the challenge and the sport would be an understatement. He did, however, modernize his equipment in the 1980s, when he bought his first compound bow, a PSE that he still has today.
But several years ago, his right shoulder began to weaken, and his ability to draw back his compound bow and hold it, even with the 60 percent let-off, was becoming more difficult and quite painful. Several times in the past few seasons, he had deer coming in and was unable to hold his bow at full draw until a good shot presented itself.
“It was quite frustrating when you have to let down the string, and the movement spooks the deer,” Dante said. Each year since, it has become more and more painful, even after reducing the draw weight on the bow.
Practice, too, was becoming a problem, which is obviously very important for the bowhunter’s success. I am quite familiar with this problem and also had to reduce the draw weight of my regular bow for the past several years. So it was no surprise that when Dante and I heard the crossbow bill had actually passed, we were excited about being able to again enjoy bowhunting.
But when we read what had actually passed, we were very disappointed. As Dante said, “This does nothing for us. I want to be able to hunt during the regular bow season. Why is it only being allowed in the gun season, and why only big game? What about turkeys and small game?”
When I stopped by his house last summer to show him my new TenPoint Stealth XLT crossbow package, I couldn’t get it away from him. In fact, I left it there, and he sighted it in for me. A few weeks later, when I went to his house and shot the TenPoint, I was very impressed with its accuracy. And on the opening of the Pennsylvania bow season, I was there with my TenPoint. In Pennsylvania, anyone can hunt with a crossbow during the regular bow season.
When the regular season opened in the Southern Zone, Dante hunted the first two days in Rensselear County with a rifle. Then he decided to dedicate the rest of his deer hunting season hunting in Schenectady County, using the TenPoint crossbow. It was on the fourth morning sitting in his tree stand that a combination of Doe-In-Heat deer attractant scent and a series of soft grunt calls lured in a big buck, and it was coming right to him.
At 32 yards, the buck stopped in the heavy brush, lifted his head up sniffing the air, turned and disappeared. Assuming the buck would be coming in on the left, Dante repositioned himself in the small stand for the shot. But, as so often happens, the buck came in on the right, and when the hunter moved, he got caught. Mr. Buck looked right up at him.
Whether it was buck fever, a rushed shot or both, the arrow (bolt) hit the only branch between him and the deer and flew harmlessly over the buck’s back. Now, most hunters would probably have hung up the bow and switched back to a shotgun, but not Dante, who was now more determined than ever to shoot a buck — this buck, with the crossbow.
“The excitement, thrill and the rush that I got using the crossbow, despite the miss, was like no other I ever experienced when hunting with a gun,” Dante told me.
For the next week, he was in the stand all day, every day and saw a number of lesser bucks, but he wanted “that” missed buck. He also admitted that on some of those rainy and cold days, he thought about his warm wood stove and a glass of wine at home, but he stayed from sunup until sundown. He knew that big buck was still chasing does in this area, and Dante also caught him on the trail cam several times.
“On Dec. 6, it was raining, and I almost did not go hunting, but I knew this could be the day that the buck came in. By 2:30 p.m., I was dressed and in my stand,” Dante said.
“It was 4:15 p.m. while daydreaming about how good the wood stove and wine was going to be, I heard movement behind me off to my right, but I dare not move. It seemed forever, but finally, a doe appeared walking at a good pace about 18 yards in front of me, and within seconds, the heavy-footed buck came in with his nose to the ground following right behind her. Now the adrenaline was really rising, and it was now or never.”
Dante said all he saw was those big antlers. He tried grunting to get the buck to stop, but he didn’t. Shouldering the TenPoint, he quickly put the crosshairs on the buck, led him just a little bit and squeezed the trigger.
“From the sound of the hit and where I thought the arrow had impacted him, I felt I had made a good shot,” Dante said. “I watched him run away with the does into the thick brush, heard branches breaking and saw only the does run off. I thought I saw a flicker of a white tail, but could not be sure.”
Quietly, he climbed down from the tree stand and headed back to his vehicle to call his hunting partner, Jim Bradshaw of Schenectady, to help him look for his buck.
“Fortunately, I also had a set of dry clothes to change into while waiting for Jim to come,” Dante said.
When his help arrived, they could not find any blood trail to follow at first, and Jim jokingly questioned Dante about his buck fever and missing the deer.
“But I was sure I hit him, and hard,” Dante said, “and I headed off in the direction I thought the buck had taken.
“It was dark now, and to say I was excited when I shined the flashlight in front of me and saw those big antlers sticking out of the heavy ground brush would be an understatement. For me, it was a dream come true, and when I knelt down and actually grabbed my beautiful eight-point buck by the antlers — my first crossbow deer, and I knew then it would not be my last.”
Dante’s buck tipped the scales at a dressed weight of 165 pounds. Click hereto see Dante’s crossbow buck.
Dante told me he hopes that soon the crossbow hunting regulations in New York will be revised to allow him and other disabled seniors like him to use a crossbow during the regular bow season, or even a part of the season.
He also said, “For those against the use of crossbows for hunting during the regular bowhunting season, especially you younger bow hunters, don’t forget you, too, will eventually begin to struggle with your compound bows. Are you going to be willing give up your bowhunting? You would be surprised how many senior bowhunters are forced to give up a sport they truly love because of their inability to draw and hold their compound or long bows anymore.”
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