First off this isn’t a debate about which is better. I’m gonna talk pros and cons of both. The more weapons you become proficient with for hunting, the more opportunities you will have to pursue game.
The idea of hunting with a bow and arrow conjures up images of some master hunter quietly stalking their prey. Folks who do not hunt with archery equipment typically believe it requires some special skill set. While it does take lots of practice to truly be proficient under pressure, anyone can pick up a crossbow and quickly be proficient enough with it to take game.
People say that a crossbow isn’t real bowhunting and shouldn’t be allowed or should have a special season, but for many people who are physically unable to draw a compound bow back, it is the only option. Shooting a crossbow is a great tool for beginners. A basic Centrepoint crossbow can be purchased for about $250 if you find a sale. That price includes a scope, bolts, and everything you need to hunt with it, except broadheads. Cocking the crossbow takes a bit of dexterity, but after that it really is point and shoot. The crossbow has almost no recoil, is very accurate out to 50 yds, and can shoot an arrow quite a bit faster than most compound bows.
My preferred method of hunting, the compound bow is a bit of a different beast than the crossbow, but still should not be seen as unapproachable. Once the bow is drawn back, you look through the pins at your target and release or pull the trigger (called a release). If you can draw 45 pounds of weight you can put enough power on the arrow to take down black bear, deer, or elk. Most people with a bit of practice can draw 45 pounds.
The difference with a compound bow is that you have to draw it back without the animal you’re hunting spotting the movement. Then, depending on what is happening, you may have to hold the draw for up to two minutes. Exerting yourself while filled with adrenaline can be tough and cause your muscles to shake. This makes it hard to fire an accurate shot which is why practice is a must with the compound. Most people should never shoot their bow past 45 yards to maintain the energy of the arrow. A basic compound bow setup, the Diamond Infinite Edge Pro by Bowtech, can be picked up for about $350. If you buy a higher-end bow keep in mind that it typically doesn’t include the quiver, sights, stabilizer, release, or rest and these accessories can easily double the price of your bow.
Whether you choose crossbow or compound, hunting with archery gear can give you three months to hunt whitetail deer in Michigan. It also opens up many other hunts across the country that are closed to or difficult to draw for rifle hunters.
With the term rifle lets just include shotguns in here as well. If you are hunting deer in Michigan, you get two weeks to use your rifle or shotgun. If you are below Clare county, you pretty much have to use a shotgun or one of the new “Michigan legal” cartridges (450 Bushmaster, 350 Legend, 357 Magnum, 44 Magnum, etc). Opening day of firearm season is fun and a lot different than bow season. It’s a tradition that dates back a long time in many parts of the state. Parking lots at public hunting spots fill up by 6 am and the woods can sound like a warzone. Wear lots of Orange and ideally get off the ground and up in a tree where it is safer.
A bolt action Ruger American rifle in one of the new cartridges (450, 350) can be picked up with a scope for about $550. Its a reliable, accurate package. There is always the slug shotgun approach too which can be significantly cheaper. With a shotgun, though, your range is severely limited (100 yds).
Then, if you are up North or in a different state, there are all sorts of fun calibers to hunt with. 6.5 Creedmoor seems to be the flavor of the month, though I prefer the long action guns like .270, 300 Winchester Magnum, and 30-06. Call me old school, though I plan on building a 6.5 at some point.
.308 Is basically the jack of all trades rifle round. Plenty of distance for most hunts, short action, easy to find ammo for, and less recoil than 30-06 with close to the same power.
Rifle hunting is an essential tool for the hunter, especially for someone planning to hunt game besides whitetail. The downside is it can be harder to find a place to practice, cartridges can be expensive, and more caution must be taken when hunting.
The well-rounded hunter should have many tools at his disposal. Becoming proficient with a rifle and bow will extend your season, open you up to some new hunts, and provide you with more excitement. Either one of them can be learned easily, though to become proficient at either takes a ton of practice. If I’m hunting deer, I generally am using a bow. For anything else, there is a good chance I’m using a firearm of some type. Learn both and expand your hunting opportunities.