Illinois Crossbow laws may be in for overhaul

Springfield — Following House Bill 4819 has been a lot like tracking a stuck deer.

It’s easy to lose the trail.

Bowhunter groups fighting the proposed legislation, which would open up crossbow hunting in the state, were dealt a blow this month when the bill literally rose from the dead and ran off.

“We thought we killed it in committee [the first week of May],” Kevin Chapman, legislative liaison for the Illinois Bowhunters Society, said.  “Senators told us there was a deadline to get it out of committee, and they couldn’t pass it by the deadline.”

If signed into law, HB 4819 would strip current restrictions on crossbow hunting, which allows hunters age 62 and over and those who are disabled to use crossbows during archery seasons.

An initiative by national groups, including the National Rifle Association, is said to be behind the push to get crossbows included in full archery seasons.

IBS and the United Bowhunters of Illinois have both sternly opposed the legislation and representatives of both have logged hours in Springfield pleading their case to lawmakers and DNR.

The bill was filed in February by Rep. Tom Cross, R-Plainfield. In late March, the chief sponsorship was changed to Rep. Ed Sullivan Jr., R-Mundelein. It arrived in the Senate on March 30, where it’s being sponsored by Sen. Gary Forby, D-Benton.

After a month of debate, HB 4819 was assigned to the Agriculture and Conservation Committee, where it was passed on May 8.

As this issue of Illinois Outdoor News went to press, the bill’s fate was still uncertain. Those opposing the changes said a compromise was likely.

“We were instructed to reach a compromise with the bowhunters, DNR, and Sen Forby,” Chapman said. “Crossbows wouldn’t get the full archery season, but they would get something ….  each side gives a little. It is our understanding that the DNR will unfortunately support this bill.”

Chapman, UBI legislative liaison Jerry Beverlin and UBI President Brad Jansen were working with DNR on the compromises.

How crossbow regulations will look after said compromise is reached is unclear. It is possible crossbows could be used in the later part of archery season, after the second firearms season and through the end of archery season in mid-January.

“The direction we’re headed could require several, up to eight, changes to current statute,” Chapman said. “This requires DNR’s legal department getting involved to check it all out, and see what other code changes this affects.”

For example, Chapman explained, people tend to think of crossbow laws solely in terms of deer. But a slight change to the state’s Wildlife Code could affect other game, such as wild turkeys, because the turkey season runs concurrently with archery deer season.

“Then there’s coyotes, squirrels, furbearers, upland game, etc. DNR has to decide if the same rules will apply, so they have to be careful how they word it,” Chapman pointed out.

There are hunters in the state who support opening up crossbow use to more people. They contend that shooting a crossbow isn’t an “automatic kill.”

“I personally feel like everyone should have the right to use a crossbow, a compound bow or whatever bow they want,” Dean Brueggemann, of Evansville, said. “I still have to play the wind, use scent control, and be still and quiet. Sure I don’t have to draw the bow, but they’re not that easy to get in position with.”

The look of HB 4819 will likely change several times before it is finished, Chapman said.

A draft of an amendment to HB 4819 was expected on May 10. From there, it could be days or weeks until the bill dies or ends up on the desk of Gov. Pat Quinn, who would likely sign it, most agree.

“This is a little different than past crossbow bills,” Chapman noted. “We don’t like it, but we are not sure we have the ability to keep them out totally this time around.”

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