Crossbow hunting approved in Illinois

Springfield — Bowhunting groups accept it as a “compromise.” Crossbow supporters label it a “token win.”

Neither side is particularly happy, but come the second Monday following Thanksgiving, Illinois is expected to experience its first open crossbow season.

Gov. Pat Quinn still must sign House Bill 4819 into law, but all involved say it’s a done deal. The bill was passed by the House and Senate during the hectic homestretch of the legislative session.

DNR, which must re-write the Wildlife Code once Quinn signs off, is likely to include crossbows as part of a “bow of choice season” instead of singling out a specific “crossbow season.”

Current Wildlife Code language restricts crossbow hunting to hunters age 62 and over and those who are disabled.

Law enforcement officials say they do not expect the addition of crossbow hunting to have any major affects on CPOs in the field.

“I would anticipate a spike in archery hunting participation during the open crossbow period for the first year or two because of the novelty of being able to use a crossbow,” DNR Sgt. Jamie Maul, said. Maul noted that there could be a slight increase in illegal hunting or poaching complaints.

One thing the new law could create is an increase is in the number of calls to agency offices and field officers with questions related to the use of the crossbows.

“What type of crossbows are legal? What are the season dates? What can I hunt with my crossbow? How can I transport my bow legally in or on a vehicle? Those sorts of questions, and so on,” Maul said.

The new Wildlife Code must address those questions. An amendment added late to the bill called for crossbow hunters to purchase a special permit for the crossbow portion of the season.

Such a permit could add a bit of revenue to DNR’s checking account. For outdoors retailers, the decision could be even bigger.

“Financially, this is a huge impact for the archery retailers and the DNR,” Terry Thomas, Parker Bows Regional sales manager for Central Midwest Region, said. “Personally, I’m very excited the opportunity this provides our young hunters. Many kids struggle to make the legal poundage limit set on compound bows and still be able to shoot them accurately.”

Mark Sidelinger, president of Geneseo-based Media Direct, which has a client list that includes TenPoint and Wicked Ridge crossbows, said he sees the situation as a win for the hunting culture.

“It’s a token win, but it is a win for hunting as a whole,” said Sidelinger, an avid bow, firearms and crossbow hunter himself. “In these times when we are losing hunters left and right and trying to recruit and retain hunters, opening a crossbow season – even if it’s only half of the archery season – should be seen as a win.”

On the other side, the Illinois Bowhunters Society and the United Bowhunters of Illinois both sternly opposed the legislation. The groups seemed to pick up support from non-bowhunters along the way.

“Just because other states allow it doesn’t mean Illinois should – we don’t need a ‘free-for-all’ in the woods,” Bill Key, a McLean County bird dog trainer,  said.

Kevin Chapman, legislative liaison for IBS, said his group fought hard against the bill because of their dedication to traditional archery. Original versions had called for crossbow use during the entire bow season.

Opposition by IBS and UBI led proponents to come up with a compromise that included three options: crossbows for the first half of archery season, crossbows for the second half of the season or crossbows for the whole season. 

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