Crossbow use may get another push

By Steve
Piatt
Editor

Albany — Legislation that would allow the use of crossbows for
hunting purposes has been labeled a “priority” item for the New
York State Conservation Fund Advisory Board.

The board’s strategy for 2005, according to minutes from its
February meeting, is to get a crossbow bill introduced in the state
Senate and to address the proposal with the Legislative Sportsmen’s
Caucus.

Legislation that would allow 14- and 15-year-olds to hunt big
game in New York — which currently is the only state in the
country that doesn’t allow that group to hunt big game — was also
deemed a priority by the board.

Wallace John, a board member representing Region 3, indicated
during that meeting that Sen. George Maziarz “is willing to
reintroduce the crossbow bill.”

Maziarz, R-C, North Tonawanda, has a strong track record of
supporting sportsmen, this year reintroducing legislation that
would lower the minimum bowhunting age from the current 14 years to
12. It’s the third consecutive year he’s pushed for that law; the
bill passed the Senate but died in the state Assembly without a
vote in 2003 and 2004.

The Conservation Fund Advisory Board is comprised of sportsmen
and conservation leaders from each of DEC’s nine regions, as well
as representatives from the New York State Conservation Council and
the New York State Fish and Wildlife Management Act Board. The
board is responsible for the spending oversight of Conservation
Fund monies and also makes recommendations to state agencies on
plans, policies and programs affecting fish and wildlife.

“It (crossbow legislation) has certainly been one of their
agenda items,” said John Major, chief of DEC’s Bureau of Wildlife.
“And is has been for several other organizations.”

The Fish and Wildlife Management Act Board, New York State Farm
Bureau, New York State Conservation Council, several federations of
sportsmen’s clubs across the state and chapters of Safari Club
International have also indicated support for the use of crossbows
in some form.

But the prospect of getting legislation passed — particularly
in the state Assembly — is daunting.

“There have been bills in various flavors introduced over the
last several years,” said Major. “The legislation could range from
a disabled-only permit to use crossbows to a more open use. It
could go several ways.”

Crossbow use is has steadily increased as more states adopt
policies allowing the weapons to be used for hunting in certain
circumstances. Neighboring Ohio is a leader in crossbow hunting,
with a six-day season in October which coincides with the
muzzleloader and longbow season, and a four-date late season as
well.

Pennsylvania allows crossbows in limited circumstances, as does
New Hampshire and Kentucky. With hunter numbers on the decline in
New York, DEC officials have looked at several ways to boost
participation in the sport. Allowing crossbows may be one potential
move, Major admits.

“The trend is for states to adopt crossbow usage in some form,”
Major said. “And generally, we try to increase opportunities for
the public to use fish and wildlife.”

A move toward allowing crossbows would undoubtedly thrust New
York Bowhunters, Inc. — the statewide archers’ organization —
into another heated debate. The group, which recently lobbied hard
against a proposed early muzzleloader season in the Southern Zone,
has long opposed the use of crossbows under virtually any
circumstances.

The group’s Web site, in fact, states that New York Bowhunters
“is opposed to the use of any weapon; other than those bows drawn,
held and released by hand in any archery season or archery only
area.

“Furthermore, NYB is opposed to the creation of any new hunting
or fishing season or the extension of any existing season which
will decrease the length of the archery only season or displace the
season into less favorable dates.”

The group also cites a 1999 Cornell University study that shows
most New York hunters oppose the use of crossbows during the
regular firearms season.

Crossbow advocates, however, say public sentiment is shifting,
particularly to allow the use of crossbows by those physically
unable to draw a traditional bow.

The debate will essentially be a moot point, however, without
legislation that approves the use of crossbows.

“We really don’t know what will happen,” Major said. “Whether
one bill will be introduced, or more than one. Sometimes sufficient
support happens quickly. Other things take a long time.”

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