Crossbows, archery flap coming to head

Harrisburg – This year’s archery season might be the last of its
kind.

Right now, hunters armed with vertical bows – be they compounds,
recurves, or longbows – are roaming the woods, looking for
white-tailed deer. In numbers, they are perhaps 300,000 strong.

Later this month, though, Pennsylvania Game Commissioners are
expected to vote on a proposal to allow crossbows to be used
anywhere in the state during the archery season.

Crossbow fans are gearing up to show their support for the
idea.

A group calling itself the Pennsylvania Crossbow Federation has
formed. In place since about Sept. 1 – its temporary Web site can
be found at www.pabigbuck.com – it is
essentially a state chapter of the North American Crossbow
Federation, a national organization formerly known as the American
Crossbow Federation.

The new group’s immediate goal is simple: to rally crossbow
users together, said Joe Nisczak, of Lansdale, Montgomery
County.

“We want to be an organized presence in the pro-crossbow camp,”
Nisczak said. “Our focus is really going to be our membership in
Pennsylvania, people who don’t know about the organization but are
open to crossbows, and addressing the issues of the day.”

It’s no coincidence that the group has formed just as the
commissioners are considering the change to legalize crossbows
statewide for all deer seasons, said Todd Bromley, of Stoneboro in
Mercer County, another of those helping to organize the group.

For years – and as recently as the last commission meeting in
June – some have suggested that the only people pushing the
legalization of crossbows in Pennsylvania has been manufacturers,
Bromley said. Yet he suggests that’s not the case.

The reality is that there are a lot of people who favor or are
open to legalizing crossbows, he said. They just haven’t been
working together.

“Hopefully, with a voice, the Game Commission will see that
there is enough interest in the state to say this is something they
need to look into. It’s just to kind of unite everybody,” Bromley
said.

The group plans to send several speakers to the commission’s
October meeting to make their case for legalizing crossbows.

There will undoubtedly be some opposition. The United Bowhunters
of Pennsylvania, the state’s only archery-specific sportsmen’s
group, with about 4,000 members, is one group that has long opposed
allowing crossbows into the archery season.

“Our archery seasons in Pennsylvania are once again, quite
possibly in serious jeopardy,” reads a “crossbow alert” on the
group’s Web site.

The group has over time expressed a number of reasons for taking
that view. Some UBP members don’t see crossbows – which are carried
“loaded” and don’t need to be drawn back in the presence of game –
as bows at all, but more like firearms.

Others fear that if too many people take up crossbows, the
six-week archery season that bowmen fought so long to get will be
shortened.

The UBP has been urging its members to contact their
commissioners and legislators to share their concerns, and to
refute what it calls claims by crossbow manufacturers that the UBP
is a fringe group.

“The crossbow industry has somehow decided that the UBP does not
speak for all the bowhunters in Pennsylvania,” the alert reads.

“They have taken it upon themselves to determine there is no
difference between hunting with a hand-held, hand-drawn … in the
presence of game ‘bow,’ and a different instrument that is always
loaded, locked, cocked, and ready to go.”

Crossbow users disagree. John Galida, of Butler, is a
manufacturer’s representative for a number of sporting goods
companies, including crossbow-maker Horton. He said that legalizing
crossbows for the archery season would grow the sport by making it
easier for women, children, and men who because of age or physical
circumstances don’t have the physical strength to draw a vertical
bow, to participate.

Crossbows fit today’s more hectic lifestyles, too, he said.
“It’s an opportunity to get people out there who don’t have time to
practice long, hard hours. Yeah, it’s easier, but easier isn’t
bad,” he said.

How commissioners might vote is unclear. At June’s meeting,
Commissioner Russ Schleiden spoke in support of the idea, and made
the proposal to allow them in archery season. Commissioner Tom
Boop, of Northumberland County, opposed them.

In the weeks since, several other commissioners, who did not
want to speak on the record, said they were unsure which way they
might ultimately go.

Bromley – who has killed several Pope and Young-class bucks with
a vertical bow, and last year took an equally large one in
Pennsylvania with a crossbow – said the tools look different, but
should be treated the same in terms of their legality.

“The hard part about archery is putting an animal within 20 to
30 yards of yourself,” Bromley said. “When you take an animal that
close, be it with a vertical bow or a crossbow, it’s the same
thrill.”

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