Crossbow issue is coming to a head

Harrisburg – A proposal to allow crossbows to be used statewide
in the archery season is looking a little less like a sure bet
these days.

When Pennsylvania Game Commissioners met in Washington County in
October, they voted 5-2 to expand crossbows to the regular archery
season. All that remains for the idea to get final approval is
another affirmative vote when they next meet in Harrisburg Jan. 25
to 27.

One of the five members who supported the crossbow issue is
leaving the board, however.

Commissioner Dan Hill, of Erie, who had represented District 1
in the northwestern region of the state, resigned from the
commission effective Jan. 1. Hill has accepted a position as senior
policy adviser and counselor to Congresswoman-elect Kathy
Dahlkemper.

U.S. House of Representatives rules require that he resigned his
board appointment.

Whether Hill’s departure will have any impact on the crossbow
vote remains to be seen. Commissioner Ron Weaner, of Adams County,
missed the October meeting, so his vote is an unknown. No one can
say whether any of the remaining six might vote differently
either.

Wes Waldron, president of the United Bowhunters of Pennsylvania
– the group most vehemently opposed to allowing crossbows in
archery season – admitted prior to news of Hill’s resignation that
his group was having little if any success convincing any
commissioners to change their thinking.

That lack of success got the bowhunters looking in a new
direction.

Waldron said his group – in what he called a “last ditch effort”
– is now asking commissioners to designate a special season for
crossbows or at the very least require crossbow users to buy a
special permit or license before they go hunting. That would tell
the agency how many crossbow hunters there are and how many deer
they are taking, he said.

Such oversight is critical to protecting the deer herd, he
added.

“If there was a separation, a separate license, if there was a
way to collect data to monitor the harvest, a lot more bowhunters
would be able to put up with this. They may not like it, but they
could put up with it,” Waldron said.

Bowhunters have undergone similar scrutiny, he noted. When the
commission approved an archery bear season, it was for a limited
time and on a limited scale, until the impact on the bear
population could be determined. It’s only fair that crossbows be
likewise monitored to measure their impact on deer, and on bucks in
particular, he said.

“No one anywhere has good enough data to predict what’s going to
happen otherwise,” Waldron said.

None of the 11 other states that allow crossbows separate them
from regular archery seasons, said Daniel Hendricks, membership
chairman of the North American Crossbow Federation, which has a new
Pennsylvania chapter, with 367 members to date. To suggest that
Pennsylvania go that route is unfair, he said.

“All of the effects (to the deer herd) vertical bowhunters say
are going to happen or might happen are pure poppycock. They’re
just not true,” he said.

“It all boils down to the fact they don’t want someone in their
woods shooting their deer.”

That said, Hendricks said he personally would be OK with
requiring some kind of crossbow permit as a way of monitoring
participation and harvest success. Only one other state – that
being Virginia – has a separate crossbow permit.

The entire debate over crossbows has generated lots of talk, and
will likely generate a little more in the final week or so before a
vote.

Waldron said some members of the Bowhunters have feared for
years that they would ultimately be forced to accept crossbows into
the archery season. They want to make sure that if that comes to
pass now, “we do things right.”

The Bowhunters have asked the Pennsylvania Federation of
Sportsmen’s Clubs for help, in at least one sense. The archery
group has asked the Federation to poll its members and find out if
they might support a separate season or license for crossbow
users.

The Federation has received very few responses one way or the
other so far, said the group’s executive director, Melody
Zullinger. More feedback should come this month, though, when the
Federation’s divisions meet.

Zullinger said she’s not sure what to expect, though.

“Everything I’m getting is more questions than answers,” she
said. “The biggest question most people ask me is do we know what
the impact’s going to be on the deer herd if we get a big push of
hunters into the woods with these things.”

In the meantime, anyone interested in taking Hill’s seat on the
board can apply to do so already.

The Governor’s Advisory Council for Hunting, Fishing and
Conservation is seeking candidates to be his replacement.
Applications must come from District 1, which includes Erie,
Crawford, Mercer, Lawrence, Venango, Butler, Warren, Forest and
Clarion counties.

The Game Commission, meanwhile, plans to honor Hill in some way
at its January meeting.

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