Harrisburg – Pennsylvania’s crossbow controversy? It ain’t over
A battle that has seen commissioners pitted against
commissioners and hunters against hunters can now add state
legislators to the list of people involved in the fray.
They’ve told the Pennsylvania Game Commission it has three
months to make magnifying scopes legal for use on crossbows again,
or they’ll do it themselves.
Scopes were made illegal at the commission’s most recent
meeting, held Jan. 25-27 in Harrisburg.
Going into the meeting, commissioners were set to decide whether
to legalize crossbows for use statewide in the six-week archery
The whole idea has been very controversial. Over the last six
months, since Commissioner Russ Schleiden first pitched the idea,
sportsmen for and against crossbows lobbied commissioners hard.
Still, the issue looked settled in October. Then, commissioners
had given preliminary approval to legalizing crossbows for archery
hunting by a 5-2 vote.
One of the yes votes, though, belonged to Commissioner Dave
Schreffler, of Bedford, who said he had some concerns unless the
board made magnifying scopes illegal. That idea didn’t get much
traction initially, though, given the pro-crossbow faction’s large
majority on the board.
Then, things changed.
In December, Commissioner Dan Hill, of Erie County, who had
voted in favor of crossbows, resigned. Not long after, Commissioner
Ron Weaner, of Adams County, who had missed the October meeting,
indicated that he would likely vote against crossbows.
That meant the board had three commissioners solidly against
crossbows, three solidly in favor of them – and Schreffler as the
He was, sources within the agency said, able to trade his yes
vote for support for his ban on magnifying scopes. He also got
support for a sunset provision, which will make crossbows illegal
for archery season once again as of June 30, 2012, unless
commissioners vote in their favor again.
Things looked to be all over then, but two days later – when
commission Executive Director Carl Roe presented the agency’s
annual report to the House Game and Fisheries Committee at the
Capital in Harrisburg – lawmakers told him otherwise.
State Rep. Marc Gergely, D-Allegheny, pointed out that there are
about 60,000 people in Pennsylvania who have been allowed to use
crossbows in archery and other seasons because of a physical
handicap. There are an untold number of other hunters who have been
able to hunt with crossbows in special regulations counties for the
last five years, he said.
Any number of those people may have magnifying scopes, he
Yet, with the Game Commission’s recent action, they all have to
get rid of those scopes, at least when it comes to archery season.
That makes no sense, he said.
“I think you’ve disenfranchised thousands and thousands and
thousands of hunters. I can’t remember when we’ve ever
disenfranchised the handicapped,” Gergely said.
“I cannot fathom that we have done that.”
Rep. Jeffrey Pyle, a Republican from Armstrong and Indiana
counties, said he was equally taken aback.
“Taking away something that hunters have been able to use for
five years is not good business,” Pyle said. “Taking away a right
after it’s already given is worse than pulling teeth.”
Rich Palmer, chief of the wildlife protection bureau for the
commission, confirmed that there is no process for any hunter,
handicapped or not, to petition the agency to keep their magnifying
scope in archery season.
That’s unacceptable, Gergely said. He said that if commissioners
don’t re-legalize magnifying scopes for crossbows on their own,
he’ll seek to do it legislatively. He said he plans to immediately
begin drafting and circulating such a bill, just in case.
“I think hopefully (game commissioners) will address this and
this will work itself out. But if they don’t do this at their April
meeting, we’ll be teed up and ready to go,” Gergely said.
Later that same day, state Rep. Ed Staback, majority chairman of
the Game and Fisheries Committee, lent his support to that cause.
In a letter to commissioners, he cited a “quick and strong
response” from sportsmen in urging them to reconsider their ban on
“As I understand the rationale behind the regulation, the new
prohibition was offered with the best of intentions. However, given
the inconvenience and costs associated with the new scope
regulations and the obvious opposition to the restriction by
members of the committee, I respectfully submit that the new
language will cause many more problems than it will solve,” Staback
“It represents a step backward in removing a technology that is
proven and relied upon by tens of thousands of hunters.”
For his part, Schreffler – who was at the Game and Fisheries
Committee meeting – said the idea to ban scopes came from
sportsmen. He’s not sure if he or the other commissioners will
They had planned all along to review the entire crossbow issue
within three years, after agency staff compiled hard data on things
like the number of crossbow users and their impact on deer. But
whether he and the rest of the board might revisit the issue of
magnifying sights sooner than that, he couldn’t say.
“Well, I don’t know right now. It’s really open right now what I
would do,” Schreffler said.
Either way, the entire crossbow issue has generated hard
feelings on both sides.
When commissioners took public testimony on the first day of
their January meeting, talk of crossbows dominated the day. Members
of the United Bowhunters were out in force, all to oppose any move
to allow crossbows into the archery season.
Many suggested crossbows – at least as they are manufactured
today – are not low-impact primitive weapons, which the archery
season is designed for.
“A shotgun and a rifle are both used for hunting small game, but
they are not the same weapon. A muzzleloader and a modern rifle are
both long guns, but they are not the same weapon,” said Joe
Filaseta of Bethlehem. “And a bow and a crossbow are not the
Others said they worry what legalizing crossbows for the full
six-week archery season will do to the deer herd. Commissioners
have always said that their decisions regarding deer seasons were
based on science, said Joe Basile, of Rochester in Beaver County.
But allowing untold numbers of hunters to go into the woods with a
crossbow – some have estimated the move might convert 30,000 to
60,000 rifle hunters into crossbow users – without any controls
doesn’t follow that pattern.
“For me, I just don’t see the science,” Basille said. “There’s
no other state like Pennsylvania in terms of hunting pressure.”
Supporters of crossbows countered by saying that their tool of
choice is just that, another tool.
Todd Bromley, of Sharon, a co-founder of the Pennsylvania
Crossbow Federation, said allowing crossbows into archery season is
just another way to recruit new hunters to the sport and keep those
in it involved.
“We’re all bowhunters – none of us want to destroy the thing
we’re all so passionate about,” he said.