Springfield — Ready or not, crossbow hunting is coming to a woods near you on Dec. 3.
Gov. Pat Quinn signed House Bill 4819 into law on Aug. 7, sealing the deal for the controversial open crossbow season to begin during the second half of the 2012 archery season.
Until Quinn put pen to paper – and according to the now-incorrect 2012-13 Illinois Hunting Digest – crossbow hunting was legal for permitted disabled persons or persons 62 years of age or older.
The new law opens the crossbow season up to any hunter with an archery permit. Under the law, hunting dates are to begin the second Monday following the Thanksgiving holiday through the last day of the regular archery deer season.
The idea of an open crossbow season was debated for months, as supporting lawmakers argued that such a season would offer more opportunities for hunters in the state. On the other hand, traditional bowhunters – including members of the United Bowhunters of Illinois and the Illinois Bowhunters Society – fought passage of the law, pointing to traditional bows as representing what archery hunting is meant to be.
DNR, which has yet to provide an addendum to its already-released hunting regulations booklet for the upcoming seasons, is still piecing together a set of processes for the crossbow season.
But is has voiced support for the new law.
“DNR supports the bill and thinks it’s a good compromise between many interests and allows for more opportunities for individuals that struggle to hunt with a compound bow especially women and children,” DNR spokesman Chris McCloud said on Aug. 16.
Along with mixed emotions, the new law has also caused some confusion around the state. Older hunters and those who are disabled are concerned about their crossbow season, but DNR said nothing has changed for them.
“The new part is that a crossbow can be used just like a bow and arrow,” Paul Shelton, DNR’s forest wildlife program manager, said. “You can use it through the last day of the archery deer season. If you are an archery deer or turkey hunter, if you want to hunt other species with that, you can do that as well.”
The bill passed through the House and Senate quickly this spring, giving opponents like UBI and IBS little time to fight.
“One of the concerns is that most of them do not consider a crossbow to be like a vertical bow,” Shelton said. “They consider it something that doesn’t require the same level of practice. There is the perception that it is easier to use.”
Shelton said that hunters’ fear that the increased use of crossbows will result in higher harvest and ultimately result in more restrictive harvest limits hasn’t been the case in other states with liberal crossbow regulations.
DNR law enforcement officials expect little trouble with the new season.
“I do not foresee any major affects on CPOs in the field as far as enforcement,” Sgt. Jamie Maul said. “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 for hunting purposes in Illinois.”
Maul did note that the new law could result in a slight increase in hunting or poaching complaints.
“Overall I don’t anticipate any major enforcement issues,” he said. “I do foresee an increase is in the number of public calls to all of our agency offices and field officers with questions related to the use of the crossbows.”