Legislators say crossbow use to be ‘all in’ by fall

Madison — After years of wrangling over whether partial – or maybe even full – use of crossbows should be allowed during the Wisconsin archery deer season, new legislation introduced May 1 in the Wisconsin Assembly appears to be on a fast track to passage in time for hunters of all ages to use crossbows for the 2013 archery deer season.

If the measure does make it through the Legislature before the end of the current session, it will most likely also include a recent compromise that will force crossbow users to buy a separate crossbow license that has yet to be created.

If that package then is approved by Gov. Scott Walker, anyone eligible to buy a deer-hunting license will be allowed to buy a crossbow license, regardless of age, and hunt during the archery deer season.

How it happened

Some groups were not completely satisfied with the bill and wanted to discuss the matter further. At the request of Wisconsin Bowhunters Association government liaison Jeff Geitner, a number of stakeholders met May 2 with Assembly co-sponsors Mary Czaja, R-Irma, and Chris Danou, D-Trempealeau, to the consider possible amendments to the bill.

State Sen. Neal Kedzie, chair of the Senate Natural Resources Committee, also attended the meeting and said a compromise would have to be struck to get the measure through the Senate.

“This won’t happen unless we have a deal,” said Kedzie, insisting that there be a separate crossbow license.

WBH president Mike Brust, of Wausau, said his group was seeking an amendment to the bill that would require a separate license.

“The bow and crossbow are different weapons,” he said.

With the commitment to a separate license for crossbows and a crossbow season structure that runs concurrent with the current archery deer season, WBH agreed to move the legislation along.

Not everyone at the meeting saw a need for the dual licensing structure, suggesting that having two licenses adds to the complexity of hunting regulations at a time when officials are being directed to simplify the process wherever possible. Both Danou and Czaja expressed concern about the complexity issue, but agreed to introduce an amendment to their bill that would make the law more palatable to all groups, including WBH.

Those attending the meeting then turned to Diane Brookbank, DNR Customer Services Bureau director, who said the agency could handle the administrative part of creating a crossbow license, but would probably have to charge a small fee to cover administrative costs.

“Our vendors will want to collect their portion of the fee,” Brookbank said.

According to the agreement reached by Danou, Czaja, and Kedzie, only one buck would be allowed between the two licenses, even if a second license were obtained. While no firm figure on the cost of the second license was decreed, estimates are that it would run somewhere in the $3 range.

Several meeting participants expressed relief in being able to move beyond some of the divisive issues experienced in the past. Al Schimelpfenig, of Grafton, is president of the Wisconsin Crossbow Federation and a delegate to the Wisconsin Conservation Congress in Ozaukee County.

“I had only one goal and that was to get all of the people to be able to hunt together, regardless of what they’re using to hunt,” Schimelpfenig said.

“I think if that (dual licensing) was the compromise that was needed to get the bill passed in both houses, I don’t have a problem,” he said. “I think that everyone had to give up something to get this done.”

The effort to get everyone on board hasn’t been easy. Participants at a meeting held earlier this year (Wisconsin Outdoor News, Jan. 25, 2013, “No ‘let off’ in sight on crossbow issue) came close to ironing out a compromise, but the effort collapsed as stakeholders returned to their respective organizations for final approval.

Suggestions for a sunset on the new bill’s amendment to require separate licenses met with opposition, as well. Other states passing similar legislation abandoned their sunset clause before it had a chance to expire.

A Natural Resources Board question on the 2013 spring hearings regarding full inclusion failed on a statewide vote of 2,277 in favor and 2,479 opposed. However, the question passed in 43 of the state’s 72 counties. While there has been intense lobbying by several groups in the past, Brust noted that WBH did nothing formally to sway the vote one way or another, a statement echoed by National Rifle Association lobbyist Brent Gardner, whose organization also refrained from getting involved.

Legislation passed last year allowing a minimal expansion of crossbow use into any firearm season satisfied no one, which led legislators to take another look at the issue during the current session.

“We don’t have much time left during this session,” Kedzie said.

However, he and his Assembly cohorts committed to making it happen in time for this year’s archery season.

“The original bill was exactly what I wanted,” Schimelpfenig said. “But if it won’t pass both houses, it isn’t realistic.”

Categories: Hunting News

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