Clock ticking on crossbows

Albany — Legislation that would allow crossbow use and would let DEC fish and wildlife officials decide in what seasons they’d be permitted remained stalled as state lawmakers neared the end of their 2013 session.

A trio of bills – S1699-A, A283 and A1362 – had yet to reach a vote in either the Senate or Assembly as of last week. And it was unclear whether any of the bills would be passed before the end of the session, which was set for June 21.

If it doesn’t happen, it would be a bitter disappointment for thousands of sportsmen and women across the state who feel crossbows should be allowed – not just for senior and physically challenged hunters, but for any hunter and even within the regular archery season.

“New York needs to get legislation that makes the crossbow a legal hunting implement – period,” Bill Connors, a representative of the state Fish and Wildlife Management Board, told lawmakers last month at a forum on expanding crossbow use in New York.

“Then, using their regulatory authority, the DEC would decide how we implement the tool, which is a viable tool for deer management, and small game, too.”

DEC officials have previously stated their support for expanded crossbow use, including within the regular archery seasons. For the past two years crossbows have been allowed on a limited basis – during the regular firearms and late muzzleloader deer seasons.

Legislation allowing that limited crossbow use has since expired, however, leaving crossbows a prohibited hunting implement in New York during any season.

Crossbow supporters at a May 22 forum organized by state Sen. Patrick Gallivan (R-Elma), sponsor of one of the crossbow bills under consideration, said it’s time to legalize the implements during the archery season.

“There’s really no evidence that a crossbow will have any negative effect on any archery season,” said Rick McDermott, president of the New York Crossbow Coalition. “And there’s no valid reason to deny them from being considered archery equipment.”

While the meeting was dominated by representatives in favor of expanded crossbow use, lawmakers said representatives of New York Bowhunters, Inc., the group that has lobbied loudly against crossbow use within the archery season, did not have a representative in attendance.

NYB President Richard Kirschner said in an email he was not invited to the forum, but sent a statement to Sen. David Valesky and Assemblywoman Aileen Gunther outlining the organization’s position.

Those who did offer comment said crossbows are overwhelmingly supported by a majority of sportsmen and women in the state.

“Year after year we see the overwhelming majority of county federations and clubs in favor of crossbows,” said Stephen Aldstadt, president of SCOPE (Shooters Committee on Political Education).

Dave Corr, a Region 6 representative to the state’s Conservation Fund Advisory Board, agreed.

“In all the meetings I’ve attended (in the region), I’ve only heard one person who rejected the use of a crossbow,” Corr said, noting that crossbows have been successfully introduced in neighboring states of Ohio, Connecticut and Pennsylvania with no adverse impact on hunting and deer harvests.

“A small, vocal minority is attempting to drive the bus and limit the opportunities for hunters across the state,” Corr said, referring to New York Bowhunters, Inc.

Those offering testimony at the forum pointed to the potential for increased license sales if crossbows were legalized, as well as allowing physically challenged and older hunters to continue to hunt in the regular archery season using a crossbow.

Jeff Williams, manager of government relations for the New York Farm Bureau, says that organization “supports the use of crossbows as hunters, but more importantly as farmers. We have a big problem with deer management on our farms.” Williams said farmers across the state see about $60 million in deer damage annually.

Tim Blodgett, owner of Saratoga Tackle and Archery, said his customers “want to use crossbows. They’re very interested in them but reluctant to buy them because they haven’t felt as though they’ve had a fair opportunity to use them (in New York).”

Those speaking also favored a loosening of the 500-foot setback requirement for archery hunting, favoring a 150-foot requirement. That, they say, would address deer management issues in suburban and other areas where deer are able to avoid hunters.

A state budget amendment that would have allowed the DEC to decide whether crossbow use should be liberalized was left out of the 2013-14 spending plan. That leaves the legislative option as the sole avenue for crossbow supporters.

Despite the solid support among the hunting community, there may not be many reasons for optimism for the passage of legislation that would expand crossbow use. That’s particularly true in the state

Assembly, where Assemblyman Robert Sweeney (D-Lindenhurst) serves as chairman of the Assembly’s environmental conservation committee.

Sweeney has been seen as a major roadblock in advancing crossbow legislation to the Assembly floor, and that could be the case again this session.

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