Crossbow bill dies in committee

Albany — In the past, sportsmen and women pushing for liberalized crossbow use for hunting in New York have been disappointed to see pro-crossbow legislation fizzle in Albany.

This time, they’re just plain angry.

“It’s a travesty; an absolute travesty,” said Joe Guernsey, owner of Klein’s Archery & Outdoor Store in Dryden (Tompkins County). “Every customer I’ve got is just beside themselves. They’re so disappointed in the way it happened, moving through the Senate so quickly and then being stopped in an Assembly committee by one individual.”

That “one individual” sportsmen are pointing to for the failure of the crossbow bill to advance to the Assembly floor – after 52-10 passage in the Senate – is Assemblyman Robert Sweeney.

Sweeney, a Democrat from Suffolk County who could not be reached for comment at press time, serves as chairman of the Assembly’s environmental conservation committee, where the bill stalled when it wasn’t released to the Assembly floor for a vote.

It was a bitter disappointment for crossbow supporters who want the issue placed in the hands of DEC officials to determine when and where crossbows would be allowed for hunting. In the past DEC leaders have expressed support for expanded crossbow use for all hunters, even within the existing archery deer and bear seasons.

Rick McDermott, president of the New York Crossbow Coalition, said sportsmen must continue their push by contacting their legislators and expressing support for crossbows. Crossbow legislation will almost assuredly be re-introduced in both the Senate and Assembly next year.

“Throughout the 2013 legislative session, many of the organizations that support crossbow expansion met with members of the governor’s staff, and from the meetings I had, the consensus is the governor would sign the legislation if it makes it to his desk,” McDermott said.

McDermott urged sportsmen to continue to lobby their state lawmakers in an effort to set the stage for passage of legislation next year.

Until then, however, crossbows are essentially illegal for use in New York. Even watered down legislation that allowed limited crossbow use – during the regular firearms and late muzzleloader seasons – expired last year.

Still, many New York hunters are anticipating the door will be open for crossbow use in the near future.

And, perhaps, some are even considering taking them afield even in the absence of legislation allowing the implements.

“We’re still selling them, and New York guys are buying them,” said Don Barrett of Barrett’s Bowhunting in Elmira Heights (Chemung County). We talk to the (crossbow) reps regularly and we knew it (the legislation) was dead in the water, but we still had customers come in saying they were sure it was going to pass the Assembly.”

Guernsey says his customers are incensed over the lack of action on crossbow use.

“Guys have had it,” he said. “I’m still selling a ton of them and they’re saying they’re going to use them. Everybody was in favor of it.”

There’s seemingly overwhelming support for allowing senior and physically challenged hunters to use crossbows. And numerous organizations, including the New York Farm Bureau, have voiced support for crossbows as a deer management tool and a way to keep older hunters in the field and boost license sales.

Crossbow advocates point to their use in neighboring states such as Ohio and Pennsylvania, where there has been no adverse impact on hunting or whitetail harvests.

“Nobody will argue against allowing older hunters and physically challenged hunters using them,” Barrett said. “And as the debate has dragged on, more and more guys – even those who were dead set against crossbows – are saying, ‘just do it and get it over with. It’s going to happen.’”

The most vocal crossbow opposition has come from New York Bowhunters, Inc., which is opposed to crossbow use by any hunter during the regular archery season.

Crossbow backers were hoping to bypass the legislative process by having a state budget amendment placed into the 2013-14 spending plan that would leave any crossbow use decisions in the hands of the DEC. That, however, never materialized, leaving the legislative option as this year’s final hope.

McDermott says opposition to crossbows “comes from 30-plus years of misinformation, half truths and twisted facts spread by a few people who feel what they choose to hunt with should be good enough for everyone else.

The reality is most people opposed to crossbows have never held or shot one; they only know what they have been told and base their opinions on emotional arguments, not fact.”

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