Crossbow hunt will look very familiar

Springfield — Crossbows are no longer in the crosshairs. Or so it seems on the one-year anniversary of the bill signing that opened hunting to anyone who wanted to give crossbows a try.

Despite reservations and apprehensions by some, the inaugural season did not appear to affect the overall deer harvest, and DNR law enforcement reported few incidents involving crossbow hunters.

This year’s open crossbow season – also called the “archery device of choice season” – will kick off Dec. 9. Although DNR’s 2013-14 Hunting Digest was still in the draft phase as this issue of Illinois Outdoor News went to press, a sneak peek at the crossbow regulations revealed no changes.

During the regular bow season, which opens Oct. 1, only hunters who are eligible to use a crossbow due to disability, or are age 62 or older, may hunt with a crossbow. However, beginning the second Monday following Thanksgiving (Dec. 9) until the close of archery deer season (Jan. 19), all hunters, regardless of age or disability, may use a crossbow to hunt for any species of wildlife that can be legally taken by bow.

At this point last year, much concern was voiced about the new season, especially by those who hunt with traditional archery equipment. Both the Illinois Bowhunters Society and the United Bowhunters of Illinois sternly opposed HB 4819, the legislation that opened crossbow hunting. The groups lobbied against the bill and, in the end, admitted that they settled for a compromise that placed the crossbow portion in the second half of the archery season. The state’s bowhunters also picked up support from other groups, including non-bowhunters.

But fears that additional crossbows in the woods would lead to a bump in deer harvest and an increase in hunter accidents appeared to be unfounded. Archery hunters took 59,805 deer during the 2012-13 season, more than 2,000 fewer deer than the 61,974 taken during the 2011-12 archery season.

As far as enforcement issues relating to last year's new crossbow season, law enforcement did not have any major cases or issues involving crossbows.
“Everything seemed to go smoothly as far as enforcement,” Illinois Conservation Police Sgt. Jamie Maul noted.

Tom Micetich, deer program manager for DNR, confirmed that regulations for the second go-around of crossbow hunting are identical to last year.
Not that there weren’t attempts to tweak the season.

Various legislation during the spring session of the General Assembly included proposals to lower the age of hunters who can use crossbows the entire archery season from 62 to 55 or 50. A separate proposal introduced the idea to allow hunters under 16 to use crossbows the entire archery season.

For its part, DNR was in opposition to those bills, or any other changes, choosing instead to take a closer look at data from last year’s inaugural crossbow season to determine what affects the season had on deer harvest, if any.

From a retailers standpoint, many companies that make a sell crossbows say there has been increased interest from Illinois hunters. Dave Robb of TenPoint said his company saw about a 30 percent increase in crossbow sales over the past year.

“There’s growing interest in crossbow hunting in Illinois, and overall the market continues to grow,” Robb said.

Dave Barnett of Barnet Archery agreed, noting that his company has noticed that gun hunters looking to extend their season but have not found much success with traditional archery equipment are turning to crossbows.

“In addition, they are great choice to introduce women and kids to archery and hunting,” Barnett said.

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