Crossbow deer hunting could begin next year

Madison — The Senate Natural Resources Committee approved an amended bill that will allow crossbows to be used to hunt deer during a season that runs concurrent with regular bow deer seasons in 2014 and 2015.

It now needs the approval of the full Senate and then, because the Senate committee amended the bill, it must go back to the full Assembly before it goes to the governor for his signature.

The committee met Aug. 21 to take public comments on Assembly Bill 194 (which was passed by the Assembly 95-0 on June 6). Nobody testified against it; 16 testified in favor.

The elephant in the room was an amendment that had been distributed to committee members Aug. 19 that contained more compromises. That amendment was not publicly available for the Aug. 21 public hearing. It was introduced to the committee during an Aug. 22 executive session, and the amended bill ended up being the version adopted by the committee that day.

In the end, the bill and amendment adopted by the Senate committee eliminates age and disability requirements for hunters who want to use a crossbow and are 65 years old and older. Instead, it creates a new crossbow hunting license for residents and nonresidents.

It also specifies that when the DNR establishes a season on any species hunted by bow and arrow, that it also allows hunters to use a crossbow. During the 2014-15 and 2015-16 seasons, crossbow and bow deer seasons must run concurrently.

The bill specifies that when the DNR issues permits it must specify the types of weapons to be used with these permits, and if people are required to register an animal they must record the weapon (bow or crossbow or firearm) used to kill the animal.

The three major co-authors of AB 194, Rep. Chris Danou, D-Trempealeau, Sen. Paul Farrow R-Pewaukee, and Rep. Mary Czaja, R-Irma, led off the hearing with their comments for why they drafted the bill.

Danou said this was good for the hunting tradition and for businesses, and that it will not violate the public trust or issues of fair chase.

Czaja noted that it would provide growth for businesses, such as Mathews Bow in Sparta. But she then gave a personal example where a diagnoses of cancer complicated her ability to go out and hunt.

“Life catches up with people and they still should have the right to enjoy hunting,” Czaja said.

Sen. Mark Miller, D-Monona, a Senate committee member, said that he is a bowhunter. His concern is whether opening the entire bow season to crossbows will have an impact on the quality of the archery season.

Tom Van Haren, DNR administrative conservation warden, said the DNR did not take a position on the bill. He said the DNR does not foresee any law-enforcement problems, and eliminating the need to verify disability requests for crossbows will significantly reduce workload.

Rep. Al Ott, R-Forest Junction, chair of the Assembly Natural Resources and Sporting Heritage Committee, provided some tension when he said that although this bill was a solid dose of compromise, “I find that a separate license and separate season for crossbows to be complete nonsense.”

Ott said the bill was created to appease the sensitivities of one user group (Wisconsin Bowhunters Association) and if he had his way, the Legislature would open the season to bows and crossbows without the need for another license fee.

He predicted the Legislature will revisit a separate license and separate season in the future.

Chris Dymale, of the Wisconsin Crossbow Federation, favored the change. He has been a bowhunter for more than 20 years, but says he fell through the cracks in receiving a disabled permit for a crossbow when he developed a muscle tremor disorder. He spent more than $1,000 for doctor appointments to get a disabled permit.

“We are shutting people out and losing hunters because of the current requirements,” he said.

Ralph Fritsch, of the Wisconsin Wildlife Federation, supported AB 194, saying it was time to allow the use of crossbows as another alternate method of hunting.

Fritsch, who by Aug. 21 had gotten wind of the pending amendment given to the committee Aug. 22, said there were concerns from disabled hunters because the DNR shortened the crossbow season after two seasons. If that were the case, he asked for a backup plan where disabled hunters and hunters 65 and over could still hunt with a crossbow for the length of the bow season.

Sen. Terry Moulton, R-Chippewa Falls, a committee member, said disabled hunters will have more under this bill and that any chances the DNR will shorten the disabled seasons are slim.

“Thirty-five years ago I sat in this same building and heard the same concerns when people had to accept the use of compound bows, which they thought would be the demise of the bow deer season,” Fritsch said. “Now it is concern over crossbows. Things don’t change.”

Individual bowhunters, representatives of the SCI, NRA, and the Wisconsin Crossbow Federation, all supported the bill.

Mike Brust, of the Wisconsin Bowhunters Association, favored the bill with the amendment. He indicated that WBH has concerns similar to those of Miller – that the harvest could increase, having an impact on bowhunting.

“The crossbow is a different weapon and we want to make sure it can be regulated separately,” he said. “Michigan found crossbow hunters more successful than regular archers and gun hunters. We have a great DNR and they will be able to manage the resource, so we support the bill.”

Alan Schimelpfenig, of the Wisconsin Crossbow Federation, said AB 194 was a wonderful bill, and that the DNR protects the deer herd with its issuance of antlerless permits.

Moulton closed out the hearing saying he had been involved with archery since 1962 and claimed that he is one of the top crossbow dealers in the country. He described the crossbow as a more superior weapon, but cautioned people that from other states’ experiences, while crossbow sales may increase, bow sales may drop off, and this may not have the economic benefit that people predict.

“This is the best crossbow bill in the country and could be a model for other states,” he said.

The vote

The vote on the bill did not take place until the following day, Aug. 22. At that time, in executive session, Senate Substitute Amendment 1 was added to the bill.

Larry Konopacki, of the Legislative Reference Council, said the amendment would:

1. Direct the DNR to initiate a crossbow season, but this amendment specifies that the season must be concurrent with the 2014 and 2015 archery deer seasons. After those seasons end, the DNR can establish a crossbow season that it deems best.

2. Give the DNR authority to write emergency rules for the crossbow season.

3. Allow the DNR to specify what deer permits are valid for which seasons and with which weapons, and when registering an animal what weapon was used to kill the animal.

During discussion of the substitute amendment, Miller said the amendment is a significant improvement over the Assembly bill, but he is an archer, and archery culture is different from the gun-hunting culture. He believes a significant number of gun hunters would be drawn to the crossbow season, changing this “magic time of the year.”

“Crossbows should be used during a portion of the archery season but not during all of the archery season,” he said.

Sen. Bob Wirch, D-Somers, disagreed with his Democratic colleague, saying this will get more people out hunting and help older people and those with disabilities.

Moulton said he didn’t disagree with Miller, but after two years the DNR can make adjustments to the season and respond if there is a public outcry by deer hunters.

Sen. Neal Kedzie, D-Elkhorn, committee chair, noted that a large number of stakeholders feel comfortable with the amendment, making for a better bill. Though the bill is a work in progress, it should increase the number of participants, just as the compound bow did.

The bill and substitute amendment were approved 4-1, with Miller voting against.

Supporters

According to the Senate committee clerk’s report, nobody registered in opposition to AB 194. Those who testified in support of AB 194 were Czaja, Danou, Schimelpfenig, Moulton, Lobner, Dymale, Fritsch, Brent Gardner of the National Rifle Association, Sen. Paul Farrow, R-33rd Senate District, Mike Pjevach of SCI and Southeast Wisconsin Bowhunters, Chris Caliendo of SCI, Steven Cripps of SCI Badgerland, Kathy Pantzlaff of United Sportsmen of Wisconsin, Jeff Nass of Wisconsin FORCE, and Jeff Perlewitz of Southeast Wisconsin Bowhunters.

Those who registered in favor of the bill but did not testify were Scott Meyer of United Sportsmen of Wisconsin, Natural Resources Board member Greg Kazmierski, Tom Corcoran, and Craig Enders.

Editor’s note: Some hunters who have had a disabled or senior crossbow license wonder if they will have to buy a crossbow license if this bill passes. The answer from Legislative council is yes, everyone who wants to hunt with a crossbow during the archery deer season will have to buy a crossbow license. If they only want to hunt with a crossbow, then they will have to buy a crossbow license that will be the same cost as an archery license. If a hunter would like to hunt with a crossbow and with a regular bow, it will cost $3 more to get that second license. However, anyone buying both licenses is still limited to one buck.

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