Crossbows coming, but more work to be done
The announcement came through on April 1 – crossbows were a legal hunting tool once again in New York! No, it wasn’t a bad joke. After 25 years of fighting to allow for this unique hunting implement in the Empire State, we finally have something we can work with. While it’s far from perfect, it’s more of a starting point than the last time crossbows were legal – a last-minute amendment that only allowed for their use during the regular firearms season and the late muzzleloader season for two short hunting seasons. It just didn’t make sense, which was par for the course for this emotional issue.
This time around, thanks to an inclusion in the governor’s executive budget, crossbows were approved as a legal hunting implement and the Department of Environmental Conservation could manage it accordingly – with some limitations to help pacify the anti-crossbow crowd. The crossbow could be used during the regular and muzzleloader seasons again, but this time it finally made its way into the early archery season. In the Southern Zone, crossbows can be used during the last 14 days of the early season; in the Northern Zone, the last 10 days of early archery. While most of us can live with those dates, there are some people who can’t – the physically challenged and many senior citizens. They need warmer weather to be able to enjoy the crossbow as a hunting tool and by limiting the number of days they can be used, it will take them out of the equation more often than not. That's a shame.
Another one of the compromises was that you have to use a muzzleloader tag during the archery season. At first blush, it didn’t seem like a big deal. After I thought about it, though, it was just another ploy by the anti-crossbow crowd to wield its power and flex its muscle. By not declaring it as archery equipment, 12- and 13-year-olds will not be able to use crossbows for big game, taking away the youth option of getting more junior hunters involved with hunting. That's a travesty.
A third compromise was allowing for exclusionary zones where crossbows can’t be used, such as in Westchester and Suffolk counties as well as Monroe and Albany county units. Because it’s not considered archery equipment, they can’t be used in archery-only areas. That’s all about greed – the real reason we’ve been fighting this battle for 25 years. On more than one occasion, the diehard bowhunting crowd has openly stated that they don’t want more people encroaching on “their deer” in “their woods” time and time again – even if it’s on private land they don’t own.
As far as the physically challenged and the senior class hunters, crossbow opponents shrug their shoulders and say “sometimes you just have to hang up your hunting boots.” At least that's their feeling until the shoe is on the other foot. Many times dedicated archers opposed to crossbows have reconsidered their use when they can’t pull their long or compound bow back for whatever reason – and the light bulb goes on.
Can you believe that shooting accuracy has been an argument against crossbows? They are too accurate! I sat in on a meeting once organized by the New York State Conservation Council with leadership from both New York Bowhunters and New York Crossbow Hunters Association. When asked if NYB would ever support shooting proficiency as a requirement for passing a bowhunter education class it was an emphatic “No.” What does that tell you? I know that I am treading on thin ice here, but some of these things need to be said. I’m an archery hunter who will not take a shot unless I have what I perceive as a good one. It’s the same with a crossbow (if you’re not classifying this equipment as archery; I do). I want that shot to be within 25 yards either way. In the end I want a clean, ethical kill. That’s how it should be. I know that attitude is not perfect, but that is the objective we should strive for. Consistent accuracy with whatever management tool we’re using should be at the top of our list – not a minor consideration. Sad to say, some people just don’t care. Personal egos have won out from a very small percentage of bowhunting fraternity and it’s affected a far larger group of sportsmen and women, the latter another important consideration. Yes, women enjoy these crossbows as well and they, too, would prefer nicer weather for the most part.
Crossbows can now be used after they were supported by every major sportsmen’s association in the state … and then some. The New York State Conservation Council supported it through resolutions overwhelmingly the last two decades; the Conservation Fund Advisory Board supported it as one of the biggest potential funding sources for DEC in the future; the Fish and Wildlife Management Board, Safari Club International and even groups like the New York Farm Bureau and other nontraditional groups supported their legalization and use. We can’t stop here. We need to go on the offensive.
We need to continue to fight for our rights – the same rights that allow an archer in the woods starting Oct. 1 in the Southern Zone. Also for 12-year-olds, 80-year-olds and the physically challenged. At the same time, maybe we need to look at restricting the number of bucks that can be taken by New York hunters by limiting each hunter to one buck per year like they do in other states. It’s time to restructure and spread the wealth around … for everyone!