Crossbows: coming to a state near you?
Begin with some research. If crossbows aren't allowed for some or any seasons in your state, there's probably a good reason. Maybe the resource can't support it. Or there may be a strong anti-crossbow lobby from a particular special-interest group. Either would be good to know before you invest a lot of time and energy into a potential long shot.
The Powers That Be
Talk with someone at your state wildlife agency and find out where they stand on the issue. They'll ultimately be your strongest ally or opponent. The biologists and managers in my state tend to be fairly objective, as they should. Their first priority, and their mandate, is to evaluate how any new hunting regulations or seasons will impact the wildlife resource. In a state with a robust deer population, adding crossbows into the mix might not have a significant impact. In a state with fewer deer, it could.
Next, state wildlife managers look at how crossbows might affect special-interest groups within the hunting community Think of your state's deer population as a pie. Your wildlife agency must decide how to slice up that pie so everyone at the table gets a piece. Because they often represent the largest portion of hunters and generate the most income from license sales, gun hunters usually get the biggest piece. Next come conventional bowhunters, followed by muzzleloaders. If there's still any pie left, crossbow hunters might get a seat at the table, but you won't be warmly welcomed.
Often, the pie has already been divvied up. If it weren't, you could argue the biologists aren't doing their jobs because there's a harvestable resource going un-harvested. This means that in order to give you some pie, the state has to take it away from someone else. The others won't be happy about that, and you can't blame them. They'd be justified in opposing anything that might take away hunting days or additional tags.
Bear in mind, however, that these special-interest groups are not mutually exclusive. Many hunters switch weapons depending on the season, putting the bow away when gun season rolls around and switching to a muzzleloader later in the year. To them, crossbows might mean more time and tags.
If you decide to push forward in promoting crossbows, look at existing regulations and see what the easiest route to take might be. Your fish and game commissioner may have the authority to simply add crossbows to the list of permissible weapons. Here again, you'll need their support. Any such effort takes staff time, which in most state agencies is already spread exceedingly thin just managing the resource under existing rules and regulations.
In some states, allowing crossbow use might require legislation. In that case, contact your state representative. It is their job to submit legislation requested by a constituent. But they -don't have to support it; so, make sure they're in favor of the bill. Otherwise, it will likely die a quick death. You could help them draft a bill, or even prepare a draft for them. Again, do some research and find the easiest way to make it fit existing regulations or laws.
Eventually, the bill or proposal will come before a legislative committee, or your wildlife agency will hold a hearing for public testimony. This is where you can have the most impact. Fill the room. Remember, your elected official's principle concern is votes, and the wildlife agency's constituency is hunters. The more people you can put in that room in favor of your bill, the more clout you'll have. This means organization. You won't have mudi chance going in as an individual.
Be prepared for the opposition. Anticipate what their arguments will be. They may have a legitimate beef if crossbows will impact the resource or cut into their slice of pie. If, on the other hand, they raise the usual spurious anti-crossbow arguments--they're dangerous, too effective and will lead to poaching--you can easily counter those with volumes of available data.
Taking the pie analogy a little farther, don't try to bite off more than you can chew. Going head to head against a strong, well-organized, anti-crossbow lobby could be a daunting challenge. Sometimes, in order to get a seat at the table, you first need to get a foot in the door.
You might have better luck getting crossbows legalized for small game or turkeys. It's surprising the number of states that have authorized crossbows for deer and not for turkeys; I suspect in many cases it was merely an oversight. Another option is to promote the legalization of crossbows for use during regular or primitive firearms seasons. TMs gives folks a chance to get used to crossbows and see they aren't the evil tools they're sometimes made out to be.
If all else fails, be patient and stay the course. Hunter numbers are, at best, stable. State wildlife agencies depend on hunting-license dollars to fund their operations. Meanwhile, deer populations continue to grow in many areas. Fewer hunters and more deer leaves wildlife agencies looking for new ways to recruit more young hunters, retain more older hunters and provide new and different hunting opportunities for everyone else in the middle--helping to fill the state coffers and keep the deer herd in check.
Crossbows address all the above concerns. They give youngsters a chance to experience the intimacy of archery before they're old and strong enough for conventional archery tackle, which they very well may graduate to later on. They give seniors a chance to continue bow-hunting long after their shoulders give out. And they give gun hunters another option, and perhaps more time in the woods. And if crossbow hunters are included in the general bowhunting fraternity, it gives all bowhunters more seats at the table and a bigger slice of the pie.
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lf you want to get crossbows added to the list of legal hunting implements in your state, study existing rules and regulations and seek the easiest administrative route.