DNR to decide whether deer hunters can use crossbows
By BILL BURTON, For The Capital
Now we're getting down to the nitty gritty, and might I add, it's about time. The Department of Natural Resources has decided to take a good and close look at whether Maryland's deer hunters are entitled to use crossbows as a weapon of choice.
First, let's get this straight. The department can't really be blamed that it failed to do so earlier, like a few years back when the topic was hot and timely. But then we had a different governor with a reputation of disinterest if not downright opposition to expanding opportunity to anything associated with hunting.
We all know what happened to wildlife chief Mike Slattery who energetically pushed programs for hunters, and in case you don't recall, he was canned. Now, he's back in the fold as deputy secretary -- and fittingly enough under his domain is hunting.
Mike gave all indications of being a proponent of liberalizing the use of crossbows, which currently are restricted to the handicapped in Maryland. He and current wildlife chief Paul Peditto (then his assistant) journeyed to Ohio to take a closer look at the effectiveness of crossbows, also their potential role in coping with the problem of too many whitetails in much of the state.
They had nothing but good things to say about crossbows after they not only checked out with Ohio authorities the possible advantages of liberalizing X-bow regulations, but they also hunted with these weapons of yore -- and as I recall, one of them scored. Subsequently, the department began an informational program to familiarize the state's hunters with crossbows as part of a process to decide whether to expand their role hereabouts.
Then, suddenly, deliberations faded away, crossbows went on the back burner, Slattery was gone, replaced by Peditto -- and anyone who didn't know why wasn't familiar with the meddling of the previous governor in DNR affairs. Now, we have Bob Ehrlich as governor and he appears much more sympathetic to the hunting community.
So, currently the time is ripe to bring this to the front burner, turn up the heat, and decide the issue once and for all -- hopefully legalizing X-bows as a weapon of choice for all hunters when deer hunting. And might I ask, why not also for wild turkeys? Or any other game that is allowed for bowmen?
Recently, wildlife managers have not only taken another look at crossbows, but on April 1, the department has called for an invitation-only meeting of stakeholders with the goal being to get input from hunters representing groups involved in the chase for deer. Recommendations will be received, then wildlife managers will review the comments, and decide what to do and how to proceed.
Get this, a big change could come about in time for the 2003 deer season. In its invitation to stakeholders for the April 1 meeting, the department laid out a timetable if the change is to come about this year.
It was pointed out, "We will leave the April 1 discussion with a consensus product that will be offered for public comment. Also, to meet the regulation timeline, ensure the process is completed prior to publication of our annual Guide to Hunting and Trapping, and afford us an opportunity to properly notify all of our hunting license vendors the final will need to be completed by April 29."
The regulations process, it was noted, requires "approximately four months from proposal to adoption" -- and in that time span the final proposal would be aired at public meetings to sample the wishes of all hunters. Now, we're getting somewhere.
There has been much talk that the department's view is that the use of X-bows as a weapon of choice is confined to private lands only, no public lands. We have been assured the department at this time has not ruled anything out. Or in. Much will depend on the outcome of the stakeholders meeting.
We think to bar crossbows on public lands would be a disservice to the many thousands of hunters who can't afford expensive leases on private lands, or don't otherwise have access to private lands. If a crossbow is a legal, safe and sufficiently effective weapon -- which it is -- what difference does it make whether one hunts on private or public lands?
The big question is just where do traditional bowhunters stand in all of this? Many organized bowmen look upon liberalization of X-bows as additional competition. More than a few fear that ultimately crossbow hunters will gain special seasons, which could cut into their exceptionally long sesames. They seem to forget that in the early days of bowhunting, modern firearms hunters (then by far the majority participants) graciously aided Robin Hoods in gaining the long seasons and liberal regulations they now enjoy. Many Robin Hoods have short memories.
As we've asked so many times previously, what difference does it make if the other hunter uses a crossbow, or a longbow, recurved bow, an original bow, or a compound bow? "No difference" is the appropriate answer -- as it was when some vocal traditional muzzleloader hunters objected to allowing the use of telescopic sights on black powder weapons, but were overruled.
Look, something must be done to attract more hunters into the fold. We lose hunters every year, which not only means less funds for wildlife programs, also for non-game species projects, and strains DNR budgetary status, but also means less hunters to combat the vigorous campaigns of anti hunters. Moreover, the last thing we need at this time is the hunting community in conflict.
At present, more than 15 states including Delaware allow their use during firearms season. And at least four states -- Arkansas, Ohio, South Carolina and Wyoming -- allow them during archery seasons. More than a few additional states are seriously considering them for an expanded role in both game management and hunter opportunity.
Now, Maryland is on that latter list -- and primed to move ahead. There's no shortage of game, crossbows have become a legitimate and effective weapon, so who can reasonably object to their expanded use among all the hunter fraternity?
Jeff "Jesse" James - Owner of Jesse's Hunting & Outdoors
You can always tell who's in 2nd place by who's whining and crying the most. - Old hockey coach.
Dum spiramus tuebimur
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