A crossbow controversy continues -- but with less smoke and mirrors and without divisions among sporting groups. Legislation to legalize crossbows has yet to be brought to a vote in New York State. New proposals this legislative session could have crossbows legally allowed in this state sometime soon.
Most proposed hunting laws and regulations receive opposition from antihunting or animal rights groups each time these proposals come before this state's Assembly and Senate. During the past five years, crossbow advocates have been thwarted mainly by organized efforts put forth by a small -- but vocal and politically active -- group of their own fellow sportsmen/bowhunters.
In the past, New York Bowhunters, Inc. had made concerted efforts to oppose legalization of crossbows for hunting in New York State. NYB, with a membership of less than 3,000, has successfully conducted letter-writing campaigns to influential political leaders and leading Department of Environmental Conservation officials. Gerry Barnhart, Director of DEC's Lands and Forests division, said, "In years past, my office has only received input (letters) from bow hunters opposed to the crossbow." The same response came from Assemblyman Richard Smith (D-Hamburg). "I can't act favorably on the crossbow when the only word I get from sportsmen is opposition. I have to hear from those in favor of its use," Smith said.
Now, leaders of NYB no longer voice opposition to the crossbow. Jim Hoffman of Lockport, past president of NYB, said, "I don't oppose the use of the crossbow, I do oppose its use during any archery season or in any area restricted to archery-only hunting."
Karl W. Lockwood of Farmington, current NYB president, echoed Hoffman's remarks, saying, "I won't fight legislation, but I remain opposed to its use during the established archery season."
Hoffman, a veteran recurve bow shooter, knows the limitations of a crossbow, when compared with a vertical bow. Owner of a Barnett crossbow, he said, "It's not a gun that shoots arrows. It functions better at shots of less than 20 yards because of its hold at full draw." But he realizes, as do most experienced bow hunters, limitations of crossbows beyond 20 yards and the advantage of comparable vertical bows at greater distances.
Ottie Snyder, manager of Horton's Camp Opportunity in Ohio, points out technical advantages of a compound bow over a crossbow.
"A 150-pound draw crossbow closely matches the power of a 60-pound compound bow, but the compound delivers a slightly faster arrow (crossbow at 265 feet per second; 275 fps compound) and the arrow weight is much greater for the compound (crossbow sends 450-500 grains; compound delivers 550-650 grains).
The distinct advantage of a crossbow is its simplicity and ease of use. New York State conservation law has just changed basic requirements for a hunting bow from an ability to cast an arrow 150 yards to a pull weight of 35 pounds. This change simplifies checks by conservation officers and more clearly shows the difficulty youths, especially girls, have when trying to become proficient with a bow.
Chris Graver, women's physical education teacher with the Depew School District, said, "Middle school girls generally shoot 15-pound bows in class, with a few 20-pound bows on hand from the high school. Bows used in the high school do not exceed 25-pound pulls, although a few girls and many boys could accurately pull and hold these weights."
Previously, arguments in favor of the crossbow have been on behalf of the thousands of older hunters who no longer can pull and hold a vertical bow strung with 60-pound-plus pull weights.
Donald H. Holland of Youngstown writes, "because of age and lacking in physical strength, we (he, his wife, relatives and at least 30 friends) no longer use a conventional bow. . . . We would all buy the equipment and license to hunt with a crossbow. We need simple legislation. . . . like the Missouri game laws."
Currently, crossbows are legal in 44 states; 11 states allow crossbow hunting throughout archery season. Closer to New York, Pennsylvania and New Hampshire have legalized crossbows; Vermont has introduced crossbow legislation.
Along with recruitment of older hunters, crossbow use could serve as a starting point for young people as yet unable to pull and hold a vertical bow legally acceptable for hunting in New York State. While NYB ably assists about 60 handicapped hunters each year with its special programs, crossbows could introduce -- and reintroduce -- thousands of hunters statewide to hunting opportunities available during the quiet times each hunting season.
But influential leaders need favorable responses, done best in writing, in support of crossbow legalization in New York State. Take a few minutes and write to: Assemblyman Richard L. Brodsky, Assembly Environmental Conservation Chairman, 5 W. Main St., Suite 205, Elmsford, N.Y. 10523 and to: Gerry Barnhart, DEC Director, Division of Lands and Forests, 50 Wolf Rd., Albany, N.Y. 12233.
For more information about crossbow features, functions and capabilities, check with NYS Crossbow Association coordinator Bill Hilts, Sr. (731-9984).