The ever-expanding list of states allowing crossbow hunting got a little longer this month when Governor Scott Walker signed legislation expanding crossbow hunting opportunities in Wisconsin.
Under previously existing rules, only hunters age 65 and over or with physical disabilities were allowed to hunt deer with crossbows. Beginning with the 2014 fall hunting season, hunters of all legal ages and abilities will be able to purchase a crossbow hunting license and hunt during a crossbow hunting season that will run concurrent with the archery deer season.
Unlike some states that initially went with trial or provisional seasons, Wisconsin's law creates a permanent crossbow season with no sunset provision. It also includes a provision for the Wisconsin DNR to collect crossbow deer harvest data through the 2015-16 hunting season. The department is then expected to report on the information and provide an assessment of the new crossbow season's impacts.
Time will tell what those impacts might be, but statistics from other states that have implemented similar seasons offer a glimpse. States like Ohio, Georgia and Arkansas saw an initial and expected spike in the bowhunting deer kill, at least partially attributable to an increase in the number of bowhunters.
However, annual archery kills and statewide deer populations have continued to grow in those states, and in others that have since increased crossbow hunting opportunities. In all cases so far, biologists subsequently concluded that the expansion of crossbow hunting had no deleterious effect on their deer populations.
Why go to crossbows? Prior to liberalizing crossbow use, several states conducted surveys of hunter attitudes. Results were numerous and varied, but in all cases the majority of hunters surveyed supported the notion.
A news article in the Journal Sentinel reported that Walker signed the bill on the same day he visited the Mathews, Inc. trade show in Wisconsin Dells. Perhaps his decision was swayed slightly by the visit, though the Wisconsin Assembly passed the bill on a 91-0 vote in October.
There's not doubt expanding crossbow hunting will increase sales for bow makers and retailers alike, which in this economy should be considered a positive. It also sells more hunting licenses, putting more money into the coffers of state agencies charged with managing all wildlife resources. And that suggests another important reason for more crossbow-friendly regulations.
Before expanding crossbow use in 2009, the Minnesota DNR conducted an exhaustive survey of their constituents. They summed up the results by citing what has become something of a pro-crossbow mantra: "an option to expand hunting opportunities, retain existing hunters, and recruit new hunters." And anything that puts more hunters in the woods is a good thing.