Mike Mongelli looks forward each fall to deer hunting season, when he takes his custom-made ramwood bow and cedar arrows into the woods to find his prey.
He hopes the day never comes when what he finds in the woods is another hunter with a crossbow.
Mongelli, president of the Traditional Bowhunters of Maryland, doesn't consider the weapon with the rifle stock in the same family as his traditional bow. He calls the other weapon "a crossgun."
"It looks like a rifle, feels like a rifle, sights like a rifle, shoots like a rifle," says the Gambrills resident. "It doesn't belong in archery season; it belongs in the firearms season."
Mongelli, who picked up his first bow in 1957, used to hunt with a gun but gave it up a decade ago.
"I didn't feel like a hunter. When I stepped into the woods, I felt foreign, like I didn't belong," he says.
The state Department of Natural Resources just concluded a series of public meetings to give bowhunters the opportunity to meet with crossbow manufacturers and aficionados. While state officials insist that no decision has been made about authorizing a season, some bowhunters aren't so sure.
Russ Nelson, the former president of the Maryland Bowhunters Society, voiced his suspicions at an Annapolis hearing last month on revisions to state hunting regulations. He wondered why the state sponsored the educational meetings when there didn't appear to be any public demand for them.
Mongelli also has concerns. "DNR says it's not in the hip pocket of the crossbow industry and I'm not going to call them liars, but I'm from Missouri -- show me."
Thirty years ago, only Arkansas permitted any crossbow hunting.
Now, 15 states permit crossbow hunting during firearms season, and four states -- Ohio, Arkansas, South Carolina and Wyoming -- permit it during archery season.
Five states, including West Virginia, don't allow crossbow hunting at all.
Maryland officials say there are 45,000 bowhunters; about 3,500 are allowed to use a crossbow because they are disabled. Maryland is one of 17 states making that exception.
Maryland officials say expanding crossbow use would accomplish three things: allow able-bodied older hunters who don't have the strength to draw a traditional bow to continue in the sport, increase the sale of hunting licenses and permit better management of the deer population.
Paul Peditto, deer project manager for the state Department of Natural Resources, says that when Ohio legalized crossbow hunting in the early 1980s, it was able to sell an additional 80,000 hunting licenses.
"Crossbows are a very efficient method to harvest deer," Peditto says.
But Earl Addicks of the Carroll County-based Mayberry Archers says he doesn't oppose crossbows, but cautions that the state should not consider them a panacea for hunting problems.
"Too many people think they can pick up a crossbow from Kmart or Wal Mart and go out and shoot it," says Addicks, a Carroll County dentist, certified archery instructor and a safety instructor for firearms and bow hunting. "You have to learn to use it just the same as you would any weapon."
Bowhunters also worry that crossbows will lead to an increase in something else -- accidents.
"It is a bow, but it is a cocked and loaded bow," says Len Marsh, owner of Macrotech Accessories Inc., an archery and firearms shop in Brooklyn Park. "It is a weapon that frightens people, especially those who live close to hunting areas."
Marsh, who sells about 50 crossbows a year, says he would pick up a great deal of business if the regulations were relaxed.
"But I don't want to see it opened up for everyone. Senior citizens, someone who has problems pulling a bow sure," he says.
A lot of hunters liken the debate to the early muzzleloader season that was hotly contested by many bowhunters before it began in 1994.
Mongelli doesn't buy the comparison.
"Black powder people are sportsmen and women. They're just as passionate about their choice of weapon as I am about my recurve [bow]. There are no passionate people on crossguns," he says.
Brad Vosburgh, a bowhunter and president of the 150-member Mayberry Game Protection Association, predicts that once the state relaxes crossbow restrictions, "the fears will go away. There are archers who want to hunt with crossbows -- more power to them!"
The unfortunate thing, say hunters such as Addicks, is the bad blood created between groups.
"The Maryland Bowhunters Society is just making a controversy, just like it did with the early muzzleloader season," says Addicks. "It's a shame you have one group trying to hinder another group's enjoyment of the outdoors."
Youth turkey hunt set
Eight boys have been selected by lottery from 36 applications to spend a day with a guide hunting wild turkey at the Eastern Neck National Wildlife Refuge.
This is the second year a youth turkey hunt has been sponsored by the Fish and Wildlife Service and the local chapter of the Wild Turkey Federation, says Walt Ford, the assistant refuge manager.
On May 6, four boys will hunt the 2,280-acre refuge just south of Rock Hall. The other four get their turn on May 13. The bag limit is one bearded turkey.
The May 6 winners are: G. Matthew Whitehair of Chestertown, Zachery Reynolds of Elkton, Jonathan Pippin of Betterton, and Joey Smith of Galena. The May 13 winners are: James David Schillinger Jr. of Severn, Nicholas D. Cole of Odenton, Michael Johnson of Delmar, Del., and Lewis W. Hartenstein of Morgantown, Pa.
Each boy gets one shot, says Ford. "We want to teach them not to shoot hurriedly, to make the first shot count."
Last year, the first year for the program, five of the eight young hunters bagged a bird.
"It should be a lot of fun, even if they don't get a bird," says Ford. "If they can watch the turkey strut, watch the guide working the bird and bringing him in for the shot, they'll gain an appreciation for the challenge and the skill of the hunter and the wiliness of the bird."