Legislation poor way to handle crossbow issue


Where do you draw the line on making hunting more accessible?

Electronic calls? Motorized decoys? Baiting?

For a lot of bow-and-arrow purists, the line is crossbows. Don't want them. Don't need them. Shouldn't allow them.

The crossbow debate will move next week from rod and gun clubs and Web chat rooms to Annapolis. It was bound to happen sooner or later.

The Environmental Matters Committee will have a hearing at 1 p.m. on March 12 on a bill to allow able-bodied hunters to use crossbows during any season a bow can be used.

House Bill 572 is sponsored by Donald Elliott, a Carroll County Republican, and Michael Weir, a Baltimore Democrat.

Maryland allows disabled hunters to use a crossbow, one of 17 states to make that exception. As many as one-third of the state's 37,200 archery hunters fall into that category, according to the state Department of Natural Resources. The rest use traditional bows, also called recurves, or the compound models invented in the 1960s that use wheels and cams to ease drawing the bow back.

Little by little, states are relaxing crossbow restrictions. Where 30 years ago only Arkansas permitted any crossbow hunting, now 17 states permit it during firearms season, and five permit it during archery season. Several others, including New York, are taking up the issue this year.

The latest state to make the switch is Georgia, which just completed its first season allowing all hunters to use crossbows during archery, modern firearms and black powder season. The state has about 100,000 bow hunters and 1.2 million deer.

Todd Holbrook, chief of game management for the Georgia Wildlife Resources Division, says hunters who use traditional and compound bows raised fears about the safety of crossbows.

"This was exactly the same argument as when the General Assembly legalized compound bows," Holbrook says. "What does a person sitting in one tree stand care what a person in another tree stand shoots?"

Instead, game officials found mingling crossbow users with other sportsmen caused no problems, says Melissa Cummings, a spokeswoman for the division.

"We had zero fatalities involving archers. There was not a single incident that raised eyebrows during the entire season, and the public did not raise any objections," she says.

Leading up to the start of Georgia's season, sporting goods stores sold 10,000 crossbows, a marked increase. A spokesman for the Bass Pro Shops Outdoors World just outside Atlanta said sales started to rise when the bill was proposed "and reached an avalanche" after the governor signed it into law.

Cummings says preliminary reports indicate that crossbow season was worth $6.7 million to retailers. The primary buyers were elderly men who had discontinued bow hunting because they no longer had the strength to draw a bow.

Len Marsh has heard all the arguments.

He's an accomplished hunter with traditional and compound bows and owner of the Baltimore archery supply shop, Macrotech Accessories Ltd., which sells all three types of bows.

Crossbows have gotten "a Hollywood image that they're a vicious, accurate super-weapon," he says.

The truth, he says, is that the arrows weigh the same and the bows deliver them at the same velocity, "so the laws of physics prevail."

Further, Marsh notes, accuracy is in the eye and hand of the hunter, whether that person is holding a bow or a shotgun. And accuracy plinking paper targets at a range does not translate into accuracy in the field.

A lot of Maryland bow-and-arrow folks don't like crossbows, but are willing to tolerate them if they are used during gun season.

Larry Schwartz, executive secretary of the 500-member Maryland Bowhunters Society, says the best way to deal with the issue is to create a separate season for crossbows.

There's plenty of room for discussion. Except the talking doesn't have to involve Maryland lawmakers, nor should it.

Crossbow supporters and opponents shouldn't have to reduce their sentiments to the three minutes that will be allotted each speaker at tomorrow's hearing.

And it's unfair to the Environmental Matters Committee, which has nine new members, to try to come up with a fair solution between now and the end of the month.

DNR has the authority to create a niche for crossbows and it has the experts to lead the discussion and craft the language. It also has a wealth of data about the deer population to serve as a safeguard against overhunting, although it's hard to imagine things would ever come to that.

The best thing would be to table this bill and give DNR's Paul Peditto the opportunity to craft a compromise that eases the concerns of traditional bow hunters while creating an opportunity to make hunting more accessible.

Snippets and tippets

DNR's Bob Lunsford needs volunteers to collect information from anglers on March 29, the opening day of the put-and-take trout-fishing season.

Helpers will be asked to count cars and anglers at specific sites and to interview a small number of anglers as they leave fishing areas. The hours are 5 a.m. to 9 a.m.

Managers will use the survey details to help determine the allocation of hatchery trout in future years.

If you can help, call Lunsford at 410-260-8321 or e-mail him at blunsford@dnr.state.md.us.

Welcome mat

If revenge is the dish that tastes best cold, as the Godfather once said, then the Ehrlich administration's DNR has become a smorgasbord.

The latest former employee to emerge from the Glendening gulag is Mike Slattery, who headed the wildlife and heritage division until he was fired last April by the former governor.

Slattery starts tomorrow as assistant secretary in charge of his old operation, plus fishing, critical areas and state forests.

"I've been keeping my finger on the pulse of these issues, so it won't be a steep learning curve," says Slattery, who between DNR gigs was coastal project leader in the Chesapeake Bay region for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Slattery rejoins Pete Jenson, a mid-level fisheries manager who was fired the same day and is now the agency's No. 2 guy.

Being fired as a career builder? What a concept.

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