Jeff Lampe: Crossbow bill triggers buying spree
One signature was all it took to trigger a buying spree in Illinois archery stores.
Months after the state legislature passed a bill expanding crossbow usage, Gov. Rod Blagojevich finally signed Senate Bill 216 into law on Aug. 21. The legislation allows anyone 62 or older to hunt deer with a crossbow during the regular archery season.
Previously only hunters with a proven disability were allowed to use crossbows, which are easier to operate than upright bows.
As word of the new law has spread, crossbows have been flying off the shelves at local sporting goods stores. Presley's Outdoors in Bartonville, Wolf Hollow Archery in Rome and Gander Mountain in Peoria all reordered crossbows to meet demand in advance of the Oct. 1 archery deer season opener.
"For a while there we didn't know if it would ever pass. Now we're struggling to get enough crossbows in to meet the demand," said Larry Pollack, who runs Wolf Hollow Archery. "Every day we're getting five to 15 calls on this."
One of those callers to Wolf Hollow was Dan Townshend of Dunlap. Townshend, 63, has bowhunted sporadically for the past 20 years with limited success. But now that he can use a crossbow, Townshend plans to spend more time in a tree stand.
"I believe I will hunt more because I won't have the problems with a crossbow as with a regular bow," Townshend said. "I'm not handicapped. I just don't have the strength I used to have to pull back and shoot a bow."
That was the main reason Sen. Todd Sieben (R-Geneseo) introduced SB 216.
"The crossbow is easier to use, and use more accurately, as you get up into your 60s and 70s," Sieben said. "So there is a benefit for the older hunter who wants to be a good, responsible hunter."
There's no question crossbows are easier to use. Instead of having to pull back on the bowstring to be ready to shoot, a hunter simply turns a crank and is ready at all times.
"We dial them in for people, and we had an older guy in here the other day who drilled the center of the target with his first shot," said Chad Snyder, who works the archery counter at Presley's Outdoors. "After he shot, his wife said she wanted to try. She hit one dead center, too."
Merle Keefer of Pekin Bass and Bow sees that as a positive development.
"I enjoy shooting regular archery too much to try one," Keefer said. "But for the guy that's not real into 3-D archery and that just wants to go out and hunt, I think it's a good deal. I think it's a great opportunity for some people."
Crossbow manufacturers have stressed that point for years in an effort to persuade more states to pass laws favorable to crossbows.
At present 12 states allow crossbow use for extensive portions of the archery season according to Ottie Snyder, a representative of Horton Manufacturing in Ohio. All but two states allow physically challenged hunters to use crossbows, and another 29-30 allow crossbow use outside the archery hunt.
"The crossbow is a great recruitment tool for hunters and a great retention tool," Snyder said. "Most arguments used against crossbows are absolutely false."
While many have contended crossbows will allow longer shots, studies show the effective range of a crossbow is the same as that of a compound bow. And in Ohio, hunter success rates were about the same for both types of weapons.
Still, some bowhunting groups express concern that allowing widespread crossbow use would bring new hunters into the field and create competition for hunting areas. Others have said crossbows lower the bar for bowhunting by not requiring hunters to practice.
To me those sound like weak arguments, particularly in light of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's latest report about declining numbers of hunters.
Do we really want to discourage new hunters? And what's the exact problem with making hunting easier? I can't see the reasoning.
What I can see is someone like Townshend excited about the Oct. 1 archery season opener like never before.
Jeff Lampe is Peoria Journal Star outdoors columnist. Write to him at 1 News Plaza, Peoria, IL 61643, call (309) 686-3212 or e-mail email@example.com.