The Vermont Fish and Wildlife Board is considering changes to the state's hunting regulations that would expand the archery season, and a change that would allow hunters to use crossbows during that season.
Mark Scott, wildlife director of the Department of Fish and Wildlife, said the proposed changes were based on hunters' demand. Currently 6,000 Vermonters use cross bows through a special provision for people with disabilities, out of a total 20,000 archery licenses.
As archery numbers decline, Scott said allowing crossbows could allow those numbers to pick up again. Archery, including crossbows, are an important mechanism for managing the deer herd, he said. "Archery hunting is actually a great activity to do in places where it's difficult for hunters to get access to land to hunt with a firearm. Around urban areas, around cities."
Some bow hunters say crossbows don't require the same skill and practice and shouldn't be allowed in the archery season. But Scott disagrees with that assessment.
"I would still argue the challenges are still there ... Any hunter is still going to have to spend a lot of time scouting in the woods, and they're still going to have to have all the odds in their favor to get close to a deer in order to successfully harvest one," he said.
Scott said getting more people to participate in archery is a good thing.
Roy Kilburn, president of the Vermont Bowhunters Association, said the bowhunters support the use of crossbows. "But it is not a bow and therefore should not be used in the archery season," he said. "We think that it should be a separate season with a separate license."
Kilburn said a bow is hand-held and hand-drawn and all of the energy that goes into the projectile is put there by the archer pulling back the string and releasing it. Crossbows are a bow mounted to a rigid stock that discharges arrows (called bolts) and has a mechanical means to hold and release the drawn string, according to the proposed rule. Crossbows have a trigger to release the bolt.
The Bowhunters Association supports the use of crossbows by people who are unable to use bows. "It allows everyone who wants to take up the sport of bowhunting the ability to do so. But there are certain requirements of the sport that need to be thought about when you take up bow hunting," Kilburn said.
Kilburn said that when the state of Michigan allowed crossbows, there was a big decline in bowhunters in favor of crossbows, and overall sales of licenses didn't substantially increase.
There will be public hearings held on the changes to archery season across the state in March. The Fish and Wildlife Board will vote on the issue for a second time in April. In the meantime, they are taking written comments on the issue.