Crossbow laws are a work in progress

By V. Paul Reynolds

Crossbows, not so long ago considered the Rodney Dangerfield of hunting devices in Maine and summarily dismissed by the Maine Bowhunters Association, have come a long way in less than a decade.

In fact, in my 30 years of outdoor reporting no other issue comes to mind that has seen so much division, so much legal  complexity and institutionalized confusion, or so much statutory change.

Compared with other states, Maine’s DIF&W and other state outdoor leaders, were slow to warm up to crossbows. There was an outcry in the beginning: “crossbows would lead to over harvest of deer during the archery season. The medieval contraption is not a true bow” contended the MBA.

As late as 2017, the rules for the use of crossbows were almost as complicated and layered as our fishing regulations. At that time, for example, crossbow hunters needed to complete both an archery hunting education course and a crossbow hunting course. If you were 69 or younger you could use a crossbow to hunt any wild bird or animal except that you could not use a crossbow during the Expanded Archery season or the October archery season. But, on the other hand, if you were 70 or older you could use a crossbow to hunt during the Expanded Archery Season and the October archery season.

Then, in 2019, MDIF&W relented and ruled that, indeed, you no longer needed to complete both an archery safety course and a crossbow course to hunt with a crossbow, provided that you held a big game hunting license. And, if you were 64 or younger, and held a crossbow license, you could hunt with a crossbow during the October Archery season and the November firearms season, but you could not hunt with a crossbow during the Expanded Archery season. Hunters 65 or older could hunt anything with a crossbow during any open season. At that time, pistol grip crossbows were prohibited but scopes were allowed.

Fast forward to 2024. New rules, once again for crossbows. Drum roll please: “bows and arrows and crossbows are now both considered to be archery equipment.” The change allows the use of crossbows in most situations where only bows and arrows were previously permitted. (Crossbows are still not allowed in some specific municipalities. Check your lawbook)

Interestingly, the Department in its accompanying  analysis of the crossbow rule change, reports that, contrary to early concerns that crossbows would trigger unacceptable harvest rates of deer, the regular archery season only accounts for about 4 percent of the total deer harvest with crossbows or without crossbows.

The sky is apparently not falling, and, not insignificantly, the Department acknowledges that “the increased use of crossbows does not pose any problems to deer management in Maine.”

This is good news, especially the part that reads about the Department’s desire to “simplify rules, regulations and statutes.” Compared with other states, Maine’s evolutionary process in regulating crossbows was far too slow and tentative. This suggests either a failure of leadership or a decision making process that is top heavy with bureaucracy and needs streamlining and reexamination.

The author is editor of the Northwoods Sporting Journal. He is also a Maine Guide and host of a weekly radio program “Maine Outdoors” heard Sundays at 7 p.m. on The Voice of Maine News-Talk Network. He has authored three books. Online purchase information is available at www.sportingjournal.

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