Cumberland Times-News

September 4, 2012

Crossbows in W.Va. just a matter of time

Dave Long
Cumberland Times-News

— It is time to get moving. West Virginia bow season opens for deer and bear on Sept. 29, the earliest regular archery opener ever.

This is a good time to visit an old question that comes up every fall. Should crossbows be legal to hunt with in West Virginia? Well, in fact they are legal hunting weapons, under certain circumstances.

Several years ago West Virginia inaugurated the Class Y and YY permits for hunting with a crossbow during the established archery seasons. These permits are designed to assist hunters who have a physical impairment which renders them unable to use a conventional bow and arrow.

On the surface, I agree with that philosophy.

When these permits first came out, a friend of mine, who was 80, obtained one. That very fall he hunted out of a ground blind with that crossbow and killed two deer. Killing two deer in October when you are 80 is a good deal no matter how you shake it. So the Class Y permit opened up an opportunity for my friend that definitely was good for his quality of life.

However it seems that anytime you offer a service or opportunity to just one segment of society there are those who are going to take advantage of things, even if they do not fit into that segment. So despite the physical requirements involved with getting a Class Y (or YY which is just the nonresident equivalent), there will always be folks who will be able to have one because they are willing to lie, or because they have an agreeable doctor who will sign the forms.

    The application form for the crossbow hunting permit says that the applicant must certify he has a “permanent and substantial physical impairment” that keeps him from using a regular bow. Those are pretty strong words.

The back of the form lists the tests that the doctor is to perform to determine the level of impairment. I would guarantee that most men my age, being well past 50, could meet the basic requirements for the Class Y. But are the normal creaking joints and stiff shoulders of old age really a substantial impairment, given what some folks deal with every day? I don’t think so.

According to Lt. Col. Jerry Jenkins of the Natural Resources Police there have been 16,270 Class Y and 1,235 Class YY crossbow permits issued, as of the middle of August.

As my grandma would have said, that’s a right smart amount. Just for grins I took the resident figures, divided them by the 55 counties in the state and came up with a figure of nearly 300 crossbow hunters per county.

So look, why can’t we just make it legal for everyone to hunt with a crossbow during the archery season?  If it is good enough for the old guys with creaky joints why not a young and strong hunter who just wants to try something new?

I think they are a neat weapon. I would get one myself but they are pretty expensive and I am not enough of a deer hunter to justify the money. Still, I can see where an avid whitetail chaser would like to add a different dimension to his hunting season.

Not everyone shares my view. The West Virginia Bow Hunters Association has been involved in hunting issues for years, including the crossbow question.

The group’s president, Bryan Elkins, advised me that the WVBA does not oppose the use of crossbows by people with disabilities. He did say, however, that “WVBA does oppose the expansion of the use of crossbows to those without disabilities in the archery season.” The WVBA apparently looks at the crossbow as more of a gun than bow, citing the use of scopes, increased range and, something I had not considered, the fact that they can be fired at game with very little movement on the part of the hunter.

Given these concerns, Elkins said, “The added effectiveness of the crossbow causes the WVBA to be concerned about the damage that could be done to the whitetail deer resource should the use of the crossbow be expanded.”  

Points well stated by an organization whose active track record through the years always carries some weight with the Natural Resources Commission.

But honestly I think it is just a matter of time before West Virginia opens this up to everyone. Remember back to the 1980s when muzzleloaders were restricted to flintlock, on state land, for only one day? Probably some people were worried about killing too many deer then too, yet now we have a week to hunt with things that do not even resemble a traditional muzzleloader. That type of expansion will probably come for crossbows.

Which brings up the question of, where do we stop? I picked up a set of Alabama hunting regulations while on vacation. During their archery season you can, I kid you not, hunt with a spear for deer and feral swine. Now that’s primitive.

There is no mention as to whether a blaze orange loin cloth is required during this activity.

Dave Long is a retired West Virginia natural resources police officer and a frequent contributor to the Outdoors page.