Michael A. Sawyers
CUMBERLAND — Bills have been introduced into the Senate and House at Maryland’s General Assembly that would allow bowhunters in far Western Maryland to carry handguns for protection from bears.
A similar effort a year ago failed.
Senate Bill 204 and House Bill 584 would apply to the Wildlife & Heritage Service’s deer hunting Region A that includes Garrett, Allegany and the western portion of Washington counties.
“There is an ever increasing number of bears here and hunters are frequently having confrontations,” said Mike Griffith, vice president of the Allegany-Garrett Sportsmen’s Association, on Friday.
“Hunters aren’t going to shoot bears just because they have a handgun with them. Hunters in the early muzzleloader and rifle seasons have firearms and run into bears and don’t shoot them.”
Griffith said carrying a handgun would allow hunters to protect themselves should an encounter go bad.
“Walking in to your stand in the dark you can’t see to the left or the right and you could get in between a sow and cubs,” Griffith said. “The shooting of a bear would be a last resort, a self preservation.”
A number of other states allow bowhunters to carry firearms.
Scopes and barrels longer than six inches would not be allowed on the handguns, according to the bill. It would be illegal, as well, to use the handgun to finish off a deer that had been wounded by an arrow.
A year ago, handgun carry was opposed by the Maryland Natural Resources Police, who testified that it is safer for archers to use bear spray for defense.
There have been instances in the past when bowhunters used their archery equipment to kill a threatening bear and have not been charged by NRP.
Delegate Kevin Kelly, who filed the House bill along with Delegates LeRoy Myers and Wendell Beitzel, said hunters need something other than rocks and a loud voice if bears are coming at them.
“And if you try to climb a tree the bears are so fast and so good at climbing that they will be above you waiting for you,” he added. “We’re going to do the best we can to pass this bill.”
Griffith said he hopes legislators can separate these two bills from the bills that are geared to restricting ownership of certain guns and accessories.
“One issue is about hunter safety and the other about gun control,” he said, referring to Senate Bill 281 that would eliminate the sale of certain semi-automatic rifles and restrict the number of rounds allowed in a clip.
Griffith said he thinks the bowhunter carry legislation has a better chance to be successful this year.
Peter Jayne, the WHS associate director for game management, said Friday afternoon that the DNR has decided not to take a position on the the bowhunter carry bills.
Contact Michael A. Sawyers at firstname.lastname@example.org.