By Chuck Roberts
Once outcast and scorned, crossbows have found their way into mainstream archery seasons.
Physical dams are designed to hold back water. For decades, a theoretical dam of ignorance and prejudice held back the flow of crossbows into the hands of fit, healthy hunters.
There was a small spillway in states like Ohio and Arkansas, but much of the remainder of the country remained “safe” from the evils of horizontal archery tackle. Then a crack developed, and spread. What started as a seep became a steady stream, and ultimately a flood. In less than a decade, crossbows went from a pariah to mainstream archery tackle across much of the country. And despite all the naysayers ranting, the sky didn’t fall, poaching and injuries didn’t increase, and our deer herds didn’t suffer insurmountable losses.
Over the past few years, there’s been an incredible proliferation of horizontal bows after widespread liberalization of regulations. After seeing the increase in license sales and participation rates without any discernible impact on wildlife resources, more states are copying their neighbors, at least to some extent. State-by-state regulations can still vary widely. They also seem to change almost annually as state wildlife agencies first test the waters, then after seeing no danger, further liberalize seasons and bag limits for flat-bow hunters.
What follows is our best attempt at a state-by-state summary of current crossbow regulations, based largely on information provided by TenPoint Crossbow Technologies, who do a pretty good job of keeping up to speed. Bear in mind, rules are constantly changing, so you should check your state’s regulations before heading afield.
Crossing the U.S.A.
The following 26 states allow the use of crossbows during general archery seasons:
Michigan, Wisconsin, Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Delaware, New Jersey, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, Tennessee, Arkansas, Texas, Oklahoma, Missouri, Nebraska, Kansas and Wyoming.
You should be aware there are some unique exceptions. For example, Alabama allows crossbows during the entire deer season, but never legalized them for other species—likely an oversight.
In 11 states—New Hampshire, Iowa, North Dakota, Montana, Colorado, Washington, Utah, Nevada, California, Arizona and Alaska—crossbows are legal during general firearms seasons. Several of these states also allow handicapped or disabled hunters to use them during archery season.
Six states–Vermont, Massachusetts, South Dakota, Idaho, New Mexico and Hawaii—allow the use of crossbows only by physically challenged hunters during archery seasons. But keep an eye on these states as several have legislation pending toward more relaxed regulations.
In three states, crossbows are legal during only a portion of archery seasons. For example, Maine allows crossbows for just about everything except the archery deer and fall turkey seasons. Meanwhile, New York and Illinois allow archers to use crossbows during late portions of their bow seasons.
Senior hunters get a slight advantage in two states: Kentucky and Minnesota. However, Kentucky muddies the waters a tad by also having a regular crossbow season for deer, separate from archery and firearms seasons, in which all hunters may participate. Florida allows crossbows for just about everything, from deer and turkeys to hogs and gators, but only on private land. At the opposite end of the spectrum, Oregon does not allow crossbows for hunting anything, including small game.
The news from Canada is a bit sketchier. We know, for example, that crossbows are simply illegal in the Yukon Territories and Newfoundland. One can probably assume the same is true of Labrador, as Newfoundland is actually part of the Labrador province. Then again, you never know. Conversely, we know crossbows are legal in Ontario, The Northwest Territories, Nunavut and British Columbia, but not much more. You might want to make a few phone calls before venturing North with your favorite x-bow.
Prince Edward Island allows crossbows for all game species except migratory birds, while New Brunswick excludes them only for the deer archery season and hunting migratory game birds. Nova Scotia excludes them during the designated archery deer season, while Alberta allows them during all but archery-only seasons.
Manitoba allows fit-and-able hunters to use them during muzzleloader deer seasons and big game rifle seasons, while permanently disabled hunters may use crossbows during archery seasons. Saskatchewan similarly allows crossbows during muzzleloader and rifle seasons, and during all open seasons in Regina, Moosejaw, Saskatoon, Buckland and Prince Albert wildlife management zones. Last but not least, Quebec allows crossbows during any firearm, shotgun or muzzle-loading firearm hunting periods in most zones, during special crossbow hunting seasons, and for handicapped hunters during all seasons.
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