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December 13 10:06 AM
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Long term ramifications will not be good and once passed, difficult to reverse


Dear Woods-N-Water News:

In my 45 years as an avid Michigan deer hunter I have never seen a bill pushed through the house as fast as bill HB5741, which in its current form allows capable, perfectly healthy hunters to use crossbows during the archery season. A season originally fought for by Fred Bear and set-up for conventional bowhunters. There is no comparison between crossbows and conventional bows. But before anybody else knew it, bill HB5741 passed through the house. The opponents to the amended bill did not have the opportunity to mobilize, and the outdoor media was not allowed the time to get the revisions to press for opposition support.

To start, the original bill HB5741 would have allowed hunters 69 and over to buy a crossbow license across the counter. Many elderly hunters do not feel comfortable hunting with conventional bow poundage that they feel is inadequate for killing whitetails, and have quit hunting because they simply can't draw enough weight. A 45-pound draw weight bow is about the bottom of the effective draw weight spectrum for adequate penetration on whitetails and a 70-pound draw weight is considered at the high end of draw weight for a vertical bow.

Elderly hunters have every right to enjoy our great outdoors and the hunting lifestyle they previously had, so that adjustment was also very fair. In fact most hunters I have talked to had no issues with the age limit being lowered to 65.

The original bill HB5741 was also going to reduce the disability requirement from 80% (current law) to 60%, which was also a fair adjustment to the current law.

But no, those two adjustments weren't good enough for the pro crossbow agenda they wanted it all, after all Michigan has the largest bowhunting population in the country and that equates to a lot of dollars in revenue. So an amendment to bill HB5741 to allow unrestricted use of crossbows during the archery season was added.

Hunters capable of drawing a bow that do not bowhunt, have chose not to do so because shooting a conventional bow requires a lot of dedication, practice, and proper form to become proficient. For some odd reason that is what bowhunting is all about and why the season was instituted in the first place. It is a very novel concept, something that you actually have to work at in order to have success, go figure.

In the 1970s I used to manage an archery department and we sold a few crossbows every year. While they were a far cry in technology from what is available in today's market, once sighted in, they were like shooting a short-range (up to 40 yards) rifle. I do not know what if any crossbows were seen by house members meetings prior to their vote in June, but I'm guessing they were not tricked out as most of them are when sold today.

The typical modern crossbow set-up is sold with; a draw weight of 150 to 175 pounds (more than twice the average draw weight of a heavy poundage conventional bow), a magnified scope with crosshairs just as most upper end rifles have, and an adjustable trigger just as most upper end rifles have. Crossbows are shouldered and shot in exactly the same manner as a rifle, they are cocked into the shooting position while hunting with the safety on just as a rifle is (yet there is a Michigan state law against using a device that holds a conventional bow in the drawn position), many of them come with cocking devices because they have so much power they are difficult to draw and cock. Cocking devices were originally designed for the handicapped and elderly hunters. These are all huge advantages that dramatically separate crossbows from conventional bows, they are not even close to each other in accuracy and ease of use.

Once sighted in, a crossbow requires absolutely no practice whatsoever. You can put it in the corner as you would a rifle when season is over, pick it up next season and shoot a bolt (a crossbow term for arrow) or two through it prior to season just as you would a gun to insure the sights have not been moved, and go hunting, no additional practice throughout the entire season is required, there is no arguing the issue, that is an absolute fact.

Last season I watched a 75 year-old gentleman shoot a three shot group at 40 yards with his scoped crossbow and you could have covered the holes from all bolts with a silver dollar, and he hadn't shot the bow in two weeks. There is no way that can be done with a conventional bow without daily practice, and many hunters including myself are not capable of it no matter how much we practice. If you think this is a good thing because it is more accurate and has more ethical kills then why not have a 3-month gun season, after all they can shoot a small group at several hundred yards.

Crossbows have been legal for everyone during Michigan's gun season for many years, yet I have never seen or heard of anybody using a crossbow during the gun season. The reason is very plain and simple, a gun is more effective at longer ranges than a crossbow so they use a gun to give them the optimum advantage, or in other words, killing a deer as easy as possible. No matter what the pro crossbow groups say, it is definitely not about passion, it is about being easy, having more range, and not having to practice.

Consider this, there are hundreds of organized archery clubs in Michigan that have ranges and competitions throughout the year. Many of the archers participating in these shoots do not even hunt deer, they shoot bows because it is a challenge that requires practice and discipline and they want to challenge themselves. I have talked to over ten of Michigan's top archery shops over the last week and not one of them could tell me of one single crossbow club. Why? Because shooting a crossbow well enough for deer hunting does not require proper form, practice, or discipline, you simply aim and shoot.

Unfortunately, money is the root of all evil and that is what the amended bill HB5741 is all about, nothing more, nothing less. Somebody stands to make profits by Michigan passing this amended bill into law, the amendment would never have been added, nor would the crossbow people been at the meetings.

Had crossbows been named cross bolt-guns, which in reality is what they are, we would not be having this discussion because the word gun would be in the name. But since the word bow is in it, to non-users and non-hunters, which I assume the vast majority of representatives were, they did not know about the vast differences in technology. Just like guns, crossbows are not unethical, they are just way to advanced to be allowed for everyone without exception during bow season.

In my opinion the pro crossbow group is playing our state government like a fiddle. I guarantee that if this bill in its current form were presented to the hunting public for a vote, it would not even come close to passing.

My reason for not wanting this bill passed is one of ethics for what is considered bowhunting. My reason is not driven by greed or money of any sort. In fact, I am currently the Michigan sales representative for several manufacturers in the hunting industry and without question, I would financially benefit from the passing of bill HB5741. However, my ethics for what was originally fought for by Fred Bear and instituted as a bowhunting season overrides my greed for money. At some point in time you have to draw a line in the sand as to what is and is not ethical during a season that was opened for specific weapon. To me money should never be a driving force over what is right.

I recently spoke with the owners of many high profile archery shops and for what it's worth they were all against this bill in its current form. They were all in favor of making crossbows legal for anyone over a specific age (around 60 to 65) and making it easier for a handicapped person to acquire a permit, in other words, in the bills original form.

While I will never call the killing of any animal a sport, but rather an activity for food, I am going to use sports as an example to make a point because more than likely everyone on the board watches or has participated in sports at some point in time. Every sport has its parameters or limitations of what you can and can't use concerning equipment. In golf there are size and construction limitations on golf balls and limitations on the makeup of clubs. In Tennis there are size restrictions on the perimeter size of the racket. In baseball there are restrictions on how the balls are made and professionals can't use aluminum bats or pine tar on their wooden bats. In hockey there are stick restrictions. Every sport has restrictions so that the playing field for all involved remains somewhat level. Legalizing crossbows would tilt the playing field dramatically against the very weapon the season was set up for, conventional bows.

I have been bowhunting in Michigan since 1965 and have written two books, produced four DVDs on bowhunting pressured whitetails, and write for several credible national bowhunting magazines and several regional magazines. The books and DVDs are 100% instructional (no kills) and were written and produced to aid hunters in states such as Michigan that have overwhelming numbers of bowhunters. The two books have tracked one and two in sales at Barnes & Nobles, Borders, Cabelas, and Amazon.com in the hunting category for the past two years and no matter how the final vote goes, those sales will not change, so again, to me this has nothing to do with money

While I am quite sure that the majority of house representatives that passed this bill do not bowhunt, I am also quite sure they were not aware of the vast differences between Michigan bowhunter numbers and how they differ from other states bowhunter numbers. While the pro crossbow side are quick to relay what other states (Ohio is the only high profile whitetail state I can think of that allows crossbows to anybody) may be doing concerning crossbow seasons (to forward their agenda), they likely did not mention the vast differences in hunter numbers.

For my writings I acquired the absolute land-mass in square miles (from the U. S. Department of Commerce, Bureau of the Census) for all the whitetail hunting states. When a states bowhunter license sales (printed annually in Archery Business magazine) are divided into its exact land-mass, you get an exact average of bowhunters per absolute square mile. Michigan's leads them all with an average bowhunter density of 7.83 (Michigan's land-mass also includes the U.P. which has lots of land and very few hunters which skus the hunter densities in the southern peninsula way below what they actually are), Ohio with their crossbow hunters has only 3.90 bowhunters per square mile, Iowa has .71, Kansas has .24, Illinois has 1.97, New York has 3.76, Minnesota has .90, Nebraska has .19. Michigan (including the U.P.) without crossbows already has twice the average bowhunter density as Ohio, nearly four times that of Illinois and 41 times the average bowhunter density of Nebraska.

Another interesting statistic is that Michigan has one of the worst ratios as far as trophy buck entries (Pope & Young) into the record book, with a staggering one out of every 8,516 licensed bowhunters in 2001 entering a book buck. Iowa and Kansas had entry ratios of 1 out of every 150 bowhunters entering a book buck, which means it is 56 times easier to take a book buck in those two states. Michigan's high hunter densities, poor mature buck to doe ratios, and difficulty in finding a place to hunt are the main reasons our bowhunter numbers have been declining while other big buck states license sales have had double digit increases over the past 10 years, I have the statistics to prove that. Also Michigan's open to hunting public land receives so much hunting pressure that many hunters have just given up. There are many Michigan bowhunters not hunting in Michigan because they opt to save their money and take trips to hunt in other states even though many of those states non-resident licenses cost over $400.

Michigan's DNR estimates the number of bowhunters at about 310,000 to 320,000, the undisputed number one state in license sales and average bowhunter density per square mile, but almost dead last in record book buck entries per licensed bowhunter. In other words Michigan is at the bottom (worst) in every category from the bowhunters perspective.

When Ohio started allowing crossbows during the regular bow season their bowhunter license sales numbers nearly doubled the first year, yet they are still less than ours without allowing crossbows. If crossbows are allowed without restrictions, yes there will definitely be a spike in license sales, but that will be short term. Michigan will likely add 150,000 to 200,000 additional hunters in the field with crossbows during the regular bow season, but will eventually lose conventional bow bowhunters (which the season was originally opened for) due to overcrowding on public land, and ethics. The additional license sales will be gun hunters that will be able to use a short-range gun/crossbow. There will be more bucks taken during bow season due to the simplicity and ease of crossbow use, making gun season less attractive to many gun hunters. Many ex gun-only hunters that take up crossbow hunting will fill their tags in bow season and will not need to hunt during gun season, after all they will get three months to basically, short range gun hunt with their crossbow. There will definitely be a decline in license sales during gun season.

Listed below are some solid license sales statistics that enforce the fact that license sales are growing in many states. These are being presented because at the house meetings the pro crossbow group said that nationally, bowhunting license sales were declining. These are some pretty nice bumps in participation for a 6-year time frame.

LICENSE SALES

1998 2004

Iowa 36,800 47,100

Kansas 17,800 21,080

Illinois 86,700 120,000

Wisconsin 246,000 249,644

Minnesota 66,000 70,000

Virginia 58,500 61,400

New York 170,000 215,337

If money is not the issue, with all the statistics and real information on crossbow use, I would like one legitimate reason for this bill (in its current amended form) to be passed.

Keep in mind that Ohio along with Wisconsin, Indiana, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, N. Dakota, S. Dakota, Missouri, and many other states only allow one buck per season no matter what the weapon. These are all known big buck states that do not have any type of antler restrictions, yet the one-buck rule allows a lot of bucks to grow to maturity. The one-buck tag also gets many hunters out of the woods early in the season (when they fill their tag) which lightens up the numbers of hunters on public land.

All of these states also have mandatory 24-hour call-in (automated service, no man hours) or check in rules. The call-in and check in rules keep many hunters from cheating and gives the states very defined kill data without having to guess as our DNR does in Michigan. These two simple rules make a huge difference in the balance (buck to doe ratios) of their deer herds and allow many bucks to grow to maturity, which in turn makes hunting more appealing to non-residents and residents. Please keep in mind, for what it's worth, that I am not a QDM advocate.

Rest assured, passing this law in its current state will bring some immediate revenue into the DNR and sporting goods stores, but the long term ramifications will be not be good, and once passed it is very difficult to reverse. Passing this law is simply giving into greed, throwing ethics aside, and paying no attention to solid statistics that obviously separate Michigan from any other state, including Ohio.

No matter how the senate votes, they will go about their lives with no alterations to their hobbies or activities. Whether they are aware of it or not, their vote on bill HB5741 in its current form will likely be the most important vote they ever make concerning the future of deer hunting in Michigan.

I hope that every bowhunter that is in agreement with this letter will write or e-mail their respective senator to air their disapproval. The senate is going to vote on bill HB5741 very soon, so don't put it off.

Right now this bill is in Patty Birkholz's committee of five senators,

Patty Birkholz

ofcpbirkholz@senate.mi.gov

517-373-3447

Gerald VanWoerkom

ofcgvanwoerkom@senate.mi.gov (517-373-1635)

Raymond Basham

ofcrbasham@senate.mi.gov

(517-373-7800)

Bruce Patterson

ofcbpatterson@senate.mi.gov

(517-373-7350)

Michael Prusi ofcmprusi@senate.mi.gov

(517-373-7840)

It must pass this five-member committee before it goes to up for a full senate vote.

John Eberhart
July 23, 2008

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