Hunters will continue to be able to use crossbows during Wyoming’s archery season, though the Wyoming Game and Fish Department plans to look for more feedback on the topic.
Wardens and biologists in the department compiled a report recently on new hunting technology that includes crossbows that can shoot farther than ever, trail cameras that give feeds in real time and rifles that track their quarry like jet fighters.
The Wyoming Game and Fish Commission discussed the department’s recommendation to not allow crossbows during the special archery season, but declined to move forward.
“I’m totally against removing crossbows from the early season,” said commissioner Mike Schmid. “The majority of (crossbow users) are elderly women and youth. We spend a lot of money and a lot of effort to promote youth and women in the outdoors, and for us to turn around and eliminate a weapon that gets them in the outdoors is a mistake.”
Archery seasons typically begin one month before rifle season starts. They were created to give archers an advantage, because killing a big game animal with a bow requires a much closer range than killing one with a rifle.
Before recommending crossbows no longer be used during archery season, the commission asked the department to go to the public over the course of the year and ask what hunters would like to see.
“I’m not in favor of having crossbows taken out of archery season,” said commissioner Gay Lynn Byrd. “We ought to see what the public thinks.”
Brian Nesvik, the department’s chief game warden, said the agency plans to have results from public surveys no later than November.
The debate over crossbows during archery season is a fierce one in Wyoming. Some hunters believe crossbows are too similar to rifles, allowing hunters to shoot without pulling back an arrow moments before letting go. Others say it’s a way to get women and youth into hunting. It is also easier than compound bows for those who are injured or disabled. Wyoming and Nebraska are the only western states that allow them during archery season. Montana archery groups have vigorously fought inclusion of crossbows in the state's archery season.
Casper hunter Jeff Muratore said the department simply doesn’t know enough to make a decision yet.
“I also would like to say it is awfully premature to take on this crossbow issue when we have virtually no idea how many people are using them during archery season or who is using them,” he said. “We don’t know the percentage of kills between recurve, compound or crossbows. Is the harvest during archery season affecting the resource? Is it causing a problem there?”
He does support the department’s efforts to look into — and potentially regulate — technological advances. Muratore is a board member of the Wyoming chapter of Backcountry Hunters and Anglers, which championed for a bill in 2016 that eliminated the ability to scout for animals with a drone.
Game and Fish plans to hire a company to survey hunters late this spring about crossbows. The survey will also cover the other technology topics from trail cameras to smart rifles.
“I would like to just do the survey and go back and tell the commission what the results are and then decide if we want to move forward with the regulation,” Nesvik said. “We want results that are statistically valid and quantifiable.”