Two of the bills assigned to the Committee on Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, LD 27, An Act To Allow the Use of Crossbows during the Archery Season on Deer and LD 996 An Act To Establish a Special Handgun Hunting Season That Coincides with the Muzzle-loading Open Season could result in significant changes in how Maine’s deer population is managed.
LD 27, introduced by Rep. Timothy Theriault (R-China) and eight co-sponsors, would end Maine’s bow hunting season, replacing it with a combined bow & crossbow season.
At the January 30th public hearing, Rep. Theriault argued the bill would help older or disabled bow hunters no longer physically able to make a kill shot. He then briefly explained how the crossbow is superior to a bow and arrow. He adds this bill could attract young hunters to bow hunting by first using a crossbow.
Several spoke against the bill, with many pointing out that crossbows are already allowed during the regular firearm hunting season in October.
David Trahan from the Sportman’s Alliance of Maine raised concerns about traditional bow hunters getting in disputes with crossbow hunters during the newly created hunting season. Trahan argued LD 27 will encourage more hunting during a time of year normally only available to bow hunters and the increased harvest will negatively effect October’s regular hunting season.
Maine Professional Guides Association’s Don Kleiner also spoke to potential negative impacts to regular hunting season participants, pointing out not all the state’s deer populations are as strong as those in Southern or Central Maine. Kleiner argued this statewide bill could cause a shorter regular hunting season in several areas of the state.
Deane Page, from the Maine Bow Hunter’s Association, testified that some regions are already over-saturated with traditional bow hunters and that allowing an influx of crossbow hunters into these spaces is dangerous. Page argued efforts to grow hunting in Maine would be better spent working to expand private land access opportunities, not upending 66 year old Maine hunting traditions.
Page also emphasized that management goals of states with a crossbow hunting season are designed for population reduction and are contradictory to Maine’s management goals. They added that most northern states keep crossbows and bow hunting separate because of the additional pressure crossbows would add to their deer populations.
Adam McKay, an avid hunter from Poland, expanded on this, citing a WKOW Wisconson Channel 9 News Report describing how Wisconsin’s deer population suffered after crossbows were permitted alongside bow hunting season. McKay also cited a Field & Stream article doubting that hunters are actually switching from crossbow to bow hunting and that the opposite is more likely true.
Tim Peabody, testifying for the Department of Inland Fisheries & Wildlife, (Dept. of IF&W) gave no definitive opinion for or against the measure. Peabody explained his Department’s mission to simplify the hunting laws and the administrative work required for implementation. Peabody suggests LD 27 would fall in line with that particular goal.
Peabody didn’t include concerns for regular firearm season hunters, but did mention bow hunters in certain regions needing permits previously not required because of increased participation from crossbow hunters. He also reminded the committee of a 2017 law allowing hunters 65 and older to hunt with a crossbow during bow season and disabled hunters can apply for a permanent disability permit to do the same.
After a split committee vote following the February 11th work session, a divided report was expected for the legislature. However, on February 25th, the bill was amended and now the committee fully supports the legislature passing LD 27.
The amended bill has not been made available to the public at this time.
While the Dept. of IF&W had no stated preference regarding LD 27, Porter made clear the department’s opposition to LD 996 (Handguns during muzzle-loading season) at that bill’s March 11th public hearing.
Porter, again citing the mission to streamline hunting regulations, testified this bill would complicate administrative efforts. He added that handguns are currently allowed during the regular firearm season and muzzle-loader pistols are allowed during the regular muzzle-loading season.
Both NRA State Director Lauren LePage and Mr. Davis of Porter testified in favor of LD 996 as a way to expand hunting opportunities.
Sen. Stacey K. Guerin (R-Penobscot) sponsored the bill at the request of a constituent and is, admittedly, not entirely knowledgeable on the topic. The senator included with her testimony a list of five other states that allow hunters to use handguns, most of which restrict the type of handgun allowed and ammunition used.
The committee voted against LD 996 during the March 18th work session and sent an Ought Not To Pass recommendation to the legislature on March 20th
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