Barring a veto from Gov. Quinn, which is not expected, crossbows will be legal for all hunters to use during the second half of Illinois’ archery deer season.
The final version of House Bill 4819 is a compromise of sorts, since earliest versions had stipulated crossbow use during the entire bow season.
The amended version that passed would allow everyone to use crossbows during the archery season beginning the Monday following the 2nd gun season through the end of the archery season. Instead of creating a separate defined season, this new language allows crossbows to be used concurrently during the last portion of the archery season.
Senate sponsor Sen. Gary Forby (D-Benton) authored the ammendment that would allow any hunter with an archery deer permit to use a crossbow from, “the second Monday following the Thanksgiving holiday through the last day of the archery deer hunting season (both inclusive) set annually by the Director.”
Under this new ammendment, crossbow hunters will not need to purchase a special permit during that part of the season, as some had predicted when word of a compromise first surfaced.
“We think it’s best to serve the public to just leave it as a bow choice,” said John Buhnerkempe, head of the Illinois wildlife division. “We’ve got enough complexity to deal with considering everything else involved with this.”
Reaching this point in the discussion has been an interesting lesson in the political process. After initially sailing through the Illinois House 109-0, House Bill 4819 moved on to the Senate, where Forby stepped up as sponsor.
As word of the bill surfaced, bowhunting groups organized vocal opposition. After some heated testimony before the Senate Agriculture and Conservation Committee, there was a brief period where it appeared bowhunting groups had scuttled the bill.
Then the bill gained a new life in committee, and Forby made it clear he was interested in reaching a compromise. Given that the Department of Natural Resources had already backed the bill, this created an interesting situation.
According to Kevin Chapman, the deal offered to bowhunting groups was to choose one of three options: 1. crossbows for the first half of bow season, 2. crossbows for the second half of bow season, 3. crossbows for all of bow season.
In the minds of bowhunting groups, settling on the latter half of the season seemed to be the obvious best choice of the three.
Meanwhile, DNR is scrambling to keep up with the legislation, since the bill requires changes to the wildlife code.
But Buhnerkempe said he did not think allowing crossbows in the last half of archery season would cause much of an increase in the overall deer harvest. For instance, he did not envision including crossbows as reason to consider dropping the late-winter antlerless-only seasons.
“If you look at the numbers, you’ll see hunting in general drops off after the first gun season,” Buhnerkempe said. “You’ll have some (crossbow hunters) but it won’t lead to drastic changes in hunter numbers. At least we don’t expect it will.”
And the current scope of legislation deals only with crossbow use during deer season. In other words, there is no language yet dealing with spring turkey hunting or any other season.