COLUMBIA — Darren Haverstick is no fan of crossbows.
The president of United Bowhunters of Missouri has worked for years to keep the state from extending the use of crossbows from firearms deer hunting season to the regular archery season.
"It's not a bow," Haverstick said. "It's a gun that shoots arrows."
The Missouri Department of Conservation has received 17 requests this year from individuals who want the rules changed to allow crossbows during the longer archery season. This number is up from 16 in 2011 and eight in 2010.
So far, the state has held fast in face of requests to relax the restrictions on crossbows and continued to limit their general use to firearms deer hunting season, which opens this year on Saturday.
United Bowhunters of Missouri and other archery groups around the country oppose the wider use of crossbows on the grounds that the weapons are more like firearms than traditional archery equipment.
"They come with scopes, they come with triggers, you can cock it and walk around with it loaded and ready," Haverstick said. "I could go buy a crossbow in the morning, and by that afternoon, be proficient enough with it that I could go out and kill any game I wanted to.”
Tom Draper, deputy director of the Missouri Department of Conservation and the chairman of its Regulations Committee, said many members of archery organizations feel that crossbows provide an unfair advantage to those using them because they are more lethal, accurate, and they can shoot a greater distance.
“Crossbows are easy,” Haverstick said. “I work hard to maintain the level of performance where I can ethically kill the animal with one shot, so I feel I deserve the prolonged season that we have for archery."
United Bowhunters of Missouri’s first line of defense against regulation changes is the Conservation Federation of Missouri, a civilian organization founded in 1935 that often works in conjunction with the Department of Conservation.
Haverstick said he and other archery representatives make sure to always have members at meetings when state changes in crossbow rules are discussed.
“We do know people in the Missouri Department of Conservation and the Conservation Federation of Missouri,” Haverstick said. “They listen for if and when this issue comes up, and let us know ahead of time. They know that we are serious about it.”
Jason Sumners, a resource scientist with the Missouri Department of Conservation, said the main source of opposition to wider crossbow use comes from archery groups. “They philosophically believe that crossbows aren’t included as archery equipment,” he said.
Those who support the use of crossbows in archery season point to those who might be excluded from bowhunting because they are unable to meet the physical demands of shooting with a bow and arrow.
“There are those that find it difficult to draw a bow,” Draper said. “Being able to use crossbows would allow them to get into the woods to hunt during archery season.”
Existing rules include an exception for people with disabilities. They may use a crossbow during the regular archery season if they provide the Department of Conservation with an eligibility waiver from a physician.
Precedent is another issue.
“Crossbows historically haven’t been considered part of archery hunting season in the state of Missouri,” said Shawn Gruber, a wildlife programssupervisor with the Conservation Department.
Other reasons that changes haven’t been made to archery season regulations are that the Missouri Department of conservation feels there is no need to add more opportunities for hunting to manage the deer population.
Hunting is the management tool of choice for the department of conservation, and the regulations committee feels that the opportunities given to crossbow hunters already are enough to fill the conservation needs of the state and hunting needs of the citizens.
“That balance seems to have been achieved,” Draper said. “Consequently, that regulation has been maintained.”
The agency's Regulations Committee is open to future changes in the regulation.
“We are in a wait-and-see process right now,” Sumners said. “We are in a transitional stage from restoration of the deer herd to stabilization and maintenance. We have to reconcile what people want hunting season to look like and the opportunities for hunting we can give them.”
Missouri’s decision to prohibit the use of crossbows during archery season fits in with other states that border Missouri — Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky and Nebraska — all prohibit the use of crossbows during archery hunting season; Arkansas, Oklahoma and Tennessee allow them. Different states have different proportions of hunters using crossbows, and the Regulations Committee tries to assess these numbers and needs in hunter surveys.
Crossbows are allowed during both rifle hunting season, which runs from Saturday through Nov. 20, and the alternative methods hunting season, which runs from Dec. 15 to Dec. 25. All hunting restrictions that apply to rifles also apply to crossbows.