Archers will be taking aim at deer across Minnesota and Wisconsin Saturday. And on this year's archery hunting opener, more whitetails will be in the crosshairs of crossbows.
One of the changes in Minnesota's 2014 regulations allows hunters over age 60 to use crossbows, which are otherwise permitted only during the shorter firearms hunting season.
As MPR News reports, previously only hunters with disabilities were allowed to use crossbows during archery season, which runs from Saturday through December.
Crossbows are less difficult to draw and hold than a traditional bow. Steve Merchant, a wildlife manager with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, tells MPR: "We're an aging society. This is a way we can potentially retain some archery hunters that would otherwise drop out of the sport."
Over in Wisconsin, hunters don't even need to be 60 to make use of crossbows during archery season. WKBT of La Crosse reports that state's change for 2014 allows any licensed hunter to use one.
Gaining popularity, but not shedding stigma
The Pioneer Press reports the more liberal regulations in many states, combined with new models that shoot arrows (or bolts, as users call them) at faster speeds have helped fuel a surge in the popularity of crossbows.
Even so, they are the subject of a rift among archers. Many bow hunters have less esteem for peers who use crossbows, which require less skill and practice.
A spokesman for a Chatfield-based hunting group called the Pope and Young Club tells the Pioneer Press a crossbow is not a bow and should not be treated as one.
"The whole reason that archery seasons are longer is that it's a primitive weapon and it's harder to be proficient with it," Rick Mowery tells the newspaper. "You can't just go and pick up a bow a week before the season, shoot a few arrows and expect to kill a deer. But you can with a crossbow."
The group Minnesota Bowhunters, Inc., made a similar point in arguing against the Legislature's decision to permit some hunters to use crossbows throughout archery season. The Bowhunters group says crossbows are more akin to firearms than to archery equipment.