Commission tries to keep up with changes in bowhunting


Eve Byron

Marlon Clapham, president of the Montana Bowhunters Association, shows Fish and Wildlife Commission members a compound bow he’s modified that helps disabled hunters.

From lighted nocks that make it easier to track arrows to air guns that propel broadheads like bullets, technology quickly is transforming the art of bowhunting.

Montana’s largest organization of bowhunters is asking the Montana Fish and Wildlife Commission to get ahead of that technological curve, making the process for reviewing archery equipment more rigorous to spell out what equipment is allowed during the fall bowhunting season and what is prohibited.

They fear that if the commission doesn’t act, the 2017 Legislature will propose bills, as it has in the past, that are well-intentioned but may have unintended consequences. Previous sessions included proposals to allow disabled hunters to use crossbows during the archery season and lighted nocks.

They also fear that they may lose a portion of the six-week archery season if those technological advances end up increasing the harvest capacity.

“We are battling the electronic world; there are no limits to what the mind can come up with,” Joelle Selk, a member of the Montana Bowhunters Association, told the commission during a work session on Wednesday. “We need to draw a line in the sand. … Basically, some people don’t want to put forth the effort to use archery equipment that’s currently legal. They want to use an easier way.”

Traditional hunters use long bows or recurved bows, which use leverage to propel an arrow faster and harder than a human can throw it. Compound bows—today used by about 80 percent of bowhunters—use a type of pulley system that makes it easier to draw back the bowstring and launch the arrow farther and harder. Typically, bowhunters need to be less their 40 yards from their prey to be successful, Selk said.

Crossbows have a fixed support like a rifle stock and a trigger mechanism to release the arrow, and are prohibited during archery season but allowed during the regular hunting season. They are more accurate and effective, and allow hunters to shoot from farther away.

Some new technological improvements can blur the lines between archery and rifle hunting, which could affect the separate seasons set for the sports. Selk said the rifle-propelled arrows are one example. Laser broadhead arrows now show precisely where the shot will hit the prey. Arrows equipped with GPS trackers could soon hit the market. Bow-mounted range finders and other sight aids also are available.

Commissioners wondered aloud whether new technologies will encourage hunters to take longer shots that could wound, rather than bring down prey and make it more difficult to track.

Commissioner Gary Wolfe said the Region 1 and 2 Citizens Advisory Committees have had a lot of discussion, formally or informally, over the lighted nock issue.

“I get the feeling that it’s really dividing the archery community,” he said.

Bowhunters, who typically have a more difficult time bringing down an elk, now take to the fields for six weeks before the five-week general rifle season begins. The Montana Bowhunters Association fears that the blurred lines between bowhunting and rifles could impact the seasons—for example, if a gun shoots an arrow is it archery?

Steve Schindler, president of the Traditional Bowhunters of America, said they’re not trying to be divisive.

“We’re not trying to take anything away from anybody,” he told the commission. “We have our season and what happens between that start date and end date is all we are interested in.”

Selk added that the bowhunters are aware of their privileges, and while they’re not anti-technology, they don’t want to mess with the “secret sauce” in Montana that includes the six-week archery season.

“We have minimal impact to the populations, low harvest rates and continue to manage well with our social impact rates,” she said. “We’d like that to continue. But debate is healthy within any community or organizations” as long as future decisions don’t harm the esthetics and quality of “fair chase” archery hunting.

“We feel like we need broader discussion to educate you and set the groundwork for future commissions to be apprised of these things,” Selk added. “We know there are multiple constituencies in the larger bowhunting community, and we need to serve all of those. We are at a watershed moment when it comes to harvest, recruitment and hunter satisfaction.”

Eve Byron is a freelance journalist based in Helena. She can be reached at

Leave a Reply