By Jack Nissen
Capital News Service
Does Michigan need more ways for disabled people to hunt game like deer, duck and bear? Rep. Beau LaFave, R-Iron Mountain, thinks so.
The Upper Peninsula lawmaker wants to legalize the use of a pneumatic airbow, a crossbow that uses compressed air instead of a string for power.
The idea is to create more hunting experiences for people who cannot pull back the string of a traditional crossbow.
“A lady in my district, who has been an avid deer hunter her whole life and was getting up there in age, was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis,” said LaFave, who recently introduced legislation to allow the weapon. “So she can’t crank a crossbow anymore.”
She applied for a permit through the Department of Natural Resources to use the weapon. Agency officials declined, citing a need for a change in the law. So she went to LaFave for help.
Folks in southern states like Texas and Louisiana have legalized the use of the airbow, which is a very effective weapon for killing game, LaFave said.
And that’s a problem, according to some critics.
“We do not support this legislation,” said Tony Demboski, the president of the Upper Peninsula Sportmen’s Alliance. “We have so many means of hunting, whether it’s firearms, bows or crossbows, there’s already too much pressure on hunting deer.”
Demboski said he is especially concerned how groups like humane societies might characterize the use of weapons like this.
That’s not the only snag LaFave’s bill has hit.
Months before it was introduced he brought up the option of legalizing airbows to the Michigan United Conservation Clubs (MUCC) a statewide coalition of outdoor groups based in Lansing. It disapproved of classifying an airbow under the same umbrella as a cross bow.
“It’s more of a pneumatic gun than archery equipment,” said Dan Eichinger, its executive director. “It has everything do with the mechanics behind it. With archery equipment, you’re drawing a string back. This thing is so powerful, it’s more like a firearm.”
It shoots arrows, so it should be defined as a bow-hunting tool, LaFave said. But because the MUCC doesn’t agree, only disabled hunters could use an airbow during bow-hunting season. Anyone else could hunt with one only during firearm season.
What all parties agree on is the that the aging population of hunters needs to be accommodated with special weapons and programs.
“There’s been more growth in the last 10 years than in the prior 30 years expanding these programs,” Eichinger said. “People are living longer and there just isn’t as much interest in younger people to go hunting.”
Accommodations are made for many kinds of disabilities, from lung and cardiovascular problems to mobility issues.
That’s another reason Demboski doesn’t agree with the bill. So many accommodations for disabled hunters are out there, adding more isn’t necessary.
“Michigan already has lots of ways for disabled hunters to continue hunting,” he said. “The U.P. even has one business that has state-of-the-art equipment specifically designed for assisting disabled hunters.”
He’s talking about Wheelin’ Sportsmen, based in Escanaba. In 2007, Ken Buchholtz got the idea to build trailers to accommodate hunters with mobility problems. Since then it’s become nationally recognized.
The trailers are outfitted for wheelchairs and have TV screens that act as scopes and rifles that accommodate many physical handicaps.
People are living longer, but with older hunters comes more disabilities, Buchholtz said. “Hunting is a big part of people’s lives, so when that becomes harder to do for them, it can be really sad.”
Buchholtz is also the Upper Peninsula district director for the Accessibility Advisory Council at the DNR, a group that bolsters efforts to keep disabled hunters in the sport.
While LaFave would prefer airbows be available to all hunters during the entire archery season, meeting other groups in the middle for him is where it counts.
“My goal ultimately was to help this individual and others with disabilities,” he said. “If a compromise is what I need to do, a compromise is what I’m going to come up with.”