MOUNT VERNON, Maine — During the Middle Ages, a Roman
Catholic edict labeled crossbows as "deadly and God-detested."
Even today, bow-and-arrow purists cast a wary eye toward the
weapons long associated with medieval knights and castles.
But times are changing.
In Maine, a bill allowing crossbow use during deer firearms
season has worked its way through the legislative process and will
likely be signed into law by Gov. John Baldacci. Neighboring New
Hampshire already has a similar law, as do a growing number of
"People are becoming educated about it," said Daniel James
Hendricks of the American Crossbow Federation in Glenwood, Minn.
Many hunters believe acceptance of the crossbow, a bow fixed
crosswise on a wooden stock, is long overdue.
"It's a silly fool who thinks killing an animal with one tool
is different than killing him with another," said Bill Smith of
The relative ease of handling a 7- or 8-pound crossbow adds to
its growing popularity, said Smith, 60. Longtime bow hunters who
are getting older find it much easier to hold and aim, without
straining to keep pressure on the string.
According to the American Crossbow Federation, many states
recognize crossbows as a legal hunting weapon, but under conditions
that vary widely from state to state. Some allow them for big or
small game during general hunting seasons, as well as special
muzzleloader seasons and even for fishing.
At the other end of the scale are Maine and a few other states
where the federation says crossbows are not recognized as a legal
Hendricks said several states are considering joining more than
a half dozen that allow crossbows during archery season.
The crossbow is extremely accurate. In the Middle Ages, the
crossbow was favored as a military weapon because it could pierce
armor. The Roman Catholic Church in 1139 banned their use,
declaring the "murderous art" to be "hateful to God."
The disfavor carried over into modern times. Crossbows were
banned for hunting in Maine in 1856, but have remained legal to
own. Gradually, the taboo wore down as more deer became available
and state wildlife departments began looking for new revenue
Maine state Rep. Stan Moody, the bill's Democratic sponsor,
first submitted a broadly worded measure that would have allowed
crossbow use to hunt any wild animal or wild bird, even during
But he soon clashed with bow hunters, who saw potential
competition. Mike Rovella of the Maine Bowhunters Association said
the original bill would have more than tripled the ranks of archers
during bow season, compromising landowner relations with hunters
and prompting heavy deer kills, Rovella warned.
"It's really not a bow. It is shot from the shoulder with a
trigger and with a laser sight," Rovella said.
But Moody, a registered guide who has a bowhunting license,
contends that the much-maligned crossbow is ballistically the same
weapon as a compound bow. The main difference, he said, is "it is
Moody's bill has been amended, and Rovella said traditional
bowhunters can live with the scaled-back measure, which requires a
person to hold a valid big game license to be eligible for a
crossbow hunting license.
Crossbows could be used to hunt only bear and deer during
firearms season. It also bars the use of pistol-type crossbows or
those with a draw weight of more than 200 pounds, and it would
require archery-hunting education to be licensed.
Max Perkins, another hunter from Mount Vernon, scoffs at the
charge that a crossbow makes poaching easier. "A crossbow is
noisy," he insisted.
Perkins added that a crossbow cannot be misused in ways a
firearm can, saying "It's not the type of tool you'd hold up a