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Medieval weapon that once garnered scorn gains acceptance
Associated Press
June 11, 2005 CROSSBOW0612

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 states.

"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 Mount Vernon.

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 hunting weapon.

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 sources.

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 archery season.

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 more accurate.''

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 7-Eleven with.''
 
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