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Legislator’s third attempt to push crossbows into archery season denied

Doug Krings

Four men who have been demanding to be allowed to use crossbows during Montana’s archery-only season have been denied for a third time.

On Thursday, the Montana Fish and Wildlife Commission voted unanimously against allowing four individuals to use crossbows during Montana’s five-week archery only season, the only time of year that Montana doesn’t allow the used of crossbows.

The proposal would have allowed only the four to use crossbows, and FWP attorney Becky Dockter warned the commission that approving their request would open the door to other requests. If the commission wanted to allow crossbows for anyone in certain situations, it would be more effective to create a programmatic change that would apply to all.

But FWP has denied previous requests for crossbows because they allow permits to modify archery equipment and there are few limits as to how far the modifications can go, Dockter said.

After Region 5 Commissioner Brian Cebull moved to deny the request, Region 1 Commissioner Pat Tabor said he would vote to deny but that the discussion was important and likely not finished.

“I would be more comfortable looking at this holistically,” Tabor said. “I’m not comfortable with one-off solutions.”

Led by Sen. Brad Molnar, R-Laurel, the four men also filed a complaint in late August against FWP in federal court, claiming that the archery-only season is a violation of the American Disabilities Act. As part of the lawsuit, which is still alive, they asked Missoula federal judge Dana Christensen for an injunction to allow them to use crossbows this fall.

After hearing oral arguments, Christensen denied the injunction on Sept. 4 for a number of reasons. For one thing, the Americans With Disabilities Act requires only “reasonable accommodation,” and that’s provided by Montana’s bow modification permit. Christensen also said an injunction would have also removed the authority of the FWP commission.

“Plaintiffs have failed at this preliminary state go present facts that clearly favor their assertion that use of a crossbow is a reasonable and necessary accommodation,” Christensen wrote.

One of the men’s attorneys, Bruce Fredrickson of the Kalispell-based Rocky Mountain Law Partners, said Christensen was mistaken. Fredrickson told the commission he wasn’t trying to pose a threat, but they should approve crossbows regardless of the lawsuit, which he said would continue.

“I have the utmost respect for Judge Dana Christensen. He’s an outstanding jurist. He’s a good judge. But good judges make mistakes. I believe he did in this case,” Fredrickson said.

The majority of people making comments during the two-hour discussion didn’t agree. Sixteen of 21 commenters spoke against allowing the men to use crossbows, including members of the Montana Bowhunters Association, Traditional Bowhunters of Montana and the Montana Wildlife Federation. Earlier in the meeting, the commissioners reported getting many calls from hunters opposing the proposal.

“Allowing four will lead to more,” said Tim Roberts of Fort Benton.

A few of those advocating for crossbows said age was a factor. J.M. Skrott, who said he served on an Alabama commission for several years, said he used a bow for 50 years and now has a bow with a drawlock but wants to use a crossbow.

“I’m 85 years old. I have rotator cuff surgery on both shoulders, and I’m old and I’m feeble. And holding that bow up is darned-near impossible with my problems,” Skrott said.

Molnar sponsored Senate Bill 111 in the 2021 Legislature to open the archery-only season to crossbows. It was the ninth attempt to pass such a bill, and Montana hunters met it with stiff opposition. After passing the Senate, it died in a House committee. Incoming commissioner Jana Waller testified in support of SB 111, so Bozeman bowhunter Liberty Brown asked that she be recused from future commission decisions on crossbows.

Montana has already defended its archery season against disability complaints filed with the Department of the Interior in 2003 and 2007. The Interior Department ruled the state in compliance.

Eleven other states limit crossbows only to firearm season, including Alaska and Washington.

Contact reporter Laura Lundquist at lundquist@missoulacurrent.com.