Minnesota Bowhunting Rules Change

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Beginning this fall, the minimum draw weight for hunting bows will be 30 pounds, a reduction from 40 pounds required in previous years by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR).

The move is aimed at making bowhunting more accessible to younger hunters and others who might have difficulty drawing a 40-pound bow. It shouldn't affect the effectiveness of archery equipment for harvesting deer.

"The 40-pound minimum draw weight was put in place when most bows and arrows were made of wood, and compound bows were just becoming an option for hunters," said Ryan Bronson, DNR hunter recruitment and retention supervisor. "Technology has vastly improved the efficiency of archery tackle. Modern compound bows, carbon and aluminum arrows, and high tech broad heads are capable of delivering more kinetic energy than traditional gear."

Bronson said he became interested in changing the draw-weight regulation when he learned of Wisconsin's 30-pound draw weight restriction from a colleague. "She pointed out that Wisconsin had more bowhunters per capita than Minnesota, and they didn't seem to have any problems with the more permissive regulation."

After taking public input on the topic and consulting with archery engineers and bowhunting leaders in the state, the DNR supported legislation to alter the minimum draw weight. The provision passed into law as part of a larger environment and natural resources bill.

Bronson predicts that the primary beneficiaries of the regulation change will be younger hunters and women, both demographic groups that are under-represented in the bowhunting ranks. "The physical strength required to draw a bow can hinder some people from participating," Bronson said. "Our license data supports what a lot of archery instructors tell us, that many smaller shooters can't quite handle a 40-pound bow."

The DNR estimates that more than 80,000 Minnesotans now hunt deer with a bow and arrow every year, compared to 70,000 as recently as 2000. Regulatory changes, including the creation of the All-Season Deer License and allowing hunters to take deer with both firearms and archery gear have contributed to the increase. Expanding urban hunting opportunities have also provided additional access for bowhunters.

Archery license sales to youth have increased 25 percent since 2002, from 6,000 to 7,500 annually.

"There is no doubt that bowhunting has more growth potential," Bronson said. "As urban areas and their firearms discharge ordinances expand, more areas are becoming de-facto deer refuges. Bowhunters are the best deer management tools we have available in these areas."

Programs like the Archery in Schools Program are also fueling the growing interest in archery, but the popular DNR school archery program provides only basic instruction.

Moving new shooters to the next level, either as target shooters or bowhunters, requires at least two things: places for archers to shoot, and instruction to teach them how to shoot better.

The DNR and the Archery Trade Association (ATA) have teamed up on an effort to identify archery facilities in Minnesota, and to put them on a searchable website so new and existing archers can find them. The Web site www.archerysearch.com is maintained by the ATA, but DNR staff has been submitting data to make it as complete as possible.

"We found that Minnesota has a lot more archery ranges than many archers realize," Bronson said. "Most people in the metro area have a shooting range within 30 minutes of their homes, so we are trying to help them find the most convenient location."

Finding instructors can be more problematic than finding ranges. Some retailers offer instruction, but other highly skilled archery instructors can be difficult to locate. The DNR is working with archery organizations in Minnesota to post their instructor information on the www.archerysearch.com Web site, and the DNR's Shooting Sports Education Center facilitates training to increase the supply of certified instructors.

Young people interested in developing their archery skills have more options than adults. Several programs, including the 4-H Shooting Sports and Wildlife Program, Junior Olympic Archery Development (JOAD) cubs, and After School Archery Programs (ASAP) already exist in Minnesota. Additionally, many parks and recreation departments, summer camps, and schools offer summer archery programs as well.

The Minnesota bowhunting season opens Sept. 15. For more information, www.dnr.state.mn.us.

For information about becoming a certified archery instructor, contact the Minnesota Shooting Sports Education Center at (218) 327-0583.