Airbow and airgun legality for hunting use varies by state. Where some limit airgun use based on minimum calibers, velocities and ammunition grain weights based on the game species, other states do not mention airguns at all, leaving ambiguity in the minds of prospective users. As advances in technology continue, legislators are generally encouraged to work alongside their state fish and wildlife agency to ensure that the laws and regulations related to new technologies are clearly stated; and, more specifically, to consider the inclusion of Airbows and airguns in their state’s existing firearms seasons.
An airgun propels projectiles by means of compressed air or other gas, rather than using an explosive charge like a traditional firearm. Regulations surrounding the use of airguns vary significantly from state to state. Based on airgun technology, the arrow shooting airgun – a hybrid hunting product that uses compressed air to fire an arrow – has now been developed. Today’s airguns, and now the arrow shooting airgun, demonstrate a striking advancement in this technology beyond the BB and pellet guns of yesteryear. Many of the products available on the market today fire larger caliber projectiles (or arrows) and now offer shooters an expanded kill range with a product that is capable of harvesting big game animals. Unlike other hunting implements, airguns and arrow shooting airguns do not get taxed through the American System of Conservation Funding (ASCF), and therefore, the sale and use of these devices does not contribute to the conservation efforts of state fish and wildlife agencies as do more traditional methods of take.
Airgun technology dates to the earliest days of the United States. Lewis and Clark famously utilized a .46 caliber air rifle in their expedition following the Louisiana Purchase in 1804. Today, large bore airguns can harvest the most popular game species, but are presently legal in only sixteen states for whitetail deer and other large game.
Airgun legality for hunting use varies by state. Where some limit airgun use based on minimum calibers, velocities, and ammunition grain weights based on the game species, other states do not mention airguns at all. Further, some states prohibit the use of airguns and arrow shooting airguns for big game hunting entirely. This variation between states leaves ambiguity in the minds of prospective users and manufacturers, which is why manufacturers often ask prospective users to confirm local regulations in their respective state before trying to hunt with airguns. To date no state has entirely legalized the use of arrow shooting airguns in archery-only seasons, and the Archery Trade Association has released a position that states that arrow shooting airguns are not archery equipment.
Unlike other hunting implements, airguns and arrow shooting airguns do not get taxed through the ASCF, and therefore, their sale and use does not contribute to conservation efforts in the same manner as firearms and archery equipment. By authorizing the use of this equipment without some sort of structure in place to ensure that this technology pays into the ASCF, state fish and wildlife agencies are losing out on conservation funding when sportsmen and women purchase these products instead of more traditional hunting implements such as bows, crossbows, muzzleloaders, and firearms.
Points of Interest
- Today’s modern air powered hunting rifles and arrow shooting airguns are powered by air pressurized to 3,000 - 4,500 pounds per square inch (PSI) generating the energy exceeding that which is generally regarded as the minimum required for taking large game out to a maximum of 100 yards.
- Like most handgun bullets, traditional muzzleloader round balls, and arrows tipped with broadheads, airgun pellets/bullets transmit little of the “shock” value on impact that is associated with high velocity “high-powered” rifle projectiles. Thus, an ethical harvest requires either (1) precise shot placement on a vital organ or, (2) sufficient projectile energy to create a wound channel that is large enough - or long enough - to cause fatality through blood loss. Large bore airguns and arrow shooting airguns satisfy both criteria.
- Unlike traditional firearms, airguns and arrow shooting airguns are considered to be “hearing safe” in that they produce less than 140 dB of sound when fired (the Occupational Safety & Health Administration’s threshold for an impulse noise).
- In 2019, Georgia (S 72) and Virginia (H 1393/S 859) enacted legislation that authorizes and provides opportunities for some sportsmen and women to hunt with an airgun or arrow shooting airguns.
As advances in technology continue, legislators are generally encouraged to work alongside their state fish and wildlife agency to ensure that the laws and regulations related to new technologies are clearly stated and easily understood by sportsmen and women, which will help to eliminate ambiguity related to the use of these items afield. Further, legislators are encouraged to support efforts to include (at a minimum) large bore airguns and arrow shooting airguns in the ASCF, and to also support efforts to include smaller caliber airguns, provided the industry supports it. The preferred mechanism through which to include them in the ASCF would be to expand the Pittman-Robertson Act at the federal level to include these items alongside more traditional methods of take (such as firearms and archery equipment) which are already taxed, and as such provide significant benefits to the on-the-ground conservation efforts of state fish and wildlife agencies throughout the nation.
For more information regarding this issue, please contact Brent Miller at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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